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How Does Gifted Education Help Everyone?

July 2, 2011

It would be a loss for all kids if we made schools one track and all kids did the same things at the same time. – J. O’Neill

Genuinely excellent education is not restricted to bringing individuals up to a preconceived standard of performance, to “norms”; rather it seeks to encourage each individual to develop standards for himself, to give him a clear perception of all that he might become as well as the opportunity to realize his personal vision. – Talent Development: An Investment in the Nation’s Future

Many times people question why programs should be set up that appear to only help a few children.  Shouldn’t educational spending aid all children?  The good news about gifted programs is that they do benefit all students through increasing differentiation, providing new teaching techniques, allowing more students to shine, and allowing teachers to focus more time on each ability group.

Different Students Require Different Resources

When preparing a football team, a coach doesn’t provide the same training for each.  Some athletes require more strength conditioning, some are helped with speed and agility, and others with accuracy.  And, of course, not all athletes have the same ability, so a coach may help one increase his lifting ability from 150 lbs to 175 lbs and another from 250 lbs to 275 lbs.   Both increased 25 lbs, but they started at different strengths.  The resources are the same amount, but used differently.  Asking the athlete who can already lift 250 lbs to work towards lifting only 175 lbs would be a step backwards for him.

With students, it is the same.  Students require help in different areas and start at different academic levels.  Some need help with math and others with reading.  Some start out at grade level, some above, and others below.  Just like the athletes, they need individualized resources and instruction.  A teacher that has been trained in providing education for outlying gifted students and is committed to making sure their needs are met will also be better at distinguishing the strengths and weaknesses of the typical student and making sure their needs are met.

Modeling After Gifted Education

Many of the advances in education used in today’s classrooms started off as techniques to help gifted students.  In Susan Winebrenner’s Teaching Gifted Kids in the Regular Classroom, she cites project work, providing meaningful choices for students, self-directed learning, literature-based reading, and problem-based curriculum as all being initiated in the gifted classroom and becoming techniques used with all students because of their effectiveness.1

One important step in gifted education is identifying gifted students.  In many states, all students are tested for giftedness.  Academic strengths can often go unrecognized due to learning disabilities, shyness, or behavioral issues.  By testing for giftedness, the school may discover areas students excel in that would otherwise have gone unseen.

Gifted Education Helps Typical Students Too

In one study of cluster grouping, placing all high-achieving students in one classroom per grade led to more students in all classrooms being high achieving and fewer being low achieving.  “Placing the highest achievers together in one classroom restricted the range of achievement levels that each teacher had to teach and provided the opportunity for other students to grow and achieve at higher levels than they might have in a completely heterogeneous classroom.”2 Testing indicated that students at the school had significant growth in achievement and outperformed a nearby comparison school that did not practice cluster grouping.3

By placing all the high achieving students in one classroom, teachers also found that this created confidence and opportunity for children in the other classrooms.  One teacher stated “I also see some of my kids who were never the high kids before, they are identified as high average – they got to shine.  They never had that when you had the 3 or 4 that always knew the answer in the cluster group.  By removing the really top kids – it let the other ones rise and gave them self-confidence.”  Another teacher remarked “I think the low kids have more of an opportunity to get strategies and to build their confidence.  So, their [achievement] levels go up because they don’t see as much as of a discrepancy between themselves and others as they have before.”4

Gifted Education Helps Meet Individual Needs

Gifted education strategies often allow teachers to focus more time on groups of children.  In cluster grouping cited above, classrooms are arranged so that each teacher has a narrower range of students to instruct.  Sixty-four percent of teachers in the study indicated that the restricted range of achievement levels created by cluster grouping placements made meeting individual students’ needs easier for them.

One teacher wrote “That’s one thing teaching for the first 10 years, I always felt guilty, like I always felt I wasn’t giving enough time to the low kids and I also felt like I wasn’t challenging the high kids enough.  Because I think the gap is narrower so I can zero in on their needs.  I can spend more time with the low kids.”  Another stated “I always thought when I had the normal classroom, very low to the very high, to really meet all the needs I was really juggling.  I felt I did a decent job with all the children, but didn’t feel like I was doing an excellent job with any of them.  But lowering that spectrum convinced me.  I find that I really think I’m doing a much better job with the children.”5

The Results

Cluster grouping is only one technique for gifted education, but the results of this study show how vital gifted education can be to the entire scholastic community.  The school used in the cluster grouping trial was paired with another nearby school that did not practice cluster grouping.  The students at each school were given a battery of tests in third, fourth, and fifth grades.   When the study began, the third grade students from the trial school had lower test scores than the comparison school.  Over the next two years, scores at the trial school where cluster grouping was used increased whereas scores from the comparison school decreased.  At the conclusion of the study, the scores from the trial school were higher than the comparison school.  The study’s authors found a large and significant improvement due to cluster grouping.

There was another effect discovered in this study.  As many of the above average students gained confidence from now being the advanced children in the class and as teachers were able to spend more time with specific groups of children, students began increasing in their academic levels.  Out of 97 students tracked in the study for the Class of 2000, 47 increased their academic levels!  Of the group, 28 students began as low or low average and at the end, only 16 qualified in those levels.  The high achieving group grew from 10 students to 23 students.  This demonstrated that cluster grouping had a significant impact on all students, not just the gifted ones.


It is often easy to look at high achieving or gifted students and ask why techniques that benefit them should be used in education.  We need to understand that these techniques benefit all students, whether it is through development of new teaching methods, more time for all students that need help, or enabling the average student to feel confident in the classroom.  Gifted education helps everyone!

1. Susan Winebrenner, Teaching Gifted Kids in the Regular Classroom, p. 4

2. Marcia Lynne Gentry, Promoting Student Achievement and Exemplary Classroom Practices Through Cluster Grouping: A Research-Based Alternative to Heterogeneous Elementary Classrooms, 1999. p. vii

3. Ibid, p. vii

4. Ibid, p. 34

5. Ibid, p. 35

Thank you for reading Rochester SAGE! Together we can make a difference for gifted students!

The Importance of Gifted Education Series
I. Why I Am Passionate About Gifted Education
II. Why Is Gifted Education Necessary?
III.  Is Gifted Education Equal Education?
IV. Is Gifted Education Expensive?

V. How Does Gifted Education Help Everyone?

VI. What Are Characteristics of a Gifted Child?

VII. Why Grades Don’t Matter to Me
VIII. The Procrustean Bed of Education
IX. The Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations
X. I Want My Kids to Fail

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