Extra Credit: Sonic Youth Friday

Why is extra credit so motivating for my students? I wonder if there’s any educational psychology literature on this? Readers who are in the know, please let me know. My students, whose class attendance and record of written assignments is mixed overall at best, will do just about anything so long as I call it extra credit! (Is it like getting a “free” appetizer or dessert with your dinner, or a dollar off your coffee after you have your loyalty card stamped ten times?)

Does this happen to any of you faculty and teacher-types out there? Are you, too, amazed by the power of extra credit to get students out for guest lectures and special events on campus? I suppose I’m grateful that something motivates them–but I often want to point out that just showing up and doing their homework is a much more effective strategy for good grades in college. Five or ten extra-credit points in a class with 450 or 500 points total is only 1-2% of the final grade.

Maybe next semester I should just call every assignment on my syllabus “extra credit.” I wonder how long it would take my students to catch on?

Here’s Sonic Youth with an extremely creepy Carpenters song. (That is, it was creepy before Thurston Moore got his creepy hands on it and made it even creepier:)

19 thoughts on “Extra Credit: Sonic Youth Friday

  1. You make an interesting point as I have also wondered about the factors that compel seemingly mature graduate students in a very competitive academic program to ask for extra-credit. I always am tempted to point out that this isn’t middle school, but of course I refrain from being so blunt.

    I think your analysis may be on target – it feels as if they are getting something for “free.” I love one of my colleagues’ responses to students when they ask if there can be extra credit…”There is no extra credit in life. This is a harsh fact so you need to get used to it while you are in grad school.”


  2. I’ve spent all day writing an article that includes a big discussion of Sonic Youth. But, not that song.

    As far as extra credit, I’ve found that my students think they just have to show up to things to get it (talks, concerts). When I ask them to prove they were paying attention with a one paragraph response they complain and complain about it on evaluations. Can’t win.


  3. I build extra credit into most of my courses by using a course blog. Throughout the semester, participating on the blog beyond the required number of postings counts as extra credit. My experience is the opposite of yours: I’ve been astonished at how few students have figured out how to exploit the extra credit opportunity to convert their lackluster performances into an A grade. Generally, the students who get the most extra credit are those who are excelling anyway and don’t need it. I think this confirms your suggestion that the kind of one-off extra credit opportunities involve the same psychology as free appetizer coupons (where my extra credit functions more like a discounted gym membership that people pay for but never actually use).


  4. We aren’t allowed to offer extra credit in the high school where i teach. But I dump a lot of extras under “participation”, like daily in-class writing, and they fall all over themselves to get all the points for that possible. It seems to be like they feel they have control over it: their homework assignments or papers or tests may not always get them the grades they hoped for, but participation is “easy,” something they can feel like they control, somehow.


  5. good enough cook: interesting data point. Where our experiences converge is in the fact that as you point out that “the students who get the most extra credit are those who are excelling anyway and don’t need it.” It’s the A and B students who show up, for sure, so maybe my comments about “just show up and do the assigned work” were uncharitable.

    Interesting that you are not “allowed” to offer extra credit in your H.S. teaching, Tanya. Perhaps some teachers abused that privilege overmuch? You should ask around.

    (Maybe the reason that my students seem so excited by EC is that I offer EC so rarely–perhaps once a semester, if that often.)

    Wini and CPP: BABY BABY baby baby oh, baby. . .


  6. Here’s a fun fact: I grew up with one of the Sonic Youths constantly in my home. My older sister dated one of the band members for three years in high school — they went to proms, were voted “cutest couple,” the whole nine yards. He was sort of like an older brother to me when I was a kid.


  7. I think it’s totally like a “free” dessert. Last year 10 points of some 600 in a class came from coming to my office to meet with me. (And yes, I scheduled time for 90 students to come to my office.) I couldn’t believe that some students didn’t show up — I thought it was the easiest 10 points imaginable. But they will ask for extra credit all the time…


  8. I think your analysis is on the mark, Historiann. It’s a crutch that students get conditioned to in the lower grades and then just carry the metabolic need for up through the ranks. Although I’ve never had a graduate student ask for it. A lot of kids around our area call it “bonus” which makes me think it’s a part of the school culture. There are actually two kinds of expectations: the extra credit that is attached to a particular assignment, such as in-class examinations. I do use this for psychic grail in our bayonet-survey, inasmuch as students are being herded through the course coersively so we can make our nut with the dean–which I think is pretty corrupt. And the kind when a student who is floundering comes individually and asks if there is anything extra they can “do” to bring up a grade. I have difficulty with this on a range of fronts and don’t do it. And yes, the better students are far more likely to do it, and of everyone who does it, they are far more likely to “actually get” the “points” as they call them. So it’s really counterproductive. When you teach in a state lapped by the Atlantic Ocean, and kids who grew up there include it among the “states eventually carved out of the Louisiana Purchase,” you’re really wishing this is a form of potlach irony, or even contempt, from students who don’t really need the points. But it seldom proves to be this.


