Is Virtual Learning a Good Choice for Your Child? Teacher Tips
As we anticipate some degree of a “fourth wave” in the battle against COVID-19, school boards across Canada will offer virtual education as an option in fall of 2021.
Over the last year and a half, changes had to be made to provide education for children during distancing and lockdown. Overall, parents are reporting negative outcomes in the quality of learning during the virtual learning period, but not just that. Lots of parents are also worried about increased anxiety and depression in their kids, and a lack of interest in schooling that wasn’t there pre-Covid.
For some children, and for some families who might face a higher risk due to the pandemic, virtual schooling may be a blessing in the next academic year. We interviewed The Reading School Founder and Director, Diane Duff. to glean her impression of parents’ and children’s experiences in virtual learning thus far, and her best advice for choosing in-person or virtual learning this fall.
What are the advantages of online learning? Who benefits from online learning?
Diane: Virtual education may have its place for older learners, working adults in particular. For many adolescents who struggle to go to sleep early enough to get up on time for school, an online schedule may be more forgiving. (Many studies suggest most teens from grades 7 to 12 aren’t getting nearly enough sleep.)
It’s hard for me to identify advantages in having young children attend school online, outside of immune- or otherwise health-related concerns. Children with profound anxiety might find it easier to work on schooling at home and at their own pace, being able start lessons when they’re feeling positive and being able to take breaks when they need them. But for average learners, especially young children and/or those with a learning disability, I can’t imagine virtual school providing an educational advantage.
Many of our clients are parents of kids with reading disability. Schooling is already harder for these kids; they tend to need a lot more parent support when their education is virtual. Parents have been exhausted by managing their own work and family responsibilities while supervising their children online – whether it’s sitting beside the kids to make sure they stay focused, or coordinating different break times for the kids, or running from room to room to sort out tech issues….
And then there are the equity issues that arise: Is there enough space in the home to allow for a quiet learning space for everyone who needs it? How reliable is the internet?
What advantages are there to online tutoring?
Diane: Well, compared to online school, the time being spent online is relatively short with a tutoring lesson. And compared to in-home tutoring, in which a teacher travels to a student, online lesson length can be set individually. Lessons don’t have to be an hour long. They can be 30-minutes or 45 minutes. Or longer. It really depends on who the learner is and what the content of the lesson is.
Our focus at The Reading School on online tutoring also allows us to offer more lessons during peak hours – before school, after school and evening – because teacher travelling time doesn’t have to be factored in. Nor does the cost of teacher travel time or rental space have to be factored into tuition, meaning online tutoring fees are less expensive.
Speaking of travel time, with online tutoring, parents don’t have to go out again. On a weeknight that’s a blessing! I think that travel time is tough on kids too. With online tutoring, children can have just a little bit more downtime or family time in their day.
One last thought! If you tend to worry about it, you can rest assured that, with online tutoring, your house doesn’t have to be clean and tidy. Nobody can see your laundry on the living room floor! As well, you have more privacy. I’m sure lots of parents don’t want to have conversations about personal or family issues while a teacher is in the home.
What’s your advice for parents considering online school, based on your clients’ experience so far?
Diane: All else being equal, the most successful students tend to be those whose parents take the learning experience seriously. Parents set the tone. You know this already.
You’re setting the tone and telling your kids the lesson is important by having them sit at the computer before the start of the lesson, not a couple of minutes after the start time. You make sure the technology is working, mic is on, computer is plugged in, and headphones work before the lesson start time. When you remind your child to go get their work basket from the shelf – so they have notebook, pens, pencils at the ready instead of having to go find them during the lesson – that is setting the tone.
Making sure they are prepared is telling them what they are doing is important. When you say no to having the TV playing in the background, when you say no to the snack at the lesson table, when you make sure they’ve already been to the bathroom… All these tell your kids their lesson is important, and they should take it seriously.
When you say hello to the teacher and occasionally have a brief exchange, you are telling your child that the teacher is someone to value and treat with respect.
As in all parenting, we have to model the behaviour we want to see. After that, we must entrust the lesson to the teacher and feel confident we have done what we can to support the learning experience.
How has your experience been with online learning so far? Will you consider virtual learning this fall?