Learning Plans: The What, When, Why and How to Do Them Well

Blog Series, Learning, PreK-12, Smart Parents

In our Smart Parents series, we have been sharing stories about how parents are empowering their students and co-creating learning with their students.

A learning plan is a document that a student and a parent and/or teacher co-create that is guided by student interests and has details (and accountability + next steps)

Beyond noticing and encouraging your child’s interests, there are questions and conversations you can have at home so that your students can build, drive and own their learning:

Early Childhood Learners. The brain is developing so rapidly, and children have a natural and innate curiosity that parents can activate.

Encourage your child to ask you questions. If appropriate, answer their questions with questions of your own. Example: “Dad, what’s that?” “It’s a water drain. Why do you think we need to drain the water from the tub?” Taking the time to interact and allow them to build language is key with early childhood learners.

Elementary Schoolers. Setting the stage in the early school years activates a love of learning and starts healthy habits of mind and positive learning strategies for years to come.

Share your own experiences and model your own curiosities out loud. For example: “I wonder why there are so many bees near that plant. We should find out.” Ask questions: “If you could do or be anything, what would you do or be?”

Middle Schoolers. As middle school students develop their own identities, ensuring they can see the ‘bigger picture’ and pursue their unique interests and contemplate their contributions is important. Allow your middle schooler to explore who they are in the context of shifting identities and friendships.

Share family history, make connections to family stories, older family members and encourage a sense of belonging to the family. Ask: “What do you want to do after high school? How much education do you want or need to meet your goals?”

High Schoolers. The future is imminent and so much needs to be done in the high school years to prepare for college, career and lifelong learning. The teenage brain is ripe for further discovery and teens seek to learn their place in the world. Although they sometimes might not seem like it, teens do still want and need their parents.

Offer support and guidance. Ask: “What’s your vision for your future? Where do you see yourself in 5 years? in 10 years? How can I support you?”

So, why and how would you use a learning plan?

At the high school where I worked, our students were required to create a learning plan each academic year and then regularly update it to reflect new learning opportunities, new goals and new projects.

The learning plan addressed important academic, college and career and personal competencies. It also contained a detailed list of tasks to be accomplished and included a plan for documenting and demonstrating learning. Our learning plans included:

  • A vision statement
  • A goals list
  • A project list/detailed task list

Creating a learning plan with your child could also look as simple as asking them, at any age:

  • What do you want to know more about? (generate excitement, passion and curiosity)
  • How can you get there? (create the path and plan)
  • How will you and I both know you’ve learned it? (demonstrate the learning)

For example, let’s say your child wants to learn coding. She heard some students talking about it at school. Here’s what a simple learning plan could look like at home.

What do you want to know more about? Coding. I’d love to be able to make characters move on this game I heard about at school, called the Foos.

How can you get there? The company behind The Foos is codeSpark where I can learn more, and there’s also Hour of Code and groups that I could join such as CoderDojo.

How will you know you’ve learned it? I really want to be able to get through a few level of the Foos, and I want to be able to make those characters jump, duck, run and play!

Once your student has accomplished his or her goals (she’s mastered a few levels of The Foos), she’s ready to set another goal based on another personal interest. This same template could be used for the whole family.

With increased access to anywhere and anytime learning, kids really can learn at home, at school and everywhere in between. Creating an individual (or family) learning plan helps families become intentional about encouraging student-driven interests and passions, provides and provokes thoughtful conversation between and among family members, and encourages learning for the sake of learning.

This blog is part of our Smart Parents series in partnership with the Nellie Mae Education Foundation. For more information about the project, see Parents, Tell Your Story: How You Empower Student Learning as well as other blogs:

Bonnie Lathram

Bonnie Lathram

Bonnie Lathram is the Learner Experience Manager at Getting Smart. Follow Bonnie on Twitter, @belathram.

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