How to Kill the Dead Time: Taking Attendance

I recently wrote a post about keeping students focused and off their cellphones. Basically, I think students play with their cellphones because they are bored. And students get bored when there is dead time, time when they have nothing to do and what is going on in the classroom doesn’t really concern them. Note that I don’t say, “doesn’t engage” or “doesn’t entertain” them. I don’t think students expect every second of the class to be super fun and insightful. Students know classes are sometimes routine or boring. But if something boring affects their lives, like describing what the test will be about, you bet they will be paying attention.

I identified a few areas where dead time can creep into the classroom. I’m going to make a post on each area. And as always I love comments, suggestions and criticisms.

One area that is often dead time in class happens right at the beginning. For some reason, getting off on the right foot is very important to me. I think you set the tone for the class in that first  ten minutes or so. And unless your students are super-motivated, getting them to switch to class mode takes some doing. So if the first thing you do is take attendance and the students start getting bored immediately, I think you’ve lost half the battle already.

How to Keep Students Active While Taking Attendance

  • A “DO NOW” on the board. This also can shore up that dead time between the start of class and when you actually get their attention. Every class put up either a riddle or puzzle on the board. Or a quote that students have to guess the meaning of. I sometimes put up instructions for checking homework. Or the topic of the first warm-up discussion.  If you turn this into a habit, you theoretically don’t have to even start class (or so Tessa Woodward assures her readers). Students will come in, sit down, and start doing whatever is on the board. Meanwhile, you take attendance, get your papers in order, have that first sip of coffee, or whatever you need to do.
  • A similar idea is to set a routine beginning to class that all students can do.  In a writing class, class starts with journals so students know that at 9:20 they go to the cupboard, pull out their journals and write about their day. Or they get out their homework, find a partner, and start checking it. The only difference between this and a DO NOW is that a DO NOW is different every day.
  • Take attendance later when the students are doing something else like working on a work sheet.
  • Call on students to tell you if another student is there: “Michael, is Sarah here?” Expand it to ask weird things, “Michael, is Sarah wearing her glasses today?”
  • Ask students about things the whole class is interested in. I think asking each student individually, “How was your weekend?” only captures the attention of that student and his or her friends. Asking the group, “Who did something fun this weekend?” might also lead to a ten-minute monologue by a student no one likes. I prefer questions like, “How was the exam in your last class?” or, “Who saw Simon drop his papers in the hallway? I missed it, tell me about it.” Those get almost everyone talking or listening.

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