I recently offered my Algebra 1 students an extra credit opportunity worth five percentage points towards their grade, which I mentioned I would do when the marking period started six weeks ago.
My intent with the extra credit offer was twofold: 1) to give them an opportunity to explore mathematics in the world around them, hopefully improving their beliefs and attitudes towards it and 2) to give them a chance to advance one letter grade. While I did not expect many students to take me up on the offer, that only one student did so surprised me. One fourth of the class, or nine students, could have benefited from it.
Last week, I handed a copy of the offer to each student the day before their end of marking period final exam. One student jumped at it that day, handing me a one and a half page essay as she left class. She apparently was so caught up in the offer that she opted to write the essay in class instead of paying attention to the review. Not one other student approached me about the offer, to learn more, to ask for an extension, or to let me know they were going to work on it.
Earlier today, I discussed my surprise with my newly returned cooperating teacher (“CT”). She said students probably did not understand my offer could improve their grades. As an example, she said if I approached students about it this week, and explained it to them one on one, they would likely say they did not know it would have helped their grade. My eyes widened at my CT’s comment. In response, I let her know that I told students about the offer at least three different times on as many days and in varying levels of detail. Each time I made it clear this was a great chance to move up one letter grade, and that it is a rare opportunity to do so since very few teachers offered this much extra credit. I gave examples where students with a 58%, 68%, 78%, or 88% score, who received extra credit of just 2%, could move up to the next letter grade.
My CT said she did not doubt me but said they still likely did not get it. She also said they probably were overwhelmed by the amount of text on my handout describing the offer. Listening to all of this was tough, and it showed on my face. I considered many things when crafting the offer, before making the offer, and when pitching it. I even anticipated aspects of what my CT pointed out, which is why I mentioned the offer multiple times to students, verbally and in writing. The version projected on the SMART Board, and reviewed in detail with the class, was in color no less, differentiating the requirement text, mostly in black, the example questions in blue, and the deadline info in red, apparently to no avail. My CT could sense my consternation, but seemed to misinterpret it as not wanting to hear her comments, which was not the case. I simply was at a loss about how to get students’ attention if my approach did not work. Since I could not tell easily if students did not get it, or simply chose not to do it, I was perplexed about what I could do better. She suggested speaking with the students who I felt could benefit from the extra credit one on one, which I wanted to do but just managing the students through any day consumes all of my attention and time, leaving none for individual discussion other than the day’s lesson topic.
Before we ended the conversation, she mentioned that she would ask students who could have benefited from the extra credit why they did not do it. Most of the students who could have benefited have her later in the day for an AVID class (AVID: Advancement Via Individual Determination). I plan to do the same, however, with our annual high stakes standardized testing this week, I will wait a bit.
While driving home from my ed program earlier this evening, I reflected upon the conversation with my CT, wondering if she was not giving the students enough credit, looking at them in a deficit perspective, or if I simply was overly optimistic and had too high expectations for students, or simply that my methods were ineffective. I still do not know but will continue to ponder it. For this situation extends beyond extra credit to any longer term assignment I might make. I do not want to have to discuss one on one with every student for every assignment like this going forward. I also wonder if speaking with students one on one would have changed the outcome. Or perhaps I needed to pester individual students daily, which is the model my CT employs. Yet, that is not my preferred style, so I hope I find a way that is more effective over time.