Strategies for monitoring attendance in large classes

November 17, 2015

Students who attend class regularly tend to perform better in class, even when class grades are adjusted to account for personal characteristics such as SAT scores and high school GPA (Crede, Roch, & Kieszczyka, 2010). George Kuh has long advised that if an activity benefits student learning, we should require it (Kuh, 2001). Embracing this advice, UWF enacted a policy making attendance in General Education courses mandatory for all first time in college (FTIC) students.

The policy creates a challenge for instructors who teach high enrollment classes: How can an instructor enforce the attendance policy without sacrificing precious class time to taking attendance?

Create learning activities that automatically document attendance

Minute papers are excellent low-stakes assignments that force students to reflect on the content of a lecture, practice their writing, and allow instructors to check student understanding of a key concept (Angelo & Cross, 1993). They require no more than 5 minutes of class time. Ask students to take a few minutes to respond to a prompt with 3-5 sentences. Use a check, check-plus, check-minus strategy for grading. A student who submits a response but clearly does not understand the concept gets a check (1 point). Students earn more points if they write a reasonably on-target response (check – 2 points) or a thorough, well-written, or insightful response (check-plus – 3 points).

Instructors get immediate feedback about student comprehension of the lecture material, the names on the papers document attendance, and the grading process should take no longer than 30 minutes for a class of 100 students.

Muddiest point papers are like minute papers, but the prompt is simpler: Describe one thing from class today that you have questions about or that confuses you. Alternatively, the prompt might ask students to identify one idea from the lecture that excites or interests them. These papers do not require grading, although a quick scan will give instructors useful feedback about the class meeting. Instructors simply record attendance for students who submitted a muddiest point paper during that class.

Clicker questions will document attendance if you use the TurningPoint class list feature (records clicker IDs associated with student names from the class roll). Resist the temptation to ask “are you here?” as a clicker question. Asking students to purchase a clicker just to take attendance breeds resentment and serves no learning function. Instead, ask a clicker question to initiate a pair-share discussion about a challenging concept. Like minute papers, these questions help instructors evaluate student understanding on the spot and create an opportunity to correct misconceptions. Significant learning occurs when students discuss and explain their responses to each other. Clicker questions do not have to have a “correct” answer. Ask a question about a class topic that supports multiple points of view. Use the varied student responses to facilitate a discussion of the pros and cons of the different perspectives.


Angelo, T. A., & Cross, K. P. (1993). Classroom assessment techniques: A handbook for college teachers (2nd ed). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Crede, M., Roch, S.G., & Kieszczyka, U. M. (2010). Class attendance in college: A meta-analytic review of the relationship of class attendance with grades and student characteristics. Review of Education Research, 80, 272-295.

Kuh, G. D. (2001). What really matters to student learning: Inside the National Survey of Student Engagement. Change, 33(3), pp. 10-17, 66.  

11/3/15 ecr

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