Thanks to everyone who came to last week’s Lunch & Learn to share attendance policies and strategies for accommodating students without sacrificing our standards and/or sanity. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach that will work of everyone, but if we all share a common understanding of what’s expected and how others are responding to those expectations, it may help us feel confident in holding fast to whatever policy we set.
First, there is no college-wide policy regarding attendance.
Taking attendance, especially in the first few weeks of the semester, can be useful in learning students’ names and alerting us to patterns that we should flag on Starfish, but it’s up to you if or how you track it. (Just don’t use the Attendance feature in Canvas—it’s buggy.) If you do have an attendance policy, it must be stated in your syllabus. And under current Covid protocols, we cannot penalize a student who is officially on medical leave by lowering their attendance grade or refusing to allow make-up work or testing. Additionally, we must allow reasonable accommodations to support their learning and mechanisms by which they may demonstrate that learning. Canvas makes it reasonably easy to share daily class outlines, PowerPoint slides, and other handouts, and if you’re inclined to share a recording of your class, Teams makes that fairly easy as well. Click for a quick How to share PowerPoints and/or for a brief How to Record on Teams (Without Calling Anyone). The extent to which you extend the same accommodations to students who miss class for other reasons is up to you, but it’s probably a good idea to give everyone enough leeway that they don’t feel pressed to come to class when they’re potentially contagious.
Managing Make-up Work and In-Class Engagement
Even before extended medical leaves were this common, negotiating extensions for assignments and make-up tests was a hassle. Now, faced with more frequent and more numerous requests for these types of accommodations, having a time- and energy-efficient policy to rely on is all the more important—trying to adjudicate student requests individually is exhausting. A lesson I’ve learned from training horses (surprisingly similar to undergraduate students in their dedication to self-preservation) is to establish and consistently follow a procedure that makes the right choice easy and the wrong choice hard. For horses, making the wrong choice usually means running longer or faster. For our students, making the right choice should almost always be attending class and turning their work in on time. If they don’t, knowing that the burden of requesting, documenting, and tracking extensions is squarely on their shoulders may be enough to encourage them to get to class and/or make the original deadline. Thanks to Kelly Cuccolo for sharing this template for a student-initiated contract for extensions.
Work Smarter, Not Harder
A clearly stated policy makes them, not us, responsible for following up and following through. When students miss class discussions and other opportunities for interactive learning, asking them to demonstrate their engagement with the material in some way that is slightly more onerous than actually attending class may likewise discourage unnecessary absences. A written 3-page written (or a recorded, 10-minute oral) reflection on prompts that were discussed in class seems a reasonable alternative. If you’re worried about making more work for yourself, acknowledging the receipt of this sort of submission with a simple plus/check/minus is all that’s needed. We wouldn’t be able to give each student in a class discussion point-by-point feedback in real-time. Doing so for make-up work is no more realistic.
Makeup quizzes, tests, and exams
Missing quizzes, tests, or exams can be a little trickier. Ask yourself how students can demonstrate their mastery of the material being assessed in a way that doesn’t require you to recreate a parallel assessment for each student who needs to make up the quiz or test. Maybe it’s as simple as not returning the assessment to the whole class until all make-ups have been completed. You can share grades on Canvas as soon as you have them, but wait to go over the details. If you want everyone to get the feedback immediately but are afraid the format or content of the exam might get out, maybe an oral version of the same exam will do. We all know how much work goes into crafting a good assessment. Being accommodating of individual needs doesn’t require you to replicate that effort on demand. It just means finding an alternative measure of students’ learning that you can live with. And if that alternative is somewhat less appealing than the standard measure, they’ll likely make it on test day if they can.
No matter how many times I’ve taught a class, it seems there’s always room for improvement. I usually take notes on assignments and tests to guide revisions for the next time. I’ve applied this technique to syllabi, too. If you’re not quite as satisfied as you had hoped you’d be with your current policies on attendance, deadlines, and make-up work, feel free to add an addendum to your syllabus at mid-term to carry you through the rest of the semester. And if you have other strategies you’d like to share, feel free to send them to me (AndisonCenter@alma.edu). One of my goals is to establish a repository of tools and techniques we can all access whenever we’re looking for a little inspiration.
Take care and get some rest over the break,