How to get your students to do extra credit

Often my students want to tell me what is wrong with the side they are presenting for their research paper, when I make them write the side they disagree with. I let them. I just tell them they have to keep this “on the other hand” discussion out of the paper itself. But I will allow a one-page refutation, in which they take issue with the side they have presented. This refutation may be the only argument paper for their side if the class is only doing one controversial issues paper. Or, as I prefer to use it, this can be extra credit.

I assume you have had my experience with extra credit, which is that the students who do it aren’t the students that need it. The refutation, however, sometimes gets written by the students who aren’t as concerned with their grades, but are committed to the issue they wrote about. I like that. It’s their way of telling me that they discovered something out of kilter with the arguments they have presented, even if they are the strongest arguments for that side.

I will say that the refutation more generally gets written when one of two things happen, either I have a day between due dates of the research paper and the refutation or there is only one research paper. It seems that students want me to know their side, even if it means more work. So I give them a chance to tell me.

Other people approach this issue by having the students include in their research paper a counterargument and its rebuttal. Either approach works, but I personally find it easier to separate these out.

This is from my TYCA-SW talk on controversial issues in the classroom.

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