Taking Attendance by Meggin McIntosh, PhD

By meggin@meggin.com
Feb 1st, 2014

I have always taken attendance – whether I was teaching fifth grade, ninth grade, undergraduates, graduate students, or professors who were taking a class. Taking attendance can be an onerous task, requiring tons of time and bookkeeping (neither of which you can afford) or it can be relatively painless. Here are ten tips for you to CHOOSE from in order to acknowledge your students’ presence (or lack thereof) in your class.

  1. Use clickers. Clickers are apparently all the rage and if you are one of the people who uses them for in-class responses, then use them for attendance as well. If you do not use clickers, then keep reading for one of the other ideas shared in this week’s list of top ten productivity tips.  Note:  I never used clickers but I sure hear about them from many faculty!
  2. Pass around a sign-in sheet (ho-hum, but it works). This is one of my least favorite ways for a number of reasons, including the fact that as it comes to a student, that student now takes his/her mind off of the instructional activity that is going on to focus on signing the sheet. Some faculty worry that students are signing in for other students or signing and leaving, etc. If these are your worries, too, then go on to some of the other ideas, but I had to list this one since it is one of the options.
  3. End class with a closure activity that involves some level of response, which is submitted as students leave the class. You can ask students to respond to one of the learning experiences, reflect on their learning that day, ask a question for next class period, or any of a number of other possibilities. Since they don’t know what the closure activity will be, there is no possibility of leaving before the end of class thinking that someone else can somehow register them as being there.
  4. Start class with a quiz or other in-class assignment. Part of what I expected from my students was on-time arrival. Beginning class with a quiz or other quick point-based assignment helped encourage that behavior. Plus, I didn’t have to take roll because I had their assignments (or didn’t). If a student was late, then it was the student’s responsibility to let me know somehow that he/she had been in attendance.
  5. Have a quiz or other in-class assignment somewhere mid-class. In a 50-minute class, you need to be having some kind of “change-up” activity (more on that in future Top Tens), so having students complete and turn in some assignment or quick quiz, which then also serves as a way of taking roll serves a dual purpose. How productive!!
  6. Require students to turn in notecards at each class period. These cards have students’ names and other pertinent info on them. You can use the same cards week in and week out or you can hand out notecards, which students then turn in with a response to something from the class or another learning-centered activity.
  7. Expect students to pick up their graded assignments and the day’s handouts. Then, judging by whatever is left over, you will know who was absent.
  8. Look around the room and check off who is present, either using a seating chart or just because you know all of your students. You can do this at the beginning of class or during a class activity. This works in classes of 50 or fewer but can become cumbersome if there are many more than that.
  9. Call the roll. Ugh (in terms of the amount of time that it takes), but it is one of the options. At the beginning of the semester, I would sometimes do this as a way of helping me to learn the students’ names.
  10. Make your class a must-see event. No matter how magnificent your teaching is, most of us don’t create “must-attend” events given that today’s students have an enormous number of competing demands. However, some weeks you are able to do this. Then, you don’t need to worry about whether students are there. They are – and they have brought friends.

When you have classes of 200, 400, or more, then it is essentially impossible to take roll using any of the ideas in this list. If you teach such huge numbers, I would love to hear your ideas on this topic, so please contact me and I’ll start compiling a list of suggestions to share.

And if you want to get your current semester organized or prepare for the next, I highly recommend If You Do Nothing Else This Semester. With the strategies I present you will get the strategies you need to not only have a successful semester, but a successful year.