Ask Not for Extra Credit; Ask for a Do-Over

Running a spin-free classroom isn’t always easy. I respect students enough not to blow smoke up their noses, but in the relentless pursuit of good grades, many see certain policies as roadblocks to achievement. But achievement is not synonymous with activity. And that is why I do not offer extra credit. Extra credit (in the student’s traditional sense of extra credit) does not advance the learning. It amounts to the teacher clapping for crap which only hurts students in the long run.


So what should real extra credit look like?

Extra credit is an truly an oxymoron. Think of it this way. Can you eat an extra helping of potatoes if you have not already eaten the first helping? In the strictest sense, extra credit should actually be reserved for students who have done all assignments, taken all their assessments, and have learned everything in the curriculum. After all that, if they want to learn extra content, I would offer extra credit. Extra credit is really an enrichment tool.

What do students think extra credit is?

However, extra credit is seen by many students as a failure recovery device. The typical student asking for extra credit has not done the regular credit. These students are usually missing assignments, failing tests, and have never sought assistance outside normal classroom hours. They are looking for a quick fix — the highway option, if you will. They mistakenly believe that some simple menial task can increase their grade. The trouble lies in this menial labor having no effect on the student’s actual level of understanding of regular credit items. Grade increases should reflect an increased level of understanding of the content, not an increased level of “busy work” that has been done. An A-student ought to be able to do A-level work. In this context, extra credit could be seen as almost a sort of punishment.


I don’t have time? Sorry. Personal problems do not supersede content standards. You still have to put in the hours and do the work. That’s why you’re struggling.

A 12-step Program?

  1. Have an abundance attitude. (as opposed to a scarcity attitude)
  2. Attend class regularly.
  3. Listen attentively.
  4. Ask questions.
  5. Take notes.
  6. Ask questions.
  7. Do assignments.
  8. Ask questions.
  9. Study.
  10. Ask questions.
  11. Pass tests.
  12. Repeat…

Notice that four of the steps are asking questions? That’s because learning is a process of constant fine-tuning. Without active engagement, success will remain elusive.

So what’s a Student to Do?

Ask for a do-over. All my sequential students can have do-overs on tests. That is, they can re-take a different version of a test they wanted to have done better on. The only requirement is that the student must attend a tutorial period for re-instruction, and a second tutorial period for re-assessment. There is no re-assessment without re-instruction. This does two things. It makes sure students will have a better understanding of what they were struggling with. It also reduces the likelihood of students who — knowing they have do-overs — don’t try very hard the first time.

Busting the “I’m just not good at math” Myth

I just returned an assignment to one of my classes. The assignment was meant to be a slam-dunk “shot in the arm” heading into Thanksgiving break. Instead, I learned that some (too many) high school students are unable to do simple order of operation problems. Some lament that they are not any good at math. They never have been, and that never will be. I’ll have to read that book some day — Things Quitters Say. Want to know the true secret? Don’t quit! That’s right. There is no failure, only opportunities to learn.