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Literacy and Language Blog

Attentive Actions for Absenteeism

Blog by Kristi Thaemlitz, PhD
Think for a moment what it is like when you are absent from a day of work. You come back the next day relying on your colleagues to fill you in and catch you up. Children are not expected to have the same coping skills that adults do after they have missed a day of school. Proactively addressing missed work and helping students jump back in to the classroom routines can be facilitated through a teacher’s actions.
Constancy and Consistency
It’s that time of year…cold and flu season begins, along with student absences. What is the next best thing to being there when it comes to making up class assignments and activities? Veteran teachers often have tried and true methods of cataloging who needs what, so checking in with teachers who have developed strong systems is often helpful. Throughout the years, I have seen some amazingly efficient methods of ensuring that students who are returning to school after an absence are caught up immediately upon return. The bottom line is that you need to have a system that works for you and your students. Whatever process you choose, it is imperative that there is constancy and consistency in the execution of the process. Doable routines that become a part of your everyday practice are the best ones to choose. This blog will focus on ways that educators can help students regain momentum after an absence.
Jumping Back in with Ease
How students jump back in to class work after an absence might depend on the students’ age and grade level. Students miss school for many reasons: illness, death of a family member, oversleeping, or even a natural disaster. For example, some students were absent many days after Hurricane Harvey as their families adjusted to new living spaces and were determining what schools their children might be able to attend based on the new situation. When students are absent, it is comforting and reassuring to know that there is a process in place to access the activities and assignments that were missed during the absence. Teaching your students the process will not only reassure them, but it will also help you maintain an organized system that tracks what students miss.
For younger students, simply putting missed items in their daily folders will keep them up-to-date. To know when you put the work in the folder, use a date stamper with the day’s date that you placed the item in the folder. Additionally, placing the folder where the child would normally sit and just adding and stamping the activities for absent students is a quick way to keep folders updated. There are many teacher stamps available that can also be used to alert students to the missed work, such as “make-up work,” and “please complete.”
Providing students with “absent from class” slips will help them understand what they should do to catch up with missed activities. Fill out the chart only once daily and then make copies. After that, you can add individual names to the forms before placing the forms, along with any missed activities or assignments, in an “absent from class” folder. Students will know that they should visit the folder and retrieve their work upon return. After independent work begins for the day, explain to students that you would like for them to work for five minutes without asking questions. Set the timer for five minutes. During this time, check in with students who were previously absent to make sure that they have their work and provide explanations as needed.
Date of absence:
What we did…
What is due…



Briefly asking students to work with partners to summarize the previous day’s work is a great way for the students who were present to review and revisit the previous day’s lesson, but it is also a great way for absent students to lean in to the conversation of partners. Add the student who was previously absent to a group of two. This student will listen to the summarization to have a better understanding of the previous day’s lesson. This activity should take no more than five minutes. Set the timer for all students to see and monitor. After students have finished, ask each pair of partners to contribute a sentence about the previous day’s work using a sentence frame.
My favorite part of our lesson yesterday was __________ because __________.
One skill we learned yesterday was __________. This skill is important because __________.
The purpose of our lesson was to __________.
My advice is to remember __________ about yesterday’s lesson because __________.
An important word I learned yesterday was _________ because __________.
Students in grades 6–8 can be given a form to record information from the previous day. Students will copy the information from the board or paper that you provide with details about the previous day’s lesson. Keep the information updated and available in case students are absent for more than one day. Students will make one copy for self and one copy for the teacher. Students will immediately return the teacher’s copy to the teacher after copying it down, and then they will turn in the other form with the classwork that was missed when it is turned in to the teacher. This system will allow the teacher to easily match up slips as a record of what is still missing.
Your name:
Date of absence:
Copy the information below from the board for the date that you were absent TWICE (on two forms). Keep one slip for yourself, and turn the other slip in to your teacher. Attach your form to the completed activities/assignments when you turn the items in to your teacher.
Lesson Objective
Lesson Activities/Assignments
Classwork that is Due
Due Date
Providing a procedure for high school students to access missed work can often be accomplished through electronic communication. Many teachers have a faculty page that allows for documents to be uploaded or posted. Furthermore, providing a “week-at-a-glance” summary of daily activities with documents attached will help students maintain an organized manner of retrieving missed information. Not only is this helpful to absent students, but this system will also allow students who misplace items to replace what is needed. Posting tutorial times to provide extra support for absent students can often be an important action so that students do not miss learning that will be necessary for future learning.
If electronic communication is unavailable, posting the lesson objective, lesson activities, and classwork that is due in the same classroom location for students to copy is helpful. Placing items that absent students will need in a centralized location is part of the routine. Add the student’s name and the date of the absence to the missing activities/assignments. Each absent student will retrieve the items. Sometimes it is helpful to have students complete a receipt for the activities/assignments that they receive from you after they have been absent. Teachers can then match up the work when it is returned with the receipt slip as an easy way to track what has been turned in. Students can either take a picture of the form for their records or copy an additional sheet to keep.
Date of absence:
Date that the missing work is received by student:
Date that the missing work is due:



Addressing the Emotional Aspect of Absenteeism
Inviting students to join in with the class after an absence is important. Students should feel welcome and know that their presence is an important part of the classroom community. When I was teaching, I had a big flower on a poster. I would write a little note to my absent students on one side of a sticky note and their names on the other. I would stick their notes on the flower’s petals with only their names showing. I would provide messages of motivation and concern, such as, “Glad you are feeling better today!” and “We missed having you in our discussion yesterday!” These thoughtful notes take just a few minutes to write and post, but often they can make students feel welcome and positive about their first day back in class after an absence.
Finding Your Own Process
It is important for each teacher to develop a workable system for ensuring that students are current in their learning. Providing students opportunities to catch up after an absence is an important aspect of classroom management. Remembering that there should be constancy and consistency in the routines will provide students with clear expectations in keeping up-to-date. If possible, maintaining an interdisciplinary system across a grade level for all content areas is often a strong approach for supporting students who have been absent.
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