Student Absences & Make-Up Work…What Do You Do?

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I was recently asked about how I handle student absences and make-up work. As a band director, generally an absence simply means they missed out on a rehearsal and we don’t have a lot of make-up work to assign. This gives me limited experience dealing with the issue. I am confident that most of the readers of this blog have far more experience in this realm. So it got me thinking, and I want to throw some questions out you you.

  1. How do you handle make-up work for students?
  2. What steps do you take for students with excessive absences?
  3. What criteria do you use to determine any exceptions to this policy, if any?

The discussion continues at Make-up Work and Absences « The Doc Is In


About Joel Wagner 522 Articles
Joel Wagner (@sywtt) began teaching band in 2002. Though he had a lot of information, his classes were out of control. He found himself tired, frustrated, disrespected by students, lonely, and on the brink of quitting. He had had enough. He resigned from his school district right before spring break of his second year and made it his personal mission to learn to be a great teacher. So You Want To Teach? is the ongoing story of that quest for educational excellence.

11 Comments on Student Absences & Make-Up Work…What Do You Do?

  1. 1 I have a website and forums (secured for student/family use only) where the homework assignments are posted daily. The homework is posted by another student. The posting student earns a few points of extra credit (usually the equivalent of one homework assignment)and the poster rotates every 2-3 weeks. Kids who want this position have to apply/ask for it or I arrange for it to happen for with a student who wants more class connection or needs a little extra connection to class.

    2. “Excessive” absences seem to be determined by district or building policy based on my last district compared to my current. In my previous district, students with greater than 20 days of absence (excused or not) do not receive credit per district provision. This erases teacher influence or responsibility (many sides to this) with both pros/cons to the results. My current district has no set policy and it is measured and reviewed on an individual basis. It tends to drive all of us crazy as we have had students miss 90+ days of our 182 day school year and there is some bizarre expectation that we, the teachers, MUST accomodate or help this student pass/make up work. It’s simply not possible, especially when courses are cumulative like math, language, etc. I look forward to reading other people’s responses.

    3. We look at medical, health, family, emergency, etc in order to see what we (as a school) can do to help students with extensive absences. Often times it means an adjustment in their schedules (taken out of AP classes, etc) or for kids who are absence for ongoing medical issues we’ve arranged for them to receive a grade of “Pass/Fail” versus a letter grade with the provision that they retake the course (if required) the next school year or when their medical issues allow.

  2. @kate – (1) Like Kate, I also have a website with daily agenda / assignments / projects posted. Last year, I also started keeping a folder on my podium where I wrote down the names of absent students as I took attendance. (Our attendance is online now, but I still like to keep a hard copy in case of questions later on.) The next day, I would conference with the previously absent students and cross their names off my attendance list with the date I spoke to them. I would also give them 2 days (including that day) to make up the work. (2) Excessive absences are also determined by our district. It also depends if the absences are excused or unexcused. Technically, I don’t have to allow truant students to make up the work, but I usually conference with them to find out their side of the story. (3) Our school / district also has a similar policy in regards to exceptions such as Kate wrote.

  3. @kate and @Missy – You people are fast! I love how you’ve both linked to your class blogs.

    Another question to throw some wood on the fire perhaps:

    4. If the purpose of make-up work is to get the students to do the work, how does lowering the grade for someone who does the work but turns it in late encourage them to do the work? To wit, we would seem to be lowering their grade because they are responsible, rather than because they haven’t learned the material.

    I’m not saying I have a problem one way or the other with it, but I wonder what are some ways we can address this very real concern?

