Whether you call it Independent Study, Genius Hour, Passion Projects, or something else - Students love choosing their topic and going in depth with it! However, I've seen over the years that without...
Tailored mini lessons
Small deadlines throughout
A lot of one-on-one conferencing
...Student products and presentations end up being pretty rough.
To remedy this - Each year I pick a "theme" for our independent study. Typically, the first time I do independent study I simply focus on what it is and the components and do a simplified version. This usually takes place in 3rd or 4th grade (though it can be done younger).
First Independent Study (by Kara Angell)
When doing independent study in 4th or 5th grade, I usually focus on quality writing. Students are required to write a 2 page paper as part of the unit and mini lessons focus on aspects of quality writing.
Then, in 5th or 6th grade, we focus on presentations and speeches. Students are required to do a presentation and speech with NO words on their slides (except things like titles, words on graphs/charts/diagrams, etc.) This forces them to not read directly from their slides and really focus on visuals and the way they deliver their information.
Presentation for Independent Study Focused on Speeches - Pieces from the book Oral Presentations Made Easy are used throughout the slideshow. I found it for free at the public library or you can find it for just a few dollars on Amazon - definitely worthwhile!
Then, in 6th or 7th grade we take it a step further and create our own podcasts. See the section on creating your own podcasts for more information.
For Virtual Version, check out below:
--Want more? Independent Study Program: Complete Kit is wonderful and comprehensive, but may be overwhelming for first year teachers (hundreds of pages and 25 lessons).
--Want to start smaller? John Spencer has amazing lessons, slideshows, videos and more for a "Wonder Day" and a "Wonder Week" which are 1 day or 5 days, respectively. It's free! Check it out here: http://www.spencerauthor.com/wonder-week/
He also has a pretty great peer feedback system that's great for giving and receiving feedback on independent study projects.