Attendance Awards and Student Engagement


Well, we won the top attendance award again this month…which makes it every month this school year except January (we had a nasty case of the flu go around the class, so we came in second).  It’s getting so bad that at the assembly when the attendance awards are presented, my students look at me with raised hands to be chosen to accept the award before the winning class is even announced.  Every month I pray that another class would win…not just to keep my little learners’ egos in check, but because I genuinely want another class to win because their attendance is so great.

Most of you know how I feel about awards (as in I despise them) so I am going to look at this from more of a teaching practice point of view.  The why behind winning these awards is really what interests me-why are my students coming to school more this year?  Why are there fewer lates?  Why has this group of grade 3’s dramatically improved their attendance over their grade two rates last year?  And why has my class attendance improved over my class from last year?

We took the data from our “Attendance Matters” program.  Tia has been very helpful in collating and analyzing the attendance data.  (And she took great joy in telling me (and I quote) “wow, your attendance really sucked last year!” (In the nicest possible way…I just love that!)

This is my first full year back after several part years due to two high-risk pregnancies and maternity leaves, but looking back at my previous full years at our school from 2005-2009, I can honestly say my students’ attendance has never been this good.  Before, I blamed it on poverty, lack of parent involvement, it’s just the way these kids are…but never really looked at my teaching practice and what I was doing to make my students want to come to school.

I know there are many reasons why my students are at school more this year: we are doing way more project based learning, Genius Hour, The Daily 5 literacy program, individual spelling, my brillant teaching partner is doing fantastic hands-on math and science lessons…we have six iPads that live in our room this term…all of which is great and the students love.

Students are in charge of their learning, building their own learning plans, conferencing and getting more feedback than ever before…I love the quiet, somewhat organized chaos in my room and the kids seem to thrive in having the power to choose how they represent their learning and even how they explore what they are learning.

But I think the real reason is the way we start our day.  In previous years I have done a “Big 5” type start to the day, students at desks completing 5 questions off the board-review for math or language arts.  I have to confess, I’ve always hated it.  Hated coming up with five questions that had very little context or connection for kids, hated the way some students never finished, hated the way some students finished quickly and then were at loose ends, hated marking it and having no good reason to put that data in my mark book, other than under the “review” column.  Hated the way I had to close the door to parents who walk their children to school and who want nothing more than to chat about how their son/daughter is getting along in school.  I did “Big 5” because that is what I knew from teacher training and what so many other more experienced teachers did.

Frustrated, I chucked the big five and decided to do centers.  Yes, centers.  I know it’s grade three, but even as a former grade 7 teacher, now I would do centers at the beginning of the day, every day of the week, no matter the age group.

I used to do centers at the end of the day as a time where students who aren’t finished could finish work and those that worked quickly could have some free time.  Ouch.  Yeah, that sucks.  How terrible for those students who struggle?  They never got to play the fun games, to be social on their terms.  I never realized at the time how punitive it was.  And for those students who “got their work done” what incentive was it to do a thorough, high quality job? None.

So we start the day with no pressure-we play. The kids love it.  Nobody wants to miss center time so they are on time to school every morning.  The only responsibility the kids have is to get their chair ready and leave their planner open on their desk.  We ease into the day with kids choosing how they want to start.  Do they need to be social?  Do they need solitary time?  Do they need to be moving or still?  There are a variety of options of play for students to do and ways to be in the classroom. Their are a variety of places to work, options for sitting-floor, bean bags, “special” spots (rocking chairs, camp chairs, a child size recliner and club chair.)   One of my goals for next year is to expand my centers repertoire to give much more choice.

Because the students are engaged in their own choices, there is very little for me to teach and very few behaviours to mediate.  I get to visit with parents, check planners, deal with notes/permission slips/collect money or simply sit on the floor with different groups of kids and chat.  I get to play games or help with projects (many work on their Genius Hour projects).  Sometimes parents come into the classroom and hang out with the students and share what they know too.

