Classes without a teacher: Independent studies


Renato Arteaga

Mack Mcquen and Mia Lipsitz working on film projects in Mr. Morrison’s class.

By Renato Arteaga, Editor-in-Chief

All but two students in the room stare tentatively, awaiting instructions from Mr. Morrison about the current film project they are working on. These two students have headphones in working on their own computers away from the class.

They work independently, resuming their music composition and film editing, while all other students are sent out to continue filming.

For art majors at Lane, there are classes offered by both Mr. Morrison, the film teacher, and Ms. Diamond, an AP art teacher, known as Independent Studies.

It is a self-directed class in which the students are given the ability to work independently without having to follow a lesson plan made by a teacher or subject department.

The students are given the chance to study, review and learn any aspect of their subject as freely as they want without the stress of a teacher’s lesson or guidelines.

“They are able to create the artwork that they want to create without having harsh deadlines and guidelines,” Diamond said. “With the other classes that I teach, I’m trying to develop their technical skills and also themselves as artists, but with independent studies, they’re pretty established, and they’re able to create projects that they’re genuinely interested in.”

Lane offers this class for students who have met both Morrison’s and Diamond’s different requirements, which allows them to focus solely on perfecting their craft of the subject without the traditional teacher-student learning system.

The Film Studies program offers both Film I and Film II taught by Morrison, which are prerequisites to Independent Studies.

“Film Studies I and Film Studies II allowed them to develop a skill set strong enough that they’re able to take the next step by themselves under my guidance,” Morrison said.

They’re able to explore topics in film that maybe we didn’t talk about in class, but they were interested in, so now they have the skill set necessary to go on and take the next step on their own.”

Mia Lipsitz, Div. 954, is one of four students currently taking the Film Independent Studies with Morrison. Since September, she has made two films, as she spends most of her time in class editing in school and filming outside of class.

Lipsitz views the period as time to work with her passion and prepare for the future, as she dreams of going to film school at a college like UCLA or Columbia College.

“I like films, watching movies; I built a passion by taking Film I and Film II,” she said.

Another one of the students taking the independent studies class with Morrison is Karla Leon, Div.  970. Leon has had Morrison as a teacher all four years of high school so far starting with Art I her freshman year before Film, so she understands the contrast between the normal curriculum under his teachings and the independent studies curriculum.

“Really, we have no structure,” Leon said. “In previous film classes, we always had to do what he wanted. There was a lot of flexibility as an elective, but in independent studies, it is really the freedom to do anything because you already learned the basics, so it’s just about applying that knowledge.”

In the classroom, Leon is now using her knowledge on a project for Mr. Lopez to raise awareness on the necessity of having to wear IDs for future freshmen.

“Morrison always told us if we had more time in the year that we’d do a documentary, so I wanted to do something like that,” she said. “Then, I told Lopez about it, and he told me he wanted to have a film about IDs, but he never had the chance to make one. I have a free period, so I might as well help out the school.”

Although Morrison is not instructing the students on what to do in class, he is an adviser that aids them on their projects by giving his professional advice and motivation.

“The students are creating their own thing; there’s no one path to make it happen,” Morrison said. “In Film Studies I, there’s one curriculum; in Film Studies II there’s one curriculum, but there’s no one curriculum for Independent Studies students; they’re creating their own curriculum.”

Diamond’s requirements differ from those of Film, because her students needed to have taught by her previously and are either currently taking an AP art class or have taken an AP art class.

“It’s a lot of students who are focused on art, post secondary,” she said. “It’s students that can work independently and have created a proposal the year prior. They came in with that plan, so they don’t take advantage of the class time they are given. They are actually utilizing it to make substantial content.”

Every plan Ms. Diamond makes with her students details the goal for the student’s year and the focus of their study.

For example, one student’s plan was a Lane remake of the Humans of New York photography project, which includes stories and pictures of strangers sharing personal stories.

“We break it down little by little, so it’s not too intimidating,” Diamond said. “The plan can change. It can evolve.”

Another student taking Independent Studies with Diamond, Olimpia Kukula, Div. 956, is currently taking three other art classes: Honors Contemporary Painting, Honors Printmaking 2, and AP Photography.

She acknowledges the freedom she has in taking the class because of the elimination of set due dates for art projects and sees it as a period for practice for her art skills.

“We know what we’d like to do and what we want to work on more because of our prior experience, and now it just gives us an opportunity to grow in that,” Kukula said.

“For me personally, it’s helping me develop my style of graphic design in photography, and I have 50 more minutes in my day to work on just solely that stuff. I don’t have these programs at home, so it’s very nice.”