Identifying and Serving Recent Immigrant Children Who Are Gifted
Author: Carole Ruth Harris, Ed.D.,
SourceERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education
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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 intellectual potential.
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 messages.
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 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.
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 learning.
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 articulate.
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 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).Back to the Table of Contents
The following identification, service, and evaluation strategies may assist education professionals who want to meet the educational needs of immigrant children who are gifted.Linguistic
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.Back to the Table of Contents
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Trueba, H. T. (1983). Adjustment problems of Mexican and Mexican-American students: an anthropological study. LEARNING DISABILITY QUARTERLY, 6(4), 395-415.
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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.Back to the Table of Contents
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This publication was prepared with funding from the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education, under contract no. RI88062007. The opinions expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of OERI or the Department of Education.Back to top