The Value of Independent Studies: by Luke Wahl

As a Montessori school, we believe in following the child.  

Students have unique interests that act as windows into the world.  They have so many passions and areas of expertise – both academic and non-academic, and exploring these passions has an incredible amount of value.  In the past month alone, we’ve had students learning Spanish, Korean, ASL, Java, numerical methods, pre-calculus, trigonometry, advanced statistics, airplane navigation, survival skills, ceramics, accounting, business skills, and studying famous artists.   

How did we find the time or staff to teach all of those classes?  Enter: the independent study.  What is an independent study?  It allows students to learn something they are passionate about and make academic connections even if they are the only one interested in that topic.  It can take a lot of forms – semester long classes, projects, or 2 week-long deep dives, online classes, workbooks, research, or some combination of all of the above.  The thread that weaves everything together is that these courses are student led.

In an independent study, students begin by setting goals for themselves.  “What do I want to learn?”  “How will I present what I’ve learned?”  “What steps do I need to take to get there?”  “How can I connect this to what I’m learning in my classes?”  Students might not be the best at setting goals or schedules right away, but their time here is about learning and improving.  Students practice setting goals and creating schedules as well as connecting their passions to their academics.  Additionally, they are working on time management, balancing a variety of tasks, and problem-solving when things don’t go as planned.  Students also learn to ask for help.  Even though these studies are largely independent, students are under the guidance and supervision of a teacher who can act as a resource.  Students also practice holding each other accountable – checking in with each other and keeping everyone on track.

After high school, some students will be going to college, a technical school, or a trade school where despite 3 hours of lecture each week, a lot of the learning happens outside of the classroom.  Other students might head straight to the workforce.  Here, in our place and time, most entry-level jobs start with some level of self-guided, often computer-based training.  The time-management and goal-setting skills students learn in an independent study will help them no matter what their future looks like. More often than not, students are happy with their choice to take an independent study, and they leave it feeling more prepared for the world outside of LMSS.