When I taught middle school, I had a system where my students could earn time by cleaning up quickly or answering questions. They could use the time they earned for Free Art Friday. When I started teaching high school, I wanted to have a similar system. However, I wanted my students to be more focused and create more polished pieces. I came up with the idea of Independent Projects.
When students finish a project early, they begin working on an Independent Project. For these projects, they have the freedom to choose any subject they want. They can also choose to use any of the materials that we have already used in class.
Each students has a folder that is filled with notebook paper for our writing assignments. They keep any unfinished Independent Projects in the pockets of their folder. This makes it easy for them to have something extra to work on, without them having to finish that project in just a day or two.
Once we finish a class project, I schedule a day that is just for Independent Projects. This gives everyone time to focus on their individual artwork, and it also allows students who were absent to catch up with the class. Independent Projects have helped so much with classroom management. One of the challenges of teaching Art is that there is such a wide range of paces that students work at. Having something meaningful for students to work on if they finish early means that they are still engaged, which keeps them from misbehaving out of boredom.
Part of their mid-term exam grade was to take an Independent Project that they had started and finish it or polish it up. (The other part of the grade was to write about if they thought an image was art or not, using the Elements of Art to support their case.) Some students decided to start a new project and finish it in the extra time we had for the exam.