Extra Credit?

george_jump_x600I can already hear the voices complaining, “Don’t offer extra credit.  You are only setting up the students to expect it in every class.  Don’t do it!”  But I do.  Let me explain.  When I offer extra credit, I make the students go out of their way to achieve it.  It is not just another homework assignment.  Usually it involves physically participating in something outside of class and writing about it.

Since the Theater Department is now putting on the musical, She Loves Me, I figured that this was a perfect opportunity for students to see a live performance and then write about:  three paragraphs:  What happened?  What did it mean?  Was it any good?  I was familiar with the play already since Foothill had done it before.  I knew it was accessible to even low-level students if they knew the story line beforehand.  There would be music and singing, and the songs are very melodic.  The students would be able to earn up to 15 points if they wrote the three paragraphs and attached the ticket.  (Total points for the quarter is 350.)

I haven’t received any of the written work yet, but I have experienced a whole series of reactions to seeing a live play.  (I should add that seeing a play in the Lohman Theater is ideal, for no one sits that far away from the stage.)  A group of students from my high-intermediate class (lowest level credit class we offer) went to previews on Thursday night, so I was able to talk to them on Friday.  I started to have second thoughts that perhaps the experience wouldn’t be a good one, and the students would never enter a theater again.  I also heard that it was 2 ½ hours long.  However, the first students who went were very impressed.  “The actors are professional.”  “The singing was very good.”  “I want to see it again.”

An aspect that I had forgotten about was that the students were doing something together outside of class.  Students have told me in the past that having such an outing is liberating since the goal is to enjoy something.  (“Yes,” they say.  “We know we have to write about it, but we don’t have to write about it there.  And we can talk to the other students there about the event.”)

My expectations were very high when I attended the performance the next day.  The production was just as good as the students had said, and some of my students were also there.  What I hadn’t expected was how nervous the students would be.  “What happens if I can’t understand anything?”  I told them that we could meet as a group in the intermission.  (It is important to explain that there is an intermission;  otherwise, students may think the play is over even when the story isn’t finished.  This happened with Angels in America last year.)

There were many questions the students had during intermission, and some of the students had asked their friends to come along with them, who knew more English.  What followed was a lively discussion about the play and how easy or difficult it was to understand.  Everyone enjoyed the singing even if they couldn’t understand the words.  No one talked about the assignment.  What was important was the present experience.  One student told me that he had been in the U.S. for three years and had always wanted to see a play.  Yet, he had always hesitated because he thought he wouldn’t understand.

I don’t know how good or bad the written papers will be, but it doesn’t really make any difference.  Getting the first reactions of the low-level students, hearing the questions by the students generated by the play during the intermission, and hearing the students use English to communicate their ideas to each other and their classmates’ friends alone made the experience worthwhile.

I have to remember that when assigning extra credit work.

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2 thoughts on “Extra Credit?

  1. Falk said something in a meeting that helped change some of my opinions on Extra Credit. I can’t remember exactly, but it was something like, I don’t care if the student learns something over here with this assignment or over there in an extra credit assignment. As long as they’re learning what they need to learn in the class, it doesn’t matter when it happens. In most cases, the extra credit I offer to students requires them to demonstrate learning outcomes they might have missed in other assignments; usually, these extra credit tasks are even much harder than the initial assignments. And other times, like what you’re showing here, extra credit is a way for me to expand the curriculum beyond what I think we can really (or really should) cover in the class. Attend a Native-American History Month event, go see a play, watch the famous Foucault Chomsky debate, and come talk to me about it during my office hour.

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  2. There are many ways to learn sociology other than in the classroom; in fact, one of the best ways is to go into the real worlds and make sociological connections. I used to offer extra credit a lot, but then a few students cheated on it so I got mad and stopped. Since I stopped offering it I haven’t seen a big difference in grades, but there are still some things I’d like to offer. Next quarter, I plan to have an embedded tutor for my sociology First-Year Experience class, and I’ll offer extra credit to students who meet with her. Slowly, I think I’ll add other things, but these assignments have to be “uncheatable.”

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