This past year I have informally conducted an experiment in the changes attendance taking has on my classroom. Just about a year ago I started regularly taking attendance in my classes. I don’t count the attendance for anything, since I believe that leads to grading nightmares. But I do regularly track who is coming and who isn’t and keep it in my grade spreadsheet in a separate tab. I also let students know that I’m watching, for example, by e-mailing students who miss a couple of classes in a row.

I’ve found it has several benefits:

  1. Students feel compelled to tell me when, and often why, they’re missing class, even though I think we’re all clear on the fact that it doesn’t count for any part of the grade.
  2. I learn names really fast. Really, really fast. That means I can involve more students in the class by cold calling on them, although I always give them an option to “pass” on my question.
  3. Attendance in my classes is excellent. Interestingly, participation also improved when I started doing this, which may be related to the point above.

The work increase in doing this for the small classes I have is minimal, especially given that I want to learn their names anyway. Although all of this sounds obvious I wouldn’t have predicted before doing the (informal) experiment. It’s been eye opening.