You can fairly accuse me of being absurdly quotidian here. And that’s okay! You’ve been warned.
So, I take attendance. It’s just necessary for a writing class, in the age of the process model. If you don’t establish the importance of attending class, and lay out clear negative consequences for missing a lot of class, students won’t come. And since the process of drafting and improving a paper over time is now so deeply ingrained into the fabric of writing pedagogy, if they don’t come, they don’t improve. So in the first couple weeks of class, I always drill it into their heads (to the point of their visual annoyance), if they miss a lot of class, they are bound to fail. Does that mean that nobody misses a ton of class and fails? Nope. They’re always surprised by it, somehow, as well.
However, taking attendance, as in calling out student names or looking to find them and marking a sheet, is a big pain, and can actually take more time than you think. Plus, a delay like that before instruction can lead to distracted and unengaged students; I’ve always found capturing their attention, before drift or chatiness sets in, to be key. For that reason I have taken to distributing attendance sheets to students at the beginning of the class. Here’s a nice wrinkle to it: I make that effectively my tardiness policy, too. If a student comes in late but not before I take back the attendance sheet, so be it. They can sign their name. If they come in so late that they’ve missed the attendance sheet, they can stay and work and be instructed, but they receive an absence. Nice and clean.
On the other hand, it is annoying and more work than you think to hunt and peck in a gradebook for each name on the sheet. For that reason, my attendance system has evolved once again this semester: each attendance sheet has every student’s name listed, along with a space on the side for them to sign. That way, I can check at a glance who was absent, mark them that way in my gradebook, and move on. Better still, by having a set of physical attendance sheets to match the book, I’m protected in case a student wanted to challenge his or her grade. (Nobody ever has, in one of my classes, but it’s never impossible, particularly if you don’t hand out As like candy.) If challenged about the number of absences, I can just check the gradebook, go into the folder, and produce the actual attendance sheets. It’s a good system.
There, I know that will be interesting to about five people worldwide, but there you go.