Plan for a calm brain
Did you know that building a habit of time management can help improve the functioning of your student's brain? Planning is an executive function hosted in the pre-frontal cortex that is most improved through coaching and habits.
Now, how do we sell this to our students? I love using science and brain facts because who can argue with that? Our pre-frontal cortex holds our short-term memory and working memory, which are vital for learning. In fact, for learning to occur, it must go through the short-term memory. However, if the short-term memory is full of a running list of to-do actions, no learning can occur. Think about it. As adults, we have kid stuff, work stuff, personal stuff, and relationship stuff. Meanwhile, our students have school stuff, sports stuff, extracurricular stuff, and friend stuff. All our responsibilities, regardless of age, can cause our already small short-term memory to be overwhelmed. Information can get all mixed up and spill out. This can cause our students, as well as ourselves, to feel stress. Not only can we not learn well, but we can also cause undue stress on our bodies. Let’s consider how planning can help us reduce this stress.
It is never too late to start the habit of planning, but the earlier the better. I was approached recently by a friend whose husband is a lawyer and gets paid for his time. His lack of planning skills was costing him and his company money. She wanted me to coach him, so my advice to him is the same that I give my students:
1. Start with choice. How do you want to plan? Engagement in the choice of how you plan will help with buy-in. In some schools there isn't a choice on type of planner (physical or digital), but choice can still be given in other ways. There are examples for parents and teachers below and you can feel free to use or hand out to your students to try.
Teachers — Have students make a study plan for your spelling words using some fun choices. For example, creating mnemonic devices, writing it in a sentence, or playing hangman.
Parents — Have students brainstorm all the things they do after school and create a spot in their planners for this. That way they can make study plans while considering their afternoon plans.
2. Be specific with your action items. Challenge students of any age to not use the word study in their plans. It is way easier to wiggle-worm out of a broad term instead of something specific.
3. Finally, what to put in the plan? I would suggest having the following checklist out for your students to get in the habit of planning.
Plot all known commitments (sports practices, games, meetings)
Plot all tests/quizzes
Study plan for assessments — don’t use the word study
Plot out all known homework
Scheduled tutorial or teacher meetings
Bonus — track how long things take to do to become aware of time
Now, I don't believe anyone could or should be as excited about planning as me. Although, my eight-year-old niece comes close! While I still have all my planners since middle school (a hoarding confession), she starts planning for early dismissal days weeks in advance. She is one that naturally knows what is going on and makes plans to get things done. However, not all students or adults naturally enjoy planning, so they need to practice and build the habit.
In summary, get your humans to start planning. Maybe not to hoard a planner collection, but at least to create plans and build the neural pathways to make for a highly productive pre-frontal cortex!