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Main ->  Attendance

On 4/30/2012  Holly Cole asked the PsychTeacher listserv:

We all know that students learn more if they actually attend class, however many students frequently skip. Is there a way to encourage students to attend class without making a strict attendance policy? What is your opinion on attendance policies? Has anyone tried giving bonus points or quizzes only to students in attendance? Does this work best if it occurs randomly or during every class?


Here were the responses.


Joanne Zinger (formerly Frattaroli)
University of California, Irvine


I have two different ways that I have encouraged attended by the use of extra credit:


1)  I track attendance every day (e.g., by in-class activities or i-clickers) and then, at the end of the week, use a random number generator to decide which day will be worth extra credit.  Students who were present on the chosen day will get one point of extra credit.  (Note:  Our quarters are 10 weeks long and my class is out of 300 points, so this ultimately allows them to earn up to 3% of points in extra credit).



2)  I choose certain (non-random) days of the quarter to embed an extra credit assignment into my powerpoint slides (although I do use a random number generator to decide WHICH slide it gets embedded in...its not always the first one or the last one).  The assignment is related to something we are learning that day in class and that would (hopefully) help them apply the material or think about it more critically.  I describe the assignment in class, and I tell them that only those in class  at that moment are eligible for the assignment.  At the end of the class, I give the students a "secret code word" that they have to put on the assignment to verify that they were in class (this also prevents people from leaving class early, after getting the assignment), and I instruct them not to share their code word with students who were not in class.  (I don't actually track attendance, so they could potentially be sharing this assignment with their friends who were not in class - but my impression is that this happens infrequently enough that I am not concerned about it.  That being said, you could always track attendance on that day to enforce the "no sharing" rule).  I do this about once a week and each assignment is worth 1 point - so, as above, this translates into a possible boost of 3% in extra credit points.


Both of these methods have been effective in increasing my attendance rates.  The first method may be a bit more effective in increasing attendance rates, but the second method may make more pedagogical sense in some classes, depending on the goals and structure of the class (e.g., in my case, the class I use this with is an an upper-division research/writing course where they are spend the whole quarter working on a research project - and I design the EC assignments to correspond with something they should be working on for their project). 


Hope that helps!


Elizabeth Mazur, 
Penn State Greater Allegheny

For Intro Psych, I give random quizzes, 2 pts max (4 questions, half pt each) during the semester, right after the start of class.  All points are "bonus points".  One point is to encourage attendance and being on time to class.  The second is to give students an idea of how well they understand the just finished material of that or the previous week.  And because I use 2 similar but different quizzes to decrease straying eyes, we then have 8 review questions that we go over immediately after the quizzes are turned in.  Also, if a student is late and one student has already handed in a quiz (which then allows them to open their notebook and write down that day's outline), no late students are allowed to take it.  I think that for many students this helps with attendance and being on time, but there are always a few students who for many possible reasons, it doesn't seem to matter.  However, I have never done a controlled experiment with this (i.e. compared two Intro Psych classes concurrently, one with quizzes, one without).  Research has shown that reviewing does help, however, as well as giving students a pre-exam idea of what they understand and what they don't. 

For my 400-level courses, we often do in-class personal writing or group work, such as case analyses, 10 points each, for a maximum of 100 points total, which are an integral part of the grade.  Students must be in class to do the work and for it to be graded (they certainly can get the handouts later and practice on their own).  However, I usually do between 11 and 13 per semester so students with 1 or 2 absences are not penalized though consistently absent students are.  And the most conscientious students, as is typically the case whatever you do, can reap extra credit points if they do every one (or at least they make up the points they may have lost if their work was less than a "10").  Again, no controlled experiment, but it does seem that for most students it helps but less so for those with chronic medical/emotional/motivational problems.

So, I recommend.

