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Best Practices

The LTO Best Practices

Issue No. 52: Ideas to Improve Attendance

Welcome to the fifty-second issue of The LTO Best Practices. Each month, the Learning & Teaching Office will be spotlighting a timely topic in education. This January, our topic is "Ideas to Improve Attendance."

Check out our page of Teaching Tips handouts for more downloadable documents on a variety of teaching topics.


Why do students skip class?

After conducting a study on the reasons students attend or don't attend class, Clay and Breslow (2006) reported on the factors students used to decide on lecture attendance, with 1 being not at all important and 5 being extremely important. The bolded items represent factors that can be impacted by good teaching practice, which will be the focus of this issue of Best Practices.

 Audience wearing special glasses watch a 3D "stereoscopic film" at the Telekinema on the South Bank in London during the Festival of Britain

Factor Rating
Quality/clarity of lectures   4.28
Deadlines for other academic work
Use of relevant examples   3.82
Lecturer's ability to engage/entertain   3.71
Lack of sleep 3.49
Availability of lecture material from printed sources   3.43
Hour at which class is scheduled 3.18
Need to attend to extracurricular/personal activities 2.82
Availability of lecture material from other students   2.70
Use of demos   2.69
Size of class 1.87


Similarly, in their article "Why Students Do and Do Not Attend Classes: Myths and Realities," Friedman, Rodriguez, and McComb (2001) summarize some other common reasons given by students for not attending class. Excerpted below are the reasons that can be improved through changes to pedagogy:

  • Attendance is not taken or does not influence my grade;
  • The teacher doesn't notice or care whether I am there;
  • Course content is available from another source;
  • The teacher digresses, is repetitious, confusing, or goes too quickly, so I don't learn much when I attend.


Best Practices

The research has shown that students will always prioritize their time based on what will have the greatest impact on their success. If they feel like they aren't likely to get something out of attending class, they will prioritize another assignment that they feel will have a bigger effect on their grades. Research has found that this form of cost-benefit analysis is also at play when students decide whether or not to complete their readings [pdf].

Clay and Breslow (2006) found that students would attend class regularly if:

  • they expected to learn;
  • the course material was challenging enough that they felt they needed to attend class in order to succeed; and
  • what was covered in class related to what was on homework and tests, and if they were interested in the subject matter.


A paper by Fitzpatrick (2011) confirmed Clay and Breslow's findings, stressing the importance of high quality teaching and providing content above and beyond what is included in the course text or notes.

Sleigh and Ritzer (2001) believe the best way to encourage student attendance is to "structure class so that those who attend experience obvious benefits, such as better grades, personal growth, and 'informative entertainment.'" To do this, they suggest that exams cover all the material covered in class, even what has come up in discussion, in talks by guest speakers, or in video clips. 

Sleigh and Ritzer also stress the importance of the following:

  • avoiding repeating what's already covered in the textbook or readings;
  • not providing notes on Blackboard that serve as a transcript of the class;
  • making the material relevant to students' interests and backgrounds;
  • and conveying information in a way that captures students' attention.


Brewer and Burgess (2005) suggest using a variety of teaching methods to capture students' attention. These active learning strategies can include case studies, role playing, experiments, and demonstration.

Visit the LTO's page of Teaching Techniques to learn more about active learning, case studies, experiential learning and more.

Brewer and Burgess' study also found that a "teacher's personal qualities were more important in motivating students to continue attending class than were teaching methods and classroom management practices." These personal qualities include being open-minded, friendly, enthusiastic, and knowing students names and interests.

Sleigh and Ritzer (2001) believe it is important to model the behavior you would like to see in the classroom: "We may be unintentionally modeling the very behavior that we deem undesirable in students by arriving late to class, being unprepared, and not keeping appointments, including office hours."

Brewer and Burgess suggest keeping the class environment flexible and encouraging students to provide input and suggestions. While students liked classes to be structured and organized, "offering flexibility in planning and course goals, and allowing students to be involved in the direction of a class were all perceived to be high motivational factors."

Visit the LTO's page on Classroom Strategies to learn more about creating a positive environment in the classroom.

Finally, Sleigh and Ritzer (2001) believe that the atmosphere of the classroom may be more important than the material being presented. By creating a classroom atmosphere that is comfortable and where students feel valued will make students more excited about attending class. This starts with learning their names, and continues with creating a sense of community "where each member has something to contribute and where disagreement is tolerated."

Visit the LTO's page on Supporting Students to learn more about services available for your students.


Next Issue

"The LTO Best Practices" is produced monthly by Michelle Schwartz, Research Associate at The Learning & Teaching Office of Ryerson University.

Do you have any thoughts, suggestions, or best practices that you would like to see appear in this newsletter? Please send all submissions to We look forward to including your contributions in our next issue!

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Photo credit: The Fifties in 3D, The National Archives