Topic: Inclusive Classrooms
Title: No ESL in Gifted Class
So I spent my practicum in a grade eight gifted class in a downtown
public school that is K-8 and very large. There are approximately 900
students in the school and about 50 teachers on staff. In my particular
class, there were no identified ESL students and the majority of the
students were native English speakers and mainly Caucasian with the
exception of four students who were of Chinese origin. I asked my
associate teacher why there were no ESL students in his gifted class and
he said that it is simply because the test that the students write to get
into the gifted program is not provided in other languages besides
English. I thought this seemed quite unfair and I expressed my concerns
to him but unfortunately there was not much he could offer in the way of
solutions. I think it is a great injustice to ESL students to basically
assume that none of them could be gifted by not providing them with a test
Another interesting trend I noticed about the class was that the
majority of the students were male. I even visited the other gifted
classes at other grade levels and noticed the same trend there. I asked
my associate about this as well and he was unable to provide me with a
concrete answer or suggestion as to why this might be. I am interested in
researching these trends further and if anyone happens to know more about
the gifted program and these issues I would love to know more.
The main challenge that I had to deal with in our particular group was
the fact that three of the four Chinese students seemed to be very
isolated from the rest of the group. It was often times their choice to
always stick together in-class as well as outside of the classroom at
recess; however, most of the other students would generally try to avoid
working with them at any time. When they were grouped together with these
other three students they often complained and appeared quite
uncomfortable with the set-up. This made the three students feel like
outsiders and simply gave them more reasons to always stick together and
never venture out of their close knit group. What would you have done to
help include these students in the class community and facilitate their
relationships with other classmates?
Response to Scenario:
I agree that it is a great injustice to ESL students to basically assume that they cannot be gifted.
In response to the male/female ratio dilemma, I have also seen this trend in a private school in Markham, Ontario. Unfortunately, there are many cultures that still place more emphasis and encouragement on their sons, and not their daughters. In the private school I worked in last year, many of the males had sisters attending public schools and I couldn't help but (privately) question why the girls weren't in private schools? However, I need to ask (because I don't know) how does a student get placed in a gifted classroom? Who decides? After that, then maybe we can look into why the ratio is as it is. I do believe that it is a cultural/sexist issue though.
Unfortunately a teacher cannot force certain students to be friends, but it is a teacher's responsibility to foster an environment that is accepting, respectful, and safe for all students. Did your associate teacher have a Tribes classroom? Tribes, created by Jeanne Gibbs, is a process that usually the entire school follows that follows 4 rules/agreements: 1) attentive listening, 2) mutual respect, 3) participation/right to pass, and 4) appreciation/no put downs. Tribes is a slow process but with these agreements as the rules, and using simple strategies it encourages a community of sharing, openess, and acceptance. Now this I have seen and it works! Like I said, it might not make best friends, but its about respecting those around us no matter how different we are. Class discussions on these topics in a community setting allows for a teacher and students to express their feelings in a safe way - and if the student does not feel comfortable in sharing he/she has the right to pass and its ok. I believe that in any classroom, whatever the issues, when Tribes is encouraged, any problem can be solved reasonably and respectfully. Its about teaching our children how to interact with people.
I hope this helps.
Pauline (Dimi) Chronakis
The issue of acceptance into gifted programs is more complex, and, dare I say, more politically charged than your teacher has let on, or perhaps is even aware of. I have only anecdotal evidence to offer, based on experiences with my own and friends' children, but here goes:
Firstly, the "test" is not the only determinant of who is selected for the gifted program, nor is it even supposed to be the most important criteria. Experienced teachers generally have a very good sense of who is gifted, particularly if the child has been in the school for 3 or 4 years. This timeframe does work against the newcomer, but it does not make the ESL learner non-identifiable. There is a well established and quantifiable range of characteristics, behaviours, problem-solving techniques, and knowledge bases that provide fairly clear indications of giftedness, and many of these can surmount the language barrier. Offering the test in English only certainly doesn't help, but again, the IQ test is not supposed to be the sole determinant of entry. However, the test is relatively easy and cheap (very important over the past 8 years) to administer, and to defend to the average layperson. (The test is now administered in a group setting; 10 years ago it was an individual assessment.)
In the years during which the Conservative government in Ontario has been raking money out of the educational system, the gifted program has suffered along with so many others. The program is no longer well advertised, and board support for it is markedly lower than is was a decade ago. I believe, although I am not absolutely certain, that the grade at which a student in Etobicoke may enter the gifted program has been raised, to Grade 4 from Grade 3. Teachers in the gifted stream (in Etobicoke in any event) no longer necessarily have specialized qualifications or experience teaching gifted students, and the curriculum that is offered no longer differs much from the mainstream. Parents who have had several children go through the gifted program over many years have been particularly vocal about its "watering down"; they form a very small group.
Because the program is not well advertised to the parental community, or even within some schools, it is necessary for parents to gather their own information, make their own decisions, and advocate on behalf of their child. They need to know how the system works. They must possess excellent verbal and written communication skills, have determination and persistence, be able to devote hours of time during business hours in which to make phone calls, set appointments, attend meetings, etc., and be confident in dealing with bureaucrats and other persons in authority. In all these areas, non-English speaking parents are at an overwhelming disadvantage.
