Friday, July 11, 2014

Clusters vs. Pull-out

The best approaches to gifted education are self-contained classes and acceleration. But given that neither approach seems to win popularity contests with education authorities, what other approaches might work?

In the Humboldt Unified School District (in Arizona) elementary schools had been using a pull-out approach. This usually means that kids identified as gifted are pulled out of their classrooms once or twice a week for a short period of time for accelerated or enriched material. According to a recent article in the Prescott Valley Tribune, Lake Valley Elementary School will be moving to a cluster model. The students identified as gifted in a particular grade will be placed together -- or "clustered" -- in a classroom (with other kids).

Is this a better approach? It's not perfect. You could "cluster" 2-3 grades worth of gifted kids in their own self-contained classroom and do better by these children. Even in a class with a cluster, such kids won't be the norm, and classes are almost always taught to the middle. So the kids will be bored.

But clustering has its benefits. For starters, kids like to learn in an environment with their intellectual peers. Having at least a few other kids in your classroom with similar readiness levels can make more engaging interactions possible.

Second, a cluster allows for more ability grouping as these kids can be easily grouped together for math or reading instruction, or for projects. If kids have to switch classrooms, that's one more barrier to ability grouping happening.

Many teachers find it tough to find time to differentiate for advanced students. Having 6-8 such children in your classroom might make you more likely to find time, vs. viewing it as something that's nice to do, but not a top priority.

In addition, since only one teacher will have the cluster at a grade level, schools can concentrate training on that one teacher. Since funds are always low for such things, it's better not to need to spread it around.

Does your school district use clusters? Does it work, or at least does it work better than other approaches?

4 comments:

Jen said...

Hi Laura,

Our school district does use a cluster plus pull-out approach. Our elementary schools are set up for K-2 and 3-5, and the GT programs kick in at the 3-5 building. At each grade level, there are 3-4 clusters of 3-4 students each. Our experience hasn't been positive, as the teacher didn't differentiate for these students, but rather spread them throughout the classroom to aid others and separate troublemakers. Not helpful.

Jen

Anonymous said...

"The best approaches to gifted education are self-contained classes and acceleration. But given that neither approach seems to win popularity contests with education authorities, what other approaches might work?"

Homeschooling. Really, I don't know how anyone can be satisfied with being tossed a few scraps like "Clusters" or "Pull-outs". They are woefully inadequate. If "education authorities" don't like self-contained classes and acceleration then they should step aside and let education be run by people who understand what it takes to truly educate.

Anonymous said...

Clustering has not worked very well in our experience because it still requires a teacher who is willing and able to differentiate in a classroom with many kids...and most teachers have not been able to do this well. Also, a cluster of 2-3 kids is not that useful as there isn't a large enough peer group.

Anonymous said...

We are fortunate because our son's second grade classroom is almost half gifted - 11 of 24. (The criteria for being identified as gifted is quite strict. We live in a school district where many parents are professors, doctors and others with high levels of education.)
The teacher is gifted endorsed and seems atttuned to the gifted kids, based on what I've seen while volunteering in the classroom.
That said, I do think acceleration would be a better approach, especially for highly gifted students. Our district begins accelerating students in 6th grade.