Adapting, Improvising, Overcoming, Or How to Get Around the System

Extra Credit.  When I first began teaching twenty-three years ago, I liked extra credit.  I was the type of high school student who always did my work, but not always to the best of my ability.  A chance to earn a few extra points to get me from a B+ to an A- would be welcomed.  However, after twenty-three years of teaching, I am not fond of extra credit.  Too many students want something easy to replace an assignment not turned in.

My first year of teaching I thought I had a great idea.  Today, I call it an idea.  I had 100 tests for 100 books and plays.  I gave the students the list and let them read independently to earn extra credit.  My mistake was to not put a limit on the number of works that could be read.

Enter Brent.  He was failing.  He disliked writing.  He was smart.  He took tests on all of the plays on my extra credit reading list and aced them.  And, he did not read them.  How?  He rented a videotaped version of a production of each play!  He followed my rules.  He found a way to beat the system!  Sure, I wish he would have written more.  However, Brent used his brain to solve his problem.  I praised him on intelligence to improvise to pass the class.  And, I changed my rules: students would only be allowed to read one novel or play.  (On a side note, no other student ever chose to take a test on a play.  Brent was the only one to figure out PBS records dramas all of the time.)

The past couple of years I have only allowed students to rewrite essays for a new grade or complete short vocabulary / writing assignments during any free time in class for extra credit.

I know I have readers from education and the business worlds, and I am curious to your opinions.  If you can take a minute or two, I would like to hear what you think about extra credit for students.  Thanks.

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1 Comment

Filed under Business, Education, Learning, Lessons from students

One response to “Adapting, Improvising, Overcoming, Or How to Get Around the System

  1. As you know I am not a teacher as such so my comments may miss the mark from an educators perspective. It seems to me that Brent proves that it is more important to know WHERE to get the information rather than to know it empirically. We live in a world where our individual knowledge base is becoming increasingly narrow and specific. The polymath is dead I am sorry to say. I know that specific curriculum criteria must be met for a student to pass and that is a sad but inescapable reality. However to learn how to find information may be a better skill than knowledge itself.
    A quick anecdote may suffice. I took a job as a sales engineer and had no idea about hydraulic dynamics. So I bought some books, got hold of some catalogues with charts and tables and set to it. I came up with solutions and new designs for delivering the product that are to this day being sold in Europe (no copy write unfortunately). The “engineers” hadn’t solved the problems in anything like the elegantly simple way I came up with.
    The moral is that I had no empirical knowledge but knew how and where to find the information I needed. That is the true sign of intelligence (said with all humility I might add).
    From all accounts, your blog indicates to me that this is exactly what you are trying to instil in your students. I salute you.

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