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Steve Haberlin's picture
Steve Haberlin is a Ph.D candidate at the University of South Florida, where he also works as a teaching assistant, supervising and teaching pre-service teachers. Steve holds a master's degree...
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Enrichment Clusters in the Classroom

“I never teach my pupils. I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.”   --Albert Einstein

As a former journalist, I can tell you that the newsroom is an interesting place. There is the sound of writers tapping the keyboards. The police scanner crackles in the background, a mix between muffled chatter and occasional static. Reporters and editors stand around, gossiping as Fox News or CNN (depending on what newspaper you work for) plays on televisions mounted around the room. The newsroom is divided into departments, which reflect the various roles played out each day. Editors occupy offices and meet to discuss placement of articles for the next day’s edition. Reporters work closely together in cubicles. Photographers and graphic editors work behind the scenes, where dark rooms where once needed. Finally, copy editors, who work well into the night, congregate together as they review articles for accuracy and assign headlines.

Now, what if the newsroom operated they way schools teach kids? On a particular day, everyone would have to assume the role of the reporter, gathering information and writing articles. The next day, the newspaper might be riddled with spelling and factual errors; it would be missing headlines, which serve to attract reader’s attention and help organize the articles. Without the experience of editors (usually former reporters), some articles might be wildly exaggerated or completely irresponsible. On another day, everyone has to work as a copy editor, which means the newspaper would have headlines and subtitles, but it would be missing content. Readers would be completely baffled since there were no articles under the headlines. Finally, imagine (if you dare), that the newsroom only operated using editors. The next day’s paper would be a blank white slate since it would be missing articles, headlines, and photos.

The point is that, in the real world, you need all these people. You need a mix of professionals, working together, bringing their various talents together to produce a product or service. If you’re familiar with the term Enrichment Cluster, coined by Dr. Joseph Renzulli, then this example serves as a perfect example. An enrichment cluster involves students of various ages and talents working together to produce a product or service for an authentic audience. The enrichment cluster--part of Renzulli’s overall Schoolwide Enrichment Model--provides a vehicle for children to develop their talents while collaborating in area of interest. A cluster is true differentiation, where students are not all working on the same thing at the same time but rather working and learning in different areas based on the needs of the product and their particular areas of strengths.

During a cluster, students engage in authentic learning, acting as practicing professionals would in a particular field. There is no prescribed curriculum—rather the cluster participants, headed by a facilitator, are guided by some of the following questions:

1. What do people who are interested in this area do?

2. What products do they create and/or what services do they provide?

3. How, and with whom, do they communicate the results of their work?

4. What resources and materials are needed to produce high quality products and services?

5. What steps need to be taken to have an impact on intended audiences?

Enrichment clusters can be implemented at a school-wide level, where all students can benefit. See this article: (http://www.ut.edu/Early-Morning-Enrichment-Enhances-Learning.aspx ). However, for purposes of this article, the focus is on implementing clusters within an existing classroom. The concerns that teachers will have generally fall between these lines: where do you find the time? What about teaching the required curriculum and addressing standards? Where do you get the resources?

Let’s start with scheduling. Clusters can occur during a scheduled enrichment block, one hour per week. They can occur during a particular subject time. If that’s not possible, clusters can happen during lunchtime or before or after school. As the example below will demonstrate, the clusters will specifically address standards and content in subjects areas that teachers want to further focus upon. The model will provide students with more choice and opportunities to delve deeper into topics of interest. Teacher can list all the standards that must be covered during a content area then assign them to be taught during particular clusters where they naturally fit. Finally, the resources required will depend on the cluster and product being developed, but generally, these materials are low cost or can be obtained through asking parents or the community for help. In addition, this classroom cluster model may work best when teachers work within teams. For instance, four teachers on the same grade-level team could offer three or four clusters during the same block of time, allowing students to join a cluster of interest.

Let’s look at an example: A team of teachers decide that every Friday between 1 and 2 p.m., they are going to offer a cluster program. Students complete an interest survey by circling their top three choices from the following menu:

The Great Genetics Lab: Do you want to know what makes you? Do you love to investigate and discover? Then join the Genetics Lab and learn how geneticists work with cells.

The Fantastic Forensic Team: Do you watch crime scene investigation shows on T.V.? Do you want to know how scientists use DNA to solve mysteries? Then, join the Forensic Team!

The Amazing Biologists Club: How do biologists study cells? What are the different types of cells? Look through the eyes of a biologist and study them by joining the Biologist Club!

Based on the student interest surveys, the teachers would then decide which cluster they want to facilitate and perhaps could recruit experts from the community or from the ranks of parents to assist. Maybe a parent, who works as a scientist at the nearby university, could occasionally attend the clusters, providing expert insight and guidance. Teachers can also list the Common Core standards that they want to address during science instruction and schedule them to be taught during one of the three clusters. Facilitators would be responsible for making sure those standards are covered through mini-lessons and activities embedded in the cluster. Finally, teachers could ask for help from parents and the community regarding resources. For instance, a “cluster box” of materials could be assembled for each cluster, containing books, supplies, equipment, and other necessary items.

Students would attend their cluster on a weekly basis, acting as professionals engaged in authentic learning. Within the clusters, a division of labor would occur. For example, within the CSI cluster, students could serve as lead investigators, photographers, lab technicians, and other roles. Students would decide upon the final product or service. In the case of the CSI cluster, students might produce a video that explains the process used by a CSI team or publish a “CSI for Kids” children’s book. They would also work with an audience in mind since the product would be eventually presented to a particular group.

The division of labor created naturally through the Enrichment Cluster Model provides several advantages for creating an optimal learning environment. First, students engage in their area of strength, which provides them opportunities to grow in this area and explore and develop their natural abilities and gifts. Second, these strength-based opportunities contribute to what author Malcolm Gladwell refers to as the 10,000-hour rule, which states that top performers in the field must spend a minimum of 10,000 hours honing their talents before reaching the top of their game.

With creativity, flexibility and persistence, teachers can use the Enrichment Cluster Model to further engage students and challenge them at all levels. At that point, the classroom will begin to reflect the workplace and authentic learning will take root!