Reconsidering Attendance & Participation

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As FWS instructors, we know how fun FWSes can be with lively and active student participants. But what do we do about students who have missed several classes? As teachers who are more connected to our students in our seminars, we might be conflicted about what to do as our semester comes to a close. Here are a few suggestions about attendance policy for the FWS.

In a typical pre-pandemic semester (when was that again?) in my FWS courses, students can miss two absences, no questions asked. But this semester I need to think differently. Why not separate attendance from participation given the seminar nature of this class? Attendance can be assumed, and participation can be evaluated separately—the only way that attendance factors in is if students miss too many classes. 

For attendance, I personally don’t differentiate between excused and unexcused absences—in my courses, I just “allow” two, because I think 2 is a reasonable number for a seminar that meets twice/week. After 2 absences, as noted on my syllabus, a student’s overall course grade will be lowered by a ½ grade (except in cases of emergency), “down to and including an F.” They cannot pass the course if they miss 6 classes. In almost ten years of teaching, nobody has failed for attendance reasons. Students like to have a specific number they can be held accountable for and one they can remember easily. Regarding the 2, absences for athletic events or for religious holidays are not included, and in some cases, even for illness, like this semester. During the pandemic, we don’t want students coming if they are sick. You can always make exceptions for people when merited, like if they got bronchitis, especially if students are communicating and giving you a plan to make up the work they missed. 

If your attendance policy didn’t stipulate an “allowed” number of absences, then you might wonder what you can do now about a student who has missed an excessive number of classes. At this point, you can lower their participation grade by what seems like an equitable amount in relation to other students. A half grade? For instructors teaching the FWS in the Spring, I would stipulate a number of what you see as reasonable absences for the entire semester. In your syllabus, tell them how much their grade will be reduced by further absences beyond that number, even if it means “down to and including an F.” By instituting a policy and making them aware of it, we are being equitable to all of our students, as well as being transparent about how the course works, and holding all students accountable for being good citizens in the course. 

Kelly King-O'Brien


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