Choosing A Planner

 Choosing A Planner

During my many years of working with students with attention and focus issues, executive function difficulties,  learning challenges, and a combination of all three, I have become more and more convinced that students need to start working with a planner or agenda in the early grades. Classrooms and teachers that use a planner/agenda system for the entire class and  teach students how to use the planner, are providing a concrete organizing structure that can be built upon over the years. If that teacher teaches students about how the agenda is an external organizer for the frontal cortex/executive function part of the brain, all the better.

Most adults keep a calendar and a to-do list. For most of us, finding the system that works takes trial and error. I keep a paper calendar with pages for the entire month and pages for the week. I need to see the entire month and then specific days. I also keep a daily to-do list which fits onto pages of a specific week. When my to-do list needs a modified and numbered to-do list, then I know things have gotten out of hand and I need to winnow down to one list!

When selecting a planner/agenda for late elementary, middle, and high school students, choose a large enough format so that students can easily write on the pages; keep the size in line with a sheet of paper, make sure the planner can easily fit in a binder, limit the heft and weight of the planner so that it is actually used, and pick a planner that has both monthly and weekly entry pages so the student can see the past and future and not just that day. You may need to try several formats with your child or students before you find the perfect fit. The more the student is invested in the planner the more likely he/she is to use it.


Two planners that I have been looking at in some detail are designed by professionals who conduct professional development training on executive function for teachers, parents, and students. Both of these organizations also work with students and families. The first is created by Executive Functioning Success,  Marydee Skylar and her team have created a planner for adults and one for middle/high school students.  Their  thirteen month student planner is a little larger than a standard size sheet of paper and has front and back interior plastic pockets s for storing loose papers,  two page monthly calendars with space and lines to write events, activities, assignments, etc for each day. There are pages for project planning, sheets to track weekly commitments, and tear off daily to-do pages that include sections for homework and after school chores and fun. As a disclaimer, I have to admit that I have taken Marydee’s “Seeing My Time” Class and own a copy of her student planner.

Another planner which shares many of the characteristics of the Executive Functioning Success planner is created by Cognitive Connections,  Sarah Ward and Kristen Jacobsen,  A friend of mine ,who owns and runs a school for students with learning challenges in Maine, brought the work of Cognitive Connections to my attention and I plan to take some of their webinars.  360 Thinking Academic Planner contains monthly calendar pages, planner pages for each day, and homework to-do sheets with sections for writing down the assignment, materials needed, and due date. There are also project planning sheets. Each planner contains 5 1/2 months of pages for a semester.

Both planners include access to support videos for using the planning systems and both are products of models developed to teach students executive function skills. There are other products on the market, but these two planners are created based on executive function research and years of work with students.