Friday, July 25, 2008

What’s Up? A Hello Friend Student Planner

I’ve recently discovered “What’s Up? A Hello Friend Student Planner.” Innovative educators will find this planner is a great tool for helping students to get organized. As described at their website it is a simple, inexpensive tool designed to help middle and high school students meet the academic and organizational challenges they face in school. It's an innovative daily student planner that helps students stay on top of their work, complete assignments, manage their projects and apply essential learning skills that will benefit them for the rest of their lives. WHAT'S UP? is a calendar, assignment notebook, project planner, skills development program, information resource, and home-school communication system rolled into one. It can be used by an individual student, a class, a grade, or an entire school.

The other great thing about the planner is that experienced educators worked to create the planner. Interested school districts can speak to them about providing school-based professional development that can be delivered around how to use the planner effectively with students for success.

The planners were produced by the Hello Friend/Ennis William Cosby Foundation which is dedicated to fulfilling the goals and dreams of Ennis Cosby. The Foundation equips teachers, parents and students with the practical information and educational tools needed to understand and address the needs of all learners before they experience the corrosive effects of frustration and failure. The Foundation was established in 1997 by Bill and Camille Cosby as a 501(c)(3) public charity.

There are two options of planners from which to choose which you can look at here. The planners run about $7.00 each but there are quantity discounts. To learn more about the foundation or to order a planner visit

Monday, July 14, 2008

Using The Renzulli Learning System to Support Differentiated Instruction

I've just completed a workshop strand on the Renzulli Learning System (RLS) which allows students to answer questions about their interests and learning styles and what they enjoying doing in school and at home. After they have answered these questions, the RLS creates a profile that describes the students. It explains their interests, beliefs about how they do in school, their learning style, which is how they learn best, and their product style, which is how they like to present the material they’ve learned. Then it selects the activities that are best matched to the student’s interests and styles of learning from thousands of enrichment activities. These include virtual field trips, real field trips, creativity training activities, independent study and project options, books, online activities and classes, and research skills. All of these activities are based on the student’s special interests." Visit my post The Confratute Virgin's Guide to Success to see a sample using an excerpt of my profile.

When completing these activities students have the opportunity to rate them (ala You Tube, Ebay, etc…great digital native tool) and complete a self assessment that the teacher can incorporate into their assessment of the student. The teacher also has an assessment they provide the student upon completion of the project. As an educator I really like the idea of projects being assessed by both student and teacher. The system allows you to designate a limitless number of adults as the student’s teachers which provides a terrific opportunity for multiple teachers to analyze student work AND (I love this) mentors and experts can be given the ability to assess the student’s work. The one thing I would recommend adding to the assessment is allowing peers to assess one another’s work which RLS staff said they would try to include in the future.

As I’ve visited schools using RLS the missing link is incorporating RLS into the Schoolwide Enrichment Model (SEM). After speaking with Renzulli staff I’ve learned that currently the first goal is to get educators and students comfortable with the system and then get them immersed in the Schoolwide Enrichment Model. Some facilitators I’ve spoken to suggest they would take a different approach and provide educators with a foundation in SEM with classes and books, and then introduce them to the system so they are fully ready to make connections. Either way, it is crucial that educators using the system become familiar with the Schoolwide Enrichment Model to enable them to use the RLS for the purposes for which it was designed.

Here are some ideas from a Confratute Virgin about how educators can incorporate the RLS into the Schoolwide Enrichment Model.

Using RLS for differentiating instruction with flexible grouping
A powerful idea I learned about differentiated instruction is that if you keep mixing it up, no one gets a label. Through the RLS profile, educators are empowered to elegantly and easily group students by their interests, beliefs about how they do in school, their learning style, and their product style. The management tool for the teachers will allow them to group their students by these styles and give each group a name and push the assignment out to just those students. As one participant in my class stated, this technology enables the teacher to use the technology to determine groups which literally will save teachers HOURS of TIME and PREPARATION. This really makes this type of differentiation practical and feasible in ways previously not possible. The system does not assess for ability levels, but if a teacher knows her student’s ability levels in each content area or in a particular unit s/he can group those students in the system and push out assignments to students based on ability level too. It is never transparent to the student how they are grouped, unless the teacher decides to share this.

