Program Delivery Models for the Gifted

By the Duke University Talent Identification Program

Duke TIP: Which delivery models are most prevalent among gifted programs in the United States today?

Joyce VanTassel-Baska: The models have not changed much in the past 25 years. At the elementary level, the pull-out model, in which gifted students are assigned to a class with a special curricular focus outside the regular classroom for two to six hours per week, is still predominant. Full-time, self-contained programs for the gifted still remain an option as center-based, school-within-a-school programs, allowing for full-time, differentiated learning.

At the middle school and secondary levels, the predominant model is still the special class, usually in mathematics and English, that is targeted for gifted and above-average learners in those subject areas. Such options, called “honors” at the high school level, lead to Advanced Placement course options, the International Baccalaureate program, and/or dual enrollment in college courses.

A newer model at the elementary level is cluster grouping in the regular classroom. Several gifted students are placed with one teacher for instruction and receive a differentiated curriculum for much of the day. Another experimental approach is the “push-in” approach, in which gifted students remain in regular classrooms and are visited there by a resource consulting teacher, often a specialist in gifted education.

Sally Reis: Chart 1, summarizing research by the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented, shows the prevalence of delivery models at different grade levels.

Chart 1
ProgramElementary schoolMiddle schoolHigh school
resource room pull-outs48%32%17%
within regular classroom36%37%30%
separate classes7%20%28%
summer or Saturday program6%5%6%

Duke TIP: What are the strengths and weaknesses of these models?

VanTassel-Baska: Research demonstrates evidence of effectiveness for all of the models in chart 2, but different models may be more appropriate for particular students.

Duke TIP: Is an appropriate delivery model or grouping enough to meet my child’s academic needs? Or are there other considerations?

VanTassel-Baska: The research suggests that cluster, pull-out, and full-time grouping have important learning effects at both the elementary and the secondary levels. Gifted programs that employ acceleration (increased pace) more than enrichment (depth and breadth) have more important learning effects at both levels. Differentiation, the process of adapting instruction to the needs and abilities of students, is key to enhanced learning within a grouping model.

Reis: How academically gifted students are grouped and organized and what curriculum and instructional opportunities are offered to them in these groupings are critical. For example, having a separate class for mathematically talented students would mean little unless advanced curriculum and differentiated instruction were offered to the class.

Duke TIP: What steps should I take as a parent to initiate the adoption of a new model by a school system?

VanTassel-Baska: Given the evidence of the old models’ effectiveness, it would be prudent to examine these models first to determine which would be most beneficial in your district. If the district has more than 20,000 students, using more than one model would be possible. Follow these specific steps to adopt a new model:

  • Convene a task force of educators and parents to study the current program and possible new delivery models.
  • Visit your gifted program to see how well it works and what would make it more effective. Many times a more effective implementation of the current model is what’s needed.
  • Visit schools using the models under consideration and analyze student learning gains under each.
  • Determine what resources would be needed to implement a new model. At a minimum, implementing an innovation in one classroom usually requires intensive professional development for teachers and building administrators, as well as new materials.
  • Weigh the advantages and disadvantages of the change. Then make a recommendation to the school board, including a rationale, evidence that the new model would be superior to the old one, and a budget for the support necessary to make the new model work.
  • Pilot the model in one school. Monitor its implementation there. Collect data on student performance under the differentiated curriculum. Talk to teachers about their perceptions of the model.
  • After one year, evaluate the effectiveness of the pilot. Decide if it is worthwhile to implement it throughout the system.
Chart 2
Pull-Out Model
Built-in opportunities for peer interactionLimited contact time
Focus on in-depth study or new area of learningPart-time differentiation of curriculum
One instructional plan requiredLack of integration with regular classroom work
Push-in Model
Integration into the regular classroomGifted peer interaction limited to same grade level
Focus on in-depth study or new area of learningLimited contact time
Flexibility to group and regroup based on instructional need
Cluster Grouping
Full-time opportunity for curriculum differentiationAssumes that students are at the same level
Built-in peer groupGifted peer interaction limited to same grade level
Flexibility to group and regroup based on instructional needMultiple instructional plans required
Full-Time Grouping
Ability to deliver comprehensive differentiated curriculum and programsPerceived as more extreme than other forms
Intellectual peer group intact
Flexibility to group and regroup based on several variabilities
Teacher can focus on talent development
Special Classes
Accommodates a broad range of academically and artistically gifted learnersMay be limited by subjects
Allows for uneven development patternsMay be diluted with learners not identified as gifted
Course syllabus can be highly focusedMay no differentiate curriculum sufficiently
Popular with secondary schools

Joyce VanTassel-Baska, EdD, is Jody and Layton Smith Professor of Education and executive director of the Center for Gifted Education at the College of William and Mary, where she has developed a graduate program and a research and development center in gifted education.

Sally Reis, PhD, is professor and head of the Educational Psychology Department at the University of Connecticut, where she also serves as principal investigator of the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented.

This article was originally published in Gifted Today and is used with permission.

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