Senior Independent Learning Experience Process Revised

By, Qirrat A. ’19

As we head into March, the seniors have just about a month and a half left of school. No, graduation is not in April; however, seniors will be embarking on their much-anticipated Independent Learning Experiences (ILE) during the final four weeks of their senior year. The ILE gives Winsor seniors an opportunity to pursue a specific interest independently. Each student designs her own project and is guided by a faculty advisor and a mentor/supervisor in her area of interest.

Although most Upper School students have heard about the ILE prior to their senior year, this year a lot of big changes were made. In the past, students often felt that the project was not independent enough, as everyone was forced to blog daily about what she was up to. This “blogging” process was notorious in the Winsor community, and it was one that current seniors were definitely not looking forward to. This year, however, students are given the freedom to decide how they wish to track their progress. ILE coordinators Ms. R. and Ms. H. stated that they “want the project to be meaningful to the students, and it was often apparent in blogs that students were doing the blogs as protocol more than interest.” Therefore, they decided it would be best to eliminate the mandatory blogs and let students record their process in a way that is most expressive to them.

With the removal of mandatory blogging, a required end “product” was added to the ILE. Essentially, students need to have some sort of physical manifestation that represents their work during the month and reaches past just their experience. This idea of a clear product has generated some concern among seniors. Leslie M. ’19 said, “I completely understand that our teachers need to see something at the end of the ILE that shows that we put in some work on our individual projects; however, not all ILE’s are going to end up naturally with a product. If someone’s ILE doesn’t create a physical product or something that an audience would enjoy, it feels very forced.” Before being able to speak with Ms. H. and Ms. R., I completely agreed. However, after getting further insight, the idea of the product makes more sense. Ms. Randall explained that “there was a common theme amongst the most successful independent project[s]; they all had concrete products.” The products don’t necessarily even have to be complete, they can be works in progress; however, having a clear focus and an intended outcome will hopefully make the experience more meaningful than before.

In fact, Ms. H. explained that potential mentors are able to offer more if the student has a product and plan in mind and that the sole act of taking initiative to convey a clear idea is actually “empowering” for the students. This clear communication with mentors may have actually proven itself helpful, as many students, including myself, felt that the hardest part of the process was finding a mentor. Grace W. ’19 said, “It was difficult to get a mentor, and I emailed over a dozen people. Most of the people couldn’t take on a student, and other places weren’t able to provide me with the experience I would need to complete my project.” I, too, had a similar  experience, but I felt that being able to recognize when a potential mentor would be unable to accommodate the project I had made made it easier for me to narrow down my list.

        Additionally, in the past, ILE projects were revised subjectively on a pass-fail scale. However, both Ms. H. and Ms. R. conveyed that this was not necessarily fair, since “the criteria didn’t truly apply to everyone’s projects.” This year, students are allowed to create their own grading criteria before the start of the ILE, and can choose the standard to which they will be held. Zoe B. ’19 told, “It’s great that we are given the freedom to construct our own guidelines and set our own parameters. We are expected to meet the requirements, but how we get there is up to us, and that independence is really refreshing.”

All in all, all seniors are super excited to embark on their ILE’s and report back to the coordinators, so that they can continue to make the process better for the following years.