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I have used independent study in my advanced classes for year, but never
without the student in class. I used contracts with the students which
were very structured: there had to be an artist, a critique, a medium, an
historical period, etc. A student could begin the contract anywhere but
had to include all of the areas in the final contract. Since the work was
independent (I sometimes had 15 different things going at once - in one
class), it might work for you.
It is essential that you have conferences with the students to guide them
in the right direction. I had a contract form which was about 8-9
1/2-pages (in booklet form). The first conference was short - exploratory
- when the students stated where they wanted to go. Sometimes they started
with a medium and worked out from there, sometimes an artists whose work
they admired, sometimes an idea or concept, etc. They filled out the
contract booklet, returning for a conference only when they needed help.
The final conference was for me and them to sign the contract. Since part
of the contract was a daily log of work done, I could call for a conference
at various points during the process (a preliminary, tentative schedule was
outlined before the student started- so I knew when to check).
All of my advanced classes were called studio - and could be taken by any
student who had Beginning Art. Great flexibility - for students, for the
counselor. While my high school was small, I actually got the idea from a
large high school. It worked very well for them. Each 9-week period, I
taught a process for 3 weeks and gave the student 6 weeks for an
independent project. Since I had so many levels in one class, it was easy
to develop mentors who become your experts - and can assist, help, teach.
They learn a lot from this, also. While it is difficult for some students
to manage their own time, most do wonderfully and love the independence and
the freedom to choose. We get a lot of those in art, don't we? The ones
who had trouble were just watched a little more closely - and nudged often.
It isn't bad preparation for the world of work which we are told we are
not doing. I 'paid' the students a certain number of points each day for
working (come late or clean up early and you lost points, also leaving out
While this may not be exactly what you are facing (and believe me, what you
are hoping to do is tough), maybe my experience will give you some ideas on
what to watch for. If you have any questions and I can answer them, I'll
be glad to help.