  9. Personally, extra credit (or events professors practically beg us to attend, where it’s clear our attendance will count in our favor) is something I do because, as a student with a disability that can be both mentally and physically brutal (and unpredictable), I tend to get behind in my grades throughout the quarter. Extra credit usually lets me build my grade up a bit in ways that aren’t as demanding or may just be timed better than other deadlines, and events are something I can usually drag myself to even when brain fog won’t even let me get through basic levels of research for a project.

    My situation probably isn’t that common, but at least as long as the extra credit is an event, I could see students with attention and learning disorders possibly finding that sort of thing appealing in a similar way.

    I also tend to do extra work when I can since I find myself needing deadline extensions several times each quarter (through disability accommodations), which makes me feel like I come across as a slacker since nothing is visibly wrong with me and my disability isn’t understood much by other people.


  10. I built extra credit right into my syllabus (short 1-2 page critical essays/responses to class films). I was surprised when one student complained they were a lot of work (I figured probably an hour beyond actually showing up to class and sitting through the film). Well, duh, it’s extra credit, not free candy! The advantage to putting extra credit right in the syllabus? At the end of semester, when the slackers come slinking around for extra credit for the course (the “anything to pass” variety), the answer is nopers, extra credit was already available in the syllabus, and it isn’t fair to give extra extra credit to you and not everyone.


  11. I don’t offer extra credit. I have sometimes offered a bonus point for attending an after school function. The bonus point, however, goes into the grade book as one point on an assignment valued 0. In a course, with a couple hundred points, it’s less than one percent. Kids are very eager to get that.

    And yeah, I have told kids “there is no extra credit, this isn’t middle school.” There’s really no excuse for not pulling at least a B- in my HS classes because of HW grades, opportunity to do test corrections etc.


  12. I teach high school, and the grading and reporting policy in the county in which I work forbids either extra credit or participation grades at the high school level (although participation is an acceptable grading category in middle school). I think the intent is that grading be, inasmuch as it’s possible, an entirely objective measure of a student’s knowledge and mastery of the subject, and not rely on the whims of a teacher. Which I think says more about the Educational Powers That Be and their opinion about the people who work for them than anything else.


  13. I do not as a rule offer extra credit but when students come around to ask what they can do “about their grade” I make them review their scores and talk with me about what’s going wrong. We talk about strategies for fixing that. I may then ask for a plan for improving the lowest of the scores and let them do that.

    I have sometimes encouraged students to attend public lectures and asked for a review of what they found most interesting. I tally these up and if at the end of the term they are on the boundary of a grade I use that to justify bumping them up. As others have noted, the stronger students tend to be the ones who do this.

    In one of my classes, everything that scores less than 90% must be reworked. It is a grading nightmare but the material is cumulative so if they don’t master it fast enough they will only spiral downward. This also buffers the grade.


  14. I allow extra credit situationally, meaning if there is a good lecture, film, etc that is appropriate for my class to attend, then they can do extra credit by going and writing something up. If there isn’t anything during the semester then too bad. This semester there has been a film and FOUR lectures they can attend. I’m just happy to be engaging them in my field outside the classroom. I don’t really see it as extra credit rather as a means to get them thinking about another part of the world that is generally pretty alien to them.


  15. I’ve often wondered about the psychology of extra credit, too. Attach 0.1% to some separate activity, and the students are all over it. Point out that they can improve their grade by 1% each week by taking the weekly quizzes and using the option to retake until they get full points. That’s just a huge yawn. It’s amazing.

    I used to try to explain the math (this is a science class, fergawdsake!), but then I decided the behavior itself is indicative. Are you smart enough to figure out that +10% is greater than +0.1%? Yes? No wonder you’re getting an A. (Almost always, it’s the best students sweating the details, as others have said.)

    The math-challenged get their C’s and disappear. Into politics, probably.


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