6 Study Strategies for Better Grades in 2021

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“Focus on completion, not quality.” That was one of our primary pieces of advice for parents in the difficult transition to virtual learning last year. Just getting your child in front of a Zoom class on time and through an independent assignment was a big enough ask. It wasn’t the time to stress over whether or not every practice problem was accurate.

As we (finally) move into 2021, we know your child’s grades may not be what they once were—and that’s okay. The start of a new year is the perfect time to reassess and implement new study strategies. Now’s the time to end this academic year and start this calendar year strong.

Read on to discover six study strategies that can help your child improve their grades this semester. Each research-backed method is from The Learning Scientists and proven to help students study more effectively, retain more, and perform their best.

Strategy #1: Spacing

Last-minute cramming for a big test isn’t just stressful—it’s also ineffective. Research shows that students who practice spacing by spreading out their studying over time ultimately perform better. As you figure out your family’s routine in this new year, encourage your child to set aside a set window of time each day for studying. They can then use that time to regularly prepare for upcoming exams. This strategy will make big tests feel less intimidating and improve their recall on test day.

Strategy #2: Retrieval Practice

When left on their own to study, many students read over their class notes a few times and call it a day. According to researchers, this common study method isn’t a very effective way to retain information. Instead, students need to practice recalling information without looking at their notes. Flashcards and practice tests are tried-and-true methods of retrieval practice. Another idea? Encourage your child to write or sketch everything they remember on a particular subject, then review their class notes for accuracy and missed points.

Strategy #3: Elaboration

It can be hard for young students to wrap their minds around big ideas. Elaboration can help. This study strategy encourages students to elaborate on big ideas with smaller details and even make connections to other big ideas. This may sound abstract, but it’s quite simple to practice. Next time your child studies a new topic, engage them in a conversation about how things work and why. Encourage them to ask questions and seek out answers or to create a list comparing and contrasting two different ideas. As they explain these big ideas to you (and themselves), they’ll get a much firmer grasp on complex material.

Strategy #4: Interleaving

Imagine going to the gym for a workout and only doing one exercise—like push-ups—for the entire hour of your workout. You would quickly grow fatigued yet leave many muscles unworked. That’s why personal trainers pick a variety of exercises and lead you through a rotation. Interleaving works the same way. Instead of choosing one subject, idea, or topic to study for an entire session, allow your child to pick a few and rotate. Switching between ideas while studying will help your child strengthen their mental muscles, stay focused for longer, make connections between topics, and increase their mastery of all the materials.

Strategy #5: Concrete Examples

No academic subject is free of abstract ideas. From complex statistical concepts in math class to complicated reading passages in English, students are continually asked to grapple with and master abstract ideas. The best strategy for doing so? Concrete examples. Compiling a list of concrete examples (by using class notes and their textbook or brainstorming with peers) helps students understand and remember big ideas. Even better—have your child explain why each example works as they make their list to help them grasp patterns and connections.

Strategy #6: Dual Coding

No, we’re not asking your child to learn computer coding for this last strategy. Dual coding is a study strategy that combines words with visuals. When your child comes across a visual (like a map or diagram) in their study materials, they should stop and use words to describe them. And when they come across a chunk of text, they should stop and create their own visual. Infographics, diagrams, or cartoon strips can help a child illustrate ideas. Combining words and images when studying will help your child better understand the material now and remember more of it on test day—win, win!

Get Help When You Need It!

After the whirlwind of 2020, your child may need extra support to catch up and get ahead before the end of this school year. Our expert tutors are trained in helping students with subject-specific struggles, executive function skills, and general review and preview.

No matter what last year looked like for your family, we’re here to ensure this year is as successful and stress-free as possible. You deserve a little extra support! Click below to schedule a free consultation, and we’ll connect you with a handpicked tutor to provide the exact help your child needs.

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Our Most Popular Blogs of 2020

No matter how prepared you may have felt at the start of 2020, armed with New Year’s resolutions and a fresh planner, there’s no doubt this year was nothing like you expected. The COVID-19 pandemic brought with it new parenting and educational challenges for all of us.

As you’ve come to us with your questions about virtual and at-home learning, we’ve done our best to answer them and provide the support you needed in this trying year. In this special end-of-the-year blog post, we’re looking back at our most-read blog posts of 2020.

Read on to see what advice resonated with parents like you and maybe even find some helpful tidbits to prepare you for whatever 2021 may hold (hopefully, some peace, calm, and in-person learning, right?!).

