Sally M. Reis
University of Connecticut
During the 1994-95 school year, the University of Connecticut site of The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented (NRC/GT) conducted a study to examine the effects of implementing an innovation called enrichment clusters with all students. Enrichment clusters are a new component of the Schoolwide Enrichment Model (Renzulli, 1994; Renzulli & Reis, 1985) that will be explained briefly later in the article. Major findings of this research are highlighted in this article and those readers interested in the complete results should refer to the technical report entitled Extending the Pedagogy of Gifted Education to All Students (Reis, Gentry, & Park, 1995). Additionally, for readers interested in implementing an enrichment cluster program in their school, a video training tape and manual have been produced as a result of this study. The videotape is entitled Enrichment Clusters: Using High-End Learning to Develop Talent in all Students (Gentry, Reis, Renzulli, Moran, & Warren, 1995) and will be available in April from the NRC/GT.
Enrichment clusters are designed to provide enrichment to all students during a specified time of the school week. The federal report National Excellence: A Case for Developing America’s Talent (U. S. Department of Education, 1993) encouraged the use of gifted education strategies in general education and emphasized the role gifted education programs have had on general education:
Enrichment clusters meet these challenges as they are designed to offer all students an opportunity for challenging, self-selected, real-world learning experiences. Renzulli (1993) indicated that two reasons explain why practices that have been a mainstay of gifted programs are being absorbed into general education to upgrade the performance of all students. The first reason concerns the limited success of remedial-oriented compensatory education programs and practices, and the second reason is the success of practices developed in gifted programs and the need for these practices to be included in the regular curriculum. “All students should have the opportunities to develop higher order thinking skills and to pursue more rigorous content and first-hand investigative activities” (Renzulli, 1993, p. 2). The application of gifted program know-how into general education is supported by a wide variety of research on human abilities (Bloom, 1985; Gardner, 1983; Renzulli, 1986; Sternberg, 1984). This research provides a clear justification for much broader conceptions of talent development, and argues against the restrictive student selection practices that guided identification procedures in the past. This study was designed to add to the limited research base currently available which assesses the benefits of the extension of gifted education pedagogy to the entire school population.
The enrichment clusters, one component of the Schoolwide Enrichment Model (Renzulli, 1977, 1994; Renzulli & Reis, 1985), are non-graded groups of students that share common interests and come together during specially designed time blocks during school to pursue these interests (Renzulli, 1994). “Like extra-curricular activities and programs such as 4-H and Junior Achievement, the main rationale for participation in one or more clusters is that students and teachers want to be there” (p. 64). Clusters involve all teachers and students as well as parents and community members. The model for learning used with enrichment clusters is based on an inductive approach to solving real-world problems through the development of authentic products and services. Unlike traditional, didactic modes of teaching, this approach, known as enrichment learning and teaching (Renzulli, 1994), creates a learning situation that develops higher order thinking skills and authentically applies these skills to creative and productive situations. Enrichment clusters are excellent vehicles for promoting cooperativeness within the context of real-world problem solving, and they also provide superlative opportunities for promoting self-concept. “A major assumption underlying the use of enrichment clusters is that every child is special if we create conditions in which that child can be a specialist within a specialty group” (Renzulli, 1994, p. 70).
Clusters are offered within the school day at a time that has been decided upon by teachers and staff. In some schools, cluster time is a two hour block in the morning or afternoon one day each week. A brochure is sent home describing the clusters, and all students sign-up for clusters that are based on their interests. The title and description that appeared in a brochure about clusters, and a brief commentary about the cluster written by one of the facilitators is included below to provide further elaboration of enrichment clusters:
Facilitated by Robert Erikson, Physicist and Supervisor of Teaching Labs, University of Connecticut; Max Nam, Physics student at the University of Connecticut; and Sandra Rijs, Third Grade Teacher
Are you an inventive thinker? Would you like to be? Brainstorm a problem, try to identify many solutions, and design an invention to solve the problem, as an inventor might give birth to a real invention. Create your invention individually or with a partner under the guidance of Bob Erikson and his students, who work at the Connecticut Science Fair. You may share your final product at the Young Inventors’ Fair on March 25th, a statewide day-long celebration of creativity.
