Extra credit can be a motivational tool that empowers students and helps parents get involved. Here are five reasons I like to assign extra credit:
Students feel more control of their grades. With extra credit, students know that there are ways they can influence their grade. They don’t have to wait for you to give a grade–they can earn it on their own.
Students learn study skills. This works especially well in math. I copy the practice/reteach pages from our textbook program. Higher achieving students can do the problems as a grade booster; lower-achieving students can work with the teacher, a peer, a tutor, or a parent to learn the material. Struggling students are more motivated to do these practice problems because they know it will improve their grade.
Extra credit can make difficult conversations more productive. We all have to phone or write parents to explain that a student is struggling. If you offer lots of extra credit opportunities, you can make the conversation productive and positive by emphasizing what students and parents can do right now to improve the grade. Everyone will feel better about putting in the time and effort.
Extra credit is motivational–and contagious: once a few students do extra credit and see results, others will be more motivated to try it themselves. My classes work harder when I provide a lot of extra credit opportunities. Many teachers fear students will do the extra credit instead of regular assignments, but I find that extra credit makes students work harder on the required work, too. Students get into the habit of achieving.
Students are willing to take risks: students will work harder and do more challenging work in an extra credit context. Extra credit is risk-free, so if the work isn’t up to par, it just doesn’t count. It doesn’t hurt the students’ grades. I find that students are more willing to try challenge problems, higher-order thinking questions, and critical thinking prompts if they know that it’s just for extra credit. They often end up doing better than they would have if the assignment had been required. (Extra credit takes the resentment out of work!)
Extra credit keeps struggling students in the game: we know that struggling students need to work more, not less, than others. Extra credit lets them do remedial work that immediately impacts their grade. It can make the difference between passing and failing. As students do more extra credit, they learn the skills needed to pass the class on their own, with or without the bonus points.