Building KU's Teaching and Learning Community

Motivating Students

professor working with students building modelsAttending Class

A study conducted by the Center for Teaching Excellence in Fall 1999, titled “Why Students Do and Do Not Attend Classes,” examined the relationship between course characteristics, student characteristics, and the rationale of students for either attending class or not attending class on a daily basis. The study sought to answer the following four questions:

  1. How do characteristics of the students relate to their attendance behavior?
  2. How do characteristics of the courses in which students are enrolled relate to their attendance behavior?
  3. What reasons do students give for their day-to-day attendance decisions?
  4. How do these reasons relate to the number of their absences?

Variables assessed included gender, class standing, age, grade point average, employment, residence (either on campus or off), cost of tuition and who was paying it, and the number of credit hours the student was enrolled in. A total of 333 students participated in this study, and they had an average of 3.17 absences per class, with a range from 0 to 12.25 absences. Some of the reasons provided by students for why they attended classes included personal values, obtaining course content, fulfilling grade requirements, factors related to the teacher, and peer influence. Reasons not to attend class included being sick, participating in other school or non-school-related activities, participating in leisure activities, avoiding teacher- or class-related experiences, and having no incentive to attend. Results indicate that students who had higher GPAs had fewer absences than those students who had lower grades. Other student characteristics, such as gender, age, class, residence, method of funding education, or number of credits enrolled in, did not correlate with number of absences.

Students were more likely to attend classes that were taught by a GTA as opposed to those taught by a professor. The main reason cited for attending GTA-taught classes was that “absences above the minimum affect my grade,” and one of the main reasons cited for not attending professor-taught classes was that “attendance is not taken or does not affect my grade.” Therefore, it appears that whether or not attendance is required significantly predicts whether students attend class or not. Students also said that they were more likely to attend class if the class size was small due to the teacher noticing if they were present, if their presence affected their course grade, and if they had the opportunity to participate in class discussion.

Overall, a combination of teacher and student influences affect class attendance, with a large factor being whether or not a penalty exists for missing class. The study concludes, “If students believe they should attend class, are not sick, not tired from having fun the night before, and like the subject matter, and if teachers notice when students are there, take their attendance into account for the course grade, and provide information students must be in class to get, attendance will be optimal.”


Friedman, P., McComb, J. & Rodriquez, F. (1999). “Why Students Do and Do Not Attend Class.” The Scholarship of Teaching: Classroom Research at KU. Published by the Center for Teaching Excellence.

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students and professor discussing a textCompleting Reading Assignments and Homework

Many students believe that they already have a firm grasp on how to read when they get to college. Why then, are students often discouraged by their attempts to read college texts? Ann Cudd (2003) of the Philosophy department at KU proposes that much of this frustration stems from the fact that they do not understand that the type of reading approach used should vary based on the type of text that is being read. “You don’t read a novel the same way you read a philosophical essay or a mathematical proof or a poem. Students have to be helped to realize this and then to develop the new eyes they need to see the kinds of texts you assign them,” she states.

Robert Magnan (1990) believes that it is best to help students achieve critical thinking skills before they read in order to aid their analysis and evaluation of texts. He suggests:

  • Use a review as a preview: Review facts your students already know that relate to the reading. By connecting new information with already-learned concepts, students will be in a better position to understand and remember what they read.
  • Give them a bird’s eye view: Discuss the topic covered in the reading in general terms, but avoid specifics. Students will think the reading is essential, not repetitive.
  • Work with the words: Explain essential vocabulary used in the readings.
  • Put questions in their heads: Ask them a mix of general and specific questions that require students to find the facts as well as analyze and interpret. Avoid putting questions in the order of the text, or students may just skim for words instead of read for meaning.
  • Put questions in their hands: Give them a guide to follow as they read.

John C. Bean, in his book Engaging Ideas, addresses several problems that students encounter when trying to read college textbooks and provides suggestions for how teachers can help students develop their reading skills. If students have difficulty with the reading process, demonstrate your own reading processes and provide materials to help students practice reading. If students have difficulty reconstructing arguments, create writing assignments that ask students to summarize the readings, have students make outlines or flowcharts, or work through an example text, providing summarizing statements.

If students are having difficulty processing unfamiliar, uncomfortable, or disorienting views, draw students’ attention to these instances, ask them to provide examples of times they had to assimilate unfamiliar material in the past, and contrast various ways of looking at the class material. If the problem is student understanding of rhetorical context, create guides for the readings, explain the connections between the lectures and the reading assignments, and ask questions that require students to explain the context of the writing. Bean also addresses how to increase reading skills in individuals who have trouble with complex syntax. He recommends asking students to rephrase dense passages in their own words and to rewrite complex sentences into several shorter ones.


Bean, J.C. (2011). Engaging Ideas: The professor’s guide to integrating writing, critical thinking, and active learning in the classroom. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Cudd, A. (2003). “The eyes of a reader.”Teaching Matters, 6 (4), 5.

Magnan, R. (1990). 147 Practical tips for teaching professors. Madison: Magna.

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professor speaking with colleaguesTeaching for Success: How to Help Students Get the Most Out of Being in Class

Successful teaching requires helping students understand the best methods to use to get the most out of being in class. One way to help students is to direct their note taking so that it is more effective. In the November 2003 issue of The Teaching Professor, Maryellen Weimer shares some dos and don’ts for students’ note taking, based on the work of M.H. Dembo.

Should I recopy notes after class?
No, because recopying requires little or no thinking. A better use of time would be writing questions and answers about the material in your notes.

What should I do if the instructor talks so fast that I can’t get everything written down?
Don’t try to write down everything word for word. Instead, paraphrase, listen for the most important things the instructor says, and leave blank spaces to show you’ve missed some material you thought was important. Check with classmates to see if they got the material down.

Should I listen and not write when the instructor is discussing something I don’t understand?
No, the best thing to do is to keep taking notes, but indicate in your notes that you don’t really understand what the material means. If you don’t ask about this in class, after you review your notes, see if another student, a TA, or the instructor can explain it to you again.

How do I deal with an instructor who often wanders off topic?
If the instructor isn’t well organized, see if your textbook helps to provide a logical structure for the material instead. Working with other students can really help in situations like this, too. Form a small study group and together organize notes from class.

For information on encouraging students’ inductive thinking and understanding, see Inductive Teaching.

For more information on how to reach students, see information regarding non-participants and difficult students under Classroom Interactions. See information regarding helping students read under Completing Reading Assignments and Homework.


Dembo, M.H. (2000). Motivation and Learning Strategies for College Success: A Self-Management Approach. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Weimer, M. (2003). “A helpful handout for students.” The Teaching Professor, 17(9), 2.

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