  4. @Joel – I still figuring out what works, but I’ll tell you what I know. We have the choice of having a homework page which hasn’t proven helpful for me, and I also have a class Wiki that I may (unless I set up a separate class blog) use more regularly on the weekly basis rather that just for specialized assignments. We also have required tutorial/extra help hours which work well for being able to cover class material. What worked for me best in the Spring that I didn’t do 1st semester was having unit packets for some course work and are alternate assignments that covered the same material, which I could always send to ISS or to parents for frequent offenders. To that end and for your next question, those who have excused absences will generally get/do what they need, and those who do the lip service thing usually end up doing mediocre parts or doing nothing, but are probably not in class enough anyway. We should report frequent absences (6+) to an AP or the Principal who generally then create what can be a bigger problem of assigning ISS, detention, or otherwise depending on severity. GOOD-those who fall into this category generally prefer ISS than being in class because they’d rather skip class anyway. BAD-If the offense was absence, how does them being forced out of class help when they are trying to succeed? In addition, students with excused absences are allowed 3 days to complete work with no penalty. Bad part about that is that “excused” is vague. We can each decide our late policy–and oddly Joel what worked best was taking 10% off per day (no credit after two weeks) for classwork and homework–was never a problem for those who didn’t have exccessive absences.
    Nearing the end of the semester (when everyone magically had great or better attendance) I would always offer major projects that are not extra, but require serious work (covering major concepts) to add to additional course testing prep that we may be doing. As far as these or any of my packets, etc. the “bad” part I noticed about this was some frequent offenders thinking they could just come to class whenever and get a bunch of work that they could do on their own (as if I didn’t teach), and this would allow them to pass.

    Always open to suggestions as I’m ever learning and still refining my sure fire things, but I LOVE Kate’s idea of students post the assignments–I was already considering recruiting “interns” (they need service hours) for things like this, but your idea simplified my thinking–for that, at least. :)

  5. 1. How do you handle make-up work for students?
    I have my own website where I post daily assignments and downloadable copies of worksheets and other materials. I also have a While You Were Out binder in my classroom that has weekly assignments. Students know they can find missed work in either place. Students have 2 days for every 1 day they were absent to make up work (that goes for tests, too) or they receive a 0 on the missed assignment.

    2. What steps do you take for students with excessive absences?
    Students with more than 5 unexcused absences in a semester are referred to the school social worker. The social worker conducts a home visit and develops a “plan” with the parents. If I notice a student is absent from school a few times, I will email his/her parents and see what’s up. Many times, parents don’t even know their kids are absent.

    3. What criteria do you use to determine any exceptions to this policy, if any?
    The 5 unexcused absences thing is a schoolwide policy. I have no say. I don’t really make exceptions to the parent contact, either. I am big on parent communication, even if it’s just to say the students are doing a great job. My makeup policy is pretty set in stone, but if a student is out a few days due to an excused absence, I may allow more time to make up work (it depends on the excuse and the assignment).

  6. 1. How do you handle make-up work for students?

    A good question, and one that I’m not sure I do very well. We get quite a few (authorised) absences at certain times of the year, particularly with my more sporty or musical students, and I’m not sure that I coped very well with setting make-up work this year. If I knew a lot of people would be out, I made sure that I emailed them with the details of the work, but apart from that I relied a lot on reviews in lessons, and getting them to look at the work of their fellow students informally.

    I like the idea of using websites/forums to record the work done, and I particularly like the idea (which I’ve found in several different blogs) of making the students responsible for updating this record…

    One issue is that my school is not currently the best adapted for collaborative use of IT. It’s something I need to badger them about next year!

    2. What steps do you take for students with excessive absences?

    Teaching in a boarding school, we are supposed to give an automatic weekend detention to anyone who misses our lessons if we were not notified beforehand.

    3. What criteria do you use to determine any exceptions to this policy, if any?

    Of course, while students are supposed to notify us of their absences, and any authorised absences are supposed to be on our magic all-encompassing computer system, this frequently doesn’t happen. My first port of call is to contact their housemasters/tutors, and see whether they have any valid reason for missing my class. If they don’t, we move on from there.

    4. If the purpose of make-up work is to get the students to do the work, how does lowering the grade for someone who does the work but turns it in late encourage them to do the work?

    In my school, and in UK schools in general, work in class has no direct influence on their final grade, which is completely determined by their performance in public examinations such as GCSEs (for 16 year olds) and A-levels (for 18 year olds)… so we have fewer levers than you have in the US, where you seem to have work for credit almost all the time.

    The GCSE mathematics course used to have a 10/15% coursework element, but that has recently been removed due to rampant cheating and the perception that it was socially unfair.

