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Identifying and Serving Recent Immigrant Children
Who Are Gifted
The ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education
ERIC EC Digest #E520
Author: Carole Ruth Harris, Ed.D.
The challenge of identifying gifted children and providing them with appropriate
educational services is particularly complex when they are recent immigrants to the
United States. Linguistic and cultural backgrounds, economic and attitudinal factors,
sociocultural peer-group expectations, cross-cultural stress, and intergenerational
conflict may all influence efforts to recognize and provide appropriate learning
opportunities. Although immigrant groups are culturally diverse, they share some
unique challenges when interfacing with the setting.
- Linguistic. The process of second language
acquisition is long, complex, and developmental. Therefore, attempting to determine a
child's intellectual potential by using English-based assessment instruments can lead
to erroneous conclusions. In addition, assessment in English is more likely to reflect
knowledge of English and interpretation of grammatical structure than general
- Cultural. Traditional customs and sex-role behaviors
are likely to differ greatly from those encountered in the U. S. (Sheehy, 1986; Goffin,
1988). Cultural differences in learning styles, listening behaviors (Trueba, 1983), and
response patterns (Harris, 1988; Cohen, 1988) often underlie misinterpreted
- Economic. Recent immigrants may
be economically poor; parents may be supporting households both here and in their
native country (National Coalition of Advocates for Students, 1988). Families may be
large; older school age children may need to work after school or miss school to earn
"Hidden" factors such as illegal immigrant status, limited knowledge about accessing
social and health care services, neglect of basic health needs (Clark, 1988, October),
and physical and psychological problems caused by the political environment in the
native country (National Coalition of Advocates for Students, 1988) may also impede
- Attitudinal. Immigrants may demonstrate a very
positive attitude towards schools and learning. However, they may experience feelings
of guilt for family members who had to remain behind, or who were hurt or killed in their
native country. A gifted child's heightened awareness may increase vulnerability when
such circumstances exist.
When a parent or relative is an illegal immigrant the child
may fear authority figures (Gratz & Pulley, 1984; Portes, McLeod & Parker, 1978;
Vasquez, 1988), thereby preventing them from forming close relationships with
teachers and other potentionally helpful adults.
- Sociocultural and Peer Expectations. Racial or ethnic
conflict, concern for personal safety, or conflicting peer expectations may cause
tension and interfere with or redirect the child's natural curiosity and innate love of
- Cross-Cultural. Cross-cultural
challenges are confusing and may delay the development of a child's sense of
self-identity. Continuing cross-cultural stress is often difficult for immigrants to
- Intergenerational. Immigrant children often serve as
"interpreters" for the family, and as the children become Americanized they may begin
to resent this responsibility, subsequently seen by elders as disassociating with
tradition. Resultant coping strategies have a negative effect on self-concept and family
relationships (Harris, 1988).
- School System. A student may have little, sporadic,
or possibly no schooling prior to arriving in the United States. Wei (1983) reported the
frequency of wrong dates of birth in school records, a face saving scheme to hide facts
about lack of schooling (Center for Educational Research and Innovation, 1987; Vuong,
Crowded classrooms, staff opposition to special programs, and use of standardized
tests may preclude entrance of recent immigrant children into gifted programs.
Steinberg and Halsted (National Coalition of Advocates for Students, 1988) reported
that immigrant children have often been tracked into English as a Second Language
programs, then steered towards vocational courses.
Misplacement may occur if gifted students with disabilities are classified solely in terms
of their disabilities (Poplin & Wright, 1983), a problem not confined to immigrants.
Parents of immigrant children may distrust any "special" classes, including classes for
gifted and talented (Wei, 1983).
A disproportionate number of immigrants have been referred for psychological
services (Sugai and Maheady, 1988) when their behavior was misinterpreted and
labeled as adjustment or achievement problems (Trueba, 1983).
The following identification, service, and evaluation strategies may assist education
professionals who want to meet the educational needs of immigrant children who are
- Provide enrichment activities to students perceived "not ready" for gifted
- Institute independent or small group research projects using native language
references and resources.
- Help staff members become aware of different language structures.
- Explain the concept of gifted programs to parents in their native language.
Talk to parents in their native language to learn about aspects of giftedness valued
by their culture.
- Develop program services that are culturally sensitive and responsive.
- Consider aspirations of the immigrant group; pay attention to variables such as
the parents' occupation and education.
