37707671

Differentiated “Extra Credit” for Performance Levels

extra-credit-catExtra credit is a thing of the past.

In my class, there is nothing “extra.” There are opportunities, there are consequences, and admittedly, since we live in a world where grades count, there is credit. But nothing extra.

In my early years of teaching, after an assessment,  students were tempted to see what they got, jubilate or lament, and forget the whole thing. Students who succeeded came to class the next day, buoyant. Students who stumbled were demoralized.


This is not how it should be. With the possible exception of the final exam, every student should have the opportunity to see what they did wrong and learn from it.

The problem is that the same students who get As are often the same students who bother to recover credit. Some would come in to recover a single point. And as their teacher, you know this isn’t a good use of their limited time. Meanwhile, the students who stumble can avoid facing their growth areas.

How do you incentivize students who earn Bs and Cs to spend the time revising, while giving students who earned an A an informal nod to save their time and energy for other things?

Differentiated “Extra” Credit

37707671Students who wish to recover points make an appointment do a series of exercises (or answer questions, or read models of excellence) to get their minds in gear. Then we go over the principles they need to express on the assessment.

Students who earned a C or below on the assessment the first time around can earn up to 15% back. A student who earned a B can earn up to 10% back. A student who earned an A  can earn up to 5%.

The actual amount they learn is a function of how much they actually learn in the session(s) with me, factored by how much of it was their initiative.

Students who show initiative will earn the full amount. A student who wheedles for point might only get half the maximum amount.

Sure, not every student is absolutely thrilled, and not every student can go from a C to an A after a half hour meeting. But every student knows that I see growth as being more important that success, and that mistakes are opportunities for learning.

And more than anything else on an exam, that’s what I want to teach.

 

catalog

Differentiation Step 3: Turn class into a catalog

catalogDifferentiation Step 3: Differentiating by Interest through Credits

The course catalog, my freshman year of college, was almost as fun as a J. Crew catalog. I couldn’t fathom how many options were open to me, and the sense of choosing my own academic destiny was intoxicating.

Why must students wait until college before they can have the autonomy to choose the credits they need to meet their goals?

The most concrete form of differentiation you can employ in the classroom is to offer options to students for their major assessments. Would they like to create a poster, a NPR style radio show, or build a theme park?

There’s one problem: we all know that it takes much longer to build a theme park than it does to make a poster. Unless it’s a huge freakin’ poster.

How to solve that problem?


creditcatalogCreate a table where you delineate how many credits a student can receive for a certain kinds of work, and what grade is possible by amassing a certain number of credits. Click here for an example.

Caveats

  1. You must provide models of excellence and a few sub-par models and students must articulate what they see as the difference. They need to own what they’re getting into when they choose a certain project type, and many an amateur film-maker rued the day they chose to do film, even though it earns more credit; film can be a time consuming burden for a student who doesn’t love working on it.
  2. Tag models of excellence each year to update the student model portfolios. Yes, the first year is hardest. (I created a few of my own models the first time I allowed certain modalities.)
  3. When a student chooses to aim for less than an A (this tends to be more acceptable at the high school level where student autonomy is more encouraged), it might be wise to meet with his/her advisor (or send a note home) to make sure other responsible adults are in the know. In truth, this type of choice can be a “canary in the coal mine,” and help you find students who need more support and encouragement. They would know if this is a) someone about to fall through the cracks or b) someone who is on three teams and the school play, being responsible and realistic with time-management.

You may want to read Part 1 and 2 on Differentiating in Baby steps, here.

Learning to Differentiate Part 2: Getting your feet in the Differentiation Kiddie Pool

You may want to read Part 1 on Differentiating in Baby steps, here.


loldumplingsThe main books on differentiation are by Carol Ann Tomlinson; she stresses that you must enter into differentiating your classroom slowly, trying one small thing at a time.

The problem with this very true statement is that, well, it’s sort of like the first time I went out for Dim Sum as a 17 year old. The adult friend of my parents said, “You can’t try everything, so just pick a few things and see what you like.”

