A zero-tolerance approach is likely to make things worse. No one wants resentful, sullen students forced to sit through lessons. So how can you encourage them to attend live classes and actively participate in the learning?
We’ve got ten ideas to help you target these students at risk of missing essential parts of their education. Each one will help boost your attendance figures.
1: Remind them
It sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But how many students simply forget to attend your lessons? Unlike school with the rigid timetable and regular bells, learning from home can feel very different. There’s not just the distractions of computer games and friends to contend with, the absence of the usual routine can leave students (and staff) feeling disorientated.
Use a variety of methods to remind students when your next scheduled lesson is taking place. Contact them using email, the school’s social media accounts, and text messages to make sure they know when to join. Send them a lesson outline and equipment list so they come prepared and ready to learn.
Avoid making any changes to your scheduled lesson wherever possible. Any changes create confusion and risk students turning up at the wrong time.
2: Find out who and why
Do you know who attends each lesson? Simply keeping an attendance tracker is a good way to spot problems. Take your register at different points in the lesson to check no one is joining late or leaving early.
It’s easy to assume you know why particular students don’t attend your lessons, but you risk missing problems that haven’t occurred to you. Collect feedback from students and parents on a regular cycle. Keep it anonymous so they can speak openly about problems.
Finding the barriers means you can do something about it. Look for trends and patterns amongst groups of students to spot issues.
- Is attendance low for a particular subject?
- Are there problems at a certain time of day, such as Friday afternoons or early mornings?
- Is there a timing clash with something else?
- Are a particular group of students less likely to attend than others?
Reach out to other teachers in your school to find out whether they are experiencing the same problem. Talk as a school to find ways to target attendance strategically.
3: Create competition
Many students respond well to competition, making it a simple strategy for boosting attendance. Instead of putting pressure on individual students, build collaborative challenges.
- Having an award for reaching a class attendance percentage
- Creating an attendance competition between rival classes, houses, or year groups
- Awarding most improved attendance in assembly
- Featuring attendance on the school’s social media accounts
- Awarding a trophy, prize, or certificate for the best attending class at the end of term
Raising the value of attendance amongst colleagues will encourage everyone to put more effort into boosting it. Create a friendly rivalry between different staff. There’s no reason why the teacher with the best attendance can’t be rewarded along with their students.
4: Make your lessons varied
They say familiarity breeds contempt. You may have worked hard to create the perfect online lesson structure and stuck to it for too long. Create an element of surprise to your lessons to capture their interest.
Mix up your usual lesson sequence to create variety. Add in games and activities. Experiment to find different formats that suit your learners. Alternate ways of delivering online lessons with a mix of live, pre-recorded, and self-guided formats. This makes live lessons a treat.
Keep your emphasis on quality over quantity. Your lessons should be as short as possible to deliver the learning. And whatever you do, keep to your promised timings. If you always run over, your students will avoid them.
5: Give them responsibilities
Rather than lessons being teacher led, give your students opportunities to take on specific roles.
- Keep track of house points and merit marks
- Write minutes/ notes for the lesson
- Take turns to choose who answer questions
- Keep track of timings
- Give reward points to other students
Make your students active rather than passive participants in your lesson.
6: Leave them hanging
Treat your lesson like a bestselling book. Like ending a chapter on a cliff-hanger, make your students finish the lesson wondering what comes next.
Whether it’s the end of a great story, a surprise event, or information about an upcoming exam, give them a reason to come back next time.
7: Focus on ‘why’ not ‘what’
Salespeople talk to customers about how they can solve their problems. They don’t focus on themselves or what they’re selling.
Take the same approach with your lessons. Make them less about what is being learned and more about the benefit they offer your students. Sell your lessons like you would a product.
- Can they see the specific benefits of what they are learning?
- Do they understand how this lesson fits into the curriculum sequence?
- Is there a shared understanding about how they will improve?
- Is this lesson explicitly linked to tests and exams?
If your students can see why the lesson is useful to them, they’re far more likely to attend, and be an active participant in the class.
8: Connect individually
Are there students in your class who believe you won’t notice, or even care if they don’t attend your lessons?
Show your appreciation to absent students with a personal message saying you missed them. Ask if there’s any problem you can help with and tell them you’re looking forward to seeing them next time.
You can also message a few students after every live lesson to thank them for attending. Use a class list to make sure everyone gets a turn.
9: Keep parents informed
Parents want their children to succeed. Don’t just send lesson reminders to your students, copy parents in as well. Put live lessons on a homework tracker or collaborative platform for them to see.
If a student doesn’t attend lessons, phone home to discuss why and ask for their support. Parents know their children best and can help you devise strategies to re-engage them. Use data to show current attendance and explain the impact missed lessons can have on progress.
10: Flip the learning
Instead of students attending lessons to learn, make them come to ready to share. Set tasks, challenges, and learning quests for them to complete in preparation for the class.
Give them a time slot where they will share what they’ve learned with the other learners. Their attendance can even form part of their grade.
With so many distractions at home, it’s no wonder that online lesson attendance is an issue for many teachers. Students can easily forget, get distracted, or have a clash of commitments at home.
Make sure your students realise they are expected to join online classes. Does your school have an attendance policy to explain to them, and their parents, your expectations?
Watch out for students with specific reasons for not attending, including poor internet connection and a lack of technology at home. Think of how you can support these students to help them attend or find ways to make lessons more inclusive to meet their needs.
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