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Cluster vs. Seminar: What is the Difference?

Differentiating Between Cluster and Seminar

San Diego Unified School District initiates the identification process through universal testing in grade 2--all second graders are tested. Students are reviewed for retest eligibility in grade 5, as the child matures. When new students enter the district, they are tested at their school during that year. Students from private schools are also tested to provide a conduit into the San Diego Unified School District.


GATE programs begin in grade 3 and extend through grade 12. San Diego offers two program delivery systems: Cluster classes or groupings for the gifted (classes may include students who have demonstrated the ability to benefit from the GATE differentiated curriculum and instruction) and Seminar classes for students identified as highly gifted.

CLUSTER STUDENT AND PROGRAM DEFINITIONS
Students who score in the ability range greater or equal to two standard deviations above the mean differ from their age peers in that they generally show advanced comprehension, a faster pace of learning, and an ability to handle greater depth and complexity in their learning. These students may not be challenged by the regular curriculum or its manner of pace or presentation. They require program differentiation of the core curriculum content in order to realize their learning potential.


The Cluster curriculum and instruction, though based on the core curriculum, must be differentiated in content, process, product and learning environment. Levels of abstraction, complexity, and depth must be greater than those provided by the core. The pace of learning must be altered to accommodate students' needs. While students must master the core curriculum, the amount of time and number of repetitions required for learning must be compacted based on teachers' assessment of how the students learn and what they already know. In the Cluster classroom, student interests become a large part of the curricular emphasis. Instructional processes are adapted to students' abilities to work with abstract ideas, to generalize, and to make complex relationships within and across the disciplines.


A GATE teacher is knowledgeable about gifted students' social-emotional as well as intellectual development and carefully designs the environment in the Cluster classroom or grouping. Students' cognitive, affective, physical and intuitive functioning are taken into account. The environment must promote skill development, intellectual growth, and attainment of healthy self-concepts.


SEMINAR STUDENT AND PROGRAM DEFINITIONS
Children who test three standard deviations above the mean are atypical learners who require programs significantly differentiated from the more typical GATE Cluster programs in order to feel comfortable with themselves and their differences and to develop their exceptional potential.

The Seminar program is intended to serve varied profiles as presented by students who need extraordinarily high-level, advanced, and challenging curricular activities; those with extremely high tested ability but low school achievement; and those students who are pergent thinkers and "march to a different drummer." Because these students represent a heterogeneous group with a wider range of abilities than those represented in the GATE Cluster class population, the learning program must be designed for and adapted to inpidual differences.


Just as GATE Cluster curriculum and instruction is differentiated from the core curricular or Advanced Placement offerings, the Seminar curriculum and instruction must be differentiated from that of the GATE Cluster in content, process, product, and learning environment. The content must be differentiated in levels of abstraction, depth, and complexity, focusing to an even greater degree on generalizations and essential questions. A larger percentage of classroom processes and interactions revolve around interplay and exchange of ideas, with students defending their thinking and looking at their own and others' thinking critically. Students spend more time in pursuit of their own passions and interests with greater emphasis on independent study and long-term projects.


Learning and intellectual exploration are accomplished in an environment purposefully designed by teachers knowledgeable about psycho-social as well as intellectual development of students who, because of their uneven development may be many ages simultaneously. Students are made to feel they "fit," are safe to express their ideas without stigma, and encounter no ceilings to limit their reach. At the same time, students must acquire the necessary skills and knowledge in a manner and a pace which support their inquiry and investigation. These may be quite different for each inpidual.


In conclusion, GATE Cluster and Seminar experiences provide a learning program which incorporates core curriculum and advanced, enriched learning opportunities reflecting the interests and creativity of the students. By doing so, the program aims to encourage intellectual development as well as growth of self-identity, exciting students to extend their learning beyond the classroom and beyond their school years.

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