  7. Great idea for a post! I also posted my response on my site with a link to yours.

    1. How do you handle make-up work for students?

    I have a couple systems in place in my classroom. Besides having an online calendar with every assignment posted and ready for a download, I also keep every hand-out and any board notes in a tray in my classroom. Each class has its own hand-outs tray. I have a quick list of instructions for students to follow when they return from an absence detailing my procedures:

    * Ask a neighbor first what occurred in class the day before.
    * Retrieve any hand-outs from the appropriate tray.
    * If needed, go to my website and download any missed information or assignments.
    * Ask three before me. (I have students talk to three others about how to complete the previous day’s work. If those three cannot do so, I need to reteach the concept.)
    * Make an appointment for individual assistance if time is not available during class.

    Because of my website, many students download their assignments or the day’s activities prior to leaving for trips, which is also helpful.

    2. What steps do you take for students with excessive absences?

    Generally, students cannot pass my English classes if not in class. However, I want everyone to attend. After three days I call or e-mail the home, though after five days school procedures must be followed and the counseling department and the administrators take over for me.

    Students who are absent for long durations of time (medical reasons and the like) must keep abreast of the course’s activities online and through study buddies from class. Most often students will e-mail or call regularly to keep up with the work. Unfortunately, I can’t recreate in-class experiences, so students have an extra incentive to return as soon as possible.

    I have found that my approach with students brings them back into the classroom if their absences are not medical or vacationing ones. I sit down the student and simply ask why he/she isn’t attending. Almost every time I do this, the student will return. Only the most extreme cases refuse to return, and these students are usually having major issues outside the classroom which are outside of my control. Relationships are critical.

    3. What criteria do you use to determine any exceptions to this policy, if any?

    In truth, I have stated policies (basically, a week to make up work) but really do not follow them because I want everyone to complete the work. Since classwork and homework only makes up 10% of a student’s grade, I don’t worry about students turning in late work. Plus, if students don’t participate in class this shows up on the tests, in the papers, and in the projects.

    I do not punish students by taking away points for assignment tardiness. I believe any score entered should be a reflection of the students’ abilities and not their work ethic. The only exception to this are missing major assignments (tests, quizzes, projects, and papers), which must be completed without exception, essentially course requirements.

    Classwork and homework is somewhat optional. If a student can pass major assignments without turning in the practices, I will excuse the practices because the culminating activities are really the focus and the telling assignments. Otherwise, I have the student go back and make up the missed work and redo the culminating activity.

  8. @DrPezz – Outstanding. Thanks for linking to this article from your blog. I added it up there in the article.

    So for everyone who does online stuff (and it looks like that’s a lot of you), what do you do with those kids who don’t have internet at home? I know a few have mentioned the additional steps you take as far as keeping a “missed assignment” basket or whatever. Are these pretty common?

  9. @Joel – For the kids who don’t have internet at home, I have the While You Were Out binder that lists weekly assignments, and I also have students write their assignments in their agendas every day (parents sign the agendas each night, and the agendas are checked weekly for parent signatures). Like Dr. Pezz, I have the C3B4Me rule, so students are to ask 3 other students before they come to me. If a student misses a day and does not check the WYWO binder, he/she can ask another student for missed assignment.
    “I didn’t know I had work to make up” doesn’t fly in my class. There really is no excuse.

  10. I allow at least as many days as the kid was out to make up work without penalty. Later than that, and I assign a penalty (about half credit). Later than that, and I take more. At no point do I refuse homework.

    The value in homework is doing it to prepare the next day’s work. It loses value when it is not ready for that next day’s discussion. It loses more value when it is no longer connected to our current classwork. But it always has some value, as it may help a kid understand a previous topic.

    So the credit awarded and the educational value are roughly congruent.

  11. @Joel – students who miss work with me stay after school to finish it on their return. No lost marks. No questions asked, they come to my classroom after school for a kind of ‘homework club’. If they fail to appear, then I start asking questions and docking marks – I call them responsibility marks. Then I may get the student to call home (depending on home situation…) in front of me to explain the situation. Helps to add to the responsibility thing.
    oh yeah – all of this is clearly outlined at the beginning of the school year and repeated often.

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