But everything looked scary. I needed a place to start.

So too with that great, mysterious Dim Sum Dumpling of Differentiation in the Classroom: I’d like to offer you a great way to start.


Differentiate by Pace – Solve a Behavior Problems at the Same Time

masterlockHere’s the scenario: students have an assignment in class. It might be solo, it might be in groups. What do they do when they’re done?

Here’s what I used to do: tell the students that they must tell me when they’re done with their assignment. Then, while supervising their work, I’d try to drum up some extra work for them to do if they finished early. Invariably, however, a couple of students would finish their work way too fast, and initiate WWF-style wrestling matches in the back of the classroom.

Me-as-beginner-teacher: “I told you to tell me when you were done!”

Student: “But there were only 18 minutes to the end of class.”

Me-as-beginner-teacher: You can learn a lot in 18 minutes!

Student: You can’t learn anything in 18 minutes.

Me-as-a-beginner-teacher: Oh, you need to meet my friend TED. TED would totally disagree.


It was a lost battle. The student had unplugged. Net result: I disciplined the student. The student sulked for a week. Lose-lose.

More problematic than Sulky-Student-Syndrome is the fact that this student who finished early a) might have burned through the work early as an incentive to slack off for 18 minutes, and b) Might have gone on to learn (or produce) great stuff if I’d planned ahead.

Solution 1: ANCHOR ACTIVITIES

cloudTomlinson speaks about “Anchor Activities” in her books: specified, ongoing activities that students can start class with or return to after completing work. It keeps them “anchored” in learning – preventing drift and preventing back-of-class-melee-combat.

As you can imagine, it needs to be interesting enough to draw idle students to it, but it must be educationally sound.

The IDEAL and the REAL

Ideally, the anchor activity would be deeply meaningful, build a skill-set, and engage the student in a long-range product. BUT…that’s sending a new teacher back to burn-out-territory. Let’s find a balance between Anchor Work that’s easy to create, fun to do, and that will not require you to design two units instead of one.

My suggestions:

VIDEO REVIEW

  1. When you design each unit, comb Youtube for thoughtful videos thematically related to that topic. Assemble links to videos in a Googledoc or in a binder (you can use bit.ly or tinyurl.com to rename the links with helpful titles instead of URL http:gobbledygook). Students can pick and watch videos and can choose from the activities below (which you can set up, based on what you have the bandwidth to supervise / teach)
  2. Write a short editorial on what you saw. For example: what resonates with you? What do you object to?
  3. Use provided art supplies to create a poster, children’s book, or collage on the theme of the video.
  4. Use an online source like Pixton, Toondoo, Powtoon, or GoAnimate to share your thoughts or experiences on the theme.

BLOG REIVEW

1. Comb blogs related to popular-science magazines for articles thematically-related to the unit; bonus points if the article is a little controversial. I teach literature, so I look for Pyschology Today articles, making for interesting reading – especially when the articles are about teenagers, and students may vehemently disagree with the premises! Here are some ideas:

  1. Student reads the article and writes a response to the author: do you agree or disagree with certain claims the author makes? Thank the author for helpful ideas, and suggest alternate ways of understanding teens’ experiences in areas where you disagree.
  2. Each student keeps a blog in which s/he writes editorials on the articles s/he reads.
  3. Student keeps a journal – written or comic strip form – and writes about his/her own experiences in regards to the topic.

HOMEWORK INCENTIVE

Finally, if I don’t have time to arrange anchorwork or I choose not to, students can move on to homework when they finish their classwork.

On the one hand, this was always my preference (certainly over WWF wrestling), but here’s the catch. I used to just say (over and over, in fact), that when students were done, they should do homework.

template

A Template For Lesson Planning: Includes Anchorwork and Homework

But before, I didn’t use a lesson-plan template like this: I post this template each day on the class calendar, and if there is no anchorwork, I write, “See homework.” (For more on how I use templates, read my post here,)

Now, students see it. It’s real.

Finish your work early, and you’re are accountable for the next step. Even if it’s just homework.

No more WWF Wrestling.