Let’s face it: getting students to participate in class is a challenge. My discussion-based sections of English composition sometimes felt more like Old Western standoffs than the collaborative learning communities I was striving for. After much trial and error, I found a simple practice that amped up the volume in my classes: attendance questions.
Research tells us that courses with high levels of participation are ones that emphasize inclusivity and learner-focused classroom practices. Asking your students to respond to a daily question while taking roll—rather than having students sign in or making silent tallies on a roster—is a quick and easy way to build classroom community and promote student engagement and participation from the beginning of each class session.
Attendance questions have several benefits in the classroom:
- They build a sense of community and model classroom responses. From the simple “Do you have any pets?” to a more thoughtful, “What is an accomplishment that you are extremely proud of?”, attendance questions help students connect with one another and build a collaborative community. This practice also models the importance of actively listening and responding to your peers.
- They can help you target moments for clarification or explanation. If the day’s lesson focuses on discussing a particularly difficult reading assignment, you might ask students to list something they found interesting, provocative, or confusing. If students are turning in an essay or taking an exam, you might ask about a surprising challenge they found in their writing or studying processes. These questions can help you take inventory and address any challenges your students are facing in real time.
- They allow space for the practice of speaking during the class. My students reported that because they answered a question at the onset of class, they felt more comfortable contributing to class discussion or asking other questions. There was significantly less anxiety about speaking up, and students felt a strong sense of community with their classmates after learning about them through attendance questions.
Attendance questions can lead to a far higher level of participation throughout class sessions and the course as a whole; however, in order to reap full benefits from attendance questions, the practice should become part of your class routine. In smaller classes, you might ask students to respond orally; in larger classes, you might have students respond via TopHat, highlighting a few of their responses. While asking students attendance questions may take a few extra minutes at the beginning of class, they can have a lasting impact on your classroom climate.