by Martha Lopez
English language learners (ELLs) have historically been underrepresented and underserved in gifted and talented (GT) programs across the United States. To improve identification practices for this population, we can begin by asking ourselves how we can increase the visibility of diverse learners in GT screening. What does equity look like in identifying ELLs for advanced programs? How can we actively improve culturally responsive support for exceptional ELLs in our classrooms?
Traditional concepts of giftedness only hinder the possibility and opportunity for ELLs to be identified for gifted programs. As a result, White and Asian, English-speaking students have occupied most seats in advanced learning programs.
Gifted screening protocols can reinforce these perceptions. Conventional markers for giftedness are rooted in assessment data and previous high academic achievement. This can be especially inequitable for ELLs, whose language output and cultural orientation may mask exceptional promise.
REFRAMING CONCEPTIONS OF GIFTEDNESS TO SUPPORT INCLUSIVITY
To make any progress, we have to be uncomfortably honest about what giftedness should look like in our schools. What are our perceptions and expectations of exceptional students? Do we, as teachers and as schools, tend to identify certain student types, ethnicities, or socioeconomic groups, or one gender? How do a child’s parents or other educators influence us?
At the very least, a more inclusive framework should include three important components:
After an inclusive framework is established, we can critically evaluate the degree to which our definition is also culturally responsive. We must pay close attention to where we can find expressions of gifted characteristics. Language learners can—and do!—demonstrate exceptional content-specific talents. The promising gifted ELL may:
A CULTURALLY RESPONSIVE PROCESS OF GT IDENTIFICATION
Even high-flying ELLs are not likely to be identified through traditional GT screening, as mentioned above, because our screening protocols are not designed to identify them. A realistic representation of underrepresented populations in gifted programming requires that we break with our dependence on test scores. One reasonable solution is to move beyond isolated quantitative data points and toward qualitative portfolios of potential. Inclusive GT portfolios of potential may include:
SUPPORTING ELLS’ TALENT DEVELOPMENT
Ensure that curriculum is culturally responsive: Culturally responsive practice seeks to recognize, value, and authentically represent students’ heritage virtues in the school setting. Are you wondering how to connect this pedagogy to GT programming? Begin learning units with background knowledge surveys, or embed multicultural connections and community engagement as a means of enrichment.
Provide opportunities for self-directed learning: Self-directed learning is an effective tool for student engagement that supports higher-level thinking. By introducing the element of choice, we draw out a learner’s natural curiosity through creative problem solving and experiential learning.
Use assessments that allow for diverse expressions of understanding: Offer choice in how students demonstrate knowledge, skills and understanding. Project-based learning (PBL) works exceptionally well in this context. PBL is defined as a dynamic classroom approach in which students actively explore real-world problems and challenges and acquire a deeper knowledge. This type of open-ended learning allows ELLs to show what they know in ways that are less language dependent, such as design, computer programming, or art.
Consistently work toward the elimination of educator bias: Teachers and parents play a critical role in the gifted identification process. They are most likely to nominate students for consideration and are directly involved in a child’s day-to-day endeavors. We can better prepare both groups to advocate for ELLs who demonstrate exceptional gifts and talents.
On a final note, parents are often the first to note a child’s gifted potential, even if it has not presented itself at school. This may be true of students who have not yet gained linguistic confidence or students are from collectivist cultures, who typically avoid standing out in the classroom. Parents, especially those whose cultural experience with school involvement differs from American norm, may not be aware that they can recommend their child be considered for GT screening. Therefore, it is important for educators to maintain an open communication and partnership with parents. At the same time, educators can benefit from training to reduce bias and spot latent talents in underrepresented populations. Like all successful school programming, achieving effective and equitable GT services takes a collaborative effort.