Why Are You Taking Attendance?

You have undoubtedly heard the old trope, “Good students come to class.” The less frequently spoken second half of that saying is that, “poor students do not.” In your head you know this (and the research on the correlation between attendance and final grades bears this out) and in your heart you remember all the hours you have spent curating your content and crafting your lectures- Students shouldn’t miss this stuff. So, you decide to take attendance, whether through a paper sign-in system, electronic gadget, or the LMS’s Roll Call Tool. But, are you doing it for the students benefit or your own sense of hubris?

Positing such a bold question may call forth some real feelings for seasoned professors. During twenty years worth of conversations with professors the place of “Attendance and Participation” as a gradable component arises more often than many other course components. These discussions all too often reveal that we are grading primarily on physical presence and all too infrequently on actual class participation. Reflect carefully on your own use of these categories and think about whether you are actually considering participation or merely attendance. If you are encouraging and receiving authentic student-to-student or teacher-student interaction in the learning environment, EXCELLENT! But, is “attendance” as a grade-worthy category necessary? Again, “good” students attend class and only present students can participate, right?* Is it double jeopardy to damage students’ with poor attendance grades further? Is it a disservice to waste the time of “good” students with classroom attendance policies, sign-in sheets, the purchase of or participation in gadgets whose roles may be relegated simply to presence management? Is it worth your headache to concern yourself with this additional layer of turmoil simply to punish students who are already punishing themselves?

As an Instructional Designer I would argue it isn’t worth your efforts to take attendance… in most cases. Contact me if you would like to discuss the exceptions. But, what about ensuring that students receive the best possible education; After all, Freshmen are not likely to have the best time management or decision making skills when it comes to understanding the importance of classroom attendance. Furthermore, not all students are intrinsically motivated to attend a class- some research even indicates that rewarding intrinsically motivated students can REDUCE their motivation. You may be asking yourself, ‘Where’s the win?’

The win comes in the things you can do to make students more motivated to come to class. Some of what you can do even puts the work of doing ‘the teaching’ back on the students while other things capitalize on the qualities that already make you a good teacher:

  • Reduce the lecture. Yep, I hear you. The eye-rolling was audible across both time and space. However, the ‘tried and true method’ of lecturing is less effective than other high impact practices. Are there other mediums available to help get information to students? Video clips and demonstrations can often be more effective. Students often find guided group discussions of great interest.
  • Be yourself. Students respond best to your knowledge of the subject combined with your patience, enthusiasm, and friendliness displayed during participation in classroom activities.
  • Classroom management. While running a tight ship can assure you’ve powered through your lesson plan, keeping your classroom experience more flexible and open to the “teachable moment” can keep your more abstract thinkers engaged.
  • Pop-quizzes. What?!’ Providing low-stakes assessments that incorporates material only available to students who have come to class not only makes use of the testing effect, but provides a bit of a carrot/stick in enticing otherwise less motivated students to attend class.

These are obviously, only a few options to help motivate attendance and obviously may not be applicable to everyone’s situation. For these and countless other reasons, I strongly encourage you to reach out to your Instructional Designers to discuss your unique needs. We absolutely LOVE finding creative ways to apply proven practices into your needs to reach your desired outcomes.

Schedule some time with either Joe Dolce of Becky Patt to talk about your attendance concerns today!

*I make the assumption that we’re all good actors in this discussion and do not simply drop the word “attendance” from our syllabus and call it a day.

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