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Ethnicity isn’t the culprit of why minorities are underrepresented in gifted programs. So what is it?

As educators, we’ve gotten so hung up on ethnicity that we’ve overlooked the really big problem, and therefore solution, to gaps in academic achievement. We might think that ethnicity and poverty go hand in hand when discussing challenges in learning gaps, but they don’t.

Hispanics and African Americans coming from middle class families don’t have the same issues as children coming from poverty. When we talk about children from poverty, it doesn’t matter if they are Hispanic, Caucasian, African American, Asian, or anything else.  Their problems in education are very similar. And most of these problems are almost non-existent in their middle class counterparts.

Yet I see districts focusing more on ethnicity than economic status.  When we do that, we’ve missed key puzzle pieces to get an accurate picture of what’s going on.

So why is poverty such a crucial piece of the puzzle to finding and serving gifted students from low SES backgrounds?

First– there are two types of intelligence, verbal/non-verbal. Our research data shows a gap between the level of their verbal and nonverbal intelligence.  One’s nonverbal intelligence gives us clues to one’s potential—one’s natural ability.  Verbal intelligence gives us clues to one’s readiness to learn in the school setting.  It is the verbal intelligence the teacher sees in the classroom as the student works on vocabulary, reading comprehension, and mathematical reasoning.

Children raised in poverty live in an environment where verbal abilities are not developed at the same pace and level as in middle class families.  They come to school with a simple language structure versus a more complex language structure.  Often they use what is called “broken” language– talking in words and phrases versus using complete sentences or expressing a complete thought.  A child might say, “Want that” and point, instead of saying “I want some water.”

Children raised in poverty have very few conversations among the family. I still remember the mother who said to me one day “You mean I’m supposed to talk to my children? We just go home and watch TV.”  By the time children raised in poverty enter school, they have experienced only a limited number of the rich language development opportunities readily available to other students.

If you’ve taken any training on poverty, one of the first things you learn about generational poverty is people raised in poverty live in a reactive state.  They live for today and react to today. That’s why it doesn’t help to say “You’re learning so that someday you can go to college”. That doesn’t even beep on their radar screen, and you