In our Green Ivy offices, we have witnessed firsthand how valuable it is when students write down all their assignments, activities, and appointments in a paper planner. For many students, this simple habit not only helps them stay organized, but also relieves stress, as they can better problem solve around managing their time. For instance, if a student has two exams on Thursday morning and knows she has a track meet that will go until late on Wednesday, she might begin preparing in advance to help her budget her time and energy on Monday or Tuesday.
In one memorable instance, a parent wrote Green Ivy founder, Ana Homayoun, about the positive effect of her book That Crumpled Paper Was Due Last Week. Her son and family both found the organizational strategies and executive functioning tips very helpful, but her son had issues with taking a planner to school. In their small town, only the students with IEPs are required to carry and use a planner. He told his mom he would lose all his friends if he had one too, because they would think he was in “special ed.” She emailed Ana to see if she knew of any research regarding the effectiveness of planners that she could pass along to her son, and to school administrators, to encourage broad-based planner use among students.
There are really two aspects of this question to be addressed, and the first is related to the shame and stigma associated with qualifying for special services or special education. Often, it is this same shame and stigma that prevents kids from utilizing the services they need in order to reach their full academic and personal potential. This particular child’s reaction to using a planner is certainly not unique, especially in an age where we place so much emphasis on academic excellence, and not enough on the importance of social and emotional learning. There’s nothing wrong with a student having learning differences or needing additional time to process or comprehend information, and we all – parents, educators, and students – play a role in reducing the stigma and shame around needing social, emotional, and academic support. If a student or child mentions a fear of being labeled as “special ed,” asking him or her why it would matter could initiate a conversation about inclusive kindness toward others with differences.
In terms of paper planners, research shows that writing down information by hand can help improve information retention. Evidence also suggests that writing by hand engages the mind and can help children pay attention. An intriguing article from Scientific American highlights the fact that reading on paper allows us to create mental maps that anchor meaning to structure, and this anchoring helps us better retain information.
In addition, in our work at Green Ivy, we have seen the benefits in schools for teachers who encourage, require, or offer incentives for paper planner use. By giving students five minutes to write down all their assignments every day, or 20 minutes every week to “regroup” and sort through their loose papers, teachers are more likely to get assignments on time and are less likely to have to track down missing work. A little structured time goes a long way, particularly for middle school and high school students.
We’ve found that the best planners are those that are simply designed, but offer students opportunities to manage and track appointments, assignments, activities, schedule time and set goals. In short, we believe in paper planners for everyone!