Archived Information

Tools for Schools - April 1998

Enrichment Clusters

What Are They?

Enrichment clusters are groups of students who share common interests, and who come together during specially designed time blocks to pursue these interests. The main rationale for participation in one or more clusters is that students and teachers want to be there. All teachers and teacher aides are involved in organizing the clusters, and numerous schools have also involved parents and other community members. Adult involvement in any particular cluster should be based on the same type of interest assessment that is used for students in selecting clusters of choice.

Everything that students do in the cluster is directed toward completing a product or delivering a service for a real-world audience. For example, a cluster might exist based on flight, as in the following cluster title and description:

Flight School: Designing and Building Your Own Aircraft
Basic principles of aerodynamics will be studied to learn what keeps airplanes in the air. You will design, build, and test fly your own model plane. There will be a contest to see whose plane flies the highest, farthest, and longest.

Why Did It Get Started?

The concept of enrichment learning and teaching evolved from the Enrichment Triad Model. In this model, there are three types of enrichment activities and there is an interaction among them: The Enrichment model is based on ways in which people learn in a natural environment. Creating a special "place" in the schedule enrichment clusters is the best way to guarantee that every student will have an opportunity to participate in enrichment experiences.

How Does It Work?

Clusters are offered for an extended time block, usually from one and one-half hours to one-half day per week. Students enter a cluster based on interests and other information gleaned from a Total Talent Portfolio. Some students who develop high levels of expertise in a particular area are sometimes asked to serve as an assistant or a facilitator of their own cluster (this is usually provided for younger students).

Enrichment clusters revolve around major disciplines, interdisciplinary themes, or cross-disciplinary topics. A theatrical/television production group, for example, might include actors, writers, technical specialists, and costume designers. Student work is directed toward producing a product or service and the clusters deal with how-to knowledge, thinking skills, and interpersonal relations that apply in the real world. Instead of lesson plans or unit plans, three key questions guide learning:

What do people with an interest in this area do?
What knowledge, materials, and other resources are needed for authentic activities in this area?
In what ways can the product or service be used to affect the intended audience?

What Are The Costs?

Costs are dictated by requisite materials of each cluster. Personnel costs are minimal, but after- school scheduling of clusters may affect this cost. Program costs have ranged from 50 cents to $5.00 per child per cluster session.

How Is The Model Implemented In A School?

Six steps should be considered when implementing enrichment clusters.

Assess the Interests of Students and Staff

Interests can be assessed formally or informally.

Create a Schedule

It is crucial that a specific time within the school day be identified for cluster activities. To be successful and valued, clusters should have a "place" within the school week, and not compete for time with pullout programs, specials, or teacher planning time

Locate People and Staff to Facilitate Clusters

Cluster facilitators come from a wide variety of sources. Teachers and staff are the most obvious choices, and they should be asked to think of any friends or family members whom they could recommend. Parents and community people like business owners, retirees, service club members, and faculty and staff at colleges and universities also are excellent resources.

Provide an Orientation for Cluster Facilitators

Orienting the facilitators is crucial so that the clusters do not become mini-courses or traditional teacher-directed experiences. A meeting of cluster facilitators should be arranged to discuss the goals, philosophy, and focus of the program.

Prepare Cluster Descriptions and Register Students

Provide each student with a description of all the clusters so that he/she may make a choice based on interest areas. Be sure that the facilitators have clearly marked the age range and maximum number of participants.

Celebrate Your Success

Recognizing student and facilitator efforts provides strong public relations for the school and brings attention to student products and services developed in the clusters. Products can be exhibited in display cases at the school and/or at a fair for school, family, and community members. Inviting the press in on cluster days will help generate community excitement and involvement.

What Is The Evidence That The Model Is Successful?

Research on Enrichment Clusters conducted in ethnically diverse, low-socioeconomic, urban schools indicate that gifted education pedagogy could be successfully used to challenge all students in these schools. Parents were extremely supportive about clusters, as were teachers and students. Attendance in school was better on days in which clusters were held, and enrichment cluster facilitators had more positive views of students' abilities than did classroom teachers. Students developed stronger interests as a result of participation in clusters, and no differences were found in the quality of products completed by students of different levels of achievement. Teachers who used advanced content and advanced methods in their clusters often began to use these strategies in their own classrooms.

Where Can I See It?

Contact The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented.

Whom Do I Contact?

The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented
362 Fairfield Road, U 7
University of Connecticut
Storrs, Connecticut 06269-2007
Telephone: 860-486-4676; Fax: 860-486-2900
E-mail:; Web site:

The Research Base

Several bodies of research have influenced the development of the Enrichment Clusters Model. First, the model is designed based on the research suggesting that instruction must take into account the varying abilities, background interests experiences and learning styles of each student. The Model enables each student to showcase his or her talents in a variety of ways. Secondly, research has found that learning is more meaningful when content and process are learned within the context of a real problem, when students use authentic methods to address the problem and when there is a tangible outcome. Finally, the model builds on research suggesting that all students, including low income students need to be provided with challenging and accelerated learning content. In Enrichment Clusters students work together and with teachers and others, on activities in which they have a strong interest, drawing on those skills and talents which can contribute to the success of the product or outcome.
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