Streamlining Attendance for the Busy Teacher

…learning the difference betweeen “things” and “stuff”…

Lately I’ve delved deep into the reverberating caverns of productivity by intently listening to a sleuth of productivity podcasts and reading a whole host of blogs about how to do “things” quickly so that I can get to the “stuff” I really want to do. There is a lot of so-called “echo” going on in the world productivity, so I often try not to get too sucked in. But…

Just like I am not into quicksilver for the sake of quicksilver, I am not into productivity for the sake of productivity. Applications that improve my productivity should be thought of more as lights in the dark cavern that help streamline the “things” that I have to do so that I can get back to searching the caverns for the “stuff.”

However, I find the “things” I have to do–taking attendance, giving out grades, giving out classwork, etc.–all take up a significant amount of time.

When I think of “things,” I imagine the metaphorical yellow forms I always have to fill out so that students can go the library or the endless pile of nurse passes students inevitably need throughout the day. I have to fill out the date, the time, the student, etc., and make sure all the i’s are dotted and the t’s crossed.

Stuff, on the other hand, is the massive amount of time I put into crafting quality keynote presentations, community math exercises where students work together to figure out the mystery box, and quality benchmark assessments that truly assess student growth over time.

I know that I don’t have it all figured out, but I think that we seriously need to consider how much time we spend on the “things” and how much time we spend on the “stuff.”

Recently, I realized that I was spending a load of time everyday doing attendance. So I created this to simply take role from a seating chart as students were walking in using a dot if they are present, a dash if they are absent, and making the dash into a T for the students that show up after the bell rings. In the present iteration, there are five boxes, one for each day of the week (this way I don’t have to worry about the actual date; I only need to know the day of the week). At the end of the week, I write the dates of the week on the bottom of the paper and put the paper in a sheet protector with all the other weeks. Behind the weeks, I put every slip that has to do with attendance in case I ever need them for later reference (this NEVER happens, but it only takes one car to kill a careless cat).

I keep all the sheet protectors and the current week attendance rosters on a clipboard so that I don’t have to be chained to a desk when I take roll. This also eliminates the bulkiness of the usual attendance roll books. Also, I just hate the inconvenience and inflexibility of traditional role books for new students and for the sheer sake of having to concentrate real hard to make sure you are bubbling in the right day of the year. I am not smart enough to concentrate on taking attendance and concentrate on helping my students at the same time (just ask my wife when I am using quicksilver and trying to listen to her talk about Art History at the same time; inevitably, I have to close the computer to listen to what she is saying). In my classes, there is no time for me to dedicate that kind of concentration to a menial task like attendance.

I don’t ever touch a computer attendance system until after fourth period rings. I have created an alarm in iCloud that goes off one minute after the bell rings so that I know to enter grades into the LAUSD system, into Easy Grade Pro and I already have the students marked in a paper grade book as mentioned above. I take the roll from a clipboard so that I can walk around and check in with students as they are walking in. I only allow myself five minutes after school to do attendance and the maybe 30 seconds it takes to do the manual by hand role at the beginning of each class. The only days where I don’t meet that goal is when LAUSD ISIS attendance system is down (which happens more often that I would like to admit).

This is one way that I move away from the “things” that toward the “stuff.” There are so many other things that I am trying to learn so that I can really work with and impact the lives of students. I am trying to find ways to make grading as transparent as possible so it does not get in the way of the “stuff” either, but students have been so well trained to see the grade as an end in and of itself. I am trying to make “stuff” the center of classroom learning because it is the “stuff” that students really need to be learning anyway…


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