This won’t come as a surprise to you, but the students I work with aren’t exactly great with planning. In fact, they usually resist it. But here’s a problem, because learning to plan is absolutely essential for every single student in order to prepare for independence in life, regardless of the type of work they eventually go into.
“Quit bugging me! I know what I’m doing”
These students want more and more independence but still lack the tools to manage independently. They also tend to be very unrealistic about this and they like to think they can remember everything. They are also quite good at wearing parents down with their arguments. Needless to say, this is often a messy situation to handle that leaves us with the following question: How do we help someone learn to “plan” when they’re so resistant to planning?
Answer: Make planning as simple and powerful as possible. Tailor it to their unique needs. Use babysteps.
Today I’m going to teach you one of the best ways I do that with my students. I’ll show you exactly how and why I teach students to make a “daily plan” (I also teach other essential planning ideas, like; backwards planning, desk calendars on the wall, monthly planners, etc.. Unfortunately these are outside the scope of this article, but you will learn about them through my blog.)
More about the students
To clarify, the students I work with are notoriously outside-the-box thinkers who struggle with organization, overwhelm, remembering details, homework, studying, time management, planning, prioritizing, focusing on one thing at a time, and thinking things through. They need outside-the-box solutions, not cookie cutter fluff. So this simple method has been created just for them.
Fortunately, it’s nice to know that difficulty with planning has everything to do with executive function, the brain’s ability to “execute” complex tasks form beginning to end. And fortunately, this part of the brain (the prefrontal cortex) continues to develop until we are about 25 years old. So, yes, there is hope!
Step 1: Discussion, ownership and buy in
I usually begin with a discussion about planning and hold a space for my student to tell me what she doesn’t like about it and why. I really listen. Usually I hear that it’s overwhelming, it takes too much time, they can remember it, they forget to write things down, it feels like busywork. I listen and ask them how it’s going with their current approach. I try to get them to take ownership, to tell me that it’s important to them to have a system of tracking assignments and such, that it’s not going as well as it can. I seek to get buy in from them, so they take ownership in the desire to gain more independence. I then tell them about how and why it’s important to make a daily plan and how easy it is and how much it can help. This can be a lengthy discussion, but it pays off.
I also discuss the different types of plans, daily, weekly, monthly, annual. Then I bring it back to the daily plan, because that’s the only one I will focus on for now. To clarify, yes we do make a quick daily plan in addition to their planner. They need to be able to use a planner as well. This just helps plan the night or teh study session.
Step 2: Make the plan
Now I teach my student specifically how to make a daily plan. This takes a few minutes but is really simple and straight forward. Interestingly, the magic is in making the plan, we don’t even have to follow it exactly. The act of making it helps us go from being abstract to concrete about what needs to be done. We must learn to get it out of our head and onto paper! Here’s how the plan works:
1. Write the date. This helps them gain a greater sense of time because many of my students are not very aware yet.
2. Write an intention for the study session. This could be anything, it just depends on what one needs at the time. Examples; focus on 1 thing at a time, take my time, work on quality, just finish, don’t be perfectionistic, have fun with it. The point is that writing the intention helps the brain actualize that intention!
4. Write down your #1 priority. I want kids to think, if nothing else gets done, this is the one thing that will!
5. Write the rest of the to do list: Study for history test, read chapter 3, math hw, etc..
6. Anything else that pops into your head, but that can wait should go on the backburner list: Clean bedroom, buy a b-day gift for someone, make dentist appt, etc..
7. Put the plan in the best possible place where it will be in your face.
Again, you do NOT have to follow the plan, just make it.
Below is a template you are welcome to use any way you wish. I print large stacks of these for my students. Whenever I begin a session with them, we start with a quick plan. It’s one of those little things that makes a BIG difference. Good luck.
Today’s Plan template
Here’s the gist. I usually make 4 of these in a table on google docs, print a bunch and cut them out. Feel free to cut, paste, modify and print!
Today’s Plan Date: ______
#1 Priority ______________
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