June J. Pilcher

Clemson University

I include some type of in-class exercise in every class (e.g., 2-minute summary of information from assigned readings and/or class). I use this as attendance. I explain that there are no make-ups on these assignments since they are designed to be in class assignments to help the students' process and apply the information we are covering. The students can miss a certain number of them (usually 3ish; determined by the number of class meetings in the semester) without penalty to their grade.


In general, this approach has kept students attending classes, even the larger classes. The only time I have trouble with this is when there is some type of long-term issue happening that requires the student to miss many classes (e.g., hospitalization), then I have to handle the number of absences in a case-by-case bases.

Bryan Saville

James Madison University

You could try taking attendance each class period.  Shimoff and Catania

(2001) found that simply taking attendance--even when there were no consequences attached--increased both attendance and course performance.  It would be a simple, non-aversive way to get the outcome you desire.


Shimoff, E., & Catania, C. A. (2001). Effects of recording attendance on grades in introductory psychology. Teaching of Psychology, 28, 192-195.


Good luck!

Carol Furcher

University of New Mexico - Los Alamos

I don't require attendance. Instead, I pass out slips of paper at the beginning of class with questions about what topic or activity interested, intrigued, disturbed, or otherwise caught their attention during the class, and what was muddy, unclear, or simply led them to want to find out more.  They turn these in at the end of the class, and get two points (a trivial part of the grade), no make up if they missed the class.  They're allowed to miss 2 or 3, depending on how many classes meet per week.  I look them over and write brief comments on them.  The students seem to

appreciate that.   They also help me identify what topics and

activities are having an impact, and which ones need more

coverage, which I handle in the next class.   (My classes are

under 25; this wouldn't be practical in a large class.)  No A/B comparison data, but my attendance is in the 80-100% range, normally.

Anita Rosenfield


I used to allow 15 minutes at the end of class each week for students to write Weekly Reflections. A sentence each on: What was most important in the evening's lecture or the assigned reading, what was confusing, what did you use in your life from what you learned, and a fourth that escapes my mind (I stopped teaching a few years ago-whoosh-it disappears). Reflections could only be filled out at the end of class and were given 1 point a piece, total of 10 points for the 12-week semester, so they were allowed two skips without losing points. To get credit, they had to answer all four questions (they couldn't say "nothing" for what was confusing).  I'd review the reflections during the week, then start the next class with a review based on their questions. 

Gene Walker

My class "Great Experiments in Psychology" is based on reading and discussion. I explain to the class that this is a participation class. They are required to attend and participate in the discussion. If they miss a class, I give them an assignment to write a 3-5 page paper over the topic discussed during their absence. 

Jim Matiya

Florida Gulf Coast University

I use to take attendance and recording it but that was not a very effective use of my time. I usually have 3 classes of 50 students... 
I finally settled on this idea, thanks to Intro author Karen Huffman.
I give ten assignments per semester. I only count the highest 7 of the ten for grade purposes. 
For Methodology, students have to diagram a study given in class. They have to list the Independent and dependent variables, 
hypothesis, control groups, activity, results and generalization.
For learning, diagram classical conditioning. For operant, reinforcement schedules.
For memory, several activies required...short term memory, false memory activity, Loftus' car crash....

Part-time Faculty

North Seattle, Seattle Central, Highline Community Colleges

I have scheduled activities during class that are graded for participation. I allow students to miss two per quarter. However I have been concerned lately, in regard to the fact that I know that my students who come from a low SES are more likely to miss class more often due to the need to work more hours and I know that some students are able to use lecture recordings, reading, and email to keep up with the class . I am wondering if attendance policies affect students with low SES more than other students, and if so what should be done to change that. 



Additional reading.

Golding, J.M. (2011). The role of attendance in lecture classes: You can lead a horse to water... Teaching of Psychology, 38(1), pp. 40-42

Shimoff, E., & Catania, C. A. (2001). Effects of recording attendance on grades in introductory psychology. Teaching of Psychology, 28, 192-195.


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