Christopher X J. Jensen
Associate Professor, Pratt Institute

Is there any way to get students to come to class on time?

Posted 19 Aug 2015 / 0

Chronicle Vitae “Late Again?

I like the approach of asking students why they come late, although I think that I would have a hard time devoting class time to this subject. And beware of the answers you receive! As Masson aptly puts it, asking your students for advice on how to deal with them often leads to questions like this:

Should I morph into a shaming, extra-point-giving, sideshow act?

I can only be as entertaining as I am… there’s no way for me to amp up my entertainment value simply for the sake of pulling in a few chronically-late students. Extra points seem odd to me, as I do not know why coming to class on time represents anything extra. And I think that I am already a bit scary to my students without also turning into the raging lateness dragon… my worry with shaming in the classroom is that it has students thinking if he is willing to embarrass her for lateness, will he embarrass me for saying something stupid? So I don’t see a lot of real solutions in the answers her students provided.

As some of the comments in response to this article discussed, students did not seem to indicate why they were coming late. They mostly indicated why it was acceptable to come late. But why were they choosing to come late in the first place? Or were they even choosing at all? Was something structural — their class schedule in relation to campus geography, or their overall workload — responsible for their lateness? Or is lateness a kind of habit that’s intentional, either consciously or subconsciously?

In my experience, most chronically late students are intentionally late. Their reason for being late — which is perhaps sometimes subconscious — is that they do not care about the class. Perhaps this seems obvious, but in asking the question why students are late and then looking at all the things we as instructors can do, we might over-estimate our power in the situation. Sure, if our class was interesting to every student, we probably would not have to worry about chronic tardiness. But is there really a way to make a class interesting to every student? If a student does not care about a class enough to show up on time, there’s only so much we can do about it.

I agree with the idea that chronic lateness is a kind of passive aggression. It is a way that a student resentful of having to take a class, or of being graded for the class — or maybe even for having to be in college in the first place — can express their resentment. For this reason I see the only appropriate response to this kind of behavior is to penalize it through some form of participation grade.

Although I am in the process of phasing them out, beginning-of-class quizzes do work well, especially if you have a longer class meeting time. By the time that my fifteen-minute quiz is over, most of the late folks have already arrived. They paid the price for being late by having to rush through the quiz. My work in the class starts without most of the interruptions.

Another idea that I have toyed around with that is kind of an intermediate between direct shaming and doing nothing is to close my door when class is supposed to start and leave a note that reads something like this:

I have begun class at the scheduled starting time of 9:30 am. I have locked the door so that students who have arrived time can receive my undivided attention. When we reach a point in the lesson where opening the door and letting in late students is not disruptive, I will let you in.

I am sure this would make students mad and I would hear about it on course evaluations… but in some cases, students need to be made a bit unhappy.

A Minor Post, Assessment Methods, Higher Education

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