The second in a four-part series on successful cluster grouping. Click here for part 1.
A vast majority of our schools now use cluster grouping as their primary method for serving gifted students. Inarguably, grouping gifted students together for instructional purposes benefits these students. In this blog series, I describe four main components critical for success in a cluster grouping model: implementing, supporting, teaching, and evaluating progress. The practical tips provided throughout this series will help teachers, coordinators, and principals plan efficiently and effectively in a gifted cluster grouping model. Today’s post focuses on how administrators can support cluster grouping.
Principals who are implementing or supporting cluster grouping often begin with trepidation stemming from unknown expectations from both teachers and parents. Preparing in advance for parents’ and teachers’ questions allows for a smoother transition into cluster grouping. Principals may have questions such as:
- What does effective staff development for a gifted cluster grouping model look like? Who provides it?
- Will this professional learning benefit all teachers and all students, including those working below proficiency levels?
- What professional learning opportunities are essential for teachers in this model?
- As a principal, how do I best support my gifted-cluster teachers?
- What methods of parent communication work best?
Identifying high-ability and high-potential students in all populations is a priority in the cluster grouping model. To build a sustainable model, it is critical that we determine learning needs based on students’ potential. This helps ensure you are making good placement decisions, including for gifted-identified students who are not achieving highly or others with dual exceptionalities. Enfranchising students of high ability who may have been excluded from other gifted programs helps make the model acceptable to teachers who do not have the cluster class.
Ideally, you have a designated “go-to” person for gifted services at your school. This person could be a lead gifted-cluster teacher, a gifted specialist, or a gifted coordinator. This gifted lead teacher (to use a generic name) could be instrumental in coordinating support for your cluster teachers and in acting as a liaison with the district-level administrator who oversees gifted services.
Suggested support can include arranging for gifted-cluster teacher meetings, guided lesson-planning time, a shared resource bank, access to accelerated curricula, and information sharing with staff and parents.
1. Hold Gifted-Cluster Teacher Meetings
Holding monthly gifted-cluster teacher meetings helps build cluster teacher support. At these meetings, cluster teachers discuss differentiated instructional strategies; methods for providing rigor, depth, and complexity to lessons; ways to troubleshoot difficult situations; and parent communication. They also include debriefing on chapters from their book studies.
Suggested meeting agenda for gifted-cluster teachers include:
- Discussion of specific strategies from a book study
- Review of strategies previously discussed and applied
- Introduction of new compacting and differentiation strategies
- Sharing of resources: lessons, materials, websites, learning contracts, extension menus, and so on
- Discussion of issues regarding nomination and testing of new students for gifted clusters
- Problem-solving regarding specific students, classroom issues, or site concerns
- Parent communication tips
- Input on the makeup of new gifted-cluster classes for the following school year
2. Provide Guided Lesson-Planning Time
Gifted students learn differently. High-ability students need challenge that extends beyond the grade-level curriculum. Identifying ways to enhance and extend the curriculum to ignite gifted students’ learning potential is an ongoing process. Gifted-cluster teachers appreciate and benefit from time to plan extension lessons together, share lesson ideas, and learn from one another.
3. Build a Shared Resource Bank
Guided lesson-planning time provides the opportunity for the cluster teachers to build a shared resource bank at the school level. Differentiated lessons can be saved in a shared online space, such as Google Classroom, where cluster teachers can access and then modify others’ lessons. This greatly assists in lesson planning and allows teachers to view others’ distinctive approaches to differentiated instruction for gifted learners.
4. Have Access to Accelerated Curriculum in Core Content
This can be extremely helpful for when students demonstrate mastery through pretesting activities. Gifted students learn more quickly than others, have ability to retain information easily, and are typically eager to learn new content. These learning attributes may require out-of-level content at times.
5. Share Information Widely
Some teachers or parents at your school may wonder why you need to cluster group gifted students. They may question whether this is “fair” to all students. Share information about the learning needs of gifted students and how the model is designed to carefully balance classrooms.
With staff, emphasize that the school will examine grade-level achievement data—not teacher-by-teacher data—to help build a team approach. (You’ll read more about this in the fourth post in this series.)
Next in the series, we will describe methods, strategies, and techniques for effective teaching in the cluster grouping model.
Dina Brulles, Ph.D., is a school administrator and the gifted-education director for Arizona’s Paradise Valley Unified School District. Recognized for her expertise in creating and supervising schoolwide cluster grouping, she also assists districts throughout the United States in developing gifted-education programs, including those districts serving culturally and linguistically diverse gifted students. She holds a Ph.D. in gifted education and an M.S. in curriculum and instruction and serves on the faculty of the Graduate College of Education at Arizona State University. Prior to becoming an administrator, Dina was an elementary classroom teacher, a bilingual teacher, an ESL teacher, and a gifted-cluster teacher. She lives in Peoria, Arizona.
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