Robert Erikson’s commentary:
In the Invention Convention Cluster, we worked with young people and tried to get them to come up with an idea, express that idea verbally, then be able to put it down on paper and come up with some kind of design. Once they came up with some dimensions and materials they needed, they could begin working to put together a project. In working on a project they had the opportunity to see what might go wrong, what might go right, and they had a chance to work with tools for the first time, and do things they hadn’t done before. Each student selected his/her own project. If they weren’t quite sure what they were talking about, we would prod them until they had a direction . . . but it was all on their own.
There were two types of products I saw from this cluster-one was the finished product, the physical product they could grab hold of and work with and use. The other was the student’s understanding what it means to take an idea and go all the way to the end, and his/her realization that it takes more than one try to finish. Students understood how to ask the question, “What do I do next? What if I did this?” The most enjoyable part of working with the cluster was watching the students as they began to dig in, pull out from inside, work towards a project, and see success with that project. Clusters are a superb idea.
Enrichment clusters are not intended to be the total program for talent development in a school, or to replace existing programs for talented youth, but they are one vehicle for stimulating the interests and developing talent potentials of the entire school population. They are also vehicles for professional development as they provide teachers with an opportunity to participate in enrichment teaching, and subsequently to analyze and compare this type of teaching with traditional methods of instruction. In this regard, it is hoped that clusters will promote a spill-over effect by encouraging teachers to become better talent scouts and talent developers, and to apply enrichment techniques to regular classroom situations.
The major goal of this study was to investigate the effects of the use of enrichment program strategies on the entire population of the school, including students, teachers, staff, and parents. A quasi-experimental design was used in this study with a combination of quantitative and qualitative methodologies. Quantitative methods included descriptive and inferential statistical procedures such as frequency, factor analysis, and multivariate analysis of variance and covariance with repeated measures. Qualitative procedures included: observations, interviews, and questionnaire data gathered through the use of participant observation (Spradley, 1980). Field notes, transcriptions of the interviews, document review, and all other collected data were coded and analyzed for patterns and themes. The coding process combined techniques described by Spradley (1979; 1980) and by Strauss and Corbin (1990).
A research team was used to facilitate and conduct the study consisting of a principal investigator, an on-site research associate, a research analyst, and two on-site research liaisons who implemented and collected the data. Teachers in both treatment schools received training in how to implement enrichment clusters, and each teacher and parent in the school received an invitation to organize a cluster. The enrichment clusters met for 10 weeks in one school and for 12 weeks in the other school. Clusters were facilitated by teachers, parents, students, and community volunteers during one hour sessions that were scheduled weekly.
Two urban school districts agreed to participate in this study. Both were culturally diverse and contained a high concentration of economically disadvantaged students. One district had a minority population of 42.9%, and the other district’s minority population of 35% consisted primarily of Hispanic students, many of whom had limited English proficiency. Two elementary schools were designated as treatment schools that would implement the clusters, while a third elementary school that was similar to the treatment schools in terms of size and ethnicity was assigned to serve as a comparison site.
The research questions that guided the implementation of enrichment clusters and the collection and analysis of data for the study were as follows:
- What are the effects of the implementation of enrichment clusters on students’ interests, attitudes about school, and product development?
- What are the effects of the implementation of enrichment clusters on parental attitudes about school satisfaction?
- How do teachers in the groups differ with respect to their attitudes about the use of enrichment activities for students?
- Do teachers in the experimental sites use strategies learned in organizing enrichment clusters in their regular classroom teaching?
- In what way is advanced content used in enrichment clusters?
- How many students complete products in the enrichment clusters and what is the achievement level of students completing products?