Using RLS to Enhance Enrichment Clusters
I just love this because I can imagine how difficult this would be without the RLS. I believe the RLS in fact was in part designed as a tool to facilitate enrichment clusters. Joseph Renzulli explains How to Develop an Authentic Enrichment Cluster like this:

Our experience with schools has shown that we can guarantee authentic learning experiences for students if the overall weekly schedule devotes some time focused exclusively on enrichment clusters where, non-graded groups of students come together for approximately one-half day per week because they share common interests that bind them together and a willingness to work cooperatively within a relatively unstructured learning environment. Note: Renzulli and his colleagues have written articles and books on how to arrange scheduling to set aside time for enrichment clusters.

How It Works
Cluster activity is directed toward the production of a product or service. Enrichment clusters are not mini-courses! There are no unit or lesson plans. However, a series of start-up activities help students find and focus a problem that the majority of the group wants to pursue.

The RLS makes what has often daunted many educators (especially those new to the concept) so much more manageable. It in essence allows teachers to teach the way they know they should but thought they didn’t have time for. The RLS takes care of all of that by providing grouping options through the student profile reports and then…the system provides students with literally hundreds of possible activities to choose from specifically targeted to their interest. Amazing!

Using RLS to Enhance the Cluster Teacher Position
Before attending the Confratute I had never heard of enrichment clusters. I had heard of cluster teachers, but this was never associated with enrichment. Many NYC educators will agree that in some schools cluster teachers are those that give core content teachers a prep and often little learning occurs in these classes. The RLS can turn these positions into such an exciting and meaningful time by matching students with similar profiles in selected areas with teachers who also shared this interest. This would work great for schools where teachers are given a common prep by cluster teachers and during that period students could be grouped using the RLS with teachers who are teaching based on their profiles. The grouping could and should change at logical times i.e. per unit or quarter.

Using RLS in Compacting
Compacting involves eliminating the repetition of work that has already been mastered and streamlining lessons that "can be mastered at a pace commensurate with the student's motivation and ability." The issue so many teachers had previously when compacting is that it was difficult to determine what compacted students would do to extend their learning. The RLS is the answer as it provides hundreds of activities matched to individual student portfolios. If teachers have access to laptops for the compacted students, the teachers can use the RLS to help students find the right activity to work on while others are working in a particular unit.

These are some of the connections I see in using the RLS in the SEM from the eyes of a Confratute Virgin. I will share more as I become more seasoned...stay tuned.

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Confratute Virgin's Guide to Success

I’ve just completed my first week at Confratute, a summer institute on enrichment learning and teaching featuring presentations by the nation's best-known leaders in gifted education, talent development, thinking skills, and creativity. The Confratute was conceived as a combination of the best aspects of a Conference, and an institute with a good deal of fraternity blended within. It has remained the leading professional development program on enrichment learning and teaching in the world.

The Renzulli Learning Differentiation EngineTM puts students in touch with engaging, individualized resources specially chosen for their interest areas and learning styles. The engine begins with students completing the Renzulli Profiler where they answer questions about their interests, abilities, expression and learning style. When completed, they have a great profile that targets who they are or might be interested in becoming. Here is an excerpt of mine:

Lisa's second area of interest appears to be inwriting. She seems to enjoy writing, and should have opportunities to develop skills in writing in a variety of genres such as fiction and non-fiction, poetry, and journalism. Lisa's third area of interest appears to be in social action, as she seems to show a concern for legal, moral or philosophical issues such as human rights, poverty, animal rights, and environmental issues. She may want to change a law or take action to try to make the world a better place.

Lisa also has specific preferred instructional styles. Learning or instructional styles are the ways students like to learn and the strategies parents and teachers use to help them learn. Lisa has very clearly defined learning preferences. Her preferred instructional style is through technology. Her second choice of learning style is discussions that happen when two or more students talk with their teacher or in small groups about issues and topics by discussing facts and opinions and discussing them. Lisa also enjoys learning games that enable her to learn content by playing games or participating in activities with cards, board games, or even electronic games.

Experienced users of this system say many students are excited about seeing their profile because they have never been actually been asked what they are most interested in and most would like to learn about. Based on their profile they and their teacher can find activities and assignments that match their interests and learning styles.

As I wrap up my first day at the conference here are some basics that will be of interest to those new to the Renzulli Learning approach and/or Confratute which I have broken into a few categories.

