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By Michal Strawn

As many students and parents contemplate another semester at home, the question has arisen in most houses as to how to ensure that students have their best optimal outcome despite the big changes that have occurred. I myself was fully homeschooled for eight years and so have a good idea of what some of the difficulties may be when students are expected to learn at home, and I’ve been teaching students online for a few years now, so I understand some of the stresses that teachers face as well. As a student or a parent, here are some ideas for making the most of the online classroom.

Note: most of these tips are best for middle and high school students

  1. Find the right space in your home

By now we’ve all read about a half dozen articles about tele-commuting. The first piece of advice most of them give is for the person working from home to find a space in the home that is just for work. The adult tele-commuter wants a space away from the rest of life where they can mentally be at the office. The same is true for students. I can’t tell you how many students I have who log in from their bedroom floor, or their kitchen counter. They try to learn with their pets crawling on them and their siblings and parents yelling in the background. For success they need a space in the home where when they sit down their mind clicks into school mode. This shouldn’t be a place that is completely private: students often need other people around to keep them on task. It shouldn’t be too comfortable (the couch) or too public (the kitchen counter). Students should look for a semi-private corner or nook where they can have a table or desk with a school-type chair, the possibility of a parent wandering by on a regular basis to check in, a good internet connection, and minimal outside distractions. With multiple siblings logging in, many families have done things like turning each corner of a dining room or rec room into a student space. Look for creative solutions to get each student their own school-only desk space.

2. Find the Right Equipment

Students need to ask their teachers what they will need. A computer and internet are crucial, but expensive. If students have a hard time finding those things, inquire at the school about support. Can you check out a chrome book for the semester? Are there companies offering deals on home Wi-Fi? After these crucial pieces fall into place, I would say the next most important thing is comfortable headphones, especially if the student will be expected to log into live classes on a regular basis (double especially if there are multiple students in the home that will be doing this). Students need to be able to focus on what their teachers are saying. This is very difficult if there is a lot else going on around like siblings trying to learn, mom and dad trying to work, and everyone just trying to live. Good noise cancelling headphones help students get in the school zone and deliver their lessons with high quality audio.

Other pieces of equipment that might be very helpful include a printer/scanner (so students can rest their eyes by doing thing on paper instead of a screen), a webcam to allow them to chat face-to-face with instructors (trust me, teaching is so much easier when you can see your students), and an extension cord so they aren’t tied to outlets when charging.

3. Set time limits

In school almost every activity has a time limit. Classes end, students have to pack up and move on. Having a set amount of time for things forces students to stay focused and gives them a more structured feeling. If they don’t finish the work in their assigned class time, they should make themselves do it for homework when everything else is done. It sounds strange, but it can really help students stay motivated and not end up working all day and getting nothing done.

4. Have a schedule!

Ok, this one should have been number one or two, but it’s been said so often that I feel like it’s obvious by now and it just piggybacks on setting time limits. People who are working or learning from home need to set a schedule and stick to it. Many teachers are not teaching live this fall. That means students don’t have any structure to their days at all! Make. A. Schedule. Set a wake-up time, a math time, a biology time, a lunch time and so on. Structure breeds success. Without structure, students will spend all day doing what could be done in a few hours.

5. Breaks

Speaking of lunch time, students should make sure their schedule includes the breaks that they’re used to. They can and should give themselves a five minute “passing period” every hour and at least half an hour for lunch. During these times they need to get up and actually do something. They shouldn’t spend the five minutes scrolling through Instagram while sitting at the school desk- the school desk is only for school. Instead, they should get up, stretch, grab some water, run out to the mailbox, and use the bathroom. In short–move!

6. Communicate!

Since students are at home and not seeing their teachers every day, the teachers won’t know as quickly if something is wrong. They won’t necessarily notice that the student is quieter than normal, or working slower than they normally would, or missing questions. Students need to be their own advocates this year; don’t wait for teachers to ask–tell! Students should get comfortable reaching out to teachers at least once each week to check in, ask questions, and make sure they aren’t missing anything.

Hopefully these tips will make distance learning a bit more manageable. If we can ever help, just let us know!

-Michal