A Gifted English Language Learner Is Not An Oxymoron
Guest Post Written By: Elizabeth Kotis
Throughout my educational and professional career, I have encountered much disbelief whenever I mention Gifted English Language Learners.
For many, the term Gifted English Language Learner is an oxymoron. Lack of knowledge of Gifted English Language Learners can be attributed to the underrepresentation of English Language Learners in gifted and talented programs. Of all gifted students in Illinois, only 0.1% are American Indian, 6.1% are Asian, 7.8 % are Hispanic, 11.7 % are Black, and 74.3 % are White. (ISBE, 2003). It is evident that “as long as the education of culturally and linguistically diverse students focuses on their perceived deficiencies (e.g., limited English proficiency), these students will be prevented from enjoying their right to excellence and equity in education” (Castellano & Diaz, 2002).
Under-representation of English Language Learners in gifted programs can be credited to lack of research and the overuse and reliance of IQ tests as a screen for identification of gifted and talented children (Brice & Brice, 2004). IQ differences among U.S. racial and ethnic groups reflect in part inadequacies and biases in the tests themselves (Loehlin, Lindzey, & Spuhler, 1975). For example, English Language Learners are at a disadvantage in terms of verbal skills when measured with traditional standardized tests. Specifically, the disadvantage lies in the lack of exposure to the language in which traditional standardized tests are given (Brice & Brice, 2004).
The following also pose a challenge for educators to accurately identify Gifted English Language Learners: a different environment; disconnection between the home and life outside of the home; a curriculum that seems irrelevant to their lives; instruction that is often irrelevant to their needs; a sense of alienation; an assumption that they are less capable; linguistic/tests: gifted students have different backgrounds than the traditional designers and takers of gifted and talented test; and teachers’ inability to recognize potential (Frasier, et al., 1995; Freeman, Freeman, & Ramirez, 2008, p. 111).
Advocates for Gifted English Language Learners recommend a judicious use of multiple selection criteria for assessing the gifts of English language learners (Abell & Lennex, 1999, Bernal, 1974; Brice & Brice, 2004; Castellano, 2002; Castellano, 2008, Castellano, 2011; Frasier, Hunsaker, Lee, Finley, Garcia, Martin, & Frank, 1995; Konstantopoulos, Modi, & Hedges, 2001; VanTassel-Baska, 2003).
Seminal researchers in the realm of gifted English language learners suggest the following selection criteria: ethnographic assessment procedures which includes observing a student over time; dynamic assessment, seeing if and when a student transfers newly acquired skills; portfolio assessment, use of nonverbal and/or performance based test scores in the native language or English language—this should depend on the child’s level of proficiency; teacher observations; behavioral checklists; past school performance; parent interviews; writing samples and other samples of creativity or achievement; and input from the cultural group with which the student identifies in the local school community (Bernal & Reyna, 1974; Castellano, 1994; Castellano, 1998; Castellano, 2011; and Garcia, 1994).
The most important step in implementing judicious selection criteria for assessing and identifying English language learners is to view giftedness as a psychological construct (Frasier, Hunsaker, Lee, Finley, García, Martin, & Frank, 1995). Theorists and researchers posit that the gifted potential depends on an understanding of the basic attributes associated with the giftedness construct and measuring those behaviors and attributes (Bernal, 1980; Culross, 1989; Hagen, 1980; Hoge, 1988, 1989; Hoge & Cudmore, 1986; Leung, 1981, as indicated in Frasier, et al, 1995, p.x). Gifted English Language Learners possess the following attributes: they rapidly acquire English language skills once exposed to the language and given an opportunity to use it expressively (L1 and L2); they exhibit leadership ability; they tend to have older playmates; they are insightful; and they accept responsibilities at home normally reserved for older children, such as supervision of younger children (as indicated in Castellano, 1998). Integrating these observable attributes with the psychological construct of giftedness provides a feasible way to train teachers to recognize exceptional ability in English language learners (et. al, 1995, p. 25). When we begin to look for the gifts of our English Language Learners, we will find them. As a result, we will be able to use their gifts to provide an appropriate and equitable education.
Elizabeth Kotis teaches ESL/Bilingual courses in the Curriculum and Instruction program at National Louis University. In addition to working as an adjunct, she serves as an Educational Consultant with various schools and serves as a school board member of a Greek Orthodox school. She has many years of experience working with students of all abilities, ages, and backgrounds. Elizabeth completed her B.A. in secondary education with a concentration in English. She completed her first Master’s degree in Interdisciplinary Studies in Curriculum and Instruction and her second in Curriculum and Instruction with a focus on ESL/Bilingual education. She is currently a student in the Educational Leadership and Educational Psychology program at National Louis University and hopes to complete a dissertation on the topic of Gifted English Language Learners. Elizabeth also has coursework in Educational Leadership and Gifted education.
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Illinois State Board of Education. (2003) Gifted Education in Illinois, retrieved from http://www.isbe.state.il.us/research/pdfs/gifted_stats_02-03.pdf