Needs Focused Teaching

Dealing with late-comers and poor punctuality

Students arriving late can be disruptive to your lesson. Late-comers often attract attention from their classmates meaning time is spent, and likely wasted, on the justification to their delayed arrival. Regardless of their rhyme or reason, pupils arriving late to class is inevitably detrimental to the learning environment you have carefully created. Here is a selection of strategies and creative ideas for preventing the problem of punctuality, plus a complete step-by-step plan for dealing with students arriving late.
1. Have clear rules and consequences in place

Students wandering into class late is a common problem, particularly as they get older, but you can do much to prevent it by having clear, consistent rules on punctuality backed up by cast iron consequences. Students need to know exactly what will happen if they are late and that consequences will be applied every time, regardless of the excuse the student uses.

Consequences can form part of a hierarchical plan – from the time made up after school and contact with parents for more serious cases, or they can be more humorous – such as inviting students who are not in their seats when the bell rings to go to the front of the room and sing a song. It puts a smile on everyone’s face and starts the class in an upbeat way. A colleague who favoured the humorous approach told me that when two students wandered in late she would have them sing a duet – and occasionally she even had a choir! She found that punctuality ceased to be an issue when she started using this strategy.

2. Reward those who are on time

Students like to do well and good attendance is something that all of them can achieve, regardless of ability, so it should be acknowledged like any other social skill. Recognition can take the form of verbal or written praise, a special award or more formal rewards such as free time.

3. Surprise, surprise!

Punctuality and attendance can be encouraged in a fun way by randomly choosing one student’s desk or chair each day and placing a sticker or note beneath it. The student who arrives (on time) to find the sticker under his or her seat gets to choose a small prize. If the student is absent or late the prize is forfeited or cancelled.

Here is a step-by-step classroom management plan for dealing with latecomers:
  • Give latecomers as little attention as possible. Calmly, and without fuss, take their name (assuming you don’t already know it) and confirm that they are late: ‘John, you’re ten minutes late …’
  • Direct them to their seat. Quickly get them seated and give them something to occupy them – they could watch the remainder of an explanation/demonstration or get on with a worksheet or written task while you concentrate on the other learners.
  • Don’t ask them why they are late at this stage. This will cause disruption to the lesson flow and shift focus where you don’t want it. They will be given opportunity to explain their reason for being late in the two minute follow-up after the lesson: ‘Sit there please and get on with (insert task) – you can explain why you’re late after the lesson.’
  • Address latecomers separately once the other students are settled. Once the majority of the students are working the next step is to get the latecomer(s) engaged properly in the lesson task. This can be done either by gathering them as one group and giving them the full demonstration/ lesson introduction again or (better) pair them up with other students who can teach them or explain the task to them.
  • Praise those who are working. Take the focus off the latecomer by giving positive attention to those who are working:‘Excellent work you two – nice to see you getting on with that.’
  • Keep thorough records. Get latecomers to fill in a form giving the time they arrived and a reason for their late arrival. Send copies home with notification of consequences if it continues.
  • If students are absent when worksheets are distributed place copies in folders for absentees. At the end of the day, simply label each folder with the absent students’ names so that missed work is ready for their return.

And there we have it, 3 ideas to prevent the problem of punctuality and a step-by-step plan to effectively dealing with late-comers.

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