Post #1: Why Kids Struggle with Virtual Math (And What Parents Can Do About It!)

Even in a typical year, we get a lot of requests for our math tutoring services. Math is abstract and challenging. Plus, it’s cumulative. Each new skill builds on the last, so failure to master one unit can make future units even harder.

In a traditional classroom, teachers can at least monitor the room for signs of confusion or overwhelm, but as learning moved online, it was easy for students to fall through the cracks and fall behind. Many concerned parents reached out to us for advice, especially when their children pushed back at their efforts to help along the way. 

In this blog, Ann Dolin addresses those frustrations and outlines practical tips for helping your child succeed with virtual math (without ruining your relationship along the way).

Read It

Post #2: How to Ask a Teacher for Help When You’re Virtual

Teachers want their students to succeed. That means they want and expect students to ask for help. In the physical classroom, they encourage students to seek out that help by looking for physical signs of confusion and making themselves available after class and during lunch. 

In a virtual classroom, however, teachers’ ability to monitor the class is limited. It’s up to kids to speak up when they’re struggling or need clarification. For students who are reserved, nervous, or shy, this is a big ask. Many choose to stay silent instead and quickly fall behind.

In this popular post, Ann Dolin shares quick tips for families who need to ask for extra help within the virtual learning environment. Check it out to discover the best time to ask for help, specific questions to pose to the teacher, and more.

Read Now

Post #3: What does it take to be a tutor at Educational Connections?

Have you ever wondered what it takes to be a tutor at Educational Connections? Do we hire high school students? College students? Teachers? Who exactly will be supporting your child in their academic journey?

It’s a good question, and this blog post from Ann Dolin will clear things up. At Educational Connections, we’re proud of our high standards and unique process because we’ve seen how well it works. In the past 21 years, the families of over 10,000 DC students have trusted us to support their child’s academic journey!

Check this popular post out to discover what exactly we expect from our tutors and how we sift through our extremely skilled team to match each student with the best possible tutor for them.

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Post #4: 3 Tricks to Keep Kids from Interrupting While You Work from Home

Supporting your kids through the transition to online learning is tough. Balancing it with your own full-time job? Well, that can feel impossible.

Ann Dolin wrote this post to encourage parents that working from home with kids isn’t easy, but it is possible—as long as you have a few strategies to keep you sane!

In this popular post, you’ll find three hacks to help you set and keep boundaries so that you and your children can focus and get things done (without all the tension or yelling). Hang in there, working parents! This one’s for you.

Read Now

Thank you for trusting us to provide you with advice and support in this challenging year. It’s an honor we don’t take lightly, and we’re glad to hear these posts have helped parents like you.

Did you know we post and email out one or two new blogs just like these each and every month? They always feature tips, tricks, and strategies for guiding your child throughout their K-12 journey. Click below to subscribe, and you can receive every update straight to your inbox! You’ll never miss a post and can unsubscribe at any time.

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Control What You Can: Admissions Factors to Consider in COVID-19

In a year where not much is within our control, it’s good to know what you can control in the test prep and college admissions process.

In this final post, we’re going to talk about a few of things your child can control when working to strengthen their college applications.

3 Ways to Improve Scores

One thing your child can do to strengthen an application is to work to achieve their best possible score on the SAT or ACT. Once your child has mock test or actual scores in hand, there are three ways a tutor can help improve those scores.

1. Review Test-Taking Strategies – Test-taking strategies are things like using the process of elimination or working backward to get to an answer when you aren’t sure right away. These are “best practices” and can vary based on the test and section. 

2. Work on Targeted Content Review – Maybe your child needs to brush up on geometry because it’s been a while. Or perhaps grammar rules weren’t their strength, and they need a refresh of that content. Focusing on those weak spots can help improve scores.

3. Take Full-length Practice Tests – We’re currently offering mock tests virtually so kids can take them safely at home. They mimic the real test so students can practice and improve their pacing and boost their mental stamina before test day. 

In each of these areas, students need to know and work on their weaknesses. It seems counterintuitive since students often hear, “Work on the things you love to do and focus on your strengths!” But when it comes to test prep, focusing on weaker areas helps to improve scores more than a generic approach or focusing on areas where the student is already strong.

Our tutors combine these three methods to tackle students’ weaknesses and improve scores. We’re so confident in our approach that we even offer a test prep guarantee! If a student completes a test prep package program and their scores fail to increase, we will provide three complimentary sessions.

