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Strategies for Improving Class Attendance

Attending class facilitates learning in a variety of ways. It ensures that students have an opportunity to interact with the course material in a variety of formats - through listening, talking to peers, multimedia presentations, etc. In addition, the skills required to take notes and the discipline it requires to come to class and participate are skills that transfer to the workplace.

According to Merry J. Sleigh and Darren R. Ritzer, the following strategies improve student attendance:

  1. "Structure class so that those who attend experience obvious benefits, such as better, personal growth, and 'informative' entertainment. Test on material emphasized in class including class discussion, video clips or guest speakers, conveying that class time is of value, whether the instructor is lecturing or not. In a recent survey in our classes, the number one factor that influenced student attendance was the amount of in-class material that would be on the test (Par. 10)."
  2. "Avoid repetition of the textbook or assigned readings. If students have access to the same material covered in class, they often perceive little reason to be there." In other words, if the book says it well, why repeat it? Instead, spend class time applying what is in the text or discussing topics the text does not address well.
  3. Make the subject matter relevant. "When the subject matter is made personally relevant, understanding and comprehension are deeper and more meaningful. Students will be more motivated to attend lectures that reflect elements of their background, interests, or future."
  4. "Structure class meetings so students must be in class for one activity, such as an in-class writing activity ..." It's helpful if these in-class writing assignments are worth a couple of points and can not be made up. An example of an in-class writing assignment might be to answer one of the following: Based on today's session, list three things you know about _______________? In your own words, explain ________________. After allowing the students to write for a few minutes, have them work with a partner to rewrite the response so that it contains elements of both partner's responses. This is a good opportunity to point out "the power of two" because, inevitably, the responses they formulate together will be better than the responses they formulated individually. Collect both the individual and paired responses to see the difference for yourself.
  5. "Regardless of your perspective [regarding class attendance], expectations regarding attendance should be clearly explained and attainable because students are often more willing to comply with policies when they understand the reasoning behind them. Such communication also conveys a level of adult-to-adult respect between faculty and students. Present your policies in oral and written formats, and follow through with established consequences. Students learn to ignore policies that are not enforced."
  6. "Policies that explain the consequences for missed exams or late assignments can encourage attendance. [For example], if a faculty member allows students to drop one test grade, a missed exam automatically becomes the dropped grade. When policies are in place, students can make informed choices about attendance, and faculty reduce the need for judgment calls about an absence." Use a "Stuff Happens" card to handle student excuses. Professor Feenstra gives each student a "stuff happens" card, which is about the size of a business card and includes space for the semester date and the student's name. This is a one time only forgiveness card, nontransferable, and won't be replaced if lost. (The Teaching Professor, June/July 2007.) One instructor set a policy where two unexcused absences can be waived only if followed up with a creative excuse derived in a form that is relevant to the course. For example, if a student misses an art course, she or he might draw a picture of where she was and what happened. The instructor points out that excused absences (i.e., a death in the family, illness, or emergency) are never to be made fun of."
  7. Model arriving on time, being prepared for class, and keeping appointments, including office hours.
  8. "Learn students' names as quickly as possible. Calling a student by name demonstrates that you have an interest in the individual as well as the group. Students rate 'showing interest in them' and 'knowing students' names' as the fourth and fifth most common behaviors teachers can exhibit to develop rapport (Buskist & Saville, 2001)."

"The critical task for teachers is to know their audiences well enough to create classes that meet students' needs and to modify their pedagogical approaches to fit the situation. Ultimately, encouraging attendance is a critical teaching task. Without students, there is no need for a teacher."

Reference

Sleight, M., and Darren Ritzer. "Encouraging Student Attendance." Observer 14.9 (2001): n. pag. Web. 24 Sept. 2010.

(par. 10, http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/publications/observer/2001/november-01/encouraging-student-attendance.html)

Sposto, Caroline Z. "No More Lame Excuses - Unless They're Very Creative." Teaching for Success 15.5 (2003): 5. Print.

"Use 'Stuff Happens' Cards to Handle Student Excuses." Teaching for Success 21.6 (2007): 3. Print.

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