At nine o’clock after a 5 minute warning, students clean up, return to their desks and put their planners away.  We chat about the shape of our day, share news and get on with our day.  Happy kids, happy teacher.  Life is good.

I’m so glad I get to come to school too. 🙂


Attendance Awards and Student Engagement — 21 Comments

  1. Diana, thanks for sharing this post. As I read it I started to think how this applies to the secondary context, where we also have our share of students who would benefit from attending more regularly. Although ‘centres’ itself probably wouldn’t fit the high school environment, the principle of allowing students some choice definitely does. An inquiry model would do just that. It would enable students to generate their own questions and give them some freedom not to have to head in the direction of one specific, teacher- defined end point. I would anticipate students would find this much more engaging and would hope that their desire to attend would be that much greater.

    Reading this post came at the right time for me. Attendance, while a predictor of student success is an web greater student indicator of engagement. It’s very refreshing to read your perspective on this!


  2. Diana,
    I love the idea of giving students a reason to show up In the morning. At the same time, our school does the somewhat traditional math-first everyday, and I have students strolling in at all times in the first half hour of our day. If students don’t see math as important enough to show up, I wonder if they’ll find centres engaging enough to get them in the door. Aside from increasing the PBL happening in math, what what centres would you suggest for grade 6 or 7?

    • Hey Jeremy 🙂
      Thanks for your comment. You pose some thought provoking questions! I feel that some students are drawn to the social aspect of school more than seeing subjects as important or not. As children develop into adolescence, they become more oriented to peers than adults and see their peer relationships as a priority. I think you could make math the most exciting, engaging subject and pre-teens would still prefer to be social. Having taught grade 7 for many years and now teaching primary I can really see the shift of social emotional development and their increased orientation to peers over adults. That being said, I don’t feel that we need to be appealing to the students need to be peer oriented all of the time. I think that if you give them the opportunity to meet those social needs first thing when they get to school, then you can ask and expect them to focus on their learning needs after that. As far as what centers to do, I would start with board games, art/craft/creating opportunities, and iPad/iPod/laptop time. You can develop mini projects based on what your students are interested in-ask them what they want to do. If you don’t know about Genius Hour, it’s a fantastic way of being in a classroom-passion based learning. Check out the wiki at I do Genius Hour once a week, but my students often work on their projects during centers time in the morning. Again, I would say it’s less about what kind of centers you do and more about giving students time to be social and work collaboratively on a project that they are interested in.
      Thanks again for your comment, you’ve given me lots to consider!
      All the best,

  3. It seems the more experienced I get, the more I borrow from Kindergarten too….Hmmm….

    Thanks for inspiring us all, Diana 🙂 I KNOW Hugh is going to want to talk about this first thing this week!

    • Hey Gallit!
      Glad this was helpful 🙂 I really love to be social (as you well know) and some students really need to satisfy that need before they are ready for direct instruction. I think that if you asked many kids why they come to school, they would tell you it’s so they can see their friends. The more I think about this concept, the more I ask, “why fight a child’s natural desire to be social?

  4. Diana,

    I had an aha moment reading this post. I too am not a big fan of the big 5 at the beginning of a day. I finally came across this post and it makes so much sense. Thank you for mentioning it to me the other day. Engage them at the beginning of the day and they are more likely to be there at the start. Love it!

    I connected this to a student in our class. She is rarely on time and didn’t really seem to be bothered that she may be missing something important at the beginning of the day. We have our sprint practices for Track and Field 3 days a week at 7:45am. Wouldn’t you know it… she hasn’t been late for school once since practices started, and she has been at every practice ready to go.

    Passion motivates students. The awards are not motivating factor for your students! By giving them a reason to want to be there right at the beginning of the day you are giving them the opportunity to explore their passions and connect with their peers. I can see this as something I want to explore in my room. Thank you!


