IB approaches to learning (at home): tips for students

IB approaches to learning (at home): tips for students

As COVID-19 continues to dominate the educational landscape, it’s important to ensure your students are set up for learning at home. In this article, IB Diploma teachers Michele Lackovic and Ashley Busse share tips for IB learners around the world to help minimise stress and...


As COVID-19 continues to dominate the educational landscape, it’s important to ensure your students are set up for learning at home. In this article, IB Diploma teachers Michele Lackovic and Ashley Busse share tips for IB learners around the world to help minimise stress and maximise success.

As we’re all discovering, learning at home presents a unique set of challenges and opportunities. Whether you’re just beginning or whether you’ve been studying remotely for weeks now, we offer you this guide as a way to minimise stress and to maximise your efforts. As an IB student, you know that specific approaches to learning (ATLs) help you better develop your communication, thinking, social, self-management, and research skills. This guide will show you how ATLs can help you transition from school-based to at-home learning.

Step 1: Set up your work space

Effective self-management includes setting time aside to set yourself up for success. Now that you’re “going to school” from home, it’s very important to create a comfortable, productive work space. The ideal work space is one that is quiet and organised, with all of your materials at the ready (think pens, pencils, notebooks, textbooks, charger, laptop or device, paper, calculator, etc). You may have a specific desk in your bedroom from where you’ll work, or you may be sharing a corner of another room. If you’re using a shared space, see if you can set up an area that feels semi-permanent: is there a desk, table, or floor-space you can ‘claim’ for the time being? A space where you can keep your books, supplies, calendar or agenda, and other supplies? Doing so will minimise time spent every day gathering what you need. Staying organised can help prevent careless errors or missed assignments, and it’ll also help you feel more mentally ‘ordered.’

Next, free yourself from distractions in your work space. Try not to have the television or the radio playing, as it’s often distracting, and free yourself from your mobile phone. If you’re in a noisy space shared with others, use headphones to drown out that noise, but don’t listen to music with words, as that also tends to distract you. Noise can negatively negatively affect your thinking skills. Many students like to work to music, but hear this: studies have shown that you’re actually WASTING the time you’re using to study — you will not remember what you’ve studied if you’ve been distracted by lyrics while you’re reading, writing, or practising maths problems.

If you are using your phone to work or for lyric-less music, turn off notifications. It is very easy to get distracted with constant notifications popping up.

Step 2: Get comfortable with video-conferencing software

Your teachers may be using some form of video-conferencing for live discussions and instruction. If this is the case, find out which platform they’ll be using (such as Google Meets, Zoom, RingCentral, etc.) and familiarise yourself with how it works and how you can communicate effectively. If possible, conduct a practice session beforehand to ensure that your hardware (microphone, camera, etc.) is present and functioning, and to discover issues and problems before a ‘real’ class. Each program has different options and capabilities for, say, raising your hand to ask a question.

Here is some general etiquette for virtual video meetings that will foster positive social skills:

  1. Make sure your microphone is muted as you enter the class and unless you’re speaking.
  2. Stay in one place while you’re signed in and be aware that what you’re doing is visible to others.
  3. Dress appropriately.
  4. Sit somewhere with a background and surroundings that won’t be distracting to your fellow session members.
  5. Be punctual so that your entrance doesn’t disrupt the meeting.

Step 3: Create an organisational system

If you don’t already use one, an agenda or daily planner is a crucial self-management tool during times where your schedule is new or changeable. Create a daily and weekly calendar, or simply write one out for yourself. Items to include:

  • a morning ‘checklist’ of sites and emails you need to check before beginning work or to find out what is on the agenda for the day
  • regularly scheduled virtual class meetings
  • teachers’ virtual ‘office hours’
  • assignment due dates
  • scheduled time for breaks, meals, exercise, rest, etc.

Keeping a detailed schedule – and sharing it with those in your household – is especially important for those students with domestic duties such as childcare, cooking, cleaning, etc. Keeping everyone aware of schedules, commitments, and times for quiet will alleviate stress and reduce mistakes like missed assignments.

