Harvard Educational Review
  1. Gifted Bilingual Students

    A Paradox?

    By Esther Kogan

    New York: Peter Lang, 2001. 154 pp. $24.95.

    In Gifted Bilingual Students: A Paradox? Esther Kogan investigates the often-overlooked area of gifted education for bilingual students. She deconstructs the seeming paradox of gifted bilingual students on behalf of educators, parents, students, and readers who believe that giftedness "can be found in all ethnic, cultural, and linguistic groups and that socioeconomic stereotypes, ethnic prejudice, political climate, societal attitudes, and language can influence the identification and nurturance of this ability" (p. 19). Combining theoretical discussions with case studies, Kogan contributes to the larger conversation on education for minority students by closely examining how giftedness can be assessed and developed among bilingual Hispanic children, who have historically been underrepresented in programs for the gifted student.

    The book has four parts. Part One provides a historic overview of bilingual education in the United States. Part Two includes four chapters that review gifted bilingual education in the United States, including and addressing issues surrounding assessment, inclusion, and parental involvement in such programs. Part Three portrays the educational experiences of three gifted Hispanic children New York City. Part Four offers a concluding chapter that integrates and discusses the case studies and implications of this book.

    In chapter one we learn that bilingual education, which grew out of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, began as a compensatory approach to the education of second-language learners, particularly the growing economically disadvantaged Hispanic population. Disparate educational attainment among bilingual Latino children has raised questions about the effectiveness, advantages, and disadvantages of the different pedagogical approaches included under the umbrella of bilingual education, including transitional, maintenance, and two-way immersion programs. However, Kogan points out that "the fates of immigrant children divide along lines of economic opportunity, social adjustment, educational aspirations, and bilingualism as an intellectual and cultural resource" (p. 15). She asserts that educational policy requires a system that provides both excellence and equity in education.

    In Part Two, Kogan describes gifted bilingual education in the United States. Kogan asserts that definitions of giftedness must be constructed within the context of the cultural, linguistic, and social characteristics of a population to provide greater opportunities for identifying and including larger numbers of bilingual children in gifted programs. She examines how to identify gifted children among bilingual populations, suggesting that varying levels of English proficiency and cultural and linguistic differences among bilingual students often confound educators’ judgments about actual ability. She states, "Identification must be then based upon superior potential instead of superior performance" (p. 24). Kogan cautions against the use of IQ tests with bilingual populations, unless they are used to include rather than exclude bilingual students from gifted programs. However, Progressive Matrices and the Woodcock-Johnson Psychoeducational Battery do not guarantee more valid test results, especially if such tests use original U.S. norms for determining scaled scores and equivalents.

    Kogan asserts that "the goal is to have a variety of measures that complement each other in order to find diverse indicators of potential that a single measure cannot reflect" (p. 37). She recommends a nontraditional identification process utilized by Project Synergy, a federally funded project that includes "observations, group enrichment activities, draw-a-person activities, teacher nominations, information from parents, standardized tests, literature-based activities, and a child interview" (p. 38).

    In chapter four, Kogan addresses the complexity of providing for the specific educational needs of gifted bilingual children, stressing that any curriculum should be based on individual assessments of students in the program. She provides information such as school district, types of curriculum implemented, and the ethnic and language groups served, about several programs for gifted bilingual students in New York City. She ends by stating that the key to training in-service teachers for bilingual programs "should be to sensitize teachers not only to the characteristics of culturally and linguistically different learners but also, and perhaps more importantly, to the rights of these students to be what they are — gifted and different" (p. 55).

    Chapter five addresses what Kogan considers the crucial involvement of Hispanic parents in the education of their gifted children. She notes that although low- and high-income parents show similar levels of concern for their children’s education, low-income parents often resist becoming involved or doubt their abilities to help their children. As many gifted bilingual children come from recent immigrant households or those with lower socioeconomic status, parents may be unaware of how the school system works and of how to become involved in special programs for their gifted children. Educators must work with parents to help them build partnerships.

    Part Three applies the theoretical perspectives and practical advice from the previous chapters to portraits of three gifted, bilingual Hispanic children in New York City: Oscar, Gaby, and Tina. Each child was identified by Project Synergy and placed in a special educational program. Kogan used different data sources, including student, teacher, and parent interviews, for what she calls "retrospective case studies" (p. 63). Observations were collected and grade transcripts were reviewed for supplemental information about each child. The detailed educational histories provide readers with an intimate understanding of some of the challenges these three gifted bilingual children face and some of the strategies that they employed to secure an education that provided for their unique needs.

    In the final chapter, Kogan draws on the case studies to highlight the multifaceted and heterogeneous conceptions of giftedness and the value of identifying talent potential in children. She addresses the similarities and the differences between each of the three children’s educational paths, highlighting such issues as identifying giftedness and the role of parental involvement. Although Kogan does not want us to generalize from these portraits to the general Hispanic population, she does want us to pay attention to some particular lessons. She refocuses attention on the role of bilingual education in promoting bilingualism and maintaining cultural pride. She also describes how gifted children are identified within the Hispanic community, advocating for early identification in order to meet these students’ needs. Finally, Kogan returns to the myth of the gifted bilingual paradox. She states that gifted bilingual children are "an integral part of the educational system requiring attention to be appropriately identified and nurtured so that their talent potential can be fully realized" (p. 135). Her hope is that language diversity and bilingualism can be recognized as a resource, and that gifted bilingual students may receive the educational opportunities they deserve.

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