Affluent parents can sidestep the long waiting lists for board assessments and arrange for private, individually administered testing to bolster their case. Within many schools, quite frankly, there is such a desperate need for assessment and help for exceptional children at the low end of the spectrum, that resources will never be devoted to those who may be considered bright enough to get along without interventions. Children who wait for assessment by their school may wait for years; during this time they are becoming comfortable with their neighbourhood and school and are establishing friendships - all things that parents are loath to disrupt. It's probably easier to get your child into private school that it is to get into a gifted program , and if you have the money, that is a decision you might well make. The private school is more able than the public school to offer much smaller class sizes (e.g. classes of 11) and intensive support in all areas of the curriculum.
Another consideration is teachers themselves. Teachers love having bright children in their classes! They may well want to get rid of those disruptive gifted boys who present such difficult, on-going, day-after-day problems in the typical classroom (I speak from personal experience!). Like it or not, girls still generally are more adept at pleasing adults, are more co-operative and malleable, and are also good at hiding their giftedness! Once "the test" becomes the sole determinant of who gets in, it's not hard for an intellectually gifted child to make up her mind that she's going to flub the test. I also suspect that, subconsciously, many teachers thing that a talented female student may be "very bright, but she's not gifted" - and she is such a joy to teach! Add the EQAO testing into the mix, with its publicized results by school, and you can see why schools that would otherwise have to send its gifted students off to another location might be reluctant to do so.
Additionally, some teachers and many parents "don't believe in giftedness". After all, every child is gifted! How true - and how sad that we do not provide the resources that would provide every child with the enriched program that he or she deserves. Parents whose children have been deemed to be "not gifted" are often resentful; they do not want the so-called "gifted" child to get "things" that their own children cannot have. The rumours that fly around about resources supposedly available to gifted classes are unbelievable - unless you think that your child is being short-changed. As an example, one parent told me that all gifted education should be banned, because it was taking resources away from other children; specifically, she had been told that every child in the gifted program had his or her own computer, freely available in their own classroom, while her daughter had to share a computer in the school library and seldom had access to it. (All of the gifted children I worked with were suffering
form the same lack of resources - textbooks, computer time, outings, librarians, school supplies - as everyone else in the mainstream.) Parents also resent the cap of 25 in the gifted class (that cap has been quietly exceeded during the past several years) when mainstream children are in classes of 32, 35, 37 while the government is insisting that the average is 25.
Enough said on giftedness!
Regarding your other question, I think it is time to implement a lot of partner work; i.e. break up the triad. Presumable these three boys are not allowed to sit together? Changing the seating arrangements is the first and easiest step. Reflective activities incorporated into group/partner work may provide some insights into students' feelings and choices that the teacher may be able to act upon. I believe that teachers have to actively develop caring and inclusive classrooms by using many team-building techniques, encouraging tolerance and kindness, and publicly rewarding and endorsing those behaviours. This takes time - weeks and months - and lots of energy on the part of the teacher, who likely does not have all of these techniques at her fingertips! This particular teacher might also want to offer opportunities for individuals to shine; others in the class might start seeing each other as distinct individuals and not as part of a clique. The arts and phys ed offer opportunities for individual reco
gnition; perhaps the teacher can enlist the support of those teachers, if other teachers handle those subjects. Another partnership that might be effective is the sharing of tasks that students normally enjoy; e.g. leaving the classroom to work on a project in the hallway or in the library (if it's open!), emptying the paper recycling box, taking messages or attendance to the office. With this age group, though, it is going to be difficult. There are co-operative games and role-plays that are suitable for young teens; Boy Scouts and Girl Guides of Canada will have resources, as will public libraries, the Y, and the Internet.
I've bent your ear long enough! Thanks for sharing such thought-provoking questions.
This is quite the situation. Having a clas that does not seem to be close is difficult to begin with, adding in the race factor makes it twice as hard. My suggestion would be team building and trust games. I have found that treating the class like a team helps strengthen bonds and ties. Having a class where children need to help eachother starts to build a climate where everyone is friendly to everyone.
Perhaps in different subject areas have the idea of "houses" or teams where each person must sit and work together and learn about the other people in their team. By mixing children up and forming relationships it is my thoughts that this will extend out of the classroom.
In one placement I was in I noticed that the teacher had the children sharing and communicating about their own families and traditions. As children learned about similarities they were more able to identify with oneanother.
The challenging part is if the 3 or 4 students seem uncompfortable with being placed with the other students. My feeling is continue to mix up the class and encourage team play. Eventually (hopefully) there will be a climate of inclusion in the class.
I will be interested to hear how you handeled this situation, Hollie
Thanks to those of you who offered your insights on this issue, they were all very helpful and often very close to how I dealt with the situation which was reassuring for me! So, what I did was create a unit on exploring our different cultures in the classroom through creating folktales based on traditions from those cultures and culminating in an international food fair! The students really enjoyed this unit and learned so much about each other. As I indicated, the majority of the class was Caucasian and many of them had never stopped to ask each other about their cultural background. So, when we discovered all the different cultures in our class it became very exciting and interesting for the students to learn new things about each other. Furthermore, these three Chinese boys were really able to shine and teach us about some very exotic and fascinating traditions. We also learned that one of them was actually half Malaysian and had a whole other culture to share with us. The other students reacted very positively to what they learned from these three students and it sparked a new interest and respect for their classmates.
Another strategy I used on a consistent basis with these three boys was to emphasize their strengths and what they were able to add to the class. For example, one of them happened to be a computer whiz and was able to help all other students with a variety of different projects and assignments. Another boy was quite talented in the area of dramatic arts which I discovered early on in a drama lesson on improvisation. The third boy was an avid reader and had a wealth of knowledge to share with us on any given day about a large range of topics. Overall, I think these strategies worked well and I felt much better about the situation towards the end of practicum.
Thanks again for all your interesting suggestions,