    • Hey Hugh!
      Thanks for your comment 🙂 Interesting connection-students show up for what is a priority for them, the piece that we need to figure out as educators is what is each learner’s priority? From there, how do we balance between their priorities and helping students to broaden their understanding of the world around them? Looking forward to chatting with you more about this idea!
      All the best,

  5. Diana, thank you for sharing this. I have heard of morning centre time or someone else called it “output time” but I haven’t been brave enough to try it in the past but it makes total sense. I think I will try the board games and crafts ideas with my grade 6’s next year. Thanks for the inspiration.

  6. It was a great move to have Centres as the first activity of the day! I notice a lot more motivation to arrive to school on time and be engaged with our students – yes, especially on those sleepy Monday mornings!!! 🙂 It also gives me even more time to reconnect with the students after the weekend and time for them to get reacquainted with each other. It has been fabulous – all credit to you, Diana! Good move!

    • Hey Trish! None of this would have been possible without our team approach! As always, you are flexible and willing to try new things-even if they seem a bit crazy at the time! I love that we can start our day in a positive, unhurried way-it just makes our room a happy place to learn and teach! All the best, D

    • Yes, I like that part a lot! Time to connect after a weekend or even after a night away from each other…they need that. Just like adults like to chat before we get to work, right??

  7. Once again, your ability to keep your student sat the center of all your decisions has paid off big time! Thanks for the sharing this wonderful idea! You are an amazing educator!

    • Robyn! Thanks for the comment 🙂 I can’t wait for our collaboration day when I get to see your room in action and I can steal all the great ideas you have! You are an incredible educator, amazing mentor and the most wonderful friend! All the best, D

  8. You’re always such a leader Di. Looking at self-regulation, we have been discussing the value of board games first thing in the morning for intermediate students…. Similar benefits including that much needed and meaningful social interaction all of our kids crave.

    Keep on inspiring my dear friend!

    • Jessie 🙂 How I miss our morning chats…there is so much to talk about and learn with you! I want to know more about the work you are doing with self-regulation and social-emotional learning, a subject very close to my heart (as you know!) Miss you dearly, can’t wait to work with you again in the future…until then we will have to meet more regularly at the library! 😉 Hugs, D

    • Hey Christine 🙂 Great to make a new friend! Our school “warning” bell rings at 8:20, the students are into class at 8:35. We have centers from 8:35-9:00. Hope this helps! All the best, Diana

  9. What a great idea, Diana! What kinds of centers do you have? Our grade 3/4 teacher also schedules play time throughout the day, and it has worked well for her too. I honestly want to explore this in grade seven (especially since 13 year olds are so sleepy in the morning!) Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • Hey Beverly! Thanks for your comment. I’m looking forward to chatting with you at ConnectED next week f2f. I think it’s a great idea to work centers into your day with grade 7’s. Having taught grade 7 for seven years, I completely understand how they are in the morning…either sleepy or on fire! Board games are a great way to encourage collaboration, or working on a game in a team/partnership on an ipad or device. I liked to give my seven’s all kinds of art stuff (like recycled materials, stickers, great printed paper, stamps etc) and then give them a challenge…like a children’s book to read and make alternate illustrations. It was amazing to see the creativity when they are given a few guidelines but no set rules. Service learning is always big with the sevens too. Start small in September and let them show you what they are interested in, they will make it pretty clear! Hope this helps get you started!
      All the best,

  10. It’s always such a surprise how a simple thing like this can make such a difference. I have heard about some K teachers doing this as well with the same results. Good for you for firstly realizing that there was a problem that you could help fix and secondly doing centres play time in grade three!

    • Hey Iram 🙂 Thanks for the comment! I really think it has done wonders for the social interactions in my class this year-they don’t seem to have the same social issues with collaboration and communication and are more able to solve problems without a teacher mediator. And we love to play and have fun 🙂 BTW, you can come and hang out in my room anytime, it was great to have you come by!
      All the best,

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