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.


  1. As always, thanks for the short-to-the point summary with links to additional info.