Planning How to Use That Planner

Do your students use a school planner? 7 factors that make these tools work

By Lisa Lawmaster Hess

When it comes to planners, what’s your style? Are you a diehard paper-and-pencil person? Do you prefer the elegance of electronics? A whiteboard on the wall?

Regardless of where you ended up as an adult, you had to start somewhere. I don’t know about you, but, as an elementary-school student, the closest I came to a planner was a small memo pad, spiral-bound at the top. I played with different ways to write down my homework assignments — by subject? by day? — and then used the system for a few weeks before relying on my memory again. At that time, my memory had the elasticity and spaciousness of youth so, since no one but me knew that I’d attempted a system, so I didn’t feel in the least bit guilty for abandoning it.

Handing our students planners along with their textbooks definitely has its advantages, the biggest of which is helping kids start a good habit early. One potential drawback, however, is that one size rarely fits all, and even the best planners don’t work for every student. Finding the right mix of what’s required and how it’s done can help kids develop a habit they’re more likely to stick to.

Consider your purpose

Sure, you want your students to use the planners, but why do you want them to do this? To keep track of homework? To communicate with parents? To write down spelling words? To learn how to use a week-at-a-glance set-up, a monthly calendar or both? Planners can serve many purposes and, no matter how pretty or how functional, some students won’t use them. If you’re going to have to fight planner battles, be sure they’re battles worth fighting.

Consider the resources inside

Student planners are typically colorful and enticing. Word searches, fun facts, references, and activities get students to open the book and familiarize themselves with its contents. This isn’t really so different from what we do as adults. One glance at the planner aisle at the local office-supply store is testimony to the fact that grown-ups are also looking for a planner that packs a mix of function and aesthetics. Giving students time to not only write assignments in the planners but also scan the resources and play the games can get them more invested in making planner usage a habit.

Let older kids make it their own

As tempting as it might be to make sure students are using their planners “properly,” what’s more important is getting them to use them, regardless of how they do so. Younger students may need teachers to model the what and the how of planner usage, but upper-elementary students and their older peers may benefit more from playing with the details of what goes where. Giving students who are meeting deadlines the freedom to experiment could make it more likely that they’ll stick to the habit. Let’s face it: most of us are more likely to stick to habits we create ourselves.

Get creative

What if, instead of copying assignments from the board, elementary-school kids used their planners to write to their parents about the best part of their day? Or what if writing their assignments in their planner replaced that handwriting practice sheet? What if you challenged your middle-schoolers to use their planners as a journal to ask you a question, whether about content, or life in general? Or if your high-school students used them to write down three things they’re grateful for? Granted, these ideas are non-traditional, but if they tie back to your purpose in using a planner (increased communication, for example), perhaps they could be used just once a week, as a reward for writing down assignments the rest of the week. Or, perhaps there’s a creative way to do both:

“Dear Mom and Dad,
Tonight’s science worksheet looks kind of cool, but I’m really not excited about writing my spelling words 5x each.”

To sign or not to sign?

I did a little crowdsourcing for this article, and more than one teacher told me that having parents sign off on the planner was a requirement in their classroom or school. If this is something you want to initiate, make sure you know why — and what you’ll do if parents don’t sign. There can be a multitude of valid reasons why a child who shows his planner to his parents brings it back to school without a signature. Some are the child’s responsibility; others are not.

Whose tool is it anyway?

While the teachers and parents who shared their opinions with me were almost universally in favor of planners, the students who responded were less enthusiastic. Striking a balance between making the planner useful and making it a chore is key to continued planner usage when there’s no adult to make sure kids are writing things down.

They won’t work for everyone.

Planners are a tool to help students remember what they have to do and what’s due when. Since their lives are less frantic than ours and their memories are often better, some truly might not need this particular tool. If a student is handing work in on time and keeping on top of things without the planner, forcing the issue could create an unnecessary battle and make students less likely to avail themselves of this tool in the future.

No matter what you do, some students will struggle, or even dig in their heels. Others may be more enterprising, like my nephew Zach, who sold his planner in middle school to another student who, in his words, “had so much they needed two.” Zach, now in graduate school, hasn’t used a planner since.

As for me, I still have a few of those spiral-bound memo pads floating around; in fact, I use one to corral my to-do list. While it hasn’t broken me completely of the habit of scribbling things on whatever paper is handy (what else can I do when I come up with a brilliant idea at 3 AM?), it helps me to keep my thoughts organized.

In the end, whether or not I write something down is more important than where I write it, as is whether or not I do what I need to do and show up where I need to be. Finding the right balance between strict adherence to planner rules and regulations and giving students the freedom to make their planners their own might make the difference between the kid who needs two planners and the kid who’d rather take the cash.

Image credit: Shutterstock 465599234

Image credit: Shutterstock 465599234

Lisa Lawmaster Hess is an adjunct professor of psychology at York College of Pennsylvania and a former elementary-school counselor.

Image credit: Shutterstock 465599234

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