I have already talked about how to lessen the amount of prep work you have to do when absent (check out that post here), but what about when your students are gone? I used to think it was much more work dealing with students being absent than when I took a day off (whether it be a sick day or professional development); that was before I came up with these ways to avoid the frustration. Here are some tips and tricks for making your classroom more self sufficient for absent students as well as making your life easier.
Set up the expectations at the beginning of the school year: When the year begins I make it very clear to my students that, when they know they are going to be absent (such as shadowing at another school, field trip, vacation, etc), it is their responsibility to check in with me before they are out. This helps keep them from falling behind and creating unnecessary work getting them caught up once they return. If they are out unexpectedly, they have as many days to get caught up as they were gone (this helps keep them on top of things).
Post a homework log in your classroom:
I use this homework log throughout the year to help my students keep track of what homework was assigned (date assigned, date due) as well as a description of the assignment. This way, if a student is absent, they can just check the list when they return and write down what they need to do (no need to talk to me!). Also, to make my life even easier, I am not the one who fills it out! I have a student in my homeroom fill it out for me (I assign this job at the beginning of the year). This log is hanging on my wall in between the door and the turn-in box (get a tour of my classroom in this post). Improvement for next year: I am going to make this a “work log” rather than just a “homework log” and it will display classwork and homework.
keep your online grade book up-to-date: Every Monday morning, I take out my lesson planning book and I enter in all assignments for the week. This way, students can look online to know what assignments will be handed out that week and when they are due. This is also helpful for the parents as well. Is it annoying to do this first thing Monday morning? Yes. However, I have learned that it saves me a lot of headaches later in the week. I can always just give a quick response “Oh, you’ll be out Wednesday? I already posted the work. Check online.” Another perk regarding this routine is that it helps me get situated for the week and mentally prepare myself for my plans. Since the online grade book does not allow for submitting work, I would also suggest you…
Create an online classroom! In the past, I have used a classroom blog, but this year have tried something new, Google Classroom! And, I love it!
Google Classroom is free and easy to use. You set up your classes and give students from each class a specific class code so they may join (they do need to have a Google email–but that is also free). One of the beauties about Google Classroom is that students can both check out what I post (like a blog), but they can also submit work through it and I can grade it and give it back through the site as well! Just as I keep my online grade book up to date by pre-posting assignments for my students to see, I also keep my Google Classroom up to date for my students (this is part of my Monday morning ritual). Whenever we take notes in class, I post them on Google Classroom that same day. Not only is this helpful for students who are absent (they can take these notes anywhere there is internet access!), but it is also helpful for students who can’t get everything written down in class and need to complete it at home. Assignments are also posted on Google Classroom and students can submit through the site as well (great for sick kids at home or the student who tends to lose everything!). I also love that since everything is done through Google Drive, it’s time stamped–which means, no more arguing about whether or not an assignment was done on time. I also enjoy posting links to interesting articles for my students to read or videos to watch.
Have students ask each other for easy information rather than you: There is no need for you to have to repeat yourself multiple times when students can learn to be more self reliable and seek out basic information from their peers.
I have my students answer a daily “warm-up” question at the beginning of class. When they are absent, they are not excused, I still want them to think about the questions that I am posing. Rather than constantly asking me what the question was (which requires me stopping what I am doing and retrieving my plan book), they know to ask a classmate. Not only does this free me from mundane and unnecessary tasks, but it creates community and camaraderie among my students. Not to mention, it leaves me time to do more important things, like teach!
As a last note–I have known other teachers who keep a file organizer on the wall in their classroom with a folder for each day of the week. They put the work for each day in the corresponding folder and that way, students can help themselves to it when they return. I love this idea, but I have not tried it yet. I keep the worksheets at my desk so the absent student can come and ask me for them. They should know what they are asking for, and just check in with me to get it. The reason why I like them to come up to me is because it gives me a chance to check in with the student and make sure they know what they need to do (I think there still needs to be some level of conversation happening with middle schoolers. High schoolers can probably handle the solo method). I am very, very tempted to try the solo method and will let you know if I do!
I hope this has inspired you to set up some procedures to help make life a little easier when students are gone. Good luck and happy teaching!
-The Ardent Teacher