Managing Absent Students’ Work

Do you struggle with managing work for absent students? For instance, when a student is absent, perhaps you aren’t sure how to make sure that student gets everything he or she needs. Maybe you feel unorganized or like you don’t have to the time to chase after the student and keep track of what was completed or not. I imagine you may even feel frustrated that you have to teach that student separately, when your time is already limited, especially if that student is frequently missing.

Manage absent students' work with these teaching ideas that will get you organized and prepared!

Managing the Work of Absent Students

When I first started teaching, I read and tried several different ideas about how to handle the work of absent students. It took me a while to find a system that I really liked and felt worked for me. I’m going to share how I handle it.

Absent buddies… with variation

At the beginning of the year, I go through the school files and take note of the attendance of the previous years for each student. I make a list of students who had excellent attendance and those who had ‘not so hot’ attendance. I keep this list in my desk until after the first few weeks of school. (I always keep in mind that there are exceptions.)  Then after a few weeks into the school year, I assign my students’ absent buddies, but what I typically do is assign my students who have already demonstrated that they can’t handle responsibility well the students who are rarely absent. I do this because it saves me headache down the road and prevents any issues for the student who just doesn’t need (nor can handle) any extra responsibilities.

The Absent Report

Next, I have a very simple sheet called the absent report that sits in a folder near the front of the room. I have multiple copies of it. When there are absent students, their absent buddy is supposed to take one of these reports out of the folder and fill it out throughout the day with what we did and what is due. Then this form is left on the desk of the absent students. If by some chance (and it does happen), both students, the absent student, and the absent buddy are gone, I just fill it in. You can download this form here for free!

Manage absent students' work with these teaching ideas that will get you organized and prepared!

Supplying the Materials

As we work through our day and I pass out materials, I always pass them out to the absent students too. For instance, if I pass out interactive notebook pieces, I place them on the desk of an absent student. If I pass out lab sheets, you guessed it, it goes on their desk. I do not place actual manipulatives or science lab materials on their desk, but instead, leave those in a corner for students to complete upon their return as a “station.” By doing this, the student has a “collection” of materials placed on his or her desk, ready and waiting upon return. Then I don’t have to gather the materials at all!

Due Dates and Collection

In my classroom, I have a rule that after I start students on an assignment, they must try working on it on their own for at least the first five minutes. They cannot come to me and immediately say they don’t get it. During this time I move over to the desk of an absent student and verify they have all the materials needed and place a date in the corner of when it’s due. In nearly every school I have worked in, the rule has been “students get 2 days to complete work for every absence.” If a student is absent another day, I just walk by the next day and adjust. I also verify the absent buddy has written on the absent report what we did and what is due. If I have any extra notes to add, I also do it at this time.

A few notes…

At the beginning of the year, when I assign absent buddies, I also go over with students how to correctly complete the absent buddy form. It’s important that they give proper information so the absent students know how to read it upon return. I also have students place their name at the bottom after filling it out so we know who to see if we have any questions.

Upon return, the absent buddy’s job is to assist the absent student to work through what was missed. Then during my “downtime”, I can further help the student. Hopefully, by that point, my assistance is more for clarification and not much more. If the absent student is really confused and not understanding much at all, because he or she missed out on a lot of important stuff (because that is all we teach, right?), I then contact the parents and request the student to come in a little bit before school or a little after. If that doesn’t work, recess it is! (or try that first.)

If a student is absent frequently, you may need to talk to the student to see if there is a problem. Sometimes students don’t want to come to school because there is bullying happening that you may not be aware of. Other times he or she may just feel bored. No matter what, the reality is that students with frequent absences do get behind and unfortunately end up with gaps in their education. When students start to have frequent absences, the best thing you can do is talk with administration, any school counselors, and any school social workers. It may be time for a parent-teacher conference.

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