Autism and Understanding Unwritten College Expectations: Part Three, The Course Calendar

Autism and understanding the unwritten rules and expectations of the college course schedule. This is the third in a series of posts about determining what, exactly, the professor’s expectations are for your successful completion of a course. The resources that we’re carefully unpacking and explaining here often have implicit expectations and repercussions that accompany explicit instructions and directions. These posts will support your better understanding of the resources at your disposal and help you make use of them more fully. In parts one and two of this series, I wrote about the syllabus. This post will be dedicated to learning more about the Course Calendar. Learn how to begin organizing your semester by due dates, course times, and office hours.

Most professors will include a detailed course calendar as part of their syllabus. It is important to review this carefully. Sometimes, there will be a week when the class doesn’t meet, there’s a holiday mid-semester, or a due date is not the same day or time as the class normally convenes. Organizing these times and dates in one place will be paramount in helping make sure you do not forget to attend a lecture or complete an assignment. Plus, you will have a visual guide to help you see all the tasks you have ahead.

First, find a calendar that works for you.  This can take some trial and error because there are many systems available.

Tip: You might even practice over the summer to see what kind of format seems likely to provide you with the most clarity.

Here are Some Pros and Cons of Some Common Calendar Formats:

Electronic Calendar App:  Some people prefer to use the calendar app that is on their phone and laptop.  Make sure to sync them up so that when you add or change something on one device, it will change on the other.  One pro of an electronic calendar is that they can be set to give notifications before the time of a class, or a week before a test, etc.  You can play around with these features. For example, see if you like getting a notification 30 minutes before a class starts, or if it becomes distracting to you.  You can set notifications to remind you only on less routine items, such as a special study group meeting time, or office hours that you do not want to forget about. The other advantage of using a calendar app is that you will most likely always have it nearby. Also, you can back up most of these on the Cloud. The cons of an electronic calendar are the usual set of cons that come with digitizing anything. It can run out of batteries, it can get lost/stolen, or something can get accidentally deleted or changed without you realizing. Calendar apps are harder to see a broad view for longer planning. On the most common calendar apps, when looking at the monthly calendar view, for example, you will not be able to see daily items.

Wall calendar: Wall calendars are typically sold in either a month view, or a week view. The benefit of these longer-term views is that it can provide a broader outline of an entire chunk of time, rather than just looking day to day. For example, if you can visually see that you have a pending test in 12 days, you might be more likely to begin planning and reviewing notes. Some people enjoy having a wall calendar in addition to a daily calendar on their phone or in a diary. They might use the wall calendar for main events and then include the details in their smaller planners.

Day planner:  There are so many types of day planners/diaries available. Some of them have space for written “action items” where you can write along the side of the calendar space all the “extras” you hope to get done that week or day. These might include: workout at the gym, get snacks at the grocery store, meditate for 15 minutes, or do laundry. These types of items do not necessarily have a due date or day attached to them, but you might forget to get them done if you do not write them down.  It can be helpful to have the necessary daily items such as attending a class, outlining a paper, or meeting with another student next to these less prioritized daily activities. Day planners also have the advantage of being easy to flip through, add notes to, and cross things out.  You also do not have to worry whether it is charged or scroll and click to find information. The cons of using a day planner are that it often shows only one day or one week at a time instead of a bigger picture view. It can also get lost/stolen/left somewhere, and it is not backed up anywhere else.

Class Schedule:  Regardless of which type of calendar you use to keep track of assignments, study groups, office hours, and social events, most colleges will provide a weekly class schedule. You can access that schedule online and/or print out to keep with your class notebooks. As mentioned above, there will be times when certain classes are canceled or a holiday occurs. However, for the most part, this will be the unchanging schedule you will follow from week to week. Some students like to incorporate this static schedule into their day planner or calendar app. Other students find it easy to memorize, and they use the other calendars to plan the assignment dates and changing commitments.

Tip: Once you’ve chosen your preferred method of scheduling, you need to add in the semester items from your syllabus to your calendar. This might take some time, so be prepared to spend a couple of hours if needed to get yourself organized. Once all the items are included, you can see what days have overlapping or conflicting items from different courses, which weeks will be busy, and which weeks you may have some extra time.

Unwritten Expectation Alert: Most class schedules have a disclaimer at the beginning or end, which indicates that the instructor reserves the right to drop, reschedule, or modify assignments based on their knowledge of class needs. This means you should pay close attention to emails and online postings that address changes. Most professors will inform the class of important changes verbally, through assignment-specific emails, and again through online platforms. Therefore, there is generally little sympathy from instructors regarding missed work about which they have communicated extensively.

Regardless of Which Calendar Outline You Choose, Here are Some Helpful Tips

Color code your items based on class or activity type.  For example, your English class items can be written in red, all your social events blue, family events green, etc.

Prioritize assignments numerically based on due date or difficulty.  For example, if you have a paper due in two days but a test in six days, and a friend wants to meet up for dinner, you can prioritize writing the paper as the #1 item of the day, and then studying for the test as #2. If you feel like you have completed the writing and you have a good grasp on the study material, then you can move to priority #3 of meeting your friend.  Sometimes figuring out how to prioritize different activities can be the most challenging part of completing a course of study!

Check your calendar often and always look ahead at what is up and coming!

Look for my upcoming post on how to figure out when to start planning a paper or project and when to begin studying for a test. These time lines will differ depending on ease of material, length of the assignment, and weight of the grade. Regardless, all these due dates and study plans can and should be added to your calendar to make the semester run as efficiently as possible! As mentioned in the beginning, you may need to try out a few different calendar types or organizational plans to find the one that works best for you.

Have you developed a system that works for you or do you have more questions about organizing, prioritizing, or understanding expectations discussed in the syllabus? Let us know what you want to hear about.

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Katie Newton

Katie is a part time speech and language pathologist and part time professional runner. Katie received both her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Boston University in Speech, Hearing, and Language Sciences and Speech-Language Pathology, respectively. She also trains on the Boston Athletic Association High Performance Team. Katie has experience in public and private schools as well as private clinic settings. She works with children and young adults with a variety of disabilities, including those with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Katie loves to share executive functioning and planning tips along with the more traditional social language strategies to help students succeed.

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