Many of today’s students are familiar with the option of “extra credit” on an assignment. Many high school classes give this as an option. Yesterday, I spoke with a professor who works with freshmen at a major state university. He doesn’t believe in “extra credit” because he feels that students should want to do a quality job because it’s important not because they get extra brownie points. There may be a place and time for extra credit at the college level, but with some caveats.
Many college professors and employers share this professor’s sentiments. When it comes to students or employees going beyond the task at hand in the adult world, it’s a given for competence. Extra credit doesn’t exist. Doing your “extra credit” at work or in college — or having a 110% work ethic — is what’s expected of a stellar student or worker. Your reward for doing extra credit in the real world? Employment. As you show your employer you are an indispensable player on the team, you might get a raise, promotion, or a good letter of recommendation, but these career milestones aren’t points for putting in extra work; they are the reality.
For young children and teens, bribery or compensation might be one way to approach chores, eat the vegetables, or do homework, but as they age, students need to drop the idea that doing an exceptional job or more than is asked of them is anything but the norm. How can K-12 educators and college professors help students realize going beyond — or simply doing your job — in the real world doesn’t always come with an extra reward? How can we encourage young adults to learn to love the challenge and the reward that doing your best provides? How can we move from a perspective of constant extrinsic encouragement—a trophy for every child no matter what they accomplish on the playing field—to a more lasting and deeper intrinsic motivation from accomplishing real work through pitfalls, difficulties, and obstacles?
- Make challenge a requirement for every learning experience. Whether assigning a report or a project, challenge your students to bring something unexpected to their presentation of the information. You can also do fun and quick activities that challenge students to complete a task in a limited amount of time, with a limited amount of resources, or without all their senses.
- Make the experience the reward. Assigning challenging tasks or using project-based learning makes for memorable lessons. Sometimes it might take years before students reflect on their school years and realize the reward of their many school experiences. Ask students: What is your most significant and impactful experience? What did you learn? How did you grow?
- Reward extra effort with verbal rewards and unsolicited “bonuses.” When you notice students going beyond, encourage them verbally to continue putting in the extra work. If you notice students doing an exceptional job, consider making a classroom policy that rewards stellar students with extra points at an unexpected time during the semester, instead of always with a test or project. Or, simply use the coaching skill of acknowledgment by commenting, “Alejandro, you have taken some courageous risks the last few weeks through your contributions in class and the thoroughness of your writing assignments. You’ve come a long way and it shows. Do you see a difference in yourself?”
- Validate and instill intrinsic motivation. Vocalize the worth of having an intrinsic drive to go beyond what’s asked. What does it mean to you as a teacher when you don’t have to tell a student to challenge herself? What does it mean for a student who finds intrinsic motivation? How do they feel? What might they do in their life to have more of that feeling? What kinds of things can get in the way of that success? How can students keep on a path to develop daily habits which allow them to be as competent as possible?
When students and employees put in the work, grow, and contribute, they will get noticed. However, no one will be there to ask them to do the extra work. How can you encourage your students to embrace challenge to get ready for college and the working world? How can your classroom reflect more of these workplace norms that successful grads will encounter in the real world? Ask students: who would you rather hire—the person who needs extra credit or the self-starter who enjoys over delivering? In countries like China, India, Germany, Sweeden, Finland, and Singapore students have the inner drive to succeed. Will your students be ready to work side by side and stand toe to toe with these students in the global world of work?