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Cluster Grouping of Gifted Students: How To Provide Full-Time Services on a Part-Time Budget (page 3)

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

Since gifted students are as far removed from the "norm" as are students with significant learning difficulties, it is necessary for teachers to have special training in how to teach children of exceptionally high ability. Cluster teachers should know how to: * recognize and nurture behaviors usually demonstrated by gifted students; 

  • create a learning environment in which all students will be stretched to learn; 
  • allow students to demonstrate and get credit for previous mastery of concepts; 
  • provide opportunities for faster pacing of new material; 
  • incorporate students' passionate interests into their independent studies; 
  • facilitate sophisticated research investigations; 
  • provide flexible grouping opportunities for the entire class. 
Should the Cluster Grouping Model Replace Out-of-Class Enrichment Programs for Gifted Students?

No. Cluster grouping provides an effective complement to any gifted education program. Gifted students need time to be together when they can just "be themselves." The resource teacher might also provide assistance to all classroom teachers in their attempts to differentiate the curriculum for students who need it. As a matter of fact, this resource person is being called a "Schoolwide Enrichment Specialist" in many schools instead of a "Gifted Program Coordinator" in recognition of the fact that so many students can benefit from "enriching" learning opportunities. 

Is Clustering Feasible Only in Elementary School?

No. Cluster grouping may be used at all grade levels and in all subject areas. Gifted students may be clustered in one section of any heterogeneous class, especially when there are not enough students to form an advanced section for a particular subject. Cluster grouping is also a welcome option in rural settings, or wherever small numbers of gifted students make appropriate accommodations difficult. Keep in mind, however, if your school has enough gifted students for separate sections in which curriculum is accelerated, such sections should be maintained. Many middle schools have quietly returned to the practice of offering such sections. 

How are Records Kept of the Progress Made by Students in Cluster Groups?

Differentiated Educational Plans (DEPs) should be maintained for gifted students and filed with their other ongoing records. In some schools, teachers develop a DEP for the cluster group, rather than for individual students. These plans briefly describe the modifications that are planned for the group and should be shared with parents regularly. 

What are the Advantages of Cluster Grouping?

Gifted students feel more comfortable when there are other students just like them in the class. They are more likely to choose more challenging tasks when other students will also be eligible. Teachers no longer have to deal with the strain of trying to meet the needs of just one precocious student in a class. Teachers are also much more likely to provide appropriate learning opportunities if more than one student will benefit. The school is able to provide a full-time, cost-effective program for gifted students, since their learning needs are being met every day. 

What are the Disadvantages of Cluster Grouping?

There may be pressure from parents to have their children placed in a cluster classroom, even if they are not in the actual cluster group. Gifted students may move into the district during the school year and may not be able to be placed in the cluster classroom. These situations may be handled by: 

  • providing training for all staff in compacting and differentiation so parents can expect those opportunities in all classes 
  • requiring parents to provide written documentation of their child's need for curriculum differentiation instead of requesting the placement by phone 
  • rotating the cluster teacher assignment every 2 years among teachers who have had appropriate training so parents understand that many teachers are capable of teaching gifted students 
  • rotating other students into cluster classrooms over several years 
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