Additional Areas of Focus

Working on weaknesses to improve test scores is one of the key things students can do to improve college admissions applications. Another? Getting help with college application essays—and starting early.

No matter how a school considers test scores, essays have become vitally important. Juniors can take control by working on application essays and test prep during their junior year and over the summer. Then, when senior year arrives, they can focus on their grades. (Fall semester grades are still important for applications!)

Plus, working ahead on these things can enable seniors to get in their applications by the early action deadline of November 1st. This reduces stress in their senior year so they can focus on their grades and enjoy every moment of a very special year—and so can you!

To make this entire process easier for you and your family, we offer The Road to College, a special college admissions program for high school students. The Road to College is our way of making the college admissions process as stress-free as possible. Click here to learn more and schedule a consultation. We’re here for you! 

Thank you for joining us for this special 4-part series on college admissions during COVID! Do you have additional questions about testing or college admissions during COVID? Do you need help identifying the best test or test dates for your child? Are you looking for a virtual test prep tutoring program guaranteed to raise your child’s scores? If so, click here to schedule a free consultation with one of our test prep experts today!

SAT/ACT Test Prep During COVID-19

Once you’ve decided whether or not your child should test and taken the first steps of practice tests and test selection, it’s time to pick your child’s test dates and begin test prep.

Pick Test Dates Strategically

Once a child selects the SAT or ACT, it’s time to pick test dates, and we encourage students to do so strategically. Research shows that most students achieve their best score in the spring of their junior year or the fall of their senior year. We suspect it’s because they’re older, they’re more mature, and they have more curriculum under their belt. 

With that in mind, it really is okay to take a fall test, but you want to consider if your child will have the capacity to test again in the late winter or spring. We recommend “pairing test dates,” which means planning for two test dates.  After the first test, the student can identify areas of weakness. Then, they can practice, practice, practice to improve their score in those areas on the second attempt.  

For the ACT, for example, you could pick a December and a February date, or maybe a February and an April date. For the SAT, maybe it’s a December and March date, or perhaps a March and May date.

If you’re not sure which dates are best for your child, we can help! We do this all the time and offer free consultations for exactly this purpose. Click here to schedule a free consultation, and we’ll use your child’s PSAT score or SAT/ACT practice score to determine the best test timing for your child.

Decide How to Prepare

There are essentially three ways a child can prepare for the SAT/ACT.

1. Independent Prep – If you have a very independent, motivated student with strong practice test results, they might be fine buying a book or using an online resource to practice independently. 

2. Group Classes – Your child can take a group class with lots of other kids. Right now, those are all happening virtually. If a student is relatively strong in all areas and just wants to review test-taking strategies and get general practice, this might be a fit. But it doesn’t provide time or space for customization based on a child’s particular needs for improvement.

3. Private Tutoring – The advantage of private tutoring—and the reason it’s the only option we offer—is that it can be customized to each child. Our tutors can work with your child to identify their strengths and areas for improvement. By focusing personalized instruction on the skills a child finds most challenging, the tutor is more likely to help boost their score.

Whichever path you choose, don’t wait until close to test day to begin! The brain works best when you space things out rather than cramming at the last minute. Most students test two or three times, and they generally start test prep about two to five months before their first test, depending on how much they need to work on. We recommend weekly sessions with practice homework in between to best prepare students and build their confidence.

To learn more about our test prep tutoring during COVID-19, click here. You can also click here to schedule a free consultation. Our test prep experts are happy to answer your questions and handpick a tutor for your child’s testing needs!

You can also click through to read our last post in this special series on college admissions: Control What You Can: Test Prep Factors to Consider in COVID-19.

To Test or Not to Test: How COVID Affects the SAT and ACT

For 2020-21 seniors, test scores are, for the first time ever, completely off of the table. Since COVID cancellations made it so difficult for students to test in the spring, schools are not requiring an SAT or ACT result for admissions. 

If your child is a senior this year (2020-21), important admissions factors will include their grades in college prep classes, strength of curriculum, admissions essays, extracurriculars, recommendations, and AP/IB test scores. Testing isn’t much of a concern.

But what if your child is a junior, sophomore, or freshman? Read on to learn more about what you need to know. 

