ERIC Identifier: ED358676
Publication Date: 1993-06-00
Author: Harris, Carole Ruth
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Disabilities and Gifted Education Reston VA.
Identifying and Serving Recent Immigrant Children Who Are
Gifted. ERIC Digest #E520.
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
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 intellectual potential.
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 messages.
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 money.
"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 educational progress.
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
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 potentially helpful adults.
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 learning.
Cross-cultural challenges are confusing and may delay the development of a
child's sense of self-identity. Continuing crosscultural stress is often
difficult for immigrants to articulate.
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
System. A student may have little, sporadic, or possibly no schooling prior to
arriving in the U. S. 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, 1988).
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 gifted.
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.
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.
Provide opportunities for a peer support counseling group.
and Peer Group Expectations
Use narratives, role playing, and bibliotherapy to model conflict resolution.
Identify conflicting expectations, determine the causes, and provide
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 region.
Use nonverbal expressive arts to involve the family.
Use 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
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
Assess 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
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Cohen, M. (1988, April 21). Immigrant children need aid, study says. The
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