The Magic Attendance Spreadsheet

Today, I took some time to finish up my courses for my students and come up with a solution to an ongoing problem that I have with one of my classes. The result?

The Magic Spreadsheet. (cue oohs and aahs)

Seriously. I have found a way to use the Magic Spreadsheet (all hail the Magic Spreadsheet) as part of my academic/life strategies course as a way to reward students for attending class consecutively for the fifteen weeks we have class. Since the Magic Spreadsheet rewards habit, why not use it to reward a habit of attendance for my students who, for the most part, struggle with something as simple as regular attendance for college classes? Academic struggles overlap with self-regulation, anxiety, depression, and focus; any reward for that attendance is worthwhile.

The Magic Spreadsheet for writers assumes three things: one, that you will write every day; two, that you will write a minimum of 250 words a day; and three, you do not lose points if you miss a day, but you are rewarded less if you are not consistent. The original Magic Spreadsheet relies on writers to be honest in submitting their wordcounts; there’s no external reward for remaining diligent on the spreadsheet, although there are plenty of people who have bet dinner, drinks, and embarrassing karaoke feats on superior point totals at the end of so many days.

My Magic Spreadsheet for student attendance assumes two things, not three. First, it assumes that you will show up to class; when you show up to class on time, you earn a point. If you show up to class late or you do not show up at all, then you do NOT earn a point. Second, it rewards consistency; the points per week that a student receives are the sum of the one point of attendance PLUS the chain number. A student who attends three consecutive weeks earns 1 point the first week, 1 attendance plus 1 consistency points (2 points) the second week, and 1 attendance plus 2 consistency points (3 points) the third week. After three weeks, the student has earned the sum of those points (6 points) in extra credit. Since my class is out of 500 points, I cap extra credit at 10% of the total, or 50 points.

This means that a student who attends class regularly can jump a letter grade; if they do poorly on an assessment or forget to complete an online quiz or writing assignment, their regular attendance can save them. By being physically present and engaged in the classroom, a student can salvage the grade and gain some shred of self-efficacy on the way to academic recovery.

I am insanely pleased with myself over this. I’m not sure if I would consider it the absolute highlight to my day, but it was definitely a proud moment when I got the numbers and formulas going and I started to enter the first week’s attendance. When I started to explain it to one of my students, he declared that the idea was really intriguing. “So, this is just for showing up?”

Yes. Often, showing up is the hardest part. Being there, being on time, just getting to the place you need to be is a challenge, and some of us feel ridiculous admitting it. So, I clear that out of the way and offer the reward up front. Not because attaining it is easy, but it’s because it’s a basic behavior that instructors expect from students, and I want to encourage that basic behavior.

I really enjoy the Magic Spreadsheet; it’s one of the reasons why I’m bothering to write about my programming a version for attendance. It’s one of the reasons why Zen and I were able to finish Broken, and it’s one of the reasons why I was able to finish Hollow. I wonder more and more if I can explain it well enough to write about it in a research capacity; motivational theory has always fascinated me, and this is a simple tool that has managed to help so many people better realize their creative endeavors. It works; I want to be able to offer a scientific explanation as to why.

All Hail the Magic Spreadsheet!

This entry was posted on Thursday, January 9th, 2014 at 10:05 pm and is filed under academics, PhD Ruminations, writing. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

4 Responses to “The Magic Attendance Spreadsheet”

  1. Anne Elizabeth Baldwin Says:

    That is an interesting idea. I think it’s particularly appropriate for a course in better study habits. {Smile}

    Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

  2. Veronica Says:

    I hope so! I never like curving, and extra credit for my course shouldn’t be difficult… and I have a real problem with attendance after the first few weeks. Hopefully, this will give students a little bit of incentive to show up!

  3. Anne Elizabeth Baldwin Says:

    I hope so, too. I think it should; students tend to be interested in extra credit, especially when it’s “not hard.” {Smile}

    Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

  4. Doc Coleman Says:

    This is a pretty novel solution to this problem. The interesting thing is that unless you hit the cap for the number of points you can earn, the longer the student’s chain of attendance is, the MORE incentivized they are to continue to show up. Most schemes fail in that the benefits are linear, so there is less reward for keeping a streak going.