Test-Required, Test-Optional, and Test-Blind

After this year, we expect schools to once again fall into three different categories:

  1. Test-Required – These schools will require students to submit an SAT or ACT score with their application.
  2. Test-Optional – Students can choose whether or not to submit a test score. While not submitting a test doesn’t hurt, submitting a good test score can help. Most students choose to test. Then, they decide whether to submit the results based on the strength of their application with or without them.
  3. Test-Blind – These schools won’t consider test scores at all, even if they’re terrific. They’ll just focus on other factors. Although no scores are required for this year’s seniors, we don’t expect many schools to be test-blind for future applicants.

The specifics of these policies can vary from school to school, even within one state, so it’s important to look into the guidelines for the schools on your child’s list.

For example, UVA is test-required for any students not in this year’s senior class. As of right now, their website indicates that current juniors will be required to submit a test score with their applications next year. William and Mary, on the other hand, is launching a test-optional pilot. For the next three years, they’re going to test out a test-optional policy, then decide whether or not to revert to their test-required policy. 

James Madison, George Mason, and Christopher Newport are test-optional—so is VCU, although test scores are recommended there. Typically, when you’re applying to a college, you should follow their recommendations!

Reporting Test Scores to Colleges

Unless every school on your child’s list is test-blind (which is unlikely), they’ll want to at least take the test—but they don’t need to automatically report their scores!

Even test-required schools allow for “score choice.” This means the student can pick their best score from all of their attempts to share with schools. You can wait until your child is done with all of their test attempts and report only their best score to colleges.

There’s also something called “super scoring,” where the college will cherry-pick your best sub-scores from each attempt. For example, let’s say your child takes the SAT and gets a 500 on math and a 600 in evidence-based reading and writing. They retake it, and the scores reverse. They get a 600 in evidence-based reading and writing but only a 500 in math. With super scoring, the school will take their 600 in reading and writing from the first attempt and their 600 in math for the second attempt for a final score of 1200, which is better than the 1100 they actually got each time. 

A new change to the ACT is that the ACT will automatically super score. So if you take the ACT twice, colleges will only see your super score. With super scoring, testing multiple times can’t hurt and can only help! This is good to know because a small score increase can make a big difference and open up more options for a student.

With all of this in mind, it’s good to get the ball rolling on practice tests and test prep—just know you don’t need to automatically report scores right away. 

For now, visit our next post in this college admissions series: The First Steps of SAT/ACT Test Prep.

The First Steps of SAT/ACT Test Prep

Unless your child is a senior in the Class of 2021, it’s fairly safe to assume you should move forward with preparing your child to take the SAT or ACT. So where do you begin? That’s what this blog is all about.

Start with a Practice Test

Our first recommendation to juniors is to figure out which test (SAT or ACT) they’re going to take. They can use practice tests to identify which test they’ll naturally score better on. Since every college in America accepts both tests with no preference for one over the other, we recommend each student start by taking two practice tests, one for the SAT and one for the ACT. 

After a student takes both, we can analyze the results to identify their best direction moving forward. For about ⅓ of students, there’s a clear best choice. The other ⅔ score about the same on both and base their decision on their comfort level with each test. 

If your child hasn’t yet taken practice tests, that’s the first step. To make that first step safe and easy, we offer virtual practice tests most Saturday mornings. You can click here to view our upcoming practice test dates and register for one. We’ve made it very easy to register and test in your home so you can get the ball rolling as soon as possible.

Compare the SAT and ACT

If your child is one of those who score similarly on both practice tests, it’s helpful to understand the differences so you can make an informed decision about which one to take. Let’s go over how they’re alike and different.

The SAT is considered a power test. There are fewer questions, but they’re wordier. They require critical thinking and lots of analysis. The challenge with this test is in trying to understand what exactly they’re asking you to do. 

The ACT, on the other hand, is considered a speed test. There are more questions, but they’re shorter and a bit more straightforward. Kids often say things like, “The ACT feels more like what I’ve learned in school, but the difficulty with the ACT is actually the pacing and the speed.”

The SAT has two math sections. One allows students to use a calculator and one does not. These sections add up to 800 points. There’s also evidence-based reading and writing for another 800 points, giving students a potential total of 1600 points.

The ACT has four sections: math, reading, writing (which is more like grammar), and science. The science section makes some students anxious, especially if they don’t love science, but the questions are more like reading comprehension questions. Students are presented with graphs and charts, and they’re asked to extrapolate information. It’s very coachable if you have a tutor to help. The total for all four ACT sections is 36 points. 

