Do we give our students enough credit? #WhatIfWeekly

Do we give our students enough credit?

What are the traits and characteristics that we hope students develop most deeply? What knowledge and understanding?

Certainly, those schools that have engaged in exercises like “Portrait of a Graduate” have wrestled with such considerations as an entire community. A number even work to structure program and experience in such ways that there is intentionality around the development of the graduate, not only the delivering of a curriculum.

Are these some of the attributes you would name?

  • Curiosity
  • Development of a passionate pursuit and constructive interest
  • Persistence and deep practice
  • Responsibility
  • Creativity
  • Multi-media communication skills and language competency
  • Enthusiastic connection with joy-producing activity
  • Autonomy and initiative
  • Scientific knowledge and understanding
  • Presentation capabilities

What do we credit?

Do all of the credits awarded by a school – to determine successful completion – have to be curated and generated by the school, and only by the school?

Certainly, when a student enters a school from another school, credits can be granted by the receiving school – credits that the student actually earned elsewhere, namely, the previous school.

Occasionally, at the school where I worked last, we awarded credit for summer study, particularly for programs earmarked “Talented” or “Gifted Youth.”

With the rising tide of Khan Academy, badgification, MOOCs, and online learning, surely the time is not too far away that a school will award a seventh grader or eleventh grader credit for completing a physics course via Coursera or Udacity or iTunes U.

Even independent study is not too far afield from what I’m about to ask next – I mean, many schools have systems for students pursuing “independent study.”

So what would it say about a school if the school granted credit for a body of work that a student created on his or her own? Something not originally located in the course catalog. With all of the talk and movement around “student-centered learning” and “student-directed learning,” I would hope and imagine that at least a few schools are contemplating how they might formally recognize student learning pursuits that don’t necessarily arise from the school itself as originator or curator.

Don’t we want to give credit to those students who can show evidence of developing the traits and characteristics named above, even if the body of work in the “course” was not created by a faculty member or administrator? Isn’t that the whole point in the first place – to nurture life-long learners who self-initiate curious pursuits of persistent development of brain cells and heart cells?

Three Quick Examples


When I moved back to Atlanta to teach middle school, a high schooler had converted his Ford truck to run on used cooking grease. He would go to local fast food stores and ask if he could transfer their waste grease to his tank in the back of his truck. He had modified his truck so that it was actually fueled by this recycled material.

Today, why would we not grant credit for such demonstrated learning?


A high school sophomore earned his student pilot’s license for single-engine aircraft. See one of the articles here. In addition to joyfully pursuing an interest, the accomplishment demonstrates admirable persistence, commitment, and strong knowledge in a variety of scientific topics.

What if the student could apply – if he wanted to do so – and receive credit for this work in a way that would result in its listing being included on a transcript?


Another high school sophomore writes, directs, produces, and hosts a cooking show called the SWAGourmet! Along with the multiple episodes bundled on YouTube, the SWAGourmet also maintains a blog, from which people can link to the show, request recipes, and connect to related news stories.

When I saw this former student of mine last December at a Sunday brunch, SWAGourmet was the first thing he mentioned when I asked how he was doing. I loved hearing that genuine and non-bragadocious pride in his voice. And, I now love following his work, thanks to his multi-media  sharing.

Anticipated Criticism

“But if we absorb that personal-hobby stuff into the credit system, we’ll set a precedent we don’t want to be burdened with. We’ll have to credit anything and everything.”

“Making it for-credit will remove some of the joy from the activity. You know, Bo, not everything has to earn quantified credits.”

“Does that mean that students could forego the course requirements in the course catalog and replace or substitute the entire curriculum with their personal interests? You’ve lost your mind, Adams.”

“Sure, Bo, and we’ll give credit for going to the bathroom, too. And holding the door open for someone… and taking out the trash. … No, that’s not ‘school’ and it shouldn’t be.”

“But what about the NCAA clearinghouse? What about the colleges and universities? They don’t want to see such ‘soft’ work on the transcripts. We’d never get that passed.”

I’m sure there are other criticisms. Those above are just the ones I’ve already heard from actual educators as I brought up the topic in casual conversation – as I was just pursuing my own curiosity.

Yes, and…!

And there were others that loved the idea. They immediately started to think about how such a system could work in conjunction with the current offerings – just like MOOCs, online academy offerings, summer credit, independent studies, etc.

The dreamers seemed to believe that by organizing such a system – granting credit for work not included in a school’s official course catalog – a school community could communicate to students that their self-curated learning and persistent pursuits MATTER. Such a hybrid could show students that their voices and myriad interests can equally contribute to the development of those “Portrait of a Graduate” traits and characteristics. One person I spoke to even suggested that a committee of faculty, parents, admin, and students formulate the process by which a school could launch such a program.

And we all enjoy getting a little credit, now and then, for things that we are excited about doing and becoming, don’t we?