taking attendance

4 ways to re-take taking attendance

Because being “present” is very different from simply being here.

Everyone reading this blog has very clearly moved on from beginning each day by simply reading out a list of names and putting a big old checkmark next to each one. Everyone.

Those horror stories we’ve heard, about students being marked absent simply because they turned their webcam off, those aren’t you; you would never.

But maybe you’re looking for ways to mix things up a little, keep it fresh. You’re in luck! Here’s four ways to re-take taking attendance.

1. Judge My Jam

Especially in middle school, music makes the world go round. Your students, no matter how quiet or angsty or vocal, have opinions about music. Throw a harness on that energy and get your attendance taken while also a) bringing your students explicitly into a conversation together, and b) picking up some fly new tunes yourself. (Is “fly” still a good thing? This is an old asking.)

Calgary educator Erin Quinn takes attendance each day with “Jam or Not a Jam?” As students enter the classroom, she has a song queued up and playing, and students use Google Classroom to respond whether they like it (“Jam!”) or not (“Not a Jam!”). It’s simple and brilliant and everyone please go follow Ms. Quinn on twitter @luckybydesign.

Of course from there, California middle school educator Chris Flores remixed the jam idea (yesss) for “Bump It or Dump It?”, soliciting additional student feedback in the chat function, as well as setting chat norms (“feel free to have a conversation there as well”). We love seeing educators build and mix and stretch and create online spaces where it’s clear they’ve thought about how to welcome students in and make a space where they can be their whole true selves. Go follow Coach Flores on twitter as well.

2. Use a Google Form to check on your students’ health & wellness …quietly.

“Maybe one would be nice…”

Y’all know that Burlington VT-based educator Laura Botte is a superstar (video). But among the many amazing things she’s done, Morning Check-In with Google Forms has to be close to the top.

Way back in 2014, Laura set up a Google Form for taking attendance that specifically asked about their wellbeing. Not whether they’d finished their homework, but how they were feeling each day, and what was foremost in their minds that morning. But most of all, the Google Form asks if any student could use a one-on-one check-in with their teacher.


Why? Because a Google Form set up in this manner removes any stigma a student might feel about asking for help. It’s a sub rosa way for students to open the door to a responsible and loving adult who genuinely cares about who they are as a human being and wants to make sure they have all the resources they could need to be fully engaged learners for the day. And using technology in this specific way makes sure even the shyest student has a quiet way to connect with that adult. Laura Botte, theydies and gentlethem. Laura. Botte.

3. A Real World Poll

No, not one where you get to decide who stays in the house and who has to go. Instead, consider the Jam or Not a Jam? example above, but make it current events.

WE KNOW. Trust us: we KNOW.

And yet: your students are not living in a vacuum. They know too. They’re seeing the exact same current events you are, and we are guessing they have a lot of questions.

Let’s talk about those questions.

Polling tools are standard on the Zoom and Microsoft Teams platforms, and hit us up if you have questions on how to get them up and running. Otherwise, you can bring in an outside polling tool such as Mentimeter, throw together a quick Google Form, or just have students respond to a current events poll in the chat.

Don’t feel constrained by the conventional shape of a poll, either. Here’s a simple visual one from instagram:

Yes, that’s a very narrow and possibly less compelling version of current events, but now you have a lovely template to make your own from.

And it really just comes down to using this attendance time to get to know your students better. The better you know them as learners in your community and theirs, the better you can help remove roadblocks to them being deeply engaged learners.

4. PLP? Yeah You Know Your Students

As we’re all aware, your students’ personal learning plans, their PLPs, are living, breathing documents that they have open throughout the day, the better to pen journal entries, upload quick photos, or take notes for future plans. Or… they could be.

Students at the Fayston School, in Fayston VT, have crafted some amazing personal reflections in their PLPs.


students tell their PLP stories

Now, asking students to craft a full journal entry right as they come through the door might be a little much. But what about:

  • What’s one word you’d use to describe where you are with your project right now?
  • Where would you like to see your project go today?
  • What are you most focused on today?
  • What do you see as the biggest challenge for moving forward with your project?

It sets up a routine of bringing each student’s personal learning plan or project into the day from the beginning. After that, where they go can be entirely up to them.

It’s okay to just be here right now, but it’s better to be present.

In other words: why are you taking attendance? Is it to know how your students are actually doing, or is it just to tick a box?

…now kick it up a level to your building team: how do they know who’s in the room?

How do they count which educators show up, and which are absent? How do they make the most of your one precious life? And how do they create a space where you’re more than simply present?

After all, you’re a learner too.

One thought on “4 ways to re-take taking attendance”

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