Sunday, August 4, 2013

Confratute 2013: Going Back to Where the Dream Began


CONferenc...FRAternity…InstiTUTE  - Put it all together and you have CONFRATUTE, an amazing, weeklong adventure in learning on the beautiful University of Connecticut campus in Storrs, Connecticut.  If you have been following this blog for very long, you know that CONFRATUTE is where our SEM dream began four short years ago.  That summer, eight educators, accompanied by our principal, Laurie O’Neill, visited CONFRATUTE for the very first time.  When we arrived, we were immediately immersed in a culture of enrichment and talent development that would forever alter the way each of us thought about education.  It didn’t take long before we were absolutely convinced that the journey of SEM implementation was one our school needed to make.  Since that time, we have taken great strides towards full implementation of the Schoolwide Enrichment Model at Austin Elementary.  As a staff, we have spent countless hours on professional development, exploring the research behind The Schoolwide Enrichment Model, and designing what it would look like for our learners.   We have redesigned the way we form our classes, and have implemented “E-Time” on Friday mornings to provide a dedicated time each week for school wide, learner driven enrichment.  Last year, we moved forward with the implementation of Enrichment Clusters.  During these 5-8 week enrichment journeys, our learners were engaged in authentic, real world learning experiences through which they had the opportunity to pursue their interests, develop their talents, and make a difference in our world. 

We are excited about the learning and growth that took place last year, not only in our learners, but in our educators as well.  However, we are not content to stop there!  Mary Poppins once told her charges, “A job half done is well begun.”  Our vision for implementing the Schoolwide Enrichment Model at Austin Elementary has had an amazing beginning, but we are not done!  There is still work that needs to happen in order to ensure that every learner at Austin Elementary is consistently immersed in an environment that encourages them to identify and pursue their passions.  This year, we will continue to nurture the strengths and talents of our learners through E-Time activities, enrichment opportunities embedded into the regular curriculum, and Enrichment Cluster experiences.  Our focus for continued SEM implementation this year will be three fold:

1.     Continue to increase the depth and rigor of learning experiences through interactions with genuine tools, real world methods, authentic audiences, and disciplinary experts from the community.  Our goal is to create an environment in which real world creative problem solving opportunities are an integral part of the learning design in every classroom.

2.     Extend the use of Curriculum Compacting as a tool for meeting the educational needs of all our learners and providing time for Type III real world, independent and small group, interest based investigations.

3.     Further involve our families and community members in the SEM process through volunteer opportunities related to their unique talents and areas of expertise.

With this in mind, it was with tremendous excitement that I headed to Confratute in July to once again explore the tenets of the Schoolwide Enrichment Model under the guidance of some of the most renowned experts in the area of gifted education.  Confratute is a unique learning experience, in that it unites educators from around the world for one week each summer to share ideas, explore innovative learning designs, and develop a deeper understanding of the Schoolwide Enrichment Model, all in a unique atmosphere of excitement and curiosity that can only be found on a college campus. This was not my first visit to this internationally acclaimed conference.  After attending Confratute for the past three years, one might wonder, was there truly a benefit in attending again?  The answer to that question is a definite, unequivocal YES!  This was my fourth visit, and I learned as much, if not more, than I have in the previous three.  The sessions I attended provided opportunities for me to reflect upon our own SEM journey, collaborate with other educators who were at varying stages of their own implementation process, and work alongside experts in the field as I strived to construct a deeper understanding of the various components of the SEM model.  While there is no way that I could possibly describe all the learning that took place during this week, I would like to share with you some of the highlights and “take aways” of my Confratute experience.

1.  Advanced Curriculum Development: The Kaplan Depth and Complexity Model

During this weeklong session, Dr. Sandra Kaplan facilitated an exploration of the process of infusing depth and complexity into the four basic elements of curriculum – content (access to subject matter), thinking skills, resources (input), and product (output).  A basic tenet of our conversation was the idea that differentiation exists on a continuum, and that it was never intended to be used exclusively with gifted learners or for learners with special needs, but rather, that the continuum of differentiation is an effective tool that should be used to individualize learning for all.  Dr. Kaplan shared tools and strategies that can be used to design and evaluate differentiated curriculum so that all learners are exposed to opportunities for developing depth and complexity in their thinking within the context of their unique learning experiences.

My Take Aways:

There is no reason why the strategies and pedagogy we use with gifted learners cannot be used with ALL learners.

It is part of my responsibility as an educator to develop independent learners.  I must provide opportunities for my students to “learn how to learn.”


2.  How to Organize and Coach Students for Outstanding Type III’s–Peg Beecher
      Tackling Type III’s – Janine Firmender

These two sessions were as inspirational as they were informative.  Through real life accounts of student led investigations, we had the opportunity to explore the organization, structure, and management of Type III activities in the general education classroom.  The excitement of these two educators as they described the learning experiences of their students was absolutely contagious.  

