Distance learning can teach us something, says Prague educator

Prague British International School offers tips for navigating the new academic reality

Elizabeth Zahradnicek-Haas

Written by Elizabeth Zahradnicek-Haas
Published on 01.12.2020 13:28 (updated on 01.12.2020)

Schools are slowly transitioning back to in-person education but the virtual classroom is likely to be a reality in the Czech Republic for a long time to come.

Currently, in the Czech Republic, secondary schools' last-year students returned to school as of Nov. 25, and primary schools' 3rd-5th and 9th graders went back from Nov. 30, while the 6th-8th grades will do a rotating schedule of at-home and in-class.

Students learning with masks at Vlastina campus, Prague British International School
Students learning with masks at Vlastina campus, Prague British International School

International schools were successful early adopters of the virtual classroom model with many international families in the Expats.cz community finding that private schools’ technological aptitude -- and the lack of language barrier -- made for a smoother remote schooling experience.

But your child doesn’t have to attend a private school in order to take advantage of some of the distance-learning basics that schools like the Prague British International School implemented during the pandemic.

We spoke to Paul Baker, Head of Kamyk Campus at Prague British International School who revealed what works and what doesn’t when it comes to helping your kids succeed at distance learning. 

Paul Baker is head at Kamys Campus, Prague British International School
Paul Baker is head at Kamyk Campus, Prague British International School

Timetables are the most important tool

Baker says that first and foremost his teachers rely on a timetable, one of the most important tools in the PBIS’s virtual classroom which combines “connected time” where students can learn from their teachers via a live platform and “guided time” where pupils learn independently.

“We have a virtual school timetable for each year group. It factors in breaks, lunch, and independent tasks as well as lessons with their class teacher and specialist teachers each day,” says Baker who even put together an explainer video teaching his kids how to start each day on the right foot. 

He believes that the timetable is not only helpful for students but for families who can arrange their day each morning with a clear idea of when breaks and lunch will take place.

Baker's also highlights the importance of eating a healthy breakfast, breaks, fresh air, and organizing one’s workspace with no distractions.

Ensure regular assessment

While time management helps bring some structure to online learning, the actual learning part can in many ways pose a challenge with some studies suggesting that online learning can lead to lower retention.

Baker agrees that retention is an ongoing challenge and says that while PBIS teachers are continually developing fresh new ways to engage students, assessment is a critical part of the process.

A PBIS student learning at home.
A PBIS student learning at home.

“Teaching online is very different from being in the classroom with the students. Assessing what the children have understood in a lesson is the key to this,” he says.

PBIS students submit work on the Seesaw platform for the teachers to assess. The teacher can then offer feedback with verbal or written comments to both parents and students. 

Other learning platforms widely used by Czech schools such as Microsoft Teams have features that allow teachers to give similar feedback, but many parents say they prefer Seesaw’s user-friendliness and smart design. 

Help but don't help too much

Parental help is another area that can affect the outcome of distance learning. Baker says that while the school appreciates parental involvement he understands that many parents struggle to find time to sit down with their children in the lessons.

“We have held sessions for parents to help them learn how to support their child. Also, we add notes from the lesson on Seesaw so parents who were not present in the lesson know what the children need to complete.”

But one important strategy Baker has adhered to during distance learning is asking his teachers to plan lessons for the children presuming that the parents will not be present.  

“Lessons will fail if you rely on parents to help their child and then you find out they are not sitting next to their child,” he says.

Turn the camera off

Screen burnout is another all-to-common reality when it comes to virtual learning which is why Baker encourages frequent changes and updates to what virtual schooling looks like. His staff also tries to focus on activities that can be done with the camera off:

“Quite a lot of the lessons see the teacher introducing a topic and then the child working on the task with their camera off. The teacher is still online and can help those who need help and checks in with all the children at the end of a lesson.”

He believes this is a far better approach than the children staring straight into a screen for an hour and more closely resembles what life is like for them in school. 

But Baker is realistic about screentime as unavoidable at the moment. 

“We want the children to have contact with their teachers and peers. We do encourage the students to not use their devices during their breaks to give their eyes a rest. But the chance to see their classmates is important,” he says.

Don't give up hope

Baker believes that kids are resilient and will make it through these trying times and that everyone -- teachers, parents, and students alike -- will come out of it having learned something. 

“We are looking at the areas of the curriculum that are more suited to online learning and have changed the order of some of our topics. The teachers are adapting their lesson delivery and the structure of the lessons to really ensure that the children are making progress.” 

The children are learning a range of different skills too, including increased proficiency with technology, he says. 

“The students are now far more independent. Although the teachers are available online to help them it’s not as easy when you are not in the same room. They are also able to troubleshoot and problem solve if they have technology problems.” 

Overall students have learned important lessons skills that are normally developed over their entire education within the space of a few months and embraced these challenges with confidence, he says.

“There was no virtual school manual we could pick up that would show us how to do things. We tried different approaches but constantly changed and improved what we offered. This is important for any school.”

This article was written in association with Prague British International School. To read more about our partner content policy see here.