female professor teaching to a mostly empty lecture hall

Week Four
Supporting the Disappearing Student

“Some of my students just don’t show up for class” or “How can they learn if they never turn anything in?” – do these thoughts sound familiar? In every semester there are a number of students who receive failing grades not because they performed poorly on assessments, but because they stopped attending class and submitting assignments, or because they never attended. How do we reach these students that are disengaged and unmotivated?

You may want to reflect on your current attendance policies. Although our intention is to encourage active participation and positive behaviors, sometimes attendance polices can decrease students’ sense of autonomy or discourage a student who has fallen behind (Cheneville & Jordan, 2012). Creating a fair and equitable policy balances the importance of attendance and your intention to support their success, with accountability as a member of a thriving learning community. When students don’t respond to your supportive communication, you can also use Navigate to alert the students’ advisers and others who can provide additional support and motivation for the students.

You may wonder why a capable student is not completing easy assignments, or why they avoid gradually more complex assignments. For many students, the fear of their work not being “good enough” is paralyzing. Rather than earn a failing grade from a teacher, they give it to themselves by just not doing the work...Other students ask dozens of questions rather than read the text for information” (Thompson, 2011).  


multiple exposures of a student walking down a staircase, giving the impression he is disappearing

Supporting Disappearing Students

Every semester, a number of students receive failing grades because they stopped attending class and submitting assignments, or because they never attended. This guide provides recommendations for reaching these missing students.

close-up of a hand taking a library book from the shelf

The Impact of Attendance Polices on Course Attendance among College Students

In this study, Chenneville & Jordan (2012) examined student beliefs about class attendance and the effect of a graded policy on student attendance.

screenshot of the Navigate overview video

Navigate Introduction and Overview

This video tutorial provides a brief introduction and overview to the features in NIU’s student success and retention platform, Navigate. You can use Navigate to communicate with your students via email and text message and to issue alerts for students who have not responded to you or whose performance has not improved after your guidance.

Recommended Strategies

Choose one of the following strategies to implement

Build Persistence and Confidence

Support students who may be experiencing fear of failure, learned helplessness, or other learning challenges with one of the strategies shared by Thompson (2011), such as:

  • Activate prior knowledge when introducing an assignment to increase likelihood of persistence.
  • Start a course module with assignments that allow students to be successful before moving to more complex tasks and content to build confidence. 
  • Use formative assessments to gauge students' progress as they are learning and to provide opportunities for them to improve.

Share Success Tips with Your Students

Take a proactive approach to helping students stay organized and engaged by sharing one or more of the student success tips, including:

Send Students Text Messages via Navigate

Text messaging students is more effective than emailing for students prone to avoidance (I.e., the “disappearing students” in our classes). Try sending proactive text messages to each student at the beginning of the semester and at key moments during the course.

Issue Alerts for Students Who Need Additional Support

If a student has not been attending class or their progress in the course to this point is unsatisfactory, your first step is to reach out to them directly to offer your assistance, support, and feedback. However, if a student has not responded after multiple attempts or has not improved after your guidance, you can issue an alert via Navigate for additional support. An adviser, a coordinator from Student Athlete Academic Support Services, or staff from the Huskie Academic Support Center will reach out to the student.

Next Steps

Please review the resources and select at least one of the recommended strategies to implement. Make a note to yourself about the strategy you used and the impact that it had.

Next week, we will share resources on Universal Design for Learning (UDL). If you have any questions or concerns in the meantime, feel free to let us know at citl@niu.edu.

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Contact Us

Center for Innovative
Teaching and Learning

Phone: 815-753-0595
Email: citl@niu.edu

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