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


  1. so great to see this going on... this is my background and area of formal study (my MEd is in ed & psych of gifted learners). too bad the timing is off for me professionally - it would've been the perfect convergence of my formal study and my experience in technology... oh well :-(

    It will be great to see what y'all do with this in the coming school year.

  2. Hi Lisa,

    Thanks for a great coverage and information summary. Looking forward to additional posts.