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Attendance: Options and Considerations

At Montclair State University, instructors determine their attendance policies. Each instructor should assess what works best for their course’s learning objectives and clearly state these policies in the syllabus.

Instructors can help minimize student absences through careful course design, adherence to their policies, and communication.

The point of requiring attendance is to maximize student learning. Emily Kline, a doctoral student in the Psychology department, addresses attendance through participation points, using the following policy:

Please note that attendance is expected but absences alone will not adversely affect students’ grades. However, participation points (composing 10% of your final grade) can only be earned during the scheduled class session; thus, missing class equates to missing participation points for that day.

Despite a clear attendance policy, things happen – students get sick, struggle with transportation issues, or face family emergencies. You may need to be flexible.

If you feel a student needs help beyond what you can provide, reach out to campus partners.

Communicate Your Expectations

Make sure your syllabus policy provides a clear attendance policy and indicates if and how you are counting attendance toward the final grade.

Chenneville and Jordan (2008) found that “graded attendance policies increased class attendance.” However, they note that despite “student knowledge of the importance of attendance,” students had a “desire for choice and autonomy in educational decision making” (p. 33). Therefore, instructors might want to negotiate the terms of a graded attendance policy with students to allow for flexibility while still incentivizing attendance. This can also be helpful since individual students may define “regular class attendance” differently (p. 32).

In creating your policy, articulate allowed absences, potential penalties regarding clearly defined excessive absences, and what students should do if absent. Consider the following to help with policies:

  • Keep track of attendance: use Canvas to your advantage; create badges in Canvas for specific reasons of absences for your records.
  • Establish a system for missed work: decide note-sharing policies for the class and whether an absent student reaches out to peers or the professor for notes; set protocols for submitting work; offer extra resources (e.g. CAST/tutoring or student hours).
  • Reach out: follow up with absent students who do not contact you and/or submit progress reports through Navigate. Emails to absent students are best written in the empathy sandwich style: That is, start with understanding and compassion, then explain your concern and expectations, and close with a positive, resilience-focused message.
Why Aren’t Students Attending?

Although emergencies or illness account for some student absences, if you are experiencing high levels of absenteeism it may be that boredom and general lack of interest are the cause. Students may be wondering if the class session is an essential element of learning.

Some tips for supporting strong attendance by increasing class activity:

  • Avoid lessons that merely repeat material from text or homework assignments.
  • Create lessons for in-person days that encourage questioning, discussion, and hands-on engagement.
  • Get students moving: if the classroom allows, try to get students moving either in group work or roundtable discussions.
  • If a class is particularly reluctant to speak, try activities that get students communicating without speaking: students can write on paper and pass ideas to other students to generate discussion or work on a Google Doc together.
Reach Out With an Empathy Sandwich

Demonstrating empathy while being clear about your expectations is important. Much like the classic “praise sandwich” approach to offering feedback on student work — positive, criticism, positive –, we recommend an empathy sandwich if students have missed class or work. That is, start with understanding and compassion, then indicate what you will provide and what you expect, and close with a positive, resilience-focused message.

For students who will miss a number of classes:

For example, “I am sorry to hear that you will not be able to attend the class for the next 5 days. Health permitting, I recommend that you keep up with the due dates and activities provided in Canvas, and that you closely review the class notes [or recorded video] I post. Please keep in touch with your peer group about what they learned in class because I don’t manage to cover everything in my notes. I wish you well and have confidence you’ll be able to catch up and persevere with your studies. Feel free to be in touch with me by email or attend my Zoom Student Hours; also consider an appointment at the University’s tutoring center, CAST, if you are having trouble with any of the material. Best, Prof. X.”

For students who have missed work:

“I hope everything is OK. I see you have missed the last few homework assignments[ [or test or major assignment]. The homework assignments are meant to give you a space to start working with the concepts we are exploring this semester; they do not need to be perfect. Please reach out via email or come to my student hours so that we can get you on track for success in the class. You may also wish to take advantage of the University’s tutoring center, CAST, if you are having trouble with any of the material.

Unresolved Concerns

Unfortunately, we might not always be able to reach absent students despite how hard we try. Most likely if this is happening, there are larger issues at play. If you had clear policies in your course, reached out to the student, and used Navigate and/or CARE reporting services, then you did all you could.

Dealing with your emotional reactions and stress about semester issues including students with excessive absences is important, too. Reach out to your chair, department colleagues, or the OFE staff to talk through your concerns.

Resources and References

Chenneville T., & Jordan C. (2008). Impact of attendance policies on course attendance among college students. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 8(3), pp. 29 – 35.

Launius, M. H. (1997). College student attendance: Attitudes and academic performance. College Student Journal, 31, 86-92.

Van Blerkom, M. L. (1992). Class attendance in undergraduate courses. The Journal of Psychology, 126, 487-494.

12.16.22 CK


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