Attendance and Participation in Online Learning

It may seem straightforward, but one of the most perplexing pieces of going back to school for many school districts will be how to measure attendance and participation.  The in-person classroom experience has largely been standardized by most districts to include a simple way of determining what counts as “attending” a class, and how much participation in class is included in the final grade, along with what counts as participating.  However, we are now in uncharted waters, and the move to online and hybrid learning has left schools scrambling to redefine what to look for, how to measure, and how to enforce attendance. 

I’ve been involved in discussions between middle school teachers planning for the upcoming school year at a k-8 school (I’ll call Maryhill), and from this will present a few of the discussion points, challenges, and solutions presented during the meetings.

What is Attendance?  What is Participation?

The simple question that is currently plaguing Maryill is “What is Attendance?”.  This is where we have to start.  Unfortunately, upon reflection, this is a much more complicated question.  Maryhill first had to determine the difference between Attendance and Participation.  Attendance, it was decided, is the simple act of being online, while participation meant class discussion and turning in homework on time.

But wait!  What if a student comes to the online class, but leaves their camera off, and never participates?  Have they “attended” the class?  What if they do this, but still turn in their homework on time?  In this scenario Maryhill decided on a two-part method of determining attendance:

  1. A student must be online and seen on camera for each class (unless on break)
  2. A student must turn in a majority of assignments for classes for that day

What, then, determines “Participation”?  We tried to understand better what kinds of methods of participation students can have in a classroom.  Maryhill broke down participation into two categories:  In-class participation and Assignment Participation.  In this way assignments became both a method of determining attendance as well as participation.  Again, Maryhill decided on a two-part method of determining student participation:

  1. Students earn participation points for each class period as a part of a final grade
  2. Students earn participation points simple for turning in assignments on time regardless of the grade of those assignments as long as they meet the minimum qualifications.

Challenges and Ongoing Questions.

To the keen observer there are obviously challenges with this setup.  Maryhill has done a good job of trying to balance the need to engagement along with trying to be sensitive to student needs, but there are going to be shortcomings and compromises no matter what the setup.

  1. This setup creates equity challenges
    • Maryhill is a private Catholic school which prides itself on equity and a diverse student population.  Uniforms are touted as a method of “equalizing” students who otherwise may not be able to afford nice clothing.  What happens then, when we are invited to peer into those same students’ homes?  However, allowing those students to turn off cameras would create attendance and participation measurement challenges.  Students may be embarrassed of their living situation, especially in front of their peers.  To address this challenge Maryhill suggests implementing a standardized digital background.
  2. Who keeps track of attendance?
    • This is an administrative question, but a challenge, nonetheless.  Previously attendance has been straightforward, with teachers taking it each class, and turning in attendance at the end of the day, along with alerting the office if a student isn’t present.  However, in this context teachers at Maryhill are sometimes co-teaching, and cohorts of students move around from one group to another.  If a student doesn’t show up for one class because of technical issues, how would the next teacher know this?  To try and address this situation, Maryhill created a living Google Document in which they could all see attendance, and make notes for each other regarding vacation or technical issues that relate to students being online.

Maryhill has created a system wherein students are held accountable for their own learning, which can be a challenge for younger students.  This is just one solution out of many schools out of many school districts.  Some schools have been purposefully more lenient in their application of online attendance.  I may revisit this question later on in the year and see how taking attendance has developed throughout the schoolyear.  Like all things with online learning, this will change and evolve as both teachers and students get used to the new mode of education.  But this is just one example of the new challenges of online education.

Virtual Back to School Season

From my perspective as a student, I think that is really important to provide variety and choice with virtual instruction. While there should be consistency in communication and where information is located, students lose interest quickly when you are sitting on a Zoom for hours on end. In my opinion, the best practice is to provide multiple ways for students to interact with each other and you. Maybe they watch a pre-recorded video of you explaining a new topic, then get to discuss that with their peers in a forum before meeting for a debrief Zoom discussion. While synchronous instruction is important, I think we need to remember that students are going to be as burnt out as we are with constantly videoconferencing and staring at a screen.

I think that an opportunity that will come with online instruction is the chance for students to get creative. For me I can see this applying to assessment in particular. A lot of methods of testing that we are used to are not going to be possible this semester, so it is the perfect opportunity to lean into project style assessments where students have the flexibility to choose how they want to demonstrate their knowledge, whether that be a podcast, video, virtual design or book, etc.

A challenge that I am foreseeing with my placement is engagement. My district will be using Canvas which is typically used in college settings, and I think that the middle schoolers I will be working with will have to become more independent as they get used to navigating this type of LMS. Additionally, I am worried that both my students and I will be experiencing so much screen fatigue that it will make it difficult for us to engage with one another. Relationship building is such an important part of teaching and I am worried that building strong relationships with my students is going to be incredibly difficult when I can’t meet them face to face.

