Losing the Planner

Now that Labor Day weekend is over, and school is back in full-swing, parents are facing the inevitable.

Having bought the binders, notebooks, pens, paper, and planner, they secure promises from their kids that this year, things will be different. This year, they won’t feed assignments to the black hole of their backpack. They will dutifully track notes during class, and definitely! won’t! – lose the planner.

In my practice as an educational coach, I hear the first notes of frustration from parents right about smack in the middle of September, as assignments crank up, and students struggle to stay on top.

“I just bought them that planner! Why isn’t he using it?!” or
“She writes it in the planner- I see it there. But then, she just doesn’t turn the assignment in!”

Countered by the exasperated cry from their students- “Well, I try to use my planner!”

We could try to blame it on anything from organization to ADHD. But the truth is, many high school students struggle with how to use a planner in a way that works for them. It ends up filled with doodles and sketches, pictures, signatures of friends, and phone numbers of the cute guy or girl they want to text later. Soon, that great emblem of organization is lost in a hidden recess of the backpack or bedroom never to be used more than a few times for its original intention.

My students tell me that planners don’t work for them because they are often impractical. Writing the correct assignment in the correct date and location takes time. It can be confusing. Spread out in a week by week model, ‘due dates’ become confused with ‘to-do dates’. And planners are easily lost, shuffled around, and otherwise generally ignored.

The point of a planner is to track assignments, and juggle a busy schedule. Here are three easy and fun alternatives that often do the trick just as well.

1- Journal assignments- Using one basic notebook for all classes, journaling the assignments takes the pressure away from assigning dates to subjects and getting ‘what is due when’ mixed up in favor of a running list.

One student who struggled severely with ADHD loved this method, and her confidence boosted as she could just cross off assignments as they were completed, and move on to the next. This kept her from procrastinating or avoiding work as tasks weren’t based on dates, they just ‘were’.

2- Text yourself!- Most middle and high school students are pretty much attached at the hip to their cell phones. Keeping a very close network of communication going with their friends and family makes them hyper aware of this little gadget. Handily, any basic phone has the option to program a calendar reminders for events, even to become an alarm clock!

One student who hates writing assignments down by hand has loved setting notices in his phone to manage homework and tests. Another synchs his phone with his computer, and uses MobileMe to juggle work, school, and assignments due. Using a teen’s natural instinct to ‘text’ can transfer to a clear and productive schedule, and so easily!

3- Jump online- these days, most schools host an interactive website where assignments are listed, grades are posted, and students can track their own progress. Get your student (rather than you!) into a habit of checking this online access at the beginning and middle of each school week.

The key here is to shift focus from using a planner to help students become ‘A Planner’. Finding tools that work for them, in their style, in media and options they welcome and understand, help them to do just that.

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