Renzulli Philosophy
All students can benefit from high-end learning opportunities and learning is maximized when we consider each student's academic strength areas, interests, learning styles, and preferred modes of expression. We strive to accommodate these differences in a variety of settings.

Renzulli Mission
Apply the pedagogy of gifted education to enrichment opportunities for all students.

Renzulli Goal
No Child Left Bored!

Renzulli Theme
A rising tide lifts all ships.

Renzulli Concepts (As described in linked Renzulli Confratute materials)

Compacting involves eliminating the repetition of work that has already been mastered and streamlining lessons that "can be mastered at a pace commensurate with the student's motivation and ability." The process also assists teachers with accountability by documenting student proficiency on instructional objectives and listing specifically what enrichment activities are offered in place of repetitive class work. The process of compacting includes three phases - defining goals and outcomes, identifying candidates for compacting, and providing acceleration and enrichment options. Visit this overview from Renzulli Learning for more information.

The Enrichment Triad Model was designed to encourage creative productivity on the part of young people by exposing them to various topics, areas of interest, and fields of study, and to further train them to apply advanced content, process-training skills, and methodology training to self-selected areas of interest. Type 1-General Exploratory Activities. Type 2-Group Training Activities. Type 3-Individual and Small Group Investigations of Real Problems.

The Enrichment Clusters, one component of the Schoolwide Enrichment Model, are non-graded groups of students who share common interests, and who come together during specially designated time blocks during school to work with an adult who shares their interests and who has some degree of advanced knowledge and expertise in the area. The enrichment clusters usually meet for a block of time weekly during a semester. All students complete an interest inventory developed to assess their interests, and an enrichment team of parents and teachers tally all of the major families of interests. Adults from the faculty, staff, parents, and community are recruited to facilitate enrichment clusters based on these interests, such as creative writing, drawing, sculpting, archeology and other areas.

Five Dimensions of Differentiation (the five points at which differentiation must occur): 1) Content 2) Process 3) Product 4) Classroom 5) Teacher

The Schoolwide Enrichment Model (SEM) is widely implemented as an enrichment program used with academically gifted and talented students and a magnet theme/enrichment approach for all schools interested in high-end learning and developing the strengths and talents of all students. The major goal of the SEM is the application of gifted education pedagogy to total school improvement. The SEM provides enriched learning experiences and higher learning standards for all children through three goals; developing talents in all children, providing a broad range of advanced-level enrichment experiences for all students, and providing advanced follow-up opportunities for young people based on their strengths and interests.

The Total Talent Portfolio - The Schoolwide Enrichment Model targets specific learning characteristics that can serve as a basis for talent development. Our approach to targeting learning characteristics uses both traditional and performance-based assessment to compile information about three dimensions of the learner—abilities, interests, and learning styles. This information, which focuses on strengths rather than deficits, is compiled in a management form called the 'Total Talent Portfolio' which is used to make decisions about talent development opportunities in regular classes, enrichment clusters, and in the continuum of special services.

Twice-exceptional children (that is, intellectually gifted children with special needs such as AD/HD, learning disabilities, Asperger Syndrome, etc.) have a hard time of it in our education system - because their giftedness can mask their special needs and their special needs hide their giftedness, they are often labeled as "lazy", "unmotivated", "not trying".

Renzulli Concepts
Here is a PowerPoint that provides an overview of several Renzulli concepts.

Confratute Basics
Confratute Purpose
1) To learn. 2) To create and produce 3) To interact 4) To enjoy and relax
There are over 80 week-long strands which focus on all aspects of differentiated instruction and enrichment learning and teaching. This is important to know before you arrive because once you pick a strand you are expected to stay in that strand for the entire week. Each day builds upon the next and strand hopping is discouraged and considered inappropriate. Groups attending the conference should decide before attending which strands they want to attend as a group for a collective experience and individually to bring some depth of knowledge across the organization. There are early morning, mid morning and afternoon strands from which to choose.

Getting here
At about 2.5 hours from NYC, I think driving is your best option is you are coming from that area. The campus is large. Look for Storrs Road which Route 195 turns into.

Parking here
I believe you park in Lot S near a building called Rome. You get there by taking Route 195 which becomes Storrs Road to Bolton Road.

Checking In
Check in at Rome. This is their "Command Central" area where the Renzulli staff is based during the conference. It is also where the cafeteria is.

