The 2020-21 school year promises to be a challenging one, as parents juggle work-from-home with their children’s school-from-home and teachers work to adjust lesson plans to fit the new format. Some things simply won’t translate to the new normal: hands-on activities will be harder to conduct, enrichment and elective programs may remain shuttered, and even the normal biorhythms of the school day that we take for granted - impromptu office hours during a teacher’s lunch break or homework collaboration sessions on the school bus - have been interrupted, too.


Fortunately, educators have learned a lot from the challenges of the COVID Spring semester, identifying what was missing and developing strategies to fill those gaps. In a three-part series, including Overcoming the COVID Slide and  Extracurriculars and Elective Classes the educators at Varsity Tutors are offering strategies to help your family thrive in the new normal. In this installment, we address the issue that some students just don’t seem to have taken to the distance learning format or feel supported through it. Those students are not alone, and more importantly they’re not doomed to feel that way all year.


Throughout the spring, parents’ groups and social media feeds were full of a common lament: “My student just doesn’t learn well in this format.” And while teachers spent the summer adapting new lesson plans for the internet and schools invested in new technologies, we’re bound to hear at least some of the same in the fall and winter.




One big reason: think about all the little ways that teachers give personal attention and interaction during an in-person school day. They walk from desk to desk to offer bits of individual feedback. They can convey all kinds of things—from “I’m really proud of you but I know you’d be embarrassed if I said that in front of your friends.” to “I know what you’re about to do, and don’t even think about it.”—with just a look across the room. And every teacher has little tricks to find time to give encouragement or tough love to a student who needs it; “Help me carry this to the office.” is much more often code for “let’s take a walk so I can talk to you” than it is an actual need for the student’s labor.  Online, however, those micro-interactions don’t happen nearly as frequently. Eye contact and body language have largely gone away, and there isn’t an easy chance to catch a student before class or on their way to lunch for a quick conversation.


A huge part of what students are missing is personal attention. And as distance learning becomes this year’s new normal, that’s something parents should plan for, getting students the grownup/expert attention they crave. Some ways to do that include:


  • Ask your student to teach you something they learned, every night at the dinner table. Not only does that help clarify or cement their knowledge but talking one-on-one to an adult about academic topics reinforces that the work kids are doing really matters, that education is valued.
  • Consider regular meetings with a tutor or a small group learning session. With the informal before-class and lunchtime opportunities to ask questions largely gone, even students who aren’t struggling are missing out on opportunities to talk through their understanding, ask follow-up questions, and just get the kind of friendly guidance that is such a hallmark of learning. Plus, regular meetings with a tutor means that parents aren’t the ones having to hold students accountable for paying attention in class or completing assignments.