Does what we know about co-constructing criteria, assessment for learning and student engagement invalidate the utility of “Independent Study Units”? I don’t think so.
Literacy guru Kelly Gallagher advocates for more reading in English classes. In his classes he challenges students with a short instructional text every week (a text that requires support and teaching). While using this short text for teaching particular skills or content, Gallagher also has students working on longer group texts (novels or long non-fiction texts that the students select from a limited teacher created list) these texts are studied through a seminar format. Finally, Gallagher asks his students to always have an individually chosen text on the go. An independent novel or non-fiction book. That last element sounds like an ISU to me.
I think it’s perfectly appropriate to ask our students to be reading on their own. A change in my practice from the ISU tasks of ten years ago, would include providing clear exemplars of the tasks I’m asking the students to complete and check-ins throughout the process to monitor the students progress and address problems. The “i” in ISU should stand for “independent” not “isolated”. By monitoring the students’ progress I can intervene as necessary and provide appropriate lessons in organization or initiative or independent work as required. The monitoring in a grade 10 class would look different from the monitoring in a grade 12 class.
This Biography Assignment might lend itself to an ISU approach. Instruction up-front to clarify the nature of the task and my expectations, then the occasional check-in to monitor progress. See what you think.