Monday, July 8, 2013

Encourage Your Students to be "Absence"-Minded

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You don't realize how ineffective your classroom absence work procedure is until you're spending a good chunk of your prep time on most days putting together make-up work. I learned this the hard way several years ago and decided my procedure needed an Extreme Makeover: Absence Work edition. My goal was to create an efficient and student-led procedure that required less time from me and more self-direction from my students.

The first thing I did was buy a file box and labeled it "Absence Work." In it, I placed hanging file folders for each of the subjects I taught (Reading, Spelling, English, Social Studies, and Miscellaneous [for take-home forms, book orders, school announcements, fundraisers, etc.]). Within those hanging folders, I put 5 folders, each labeled with a different day of the week.

After taking attendance in the morning (and at the beginning of my two afternoon switch classes), I jotted down the names of each absent student on separate Welcome Back to School Absence Checklists I created. 

As I passed out papers to students throughout the day, I'd take enough for the absent students, write their names on top of them, and put them in the corresponding subject and day's folder in the absence box. I added any notes or information that would not be on the handouts in the box to the yellow checklists. At the end of the day, I printed off my class Web site's homework page with all assignments listed and placed it in the front hanging folder, which was labeled "Agenda." Students used those Web page printouts to complete their own homework agendas when returning from absences. I kept a week's worth of Web page agendas in the box, then filed them in a binder that I kept at the back of the box so that there would be a record of which assignments were given when, in case it ever came into question.

Upon a student's return to school, I handed him or her the yellow checklist to complete. The checklist asks the students if they did the following:

  • Check your agenda from the last day you were here and turn in assignments that were due the day you were absent?
  • Take your agenda to the absence box and copy missed assignments?
  • Get homework handouts from absence box folders?
  • Check with the teacher for anything else you might have missed?
  • Figure out due dates for your absence make-up work? (You get one day for every day absent.)

While this procedure still required time and additional interaction with students to explain more complex assignments, answer questions, and distribute supplies, it significantly cut the time and desk space I was using to organize absence work! It also put responsibility into the hands of the students, which is one of the goals on which I base my 5th grade classroom procedures. Another positive of this procedure was that it eliminated A LOT of "Well, you never gave me that" and other excuses for not having work done and turned in. All I had to do was look in the box and see unclaimed work, and that argument was stopped in its tracks. 

The procedure isn't perfect; however, most challenges I faced were minimal. It was a little time-consuming to have to individually walk students through the procedure following an absence. While I explained the procedure to the class at the beginning of the year, unless a student was absent, he or she didn't have a need to use it, so it was understandable that he or she would need some guidance the first time it was used. Another challenge was that students would sometimes take the agenda from the box and not return it. I only printed one copy of the homework page per day, and I stapled it to the others from the same week. If the packet disappeared, I didn't have another hard copy for students to use. I added a label to the top of the box to try to preempt this.

The biggest challenge was dealing with students who did not take all of their work from the boxes. I was more lenient at the beginning of the year or if the student was rarely absent. However, there were repeat offenders who habitually did not take responsibility for getting their absence work, and I found myself reminding them and asking them daily if they had gotten what they needed. To go along with this, students would often skip the first step of the checklist, which is to turn in homework that would have been due the day they came back. I created a special drawer called "Absence" where I asked students to turn in such work as well as the assignments given while they were gone to help keep it simple for them.

My absence box procedure is described in detail as part of my absence work policy that I distributed and discussed at the beginning of the school year. (I learned within the first year of teaching that with all the different scenarios that will come your way, it is important to spell out in detail all procedures and as many contingencies as possible!)

In the policy, I describe the amount of time students have to complete and turn in absence work; where to turn in absence work; and the procedure for the absence box. This policy is part of a Welcome Packet that I send home with students the first day of school. I ask students and parents to read through and agree to the policies, as well as to sign a form saying they have done so. 

In the end, my students appreciated the structure and routine of the absence box, even if it took a little time to get used to it. Having to take care of their own work was a big leap for some students who were used to teachers creating absence packets for them. Once they realized that responsibility was shifted to them, I saw that many of them took it on with pride. They were comfortable and confident in what they were supposed to do. 

Do you have an absence policy that has worked well for you? Let me know about it and the grade level in which you use it in the Comments.


  1. Kristen, I really like your checklist for students when they return to school. I find this to be one of the most challenging parts about students being absent. I had a few students last year who just would not pick up their work when they returned and they never remembered to turn in assignments that were due when they were absent. I have a system similar to yours and I've found it works well, but I think adding your checklist would make it even better! Thanks for the great idea!
    Polka Dot Lesson Plans

    1. Hi, Courtney! Thanks for stopping by to read my post. It's hard to find a perfect system, but I'm glad that yours works well.


  2. What a great idea! Thanks for sharing! :)

    Frugal In First

    1. Hi, Melissa and Brittany! It's never too early to teach students personal responsibility, and this system is really adaptable to younger grades. Thanks for visiting!


  3. This is a great method! Students learn just what to expect when they are absent. Thanks for linking up with the Learning 4 Keeps Organizational Linky Party! :)
    Leah @ Learning 4 Keeps


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