Step 4: Visualise a typical day & set a schedule

Each of you has different demands on your times, different home situations, learning styles, needs, etc. That being said, most of us do well when we keep to a routine. Studies (see here and here for examples) have shown that maintaining a fairly stable schedule (at least during the school/work-week) promotes mental well-being, productivity, and time management. Please take the time to do a bit of research by reading the studies linked above – they’re well worth it and great reminders that even during this time when some of us feel like we’re on vacation, we aren’t – and that living in ‘holiday mode’ longer than a week or so (watching lots of TV, staying up late, sleeping in too long, etc) is detrimental to our mental and physical health.

  • Determine a daily schedule that works for you and your home/family situation.
  • Get up and go to bed at the same times every day.
  • Eat regular meals and eat as healthily as you can.
  • If you’re able, go outside for fresh air and sunshine! Even taking a (socially-distant) walk around the block or your home can give you a mood boost, clear your head, give you a break, and refresh you.
  • Exercise is important so give yourself physical activity time every day; this will also help your mental health.
  • Fix times for signing in to email and online classrooms, and times for completing work. If you have extra time in that “schoolwork” part of your schedule (since you won’t have classroom activities, discussions, projects, etc, nor will you need time to commute or change classes), use it to do something else brainy, like work on your Extended Essay, read a good book, create art, research careers, network for jobs, write practice university application essays, take practice exams, etc.
  • Turn off school at other times; create and maintain reasonable boundaries to allow your mind to rest.
  • And turn off electronics regularly ; it’s good to stay connected to friends and family from afar, but don’t forget to give yourself time to just be – time to think and sit quietly. You never know what brilliant idea you may come up with!

Step 5: Practise mindfulness

Mindfulness allows you to still your thoughts and focus on what’s important, whether it’s a particular task like breathing or paying attention to a reading passage. When you practise mindfulness, you aren’t zoning out; you’re zoning in, taking time to be in the moment so that you can think clearly and peacefully.

Practising mindfulness can be extremely beneficial during times of stress. For more information and helpful videos about this topic, read this article on tips for mindfulness and coping with anxiety during COVID-19. [Editor’s note: also see our article Five resources for practising mindfulness].

Step 5: Be flexible and reach out!

As you’ve no doubt heard a million times since the COVID-19 pandemic affected your geographic area, we’re all in uncharted territory here, so things change and often change rapidly! Use this time to practice being adaptable and resilient – two traits every employer wants and which you’ll thus use later in life!

Remember that you’ve got many people ready and willing to help, with big issues and small problems; don’t be embarrassed to reach out and ask for help. Don’t suffer in silence; force yourself to connect with someone who can support you and get you the help you need. Communication is key. We’re all in this together!


About the authors

Michele Lackovic co-authored Pearson’s latest edition of English A: literature for the IB Diploma. Currently she chairs the English Department at an IB continuum school in South Florida where she has taught IB DP courses since 2000. She demonstrates her passion for literature and cross-curricular connections through her English A and TOK courses, CAS coordination, and collaborations with colleagues. Michele is also an IB DP Workshop Leader and Examiner for both English A and the Extended Essay and participates in the standardisation process. She holds an MA in English literature from the Pennsylvania State University where she taught college composition and a BA in English literature from UCLA. Michele takes the IB continuum to heart as her son and daughter both participate in the IB MYP and DP Programmes.


A proud 1995 IB DP graduate herself, Ashley Denham Busse loves teaching Language A: literature. She has taught both years of the course since 2015 and is also the Extended Essay Coordinator for her IB DP programme. Ashley, along with Michele and two of their colleagues in other departments, presented a break-out session at the 2019 IB Global Conference in New Orleans, called ‘ATLs in the DP: A school-wide interdisciplinary approach connecting subject areas, the DP core, and service learning opportunities.’ Ashley has also taught college composition and literature at the Florida State University (where she received her Master of Arts degree in English literature) and at the George Washington University (where she received her PhD in English literature).



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