Despite these worries, I am optimistic that I will be able to make the most out of this virtual semester with my students. There are a lot of cool apps and platforms out there that create so many exciting possibilities for online learning and I am excited for my students to teach me about what is relevant to their lives so that we can set up an online learning model that works for us.

Getting Back into the Routine of Teaching and Learning Online

After an intensive summer semester with UP, I feel like a Zoom expert. I now know what works well as a distance learning student which gives me the advantage in knowing what works well as a distance learning teacher. This year I will be an 11th grade economics cooperating teacher which will inevitably bring me some challenges but should be rewarding and I know I will learn a lot from the experience.  

What works best as a distance learning teacher:

I think for retention of information, collaborative learning and social and emotion health, breakout rooms are great. Student’s are more willing to speak and contribute ideas in a smaller class setting. They then learn from each other as opposed to listening to the teacher go on and on in the main room. The teacher can then jump in and out of the respective breakout rooms and facilitate conversation and make sure students are on task. However, we also want students to have time in these breakout rooms to get to know each other and share their online learning experiences.

I think this goes without saying but the more synchronous time the better. I have little faith in 11th graders motivation to do asynchronous economics work. The real retention comes from engaged, synchronous instruction. That synchronous instruction intermixed with the use of new, online platforms that assess and illustrate understanding seems to be as good as you can get with distance learning. I do see remote teaching as an opportunity to get creative of course. Apps and software like Flipgrid, Socrative, Padlet and Class Dojo are all in my repertoire and will work to keep students engaged.

Qualms or concerns:

One large issue my co-teacher and I are currently navigating is that this past week the school district told teachers that students are not required to have their camera on while they’re on Zoom. My co-teacher and I agree this rule simply ludicrous and have decided that despite what other teachers tell them, in our class we will keep our cameras on unless working independently. If I learned anything from summer tutoring with Dr. Merk it’s that student engagement when online teaching is difficult and without the accountability of seeing their faces engagement will be abysmal.

I am not well versed in the study of economics. I took economics in high school and had two economics classes in college I took electively but my understanding of the introductory graphs, equations and figures is not where it should be as a teacher. I love the real-life application of economics and a more interdisciplinary study of economics and I hope I can work some of that passion into my teaching. I plan on getting the textbook this weekend and brushing up and possibly preemptively making some Kahoots for the first few chapters.

My mom – who is an elementary school special needs teacher – and I are trying to figure out how to convey our characters and personality over zoom and how teachers can have students do the same. I am a big friendly giant and my past students have responded well to that aspect of my character. I am still looking for concrete ways to mutually convey character past ice breakers and such.

At the end of the day, what I am most concerned about is students mental and emotional health. Ask Vygotsky or Piaget and they will tell you adolescence is a critical time in student’s identity formation. In high school one’s identity is essentially no longer formed by familial relations and is instead shaped by being with peers. Without a strong sense of identity and the socialization, student’s mental and emotional health will certainly take a hit. Not to mention, there are a lot of students who see school as their safe space from a tumultuous family life. While I am optimistic about distance teaching and the potential for creativity that comes with it, I think there are inherent issues with engagement and social development that hinder the experience.   

Working from home

I wasn’t ready for this. I don’t think anyone was.

During the first couple months of the pandemic, I was thinking “when will we come back and do in-person?” From what I understood, not for a while.

The world is changing as we know it. “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use it to change the world,” Nelson Mandela. Just because we are at home doesn’t mean that the learning doesn’t stop. We need to flourish or bloom on the zoom calls. Teaching from home is something that I never even thought of. Find ways through your company, school, or university on how you can succeed remotely.

New Strategies

This is new for everyone and we are just going to have to adapt. Use this as an opportunity to search for new ways on how others should teach or communicate remotely. One example is: Khan Academy. For those of you who don’t know Khan Academy, it is an academic website that has elementary school, high school, and college math. On top of that there subjects like science, art, computer programing, economics and more. This is a great strategy for students who are having a hard time in a difficult subject and can go back so they can master it. One more thing to add is that Khan Academy has test preps for the SAT, LSAT, and the Praxis Core. Students can study these practices test so that they can flourish on the real exam.

Another form of remote teaching is an app called Kahoot. If you have a small or even a large class, this app can test students knowledge, speed, and accuracy. In addition, this app can be used for creating your own questions that can be true/false or multiple choice. It also adds a sense of competitiveness. The person that taps on the correct answer the fastest, they will receive the most points. At the end of the quiz, all the points will be added up and the top 3 names will be posted. I love facilitating Kahoots, but sometimes I love being a competitor. We are training the brains of the students so that they will have the same attitude and mindset when they take test.


These are just two examples that we should use during remote learning. Is there another app that can help your learning? If so what is it and how will you use it? Make use of the work online and use it as an extension for yourself. I wrote a poem a couple months ago and the last two lines said, “There’s still one question before you start. And that question is: “are you ready?”‘ Are you ready for your life to completely change forever. You have the power to change your life.