·      One young lady with an interest in drama and genealogy created a play that described the history of her family tree.  She wrote, directed, and starred in this play, which was aired on a cable T.V. channel after she won a children’s programming contest.

·      A group of four learners, after listening to a 92 year old man discuss the history of their town, became interested in learning more. They met with the older gentleman once a week, asking questions, exploring artifacts, and learning all they could.  They then designed a booklet about the town’s history, which was displayed in the town hall.

·      A group of fourth graders designed a campaign to save a town landmark.  They spoke at a town hall meeting, wrote letters to the editor of the local newspaper, rallied the entire fourth grade as well as the community around their cause, and ultimately, with the help of a multi media specialist from the community, created a presentation that they shared with fourth graders throughout the district, two legislators, and several school board members.  Their efforts were also broadcast on the local news and led to the formation of the “Friends of Waterloo Foundation.”

My Take Aways:

Children are incredibly creative, capable human beings.  They do not need us to “teach” them.  They need us to design opportunities and environments in which they can learn!

Kids CAN change the world…will we let them?


3.  Talent Development in Gifted and Talented Girls and Women: Obstacles,      
      Challenges, and Choices – Dr. Sally Reis

Let’s look at the statistics:

  In the 100-year history of the Nobel Prize, only 11 prizes have been awarded to 10 women scientists. (Marie Curie won the prize twice.)
  Since 1809, only one out of approximately every 1,000 patents has been issued to a woman inventor.
  Less than 5% of the National Academy of Sciences members are women.
  In 1978, two women headed Fortune 1000 companies. In 1996, there were four women who headed Fortune 1000 companies. A 1996 review of the 1,000 largest firms in the United States showed that only 1% of the top five jobs in those corporations, 60 out of 5,000 positions, were filled by women.
  Women make up less than 12% of the world's parliaments, and less than 11% of political party leaders.
 Within the 21 highest budgeted orchestras in the United States, there are no female musical directors or conductors in permanent positions. (Of the total 1530 pieces programmed in concerts for these orchestras, only three pieces were composed by a woman.)
  Only 24 women have been elected heads of state or government in this century.
  Of the 185 highest-ranking diplomats to the United Nations, only 7 are women.
  Of the doctorates granted in mathematics in the mid -1990s, 78% were awarded to men while 22% went to women.
  Of the doctorates granted in physical sciences in the mid-1990s, the same percentages held as 78% were granted to men and 22% to women.
  Of the doctorates in engineering in the mid 1990’s, 88% went to men and 11% to females
  In the House of Representatives, women hold just 10.9% of the seats. In the U. S. Senate, women hold only 10% of the seats.

** Statistics taken from “External Barriers Experienced by Gifted and Talented Girls and Women” by Dr. Sally Reis

In this session we explored some of the internal and external barriers that continue to influence the way the world views talented women, and more importantly, the way talented women view themselves.  We looked at the impact these barriers have on the choices that are available to women and on the decisions these women make when they encounter these choices.  Finally, we discussed strategies that we, as educators, could use to help prepare young women to overcome these barriers in order to live accomplished, productive lives defined by a sense of worthiness and fulfillment.

My Take Aways:

What messages are we sending our young girls about success?

How many women look back on their lives and wonder, “What if ?” 

How can we, as educators, make a difference?

4.  SEM Outreach: Making Change Back Home – Dr. Joseph Renzulli

 The focus of this session was on helping participants begin thinking about a plan for SEM implementation at home.  Having already begun that journey several years ago, I was excited to experience a sense of affirmation and encouragement as I listened to Dr. Renzulli  discuss some of the obstacles that can hinder this process, as well as some tools and strategies that can be used to overcome those obstacles.  At Austin Elementary, we are well on our way, but as I said earlier, we are not there yet.  So much remains still to be done.  Change is hard!  It is scary, work intensive, and overwhelming.  But when done right…when the cause is just…when the motives are pure… it is so worth it!   So, what is our cause?  What are our motives?  For me, it’s the kids…pure and simple.  It’s the opportunity to create a learning environment that is so dynamic, so learner centered, so focused on the talent development of ALL kids, that engagement, authenticity, and profound learning become the norm, not just for some, but for every child in every classroom.  Wow!  I am excited about the dream we have for our learners, our educators, and our school.  I am invigorated by the opportunities we have had to share that dream with others, and I am looking forward to seeing the vision expand this coming year as we continue to make that dream come true!

My Take Aways:
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality.
To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”  ~ Richard Fuller
“Enjoyment + Engagement + Enthusiasm for Learning = Achievement ~ Dr. Joe Renzulli
“High test scores are a by-product of joyful learning.” ~ Dr. Joe Renzulli