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Teacher Trick # 1: How to improve attendance rates

24.05.2013

I’ve been teaching Communication subjects to undergrads for a while, and over the years, I’ve noticed an alarming trend: attendance rates begin well but drop off towards the end of semester. I can understand why students might miss a class here or there, but I’m mystified as to why so many skip half a semester, especially when they’re paying high course fees.

This year, I decided to try something different – and to my astonishment, I had great results. Not only did I get students attending classes, paying attention, and rocking up on time, but most of them were waiting outside the classroom when I arrived.

The trick is to award marks during the first 30 minutes of class time.

I’m not talking about marking attendance, although they did have to attend to be eligible for the extra marks. I’m talking about weaving a small assessable task into every lesson – at the beginning of the lesson – and linking it to a larger assignment. In my case, the larger assignment was a class presentation.

I think assessable presentations are a really useful learning tool, but for them to be successful, the parameters must be clear and succinct, otherwise students will either speed-talk for 2 minutes, or ramble on for 20, and nobody wants to sit through 50 long-winded presentations.

For presentations, my students must use the Pecha Kucha style. It may appear restrictive, but it works on so many levels: the set structure forces students to boil down their discussion to the most essential points; it encourages the use of images rather than text; and its strict timing trumps any excuse for going over or under time.

But Pecha Kucha wasn’t the reason students rocked up early for my classes.

I asked everyone to review their peers. I made this optional, and if they chose to participate, they could earn an extra 5% towards their final mark – but they could only earn the 5% if they attended the first 30 minutes of class, because this was the time we did presentations.

Voilà! Instant improvement on attendance.

As well as improving attendance, the peer review task nailed several key learning areas in one blow. It encouraged active listening, common courtesy (I hardly saw any phones out during this part of the lesson), organisation of ideas and diplomacy. The presentation subject choices matched important revision topics, which helped to consolidate learning. Students had regular practice writing meaningful feedback, and since all feedback was handed to the presenter, it also introduced them to the subtle art of receiving and accepting constructive criticism.

And all I had to do was collect slips of paper, glance through them to ensure their content was appropriate, keep a tally of which students participated that week, and assign them a mark out of 5 at the end of semester.

But the most surprising thing was that students actually enjoyed doing this task – I know this because they told me.

It’s amazing how a tiny bit of extra credit can nudge students into changing their behaviour.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. 29.05.2013 5:40 AM

    Brilliant!

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