Both tests are long. The SAT is 3 hours and 50 minutes. The ACT is only 15 minutes shorter, coming in at 3 hours and 35 minutes.

If you’re not sure which test is best for your child, we can help you make an informed decision based on mock test results. Click here to schedule a free consultation with a test prep specialist, and we’ll walk you through everything you need to consider.

Once your child has completed mock tests and selected a test, it’s time to dive into test prep. Check out the next blog in our college admissions series to learn more: SAT/ACT Test Prep During COVID-19.

What Parents Should Know About College Admissions During COVID

For years, there have been three significant admissions factors for students applying to selective or competitive colleges. Number one: grades in college prep courses. Number two: the strength of curriculum and level of challenge in a student’s course selection. (In other words, did they take AP, IB, or dual enrollment courses?) And number three: admissions test scores on the SAT or ACT.

That’s not to say that the college admissions process was ever stress-free, but the admissions factors were fairly straightforward. This year, of course, COVID has thrown all of that—much like everything else in our lives—for a loop. 

To offer some clarity on what to expect in an unexpected year, we’re doing a special 4-part series on everything parents should know about college admissions during COVID. Read them in order, or click a topic below to jump straight to any post that interests you:

To Test or Not to Test: How COVID Affects the SAT and ACT

The First Steps of SAT/ACT Test Prep

SAT/ACT Test Prep During COVID-19

Control What You Can: Admissions Factors to Consider in COVID-19

We know there’s a lot to consider this year, but remember: You’re not in this alone! If you still have questions about college admissions, test prep, or anything else, just click below to schedule a free consultation with one of our experts. We’re here for you!

Schedule a Consult

Why Kids Struggle with Virtual Math (And What Parents Can Do About It)

Math has always gotten a bad rap for being the subject kids struggle with the most. It’s abstract, challenging, and cumulative. (This means that each new skill builds on the last, so failure to master one unit can make future units even harder.)

It’s also challenging to teach! If a teacher moves too slowly, some students will get bored and check out. If a teacher moves too quickly, other students can get overwhelmed and give up. In a traditional classroom, teachers can at least monitor the room for signs of confusion or overwhelm. But a virtual classroom makes it significantly harder for teachers to identify and assist students who need more help.

This means it now falls on parents to monitor their child’s progress and recognize when they need help. Of course, many kids balk at their parents’ attempts to step in, so what’s a parent to do? In this blog, we’re here to help with exactly that. Read on to learn practical tips for helping your child succeed with virtual math without ruining your relationship along the way.

Monitor your child’s progress to know where they stand.

Your child’s teacher can’t monitor your child’s participation in your class, but you can. Quietly peek your head in during virtual math class. Don’t say anything, but observe what is going on. Is your child taking notes? Do they seem checked out when the teacher is giving instruction? Are they quick to get a snack or go to the bathroom in the middle of class? These are signs that the material is difficult for them. 

If you see those signs of overwhelm, set up a time to talk to your child about what’s happening in a non-judgmental way. Don’t do it at a time when you’re both frustrated. Instead, set up an appointment. You might say, “Hey Susan, can we talk about your math later tonight? How does 7:30 work for you?” That sets a collaborative atmosphere instead of an adversarial one.

Know what to say (and what not to say).

Before you sit down and talk with your child, have a plan for what you’ll say—because, unfortunately, many of the things we instinctively say only make things worse! For example, if you say, “Here, let me show you how to do it,” your child will likely respond, “Mom, that’s not how you do it! That’s not what my teacher said to do!” (And they’re probably right. The way you and I learned math is drastically different from today’s methods.) 

Or you might be tempted to say, “Listen, Susan, I already went to fifth grade. This is your homework, not mine. You need to do it on your own.” You may hope this encourages independence, but if your child genuinely needs help, this response can discourage them from coming to you when they’re struggling.

Instead, start by simply sharing what you’ve noticed. You might say, “I’ve noticed fractions are really hard.” And—this part’s important—stop there. Let your child respond. Simply stating your observations allows for a more collaborative conversation and opens the door for your child to share their frustrations about where they might need some help.

When you’ve identified an area of need, try asking your child openly, “Susan, do you have examples of this type of problem? Do you have notes, or is this explained online somewhere or in your book?” This is a better approach because it allows kids to be part of solving the problem, instead of you telling them how to do it or not helping at all. It enables you to achieve that happy medium where you can have them look back for an example and try to solve it on their own with just a little bit of coaching from you as needed.