The internet is accessible and dropping off your internet form in Command Central is probably the first stop you want to make as they need some time to set you up. If you stop there first you should be ready to go by the time you’ve registered and received your housing accommodations.

Things I recommend bringing
A reading light, extra pillow (only 1 little one), shawl (some classes are freezing), shampoo (there is none in your room), shoes comfortable for walking across a campus with grass, hills, and stairs.

Things you don’t need
Tissues, soap, sheets, towels, extension cords for extra outlets (my room has 6), fan (rooms have AC and windows that open)

You will be doing a bit of walking between classes, meals, events, and activities. If that's not enough there are running/waking trails and a lake you can jog around. They have 6:30 a.m. walks and there is a fitness center that I believe you can join for $30 for the week. They also have dance classes each day led by facilitators. During the evening patio gathering there is dancing. Several facilitators love line dancing and lead dances. In week two they will be featuring swing dancing. I'd also recommend getting extra exercise by taking the stairs. It will serve the dual purpose of providing exercise and getting you where you want to go faster...the elevators are very slow.

Making New Connections
Let's face it, you don't need to spend your whole time with the folks you know. You see them all year. While this will be a great opportunity for team building and connecting with colleagues, it is also an opportunity to connect with great new people from around the world. After spending my first week here my top recommendations for connecting with new people are:
1) The 6:30 jog/walk
2) Confratute Chorus
3) Nathan Hale Bar
4) Dance in the tent after the patio party by Nathan Hale Bar
5) Host a little gathering in your room pre-dinner or post patio party
6) Mingle at meals

The food is quite good with choices for the health conscious as well as those who like to indulge. I’m told they even feature ice cream straight from the creamery down the road. You can see the very cows that helped produce your yummy treat. There is breakfast, lunch, and dinner served with snacks in between so you’ll never be hungry or thirsty. If you are like me and prefer eating outside, or at times while working in your room I recommend bringing tupperware as they do not have take out containers. One thing you'll want to keep in mind is the plate line. It is long and I don't really have the time or patience to wait in these lines. I don't know what the proper answer to this issue is, but mine was to not use a tray and just clean off the plate and bring it back to my room and then back to the cafeteria on my way to other meals.

The coffee is good, but goes quickly as does the milk. Get that right away. I also strongly recommend using your plastic Confratute bottle for ice coffee. It is fabulous. You may want to bring a sock to put on the bottle though because it will sweat.

There are nightly gatherings with box wine and equally fraternity-style beer included in your conference fee. Repeat Confratuters usually find themselves at the Nathan Hale Inn Bar which is on campus. I do not think there is a liquor store in walking distance of the campus so you may want to consider bringing your own.

Smoking of any substance is not allowed in the rooms and apparently there are people on patrol ensuring this is adhered to.

About the Area
Apparently Storrs, CT is the safest place in America as far as natural disasters, terrorist attacks, etc. This doesn’t surprise me because there is almost nothing else in the town aside from the campus besides a lot of cows. There is a decent Mexican Restaurant called Margaritas and an Italian restaurant called Angelinos.

Confratute for Credit
If you would like credit you can fill out an application for credit and pay fees by noon on Thursday, July 17. There is a $1,407 tuition fee for three credits and a $65 enrollment fee which must be paid on site a the time the application is submitted. Applicants select one strand as your “major” and sign the credit roster that will be circulated by your strand coordinator. Projects must be completed within one year of application.


For more information, visit the Renzulli Blog at

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Stop blaming your Blackberry for your lack of self-discipline

I really enjoyed this post from my close friend and author Penenlope Trunk. Here's an excerpt. If you find it interesting, you can click on the title link below for the whole post.

Stop blaming your Blackberry for your lack of self-discipline

Are you thinking your Blackberry use is out of control and you need to turn it off? Forget it. The problem is not the Blackberry, it’s you.

The Blackberry actually gives you the freedom to effectively mix your personal life and work life so that they don’t have to compete with each other.

Don’t talk to me about the idea that the Blackberry undermines your ability to have work-life balance. First, the idea that you could ever have it is ridiculous. But a Blackberry at least gives you hope.

Without a Blackberry, you always had to choose one or the other. Work and life were always competing for large chunks of time in the day. But with the Blackberry, you can have a blended life where work life and personal life complement each other. What I mean is that the Blackberry makes it so you can always do work but also always do your personal life, so you choose which one has priority, minute to minute.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008