- Work only from facts, assume nothing about the economic status or educational
background of the family.
Sociocultural and Peer Group Expectations
- Transmit a sense of self-reliance; use a biographical approach concentrating on
positive aspects of problem-solving, task commitment, and decision making.
Encourage student involvement in publications or community programs.
Encourage journal writing and writing of stories and poems.
opportunities for a peer support counseling group.
narratives, role-playing, and bibliotherapy to model conflict resolution.
conflicting expectations, determine the causes, and provide intervention.
- Increase motivation for children to identify themselves as candidates for gifted
programs by referring to the gifted program as an opportunity for students to work
harder and learn more.
- Use care in selecting staff responsible for identification.
If possible, select staff members who are familiar with the child's culture, country, or
- Use nonverbal expressive arts to involve the family.
intra/intercultural peer referral as a source of identification.
- Involve outreach
workers for parents and other family members.
- Use media services in the
native language. These services are usually available through local agencies.
- Identify or place students according to educational background and potential.
- Interpret the child's behavior in the context of the child's experiences (Ramirez,
- Use extracurricular activities as part of the identification process; incorporate
successful activities and areas of interest into learning goals.
- Ensure that the
screening and selection committee has knowledge of creative production or
performance in the respective culture. Include representative community members on
selection committees. Avoid using standard identification instruments.
from the perspective of individual learning styles.
- Place the child in a minimal
stress, "culturally congruent" (Trueba, 1983, p.412) environment and observe for a
period of time.
- Periodically, discuss attitudes and possible biases with
teachers. Hold informal sessions to air problems and exchange ideas.
- Use a
developmental rather than a crisis-oriented model.
Both society and
individuals benefit when a linguistically and culturally diverse population is tapped for
talent potential. Problem areas must be defined in the light of specific cultures and
culture differences. Attention must be directed to problem-specific techniques to
ensure correct placement and opportunities for appropriately differentiated learning
experiences that are culturally sensitive.
Center for Educational Research and Innovation, CERI. (1987). Immigrants children at
school. (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, OECD). Paris:
Clark, L. (1988, October). Early warning of refugee flows. In Research Seminar on
International Migration. Presentation at Massachusetts Institute of Technology,
Cohen, M. (1988, April 21). Immigrant children need aid, study says. The Boston
Globe, p 25.
Goffin, S. G. (1988). Putting our advocacy efforts into a new context. The Journal
of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, 43(3), 52-56.
Gratz, E., & Pulley, J. L. (1984). A gifted and talented program for migrant students.
Roeper Review, 6(3), 147-149.
Harris, C. R. (1988, April). Cultural conflict and patterns of achievement in gifted
Asian-Pacific children. Paper presented at the meeting of the National Association for
Asian and Pacific American Education.
National Coalition of Advocates for Students. (1988). New voices, immigrant voices in
U.S. public schools. (Research Rep. No 1988-1). Boston, MA: Author.
S., & Wright, P. (1983). The concept of cultural pluralism: Issues in special education.
Learning Disability Quarterly, 6 (4), 367-372.
Portes, A., McLeod, S. A.,
Jr., & Parker, R. N. (1978). Immigrant aspirations. Sociology of Education,
51, October, 241-260.
Ramirez, B. A. (1988). Culturally and linguistically diverse
children. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 20 (4), 45-51.
(1986). Spirit of survival. New York: Bantam Books. Sugai, G., & Maheady, L. (1988).
Cultural diversity and individual assessment for behavior disorders. TEACHING
Exceptional Children, 21(1), 28-31.
Trueba, H. T. (1983). Adjustment
problems of Mexican and Mexican-American students: an anthropological study.
Learning Disability Quarterly, 6 (4), 395-415.
Vasquez, J. A. (1988).
Contexts of learning for minority students. The Educational Forum, 6 (3),
Vuong, V. (1988). Finding solutions. In New voices, immigrant voices in U.S. public
schools. National Coalition of Advocates for Students.
(Research Rep. No.
1988-1). Boston, MA.
Wei, T. (1983). The Vietnamese refugee child: Understanding cultural differences. In
D. Omark & J. Erickson (Eds.), The Bilingual Exceptional Child. San
Diego: College-Hill Press.
ERIC Digests are in the public domain and may be freely
disseminated, but please acknowledge your source. This publication was prepared with
funding from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and
Improvement, under Contract No. RI88062207. The opinions expressed in this report do
not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of OERI or the Department of Education.
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