Recovering After Absences
You may have noticed sparse attendance in the past couple of weeks. There are plenty of reasons: Students are already feeling overextended, and they often have trouble managing competing priorities. They may stop showing up because they’re stressed. Plus the flu hit hard and early, and other viruses are making the rounds as well. After a student has missed a class or two, it’s all too easy to give up on a course. There’s still time to salvage the semester, though, even for students who have missed a week or more.
Student absences can put us in an awkward position. When we’ve designed engaging class sessions that advance their learning, we want to communicate that it’s essential to attend. At the same time, we need to be humane and flexible, since illnesses and other disruptions happen to everyone, including college students. And of course, they may take longer to recover if they come to class when they’re ill, plus they’re likely to infect others, so we want sick students to stay home.
So what can faculty do to help students who miss class? Here are some ideas:
- Keep updated information about each class session’s goals, activities, and assignments on Canvas so that students can see what they’re missing when they’re absent. Providing a guide to what’s happening in and out of class can also reduce the number of queries you receive asking, “Did I miss anything when I was absent?” (The answer is always yes.)
- Encourage students to make connections with each other during class. If they work together and get to know each other, they can help one another keep up with what’s happening in the course and catch up if they fall behind.
- Ensure that assignments, exams, and grades are well distributed so that there is flexibility for the inevitabilities of life. For example, some in-class activities —like small group discussion that is worth points—can’t be “made up,” but a student should be able to miss a few and still do well in the course.
- Make reasonable adjustments. Allowing students to make up a missed assignment works well in some courses, and dropping an assignment (or quiz, etc.) grade and averaging students’ scores on the remaining ones works well in others.
- Proactively reach out to students who have missed multiple classes, communicating both concern and your expectations. A student who has missed several classes might feel too embarrassed or hopeless to reach out to you, but may respond if you contact them first.
- If a student seems to have disappeared from class and you’re worried about their well being, you can report “concerning behavior,” like unexplained absences or deteriorating health, at report.fsu.edu.
Some approaches to attendance can actually be harmful. Here are a few to avoid:
- Creating punitive attendance policies that might compel sick students to come to class.
- Communicating about attendance, in the syllabus or in class, in a way that conveys suspicion or even anger.
- Making attendance policies that are too complicated and time-consuming for you. For example, if you teach a large class and require all absences to be excused with written documentation, you might have to manage hundreds of excuses each semester. (Not to mention that not all students can afford to go to a doctor for every minor illness.)
- Responding to student explanations or apologies for absences by disregarding or minimizing their concerns, or by assuming they’re untruthful.
- Responding too quickly to student requests to make up missed work. It’s okay to let students know that you need some time to think about whether or how they can catch up.
If you’d like support with updating your attendance policy, building flexibility into your course, or communicating with students about the goals of each class session, please contact us. We look forward to working with you.
Workshop: Providing Feedback on Student Work
Tuesday, March 10th | 10:30 – 12:00 | DIF 432 | Sign up to attend
Feedback is essential for learning, but providing feedback that will help students learn is one of the more challenging aspects of teaching. As Ambrose et al. (2010) explain, “key features of effective feedback are that it (a) communicates to students where they are relative to the stated goals and what they need to do to improve, and (b) provides this information to students when they can make the most use of it.” In this hands-on workshop, we will explore strategies for providing targeted, timely, actionable, motivating feedback on any type of coursework.
Get Mid-Semester Feedback On Your Teaching
We offer the following services from Student Consultants, undergraduates who work at CAT and are trained to collect student feedback on teaching. If you would like to schedule a mid-semester feedback session, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Informal Feedback Session: If you can spare about 20 minutes of class time, you can invite student consultants to conduct a feedback session in your classroom. They’ll talk to your students about how their learning experience is going, using a brief writing exercise followed by small group discussion and a quick class-wide debrief. Then, we’ll analyze the results and meet with you afterwards to discuss the responses and your plans for modifications.
- Observer/Note-taker: Student consultants visit the classroom and record in writing what happened during class (e.g., chronology of classroom activities; time spent in questioning, board work, small group discussion; and so on). If you wish, they can use the COPUS. The student consultant describes rather than evaluates, and meets with you to present and discuss the report.
- Primed student: Prior to class, you inform the student consultant what he or she should watch for. Examples: How often do certain students respond? Are the students discussing course material among themselves? What seems difficult for the students? What are the students in the back rows of the class doing? The student consultant writes his or her observations in a report to share with you.