As you speak with your child, choose empowerment over commiseration. Statements like, “Don’t worry, I was bad at math, too,” or “You’re just as smart as your sister, and she figured it outl!” don’t help kids overcome their frustrations. Instead, focus on your child’s efforts (rather than their outcomes or intelligence) and offer specific praise. Affirmations like, “Oh, I like the way you wrote down the steps for that math problem,” or “I love how you worked through that even though it was tough!” can empower kids to keep at it, even when things get challenging.

See what support materials the teacher can provide.

In case you missed it, we recently shared a post about how to ask a teacher for help when you’re virtual. For math in particular, I recommend asking for a class recording, class notes, or study guide. 

Class recordings are beneficial for kids of all ages because they can replay the instructional piece of the lesson, pause to write down the steps, and generally slow down to make sure they understand everything. Class notes can help students understand the steps to solving problems and serve as a reference when they’re feeling stuck during practice. And study guides often provide practice problems for students to work through.

If your child does get a study guide, we don’t just want them to work through it once and say they’ve studied, which is what most kids automatically do. Instead, we recommend making three blank copies of it. First, your child will attempt to complete the first copy just from memory. But when they’re stumped, they can look back at their notes to refresh themselves on the steps and keep going. The next day, they take the second copy and do it again. On the third day, they do the same thing with the third copy. By doing the same problems this way three days in a row, kids will refer to their notes less each time, gain confidence, and retain the steps/processes much better.

Even if your child doesn’t get a study guide from the teacher, they can use practice problems from class notes, their book, and online resources to build their own. Learning to make their own study guides will not only help with math class this year, but all their subjects throughout high school and college. Win, win!

Know the signs that reveal when a child needs outside help.

Most children wrestle with math concepts at some point or another, so how do you know when your child is struggling enough to need outside help? I tell parents to look for three signs:

  1. The problem is chronic. If the difficulty has gone on longer for a week or two, it may be time for outside help. Remember, math is cumulative, so failure to get help with a critical skill now can make math that much harder in future grades.
  2. Your child is frustrated and avoiding their math homework. Avoidance is a critical problem because it compounds a child’s struggles thanks to the “forgetting curve.” The longer kids go between learning a skill and applying it, the more they’ll forget along the way. Regular (yes, daily!) practice helps kids avoid the forgetting curve and retain information. A tutor can help your child tackle the work promptly and frequently to improve their understanding and mastery of a skill. Plus, when frustration makes it difficult for your child to discuss the subject calmly, a tutor can cut through that tension and provide some needed support.  
  3. Their test grades are lower. Your child’s overall grade in a subject can be deceiving. They might be earning a B in math, and you’ll think, “Oh, a B. That’s great. You’re doing really well.” But take a closer look. They might be getting Cs on all their tests, but those are balanced out by As on the homework, class participation, and some extra credit. This is a red flag. If your child get Cs on tests, especially cumulative unit tests, they don’t understand the concept. With modern grade inflation, a C of today would likely have been an F when you and I were in school. This doesn’t mean you need to panic or shame your child for a C, but it does mean that recurring Cs on tests are a sign that it’s time for some extra help.

If you see any of the above signs, our tutors are here to help. With virtual math tutoring, your child can get the individualized attention they need, master critical skills, and build confidence in this foundational subject. And you can relax, knowing your child is getting the help they need without putting a strain on your relationship!


To learn more about your options, schedule a call with an educational specialist today. It’s free, easy, and the best way to identify the right next steps for your family. Just click here to contact us or schedule a call today. We’re here for you!

Same Storm, Different Boats: When It’s Time for Subject Tutoring

A few days ago, I heard someone say, “When it comes to COVID-19, we’re all in the same storm, but we’re not all in the same boat.” It’s true, isn’t it? The pandemic is a shared event, but your experiences with it are unique to you. How it affects health, work, relationships, and so on will vary from family to family. 

The same is true of distance learning. Yes, we’re all adjusting to online schooling, but the experience varies wildly from home to home, school to school, and subject to subject. In this blog, we’ll talk about the variables that affect students’ virtual learning experiences—and how to know when your child needs help weathering this storm.

The Virtual Learning Variables

Do you feel like virtual learning has you at the end of your rope… only to look around and see a fellow parent who seems mostly unfazed by it all? Or even likes virtual learning? The problem isn’t that you’re a lesser parent or your child is a worse student. The virtual learning approach varies wildly right now, and that parent you spoke with could be having a completely different experience.

Variables that affect your child’s virtual learning experience can include…

  • Their confidence level with each subject
  • Their executive functioning skills (like organization and time management)
  • The online platforms used
  • The school’s virtual learning schedule and expectations
  • The teacher’s ability to provide individualized support
  • Class sizes
  • The teacher’s confidence with technology
  • The demands of parent work responsibilities and schedules
  • The number of siblings sharing devices and internet

The list goes on and on. If you feel like your child is drowning in the virtual learning “storm,” resist the urge to look around and compare yourself to other families. Instead, keep an eye on your child’s particular struggles, so you’ll know when it’s time to call for help.

How to Know When It’s Time for Help

There are two primary areas where virtual learners need help: executive function skills and subject tutoring.

Executive function skills like time management and organization are critical for students to be able to work independently and manage virtual learning requirements. When children don’t have the executive function skills they need, parents become the “school police.” 

If your child struggles to stay focused, loses track of assignments, or forgets to plan ahead for big deadlines, an executive function coach can help instill those skills (and relieve you of your school police badge!).

We have long provided executive function coaching and are happy to help with that. But it’s even more important to recognize when your child needs subject tutoring.

Subject tutoring help is for students who are struggling with particular subjects. Even in a “typical” year, some subjects are more challenging than others. For example, math tutoring is always our most requested subject-specific service. This year, however, more kids are falling behind and struggling to keep up. Large virtual classes make it extremely difficult for teachers to provide individualized instruction (and for students to ask for the help they need).

Even a virtual subject tutor can work wonders in helping a child regain their confidence, catch up, and get ahead in challenging subjects this year. That’s because virtual tutors can do more in a one-to-one or one-to-a-few setting than teachers can do with large Zoom classes.

Unlike teachers with big classes, tutors can use interactive digital whiteboards and other tools to provide engaging, interactive, and personalized instruction. Tutors also make it easier for your child to ask for help or get clarification when they need it.

If your child struggles to follow the teacher’s virtual instruction and complete tasks independently, it might be time to seek out a subject tutor. If your attempts to help are met with frustration and resistance, it might be time to seek out a subject tutor. And if the trouble is in math, science, or foreign language, it’s definitely time to seek out a subject tutor! 

Those “cumulative” subjects require skills and knowledge that build year over year. Waiting until school gets back to normal to get help in subjects like these will make the next levels much tougher. So don’t wait—the sooner your child has subject tutoring, the better.

Request a Tutor

Our tutors are trained and ready to provide support to virtual learners who are falling behind. With personalized, engaging, and interactive tutoring sessions, your child can catch up, keep up, and regain confidence—all without your help! 
To get started, just click below and schedule a consult. It’s the simple first step in getting a tutor that can help your child “ride out the storm” this year and ensure smoother sailing in the years to come.

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“Help! My Kid Is Bad at Virtual Learning”

Do you remember your early parenting days of trying to get your child to take a bottle or use the potty consistently? When your child struggled to master an essential skill, you likely felt helpless, overwhelmed, and anxious. With the sudden switch to virtual learning, many parents find themselves feeling those difficult emotions all over again.

If you feel like your child is just “bad” at virtual learning, you may be worried that there’s nothing you can do to help, that your child will inevitably fall behind, or that nothing will get better until schools reopen for in-person instruction. 

If that’s you, take a deep breath. Remember how your child eventually mastered those skills that seemed so impossible in the infant and toddler years? They can master the skills they need for virtual learning, too, but they’ll need your support.

In this blog, we’re sharing some practical advice to help you inspire confidence in your child, so they can tackle virtual learning and succeed—this year and beyond. 

Step 1: Reframe the Problem

When your child is unmotivated or unfocused with online classes, it’s easy to feel like the problem is that he or she is just “bad” at virtual learning. But saying that in front of your child will only erode their confidence and make things worse. 

The real problem is that large Zoom classes of 25-30 students allow for little to no personalized support. Teachers can no longer glance around the room, see who is struggling, and provide extra help. 

For young students, these huge online classes simply aren’t sufficient. They need personalized attention, interaction, and support to thrive. It’s unrealistic and inappropriate to expect young children to spend 6-7 hours a day on virtual platforms. (Of course, you may not have much say in the matter, so we’ll share tips to help your young student throughout this blog.)

Older students can figure out how to succeed online, but these kids have spent most of their lives learning the skills needed for in-person school. It’s going to take time to learn the skills they need for virtual school, too. Teens don’t like feeling like they’re struggling or failing, so they’ll need extra support as they figure out a new academic approach that works for them.

Reframing the problem takes some of the pressure off of your child (and you) and allows you to find solutions that work. And that starts with setting them up for success.

Step 2: Set Them Up for Success

When kids attend school in person, structures and routines help their brains switch to “learning mode.” At home, families will have to create those structures and routines for themselves. Here are a few things you can do to help your child focus on virtual learning:

Create a study space. When it’s left up to them, teenagers are prone to work on their beds, and this environment does nothing to spark motivation. Instead, create a designated workspace that signals to their brains when it’s time to work. Students don’t necessarily have to spend all their school time at their desks, but a workspace will prove helpful when it’s time for more challenging subjects or projects. 

Let little kids wiggle and doodle. Young children can’t be expected to sit at a disk for hours on end. Instead, provide them with a few comfortable options to rotate among throughout the day, from nontraditional ball seats to makeshift standing disks at the kitchen island. During synchronous learning time, provide a notebook and colored pencils so your child can doodle while they listen. Parents often worry that doodling is a distract, but research shows this can improve their ability to focus and retain the material.

Ditch the phone. Phones are designed to capture and keep our attention. If your child’s phone is right beside them and lighting up with notifications, they’ll never be able to focus. Have them put their phone in another room when it’s time to work.

Keep a printed schedule nearby. Seeing what they’re working on now, next, and later helps students stay focused. Older kids can use whiteboards or an agenda to plan for the day and strike through completed tasks. Young kids love velcro schedule boards and whiteboards. They can use removable stickers or dry erase markers to decorate tasks they’ve completed. For students of all ages, working through a schedule provides a sense of accomplishment to power them through their day.

Allow for brain breaks. Young kids, in particular, need regular breaks to play outdoors and get some exercise. But even for older students, seeing scheduled breaks on the calendar can keep them motivated. Encourage your child to take scheduled breaks for a healthy snack, time to text friends, or to go outside and walk the dog. Giving your brain some downtime allows it to come back refreshed and ready to work once more.

Step 3: Encourage Engagement

If the problem is not that your child is “bad” at virtual learning, but that most virtual learning is de-personalized, the question then becomes: How can we make virtual learning more personalized for kids? How can we get them off the sidelines, so to speak, and into the game? Here are a few things you can do to encourage that critical engagement that will help your child progress this year:

Make time to connect with classmates. Big Zoom classes don’t provide space for the meaningful peer interaction kids crave. If you’re comfortable with it, allow your child to meet in-person for small study groups with 2-3 peers. Even if you want to keep interactions online, encourage your child to set up small online study sessions to go over study guides, review for a test, or discuss notes with friends. Talking about the material with peers helps provide some social connection and increases the likelihood of understanding and remembering the material.

Encourage your child to ask for help. We did an entire blog post on strategies for getting your child to ask for help during virtual learning, so you can click here to read that. The longer a child puts off asking for help, the more intimidating the “ask” can become. But as kids reach out and ask teachers for assistance, whether it’s in class, in a private chat, or over email, they’ll get an encouraging response from their teachers. This creates a positive feedback loop in their brains and encourages them to keep reaching out for help as the year goes on.

Consider getting a tutor for more personalized support and accountability. Even kids who hate virtual learning are thriving with our virtual tutors. Why? Because the real problem isn’t the virtual platform but the lack of personalized attention and support. Our tutors have personal relationships with their students. They provide the personalized, one-on-one attention kids and teens are craving. And they can use all the fun, engaging Zoom features that just won’t work with a big class! 

Plus, virtual tutoring allows our tutors to provide shorter, more frequent sessions. Instead of meeting once a week for 90 minutes, they can meet with your child multiple times a week for 30 or 45 minutes. The tutor becomes an accountability coach and learning partner, helping your child plan ahead, follow through, and build confidence with virtual learning.

If you’d like to learn more about our virtual tutoring support, click here to browse our virtual services or click here to schedule a free, private consultation. We’re here for you!

Remember: your child isn’t “bad” at virtual learning, just like they weren’t “bad” at taking a bottle or potty training. They just have to learn an entirely new skill set (and the large, impersonal Zoom classes don’t make it any easier). Hang in there, provide support where you can, and above all—cheer them on. They need to know you believe in them before they can believe in themselves!