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Cluster Grouping of Gifted Students: How To Provide Full-Time Services on a Part-Time Budget (page 2)

By — Educational Resource Information Center (U.S. Department of Education)
Updated on Feb 29, 2008

When gifted students are placed in mixed-ability groups for cooperative learning, they frequently become tutors. Other students in these groups may rely on the gifted to do most of the work and may actually learn less than when the gifted students are not in their groups. Research indicates that a particular structure of cluster grouping raises everyone's achievement level (Gentry, 1999). When class placements are made, students should be sorted into 5 groups: I, II, III, IV, V. One class, taught by a teacher with some gifted education training, should be assigned the cluster group of gifted students (group I) and some students from groups II to IV. All other classes should include a range of students from groups II through V. This method creates a more narrow range of student achievement levels, allowing the teacher to focus instructional activities. It is important to place some group II students in each non-cluster class, even if it means placing no group II students in the gifted cluster class. 

Won't the Creation of a Cluster Group Rob the Other Classes of Academic Leadership?

Research on role modeling (Schunk, 1987) indicates that to be effective, role models cannot be drastically discrepant in ability from those who would be motivated by them. When gifted students are grouped in their own cluster, they have the benefit of working with one another and new leadership emerges in the other non-cluster classes. As classes are formed, be sure the classes without clusters of gifted students include several highly capable students. Teachers and administrators can expect measurable achievement gains across all classes. 

How Does the Cluster Grouping Concept Fit in With the Inclusion Models That Integrate Students With Exceptional Needs Into Regular Classes?

The inclusion model, in which students with exceptional learning needs are integrated into regular classrooms, is compatible with the concept of cluster grouping of gifted students, since both groups have exceptional educational needs. The practice of cluster grouping allows educators to come much closer to providing better educational services for groups of students with similar exceptional learning needs. In non-cluster classrooms, teachers report they are able to pay more attention to the special learning needs of those for whom learning may be more difficult. Some schools choose to avoid placing students with significant learning difficulties in the same class that has the cluster group of gifted students. A particular class may have a cluster of gifted students and a cluster of special education students as long as more than one adult is sharing the teaching responsibilities. 

Won't the Presence of the Clustered Gifted Students Inhibit the Performance of the Other Students in That Class, Having a Negative Effect on Their Achievement?

When the cluster group is kept to a manageable size, many cluster teachers report that there is general improvement in achievement for the entire class. This suggests the exciting possibility that when teachers learn how to provide what gifted students need, they also learn to offer modified versions of the same opportunities to the entire class, thus raising the level of learning for all students, including those who are gifted. The positive effects of the cluster grouping practice may be shared with all students over several years by rotating the cluster teacher assignment among teachers who have had gifted education training and by rotating the other students so all students eventually have a chance to be in the same class with a cluster group. 

How Should Gifted Students be Identified for the Cluster Group?

Placement in cluster groups is gained by demonstrating that one needs a differentiated curriculum-not by proving one is "gifted." If there will be one cluster, its highly capable students should be those who have demonstrated that they will need curriculum that exceeds grade level parameters. Traditional measures, such as standardized tests, may also be used, but not as the sole criteria. If there will be more than one cluster, those highly capable in specific subjects might be grouped together in separate clusters. Profoundly gifted students should always be grouped together, since there will rarely be more than two such students in any grade level. Identification should be conducted each spring with the help of someone with training in gifted education. 

What Specific Skills are Needed by Cluster Teachers?
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