- Does the quality of student products differ among students of various levels of achievement?
Following is a partial summary of the results found in this research study. The data analyses were conducted on categories of program success, student interests, student attitudes, student products, parental attitudes, and teacher practices.
- It was possible to successfully implement enrichment clusters in low socioeconomic, culturally diverse urban schools in which these clusters can be adapted and tailored to fit individual school schedules and needs.
- Both schools that participated in the study continued the program during the next school year.
- Cross age grouping by interest was successful in enrichment clusters.
- Community members were actively involved on a regular basis in schools through enrichment clusters.
- Total schoolwide enrichment could be provided and gifted education pedagogy was successfully extended to students of all achievement levels using enrichment clusters.
- Attendance was higher on enrichment cluster days than on non enrichment cluster days.
- Approximately 90% of the students completed projects in clusters, and there were no differences in the number of projects produced when examined by achievement, gender, special program placement, or ethnicity.
- The quality of products was examined and no differences were found among various achievement levels of students. This suggests that it is not the academic achievement level of the student that is important in product development, but rather the level of interest and commitment toward the self-selected project in the enrichment cluster. When students of common interest work together toward development of a product, achievement does not appear to predict the level of the process of product development or the overall quality of the resulting products.
- In both treatment schools, parents’ perceptions about enrichment and their satisfaction with enrichment improved after the implementation of the enrichment clusters.
- Teachers who facilitated or assisted with clusters began to use strategies from enrichment clusters in their regular classrooms. These strategies included using both content and methods. Content included such areas as the development of centers related to cluster content, the integration of cluster content into the classroom curriculum and lessons, and the use of ideas and community resources gained from the clusters within the classroom.
- Teaching methods were another area that was influenced by the enrichment clusters. Teachers reported several categories of methodological influences including: considering student interests, using hands-on activities, allowing for student direction and choices, using interest groups within the classroom, encouraging student products and independent work, and concentrating on thinking skills.
- Approximately 60% of the teachers said that clusters influenced what they now do in their classrooms.
- Teachers used advanced content and methodologies in the enrichment clusters and provided challenges and choices to the students. The types of advanced content and the frequency of use are depicted in Table 1.
- Over 50% of the teachers that facilitated clusters in their schools indicated that they transferred the strategies that they had learned and used in their enrichment clusters into their classrooms, although this had not been requested of these teachers as a part of their participation in the study.
Advanced Content and Methodologies by Frequency and Percentage of Use
Note: Numbers in parentheses are percentages
This research study indicated that one type of pedagogy often used in gifted education programs can be extended to students who are not usually included in special programs for talented students. The students who benefited from this research study were from urban areas. Many were poor, had limited English proficiency, and had been repeatedly involved in remedial education programs. In one school, over 80 students were involved in special education programs and were bussed to this school because of its physical accommodations for students with disabilities. During the cluster program in this specially designated time in school, everything changed. Students left their classrooms and in a minute or two sped joyfully down the hallways to another room and another adult. Their evaluations of the program were extremely positive and indicated that enrichment clusters fostered excitement about learning and demonstrated the benefits of schoolwide enrichment for all students.
Most teachers genuinely seemed to enjoy facilitating the clusters and they did not regard it as just another preparation. Interviews indicated that the teachers looked forward to having an opportunity to share their interests with students who have similar interests and learning styles. Additionally, the implementation of the cluster program also resulted in the recruitment of many parents and community members into the school in roles that many of them had not previously pursued. This role allowed parents to share talents, areas of expertise, hobbies, and special abilities, and many of them were delighted to be able to be more involved in the school and have their children’s teachers know them in a different way. The same was true for many community members who facilitated clusters. The implementation of enrichment clusters may then provide a triple opportunity: enrichment learning opportunities for all children, professional growth opportunities for teachers in differentiation strategies and in enrichment learning and teaching, and opportunities for parents and community members for more involvement in the school.