June 6, 2012

How to Draw a Crowd

I stay after school to offer extra help most days each week, and I nearly always have students in my room.  Teachers who walk by will say "You're so lucky!  I never have kids stay after." but we all know it isn't luck.  There are a few key ingredients in the recipe of great after-school attendance.

First, students need to have something they can work on.  SBG means they can re-assess (I'm almost there, aiming to do at least partial implementation next year), doing rough drafts with feedback and allowing students to resubmit gives them concrete goals, even just letting them do old homework for half credit gets them in the door and working on math.  I allow students to improve their grade on every assignment through the end of the quarter (for teachers who worry about kids learning how deadlines work, there are 8 per year for progress reports and report cards, plus I grade in batches so if they want prompt feedback they know to hand assignments in on time for the first due date).

Second, students must understand that they will gain something from attending extra help.  For some it's all about the grade, but since I think my grades reflect understanding fairly well we're using different words to say almost the same thing.  For others they will gain confidence, study tips, deeper understanding or just a good space to do their homework filled with resources and their peers.  However, most students aren't convinced by the idea that this might happen, so we have to start in class.  The first test of the year I give everyone plenty of time to correct the exam in class (next year this will translate to time to correct one day, time to re-assess another day).  As the year goes on I give less and less class time with more emphatic reminders that I'm available after school to help them finish their corrections.  That first experience in class helps encourage them to come after- they know what to expect.

Third, students have to know that they're welcome.  My door is always open after school, I announce my availability regularly (that's one of the end of class announcements) and I greet everyone with a smile and "Do you know what you want to work on?"  For many that's still not enough though, they need a personal invitation. It was my goal this year to invite students based on different categories each week.  Sometimes I printed out a list of students with missing assignments, other weeks I listed students who had failed a test, and other times students who were failing for the quarter.  While everyone was working I would circulate the room and inform the student that they ____ (category of the week) and could they come after school this week?  Other weeks I print progress reports for everyone and emphasize when I'm available after school.  The best is when one student comes to class and shares how much they got done in one afternoon- first hand stories are the most influential (students have gotten help with that vs. I accomplished all of this!).

Sadly, this still isn't enough for everyone to pull their act together.  I can offer as many opportunities as I want, but that doesn't mean students will take them.  Last week I gave every student with less than a 65% average for the year a note with their average informing them that they were at risk of failing, they needed to have over a 60% to get credit and there wouldn't be an opportunity to correct the final so make sure you have a cushion!  I also wrote a postcard* to the parent(s) of every child who had a grade between 55 and 60 (there's still time to pull it together!).  I've seen some new faces after school lately, so never stop asking, one day they just might be ready to respond.

I'm excited to be able to talk more about standards next year and less about averages (although those certainly will still play a major role considering our current report card system), though all the principles will remain the same: give students a taste of what extra help looks like, reward them for it (assuming they are productive and have actually improved their understanding) and invite students personally.

*I did a great job of writing these in March, it was kind of what I did for Lent, and then vacation happened and life got in the way.  Goal for next year!

Motivating the unmotivated seems to be the most recent #matheme.  Write something or look up an old post on the topic and share!


  1. Tina - Thanks for sharing what you do to get students in the door after school. I appreciate hearing what someone has done and how it has worked (or not). You have given me some good food-for-thought as I think about how to improve next year. Thanks.
    --Lisa (@lmehnry9)

  2. This is great - thank you for sharing your strategies. Most of my students seem so overscheduled after school with sports, music, etc that it can be really challenging to carve out that time. Mostly, I make due with lunch time, study halls, or random free periods here and there to pull kids in to my room. But it is a great feeling to have a room full of kids working on their free time, helping each other, and feeling like part of a special club.

  3. I'm glad this post offered some ideas for you both. Anna- most of our sports don't start until at least 30 minutes after school precisely because students need to have time to see teachers. Plus, our coaches are happy to have students arrive late if they come with a pass. It might be something to talk to kids/athletics directors about. We also don't have study halls and lunch is 25 minutes so after school is pretty much all we get!