Valuing our Gifted English Learners

gifted ell programsDoes your school have a gifted program? Are any of the gifted student English Language Learners? Unfortunately for many ELLs, they are never even tested for gifted programs to see if they qualify. NPR recently ran a story about students who are both English Language Learners and gifted, which can be found here: http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2016/04/11/467653193/gifted-but-still-learning-english-overlooked-underserved.

Though we know that giftedness and ELL status are not mutually exclusive, the NPR article points out that ELL students are the most underrepresented group in gifted programs. The report lays the blame on disconnects between the parents of ELL students and schools. While parents may suspect their children are particularly gifted, they may not feel comfortable advocating for their children to be tested. With additional concerns about language barriers, it should not be surprising that significant obstacles exist for ELL parents wanting support for their gifted students.

However, another more pernicious reason could be in play here. We know many educators, despite an increasing body of evidence to the contrary, still view ELL students as “deficient.” We know that ELL students’ bilingualism is seen as a detriment instead of a powerful strength. So it is not such a leap to consider the fact that some educators may actually believe, either consciously or unconsciously, that ELL students cannot be gifted. As engaged powerful educators working to support your ELL students to their highest potential, you know otherwise. But too often, the systems and structures of schools are still failing to fully appreciate ELL students.

So what can you do? If you’re in a school with a gifted program (or a high school with tracked advanced classes), advocate for your students. Ask the testing coordinator to assess the students that you think might be gifted. Support your students when they (appropriately) take academic risks that push their potential forward. And remember this smart lesson from Dr. Janell Scott, who presented at AERA this past week: “We change the culture by changing the culture.” In other words, we change our how schools serve our gifted ELL students by changing our own actions and by pushing the larger organization to change.

A former teacher from a high ELL-incidence district in Massachusetts, Alea is now finishing her doctorate in Education from the University of Illinois at Chicago. She also works at Mawi Learning as the School Partnership Specialist. When she isn't writing her dissertation, Alea can most often be found watching her beloved Red Sox, reading an unabashedly trashy romance novel, or eating her husband's homemade bread.

Category: Education