A guide for "school at home" during The Great Shutdown (ages 12+)

I've been an educator for nearly 20 years, first as a high school history and language teacher, and now more than ten years as a private tutor and study coach. I have spent thousands of hours, one-on-one, with students in middle school, high school, and college, and I have zeroed in on some simple and concrete strategies for helping them manage their independent studies.

As schools begin to close down for extended periods, sometimes moving to remote instruction, a great portion of the responsibility for learning is now in the students' hands. Self-management will be crucial in making these studies effective, and I believe the strategies below will prove useful.

So without further ado -

How To Succeed In School Without Teachers (Or A School)

Creating a plan that is SPECIFIC is key. Sit down, and on paper or screen answer these questions:

WHEN will I do my work?

First, sketch out a broad plan for the coming week using Google calendar or iCal or paper, and do this no later than Sunday evening:
  • Update events in the coming week that will affect your schedule (lessons, practices, trips, etc.).
  • Set aside blocks of time for each day that are devoted ONLY to school work.
  • Stay as close to a normal school week schedule as possible - set specific times for waking up (Mon thru Fri) & going to bed (Sun thru Thur), and assign "school work" blocks to normal school hours.

- See a calendar example here -

Then, each morning, begin the first "school work" session by checking assignments and creating a plan for the day. This is your Daily TEA:
  • TASKS: First list the tasks to be done - BE SPECIFIC! Instead of "Biology homework", write "Biology: watch video and label cell diagram".
  • ESTIMATE: Next to each task, write an estimate of how long it will take. (Students will not be very good at this at first, so their schedule will need to be flexible.)
  • ASSIGN: Give each task a specific time slot within the scheduled "school work" block for that day.

- See a Daily TEA example here -

* Create your daily plan strategically - factor in mental fatigue, schedule short breaks between tasks, etc.

* Sticking to this daily plan as closely as possible is crucial to productive independent work. It will likely not go smoothly at first, and parents should be prepared to enforce and incentivize as needed to establish the habit. But building these skills will serve students well into the future.

WHERE will I do my work?

This question addresses the study environment, and these are key factors to address:
  • Decide on a quiet place, away from distractions like TV, siblings, household activity, etc.
  • A smartphone should pretty much NEVER be in the same room.
  • Screen use should be limited only to school work; remove, disable, or set limits on gaming & social networking apps if using a computer or tablet.
  • If music is helpful, do NOT listen to music with words. Keep it soft and instrumental.

HOW will I do my work?

This question is the simplest to answer, but perhaps the most difficult to learn; most students require some guidance in this area. Put simply, the answer to the question is ACTIVELY. Active studying involves creating study materials, not simply reading or copying someone else's.

Active studying looks like this:
  • create a diagram
  • take notes on a text or video
  • organize info on a chart
  • summarize a reading

whereas passive studying is less effective and looks like this:
  • highlight a text
  • fill-in-the-blank notes on a Powerpoint
  • skim over notes
  • watch a video

This is a distillation of the strategies I introduce to my students, and which we work on for weeks in order to build solid habits. It takes time and dedication, but the benefits are real. Good luck, and stay safe!


Patrick R.

M.A. in Education / Study Skills Coach / German Instructor

2750+ hours
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