Every parent has had the satisfaction of seeing their child “turn on” to a topic or school experience that demonstrates the true joy and excitement of both learning and teaching. Parents are also painfully aware of the boredom and lack of interest that their child may express about so much of the work they do in school.
The use of instructional technology, especially the Internet, has evolved rapidly over the past decade, moving from Web sites that present “flat” information to those that are driven by hypermedia and complex programming.
The Renzulli Learning System is designed to increase achievement and enjoyment of learning.
The Renzulli Learning System (RLS) involves a unique use of the Internet that combines computer-based strength assessment with search engine technology to match thousands of carefully selected resources to specific student strengths. The RLS is based on a learning theory called the Enrichment Triad Model, which was developed in 1977. The Enrichment Triad Model was designed to encourage advanced level learning and creative productivity by
- exposing students to various topics, areas of interest, and fields of study in which they want to explore and develop,
- providing students with the skills and resources necessary to acquire advanced-level content and thinking skills, and
- creating opportunities for students to apply their skills to interests and problems that they want to pursue.
Teachers using the Enrichment Triad Model in their classrooms work hard to access enrichment resources for students. However, their many responsibilities and the time required to track down such resources make this a daunting task. In the RLS, thousands of resources and enrichment materials are provided for teachers and students with the click of a mouse. These resources are tailored to individual students’ abilities, interests, and learning styles. The resources can be accessed in the school classroom, during after-school programs, or even at home when students want to pursue learning opportunities on their own.
The Renzulli Learning System, summarized below, is a four-step procedure that is based on more than thirty years of research and development dealing with the diagnosis and promotion of advanced level thinking skills, motivation, creativity, and engagement in learning.
Step 1: Strength Assessment Using the Electronic Learning Profile
The first step consists of a computer-based diagnostic assessment that creates a profile of each child’s academic strengths, interests, learning styles, and preferred modes of expression. The online assessment, which takes about thirty minutes to complete, results in a personalized profile that highlights individual student strengths and sets the stage for step two of the system. In the school setting, student profiles can be analyzed to form groups of students who share common interests. RLS also has a management tool that allows parents to access their own child’s profile from home.
Step 2: Enrichment Differentiation Databases
In step two the search engine matches student strengths and interests to a database of 15,000 enrichment activities, materials, resources, and opportunities for further study that are available online and are grouped into the following categories:
- Virtual field trips
- Real field trips
- Creative training
- Critical thinking
- Projects and independent study
- Contests and competitions
- Web sites that promote creativity, higher level thinking skills, and investigative activities
- Fiction and non-fiction books
- How-to books
- Summer programs
- On-line classes and activities
- Research skills
- Videos and DVDs
These resources are not intended to occupy students with surfing around the Web. Rather, they are a vehicle for helping students find and focus on a problem or creative exploration of personal interest that they would like to pursue in greater depth. One student, for example, used Renzulli Learning Web sites related to geometry, architecture, and engineering to build a bridge using toothpicks that supported a 50-pound weight. Another group of students used business-related Web sites and several how-to books to start their own school store.
Many of the resources provide the methods of inquiry, advanced-level thinking, creative problem solving skills, and investigative approaches that are appropriate for gifted learners. Students are guided to develop original research studies, creative projects, and action-oriented undertakings that put their knowledge to work in personally meaningful areas of interest. The resources also provide students with suggestions for outlets and audiences for their creative products.
Step 3: The Wizard Project Maker
A special feature of the RLS is a project organization and management plan for students called The Wizard Project Maker. This feature allows students to use their Web-based explorations for original research, investigative projects, and the development of a wide variety of creative undertakings. The software locates potentially relevant Web-based resources that can be used in connection with the student’s investigative activity. The Project Maker also provides students with the metacognitive skills to
- define a project and set a goal;
- evaluate references, such as Internet sites, books, etc.;
- identify resources needed, such as time and teacher or mentor assistance;
- prioritize and refine goals;
- balance the resources needed to meet multiple goals;
- learn from past actions, project future outcomes; and
- monitor progress and make adjustments as a project unfolds.
Step 4: The Total Talent Portfolio
The final step is an automatic compilation and storage of all student activity from steps one, two, and three into an ongoing student record called the Total Talent Portfolio. This management tool allows students to evaluate each site visited and resource used; then students can complete a self-assessment of what they derived from the resource. If they choose, students can store favorite activities and resources in their portfolio allowing them to easily return and access ongoing work.
The Total Talent Portfolio can serve as a log of previous activities and creative accomplishments, an ongoing record that can help students, teachers, guidance counselors, and parents make decisions about future educational and vocational plans.
The conditions of learning are dramatically different for young people going to school today. There was a time when teachers and textbooks were the gatekeepers of knowledge, but today much of the world’s knowledge is accessible to any student who can turn on a computer and log into the Internet.
The Renzulli Learning System is designed to increase achievement and enjoyment of learning by making available an easy-to-use, research-based system that promotes student engagement. An engagement where students display infectious enthusiasm when working on projects of personal interest and are challenged to “stretch” and use materials and resources that are above their current comfort level of learning. Research on the role of student engagement is clear and unequivocal—high engagement results in higher achievement, improved self-concept and self-efficacy, and more favorable attitudes toward school and learning.
— Joseph S. Renzulli, PhD
Joseph Renzulli is a Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor at the University of Connecticut where he also serves as director of the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented.