How to pivot between in-person, remote learning

'Being creative, thinking about things through a different lens can help, especially during times of stress.'
By: | February 5, 2021
(AdobeStock/shangarey)

Rising COVID-19 rates have led many districts that had been providing in-person instruction for several weeks to pivot back to full-time remote learning, said Gail Ghere, a research associate at the TIES Center in Minneapolis.

The TIES Center is a national technical assistance center for inclusive education, particularly for students with significant cognitive disabilities.

“There’s that pivot back and forth that schools, parents, and districts need to make sense of,” she said. “We can’t change that reality, but there is an opportunity to bridge between the different instructional delivery models to build continuity for students.” Districts can be thoughtful and proactive to build student independence through use of technology. Helping students learn how to use technology and fading support at school will help maintain the continuity of learning when students revert back to distance learning.

“It’s a lot different now than it was in March when everything happened overnight,” Ghere said. “There was no time to build a ramp for a child to be ready. People hit a cliff. Now we have an on ramp. Teachers, families, and parents can be better prepared.”


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A few ways that districts can prepare to pivot are:

Determine how to deliver lessons

Ask yourself the following questions, Ghere said:

  • What is the essential learning of a unit or a lesson?
  • How do you want to teach it?
  • What are the barriers to remove so students can access their learning?
  • How do you enhance engagement?

“The essential components of effective instruction carry over in both settings, whether in person or online,” Ghere said. “But online may not look identical to what’s in the classroom.”

Layer in UDL

Universal Design for Learning is a big piece of remote learning, Ghere said. Think about how all students are engaging online. If there are accommodations you can make for all students, chances are you will have to make fewer individual accommodations for students with disabilities, she said.

Equip parents

Parents are already overwhelmed and stressed out without factoring in the component of their children’s remote learning, said Jessica Bowman, a researcher at the TIES Center. “This is not an ideal situation,” she said. “How do you make it manageable and meaningful for them?”

Give parents the knowledge and tools they need to help their children with things such as making sure their devices are charging the night before school, logging on, and turning in assignments, she said.


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The TIES Center, for example, offers a series of parent videos on helping children with significant cognitive disabilities with academics and communication during remote learning.

Keep students connected

It’s been hard on students to lose the daily interaction at school with their peers, Ghere said. Having that taken away overnight was a dramatic hardship for many students, especially for students with disabilities.

Keep students connected to their peers and assure them they’re still part of a community learning together. Some teachers are doing this by adding online lunch groups and small breakout rooms so they can regularly connect with students.

Be kind, gracious to everyone

“This is a really hard time,” Bowman said. “Everyone is at such a higher level of stress.” Teachers have had to rework the way they do their jobs. Parents have had to shift roles to become their children’s teachers. Students are wondering what is going on.

“Be kind and gracious to teachers and parents alike,” she said.

Exercise creativity

“People are being creative to bridge this time apart,” Ghere said. “I think that’s so important. That’s the engagement piece, and it’s huge. Being creative, thinking about things through a different lens can help, especially during times of stress.”


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For example, one student got her parents to drive her over to a friend’s house where she drew messages in different colored chalk on the driveway so her friend would know that she was thinking about her, Ghere said.

Teachers, too, have to be more creative about how to provide supports to students to help them stay engaged in the content they should be learning, Bowman said.

Florence Simmons covers Section 504, paraprofessionals, and transportation for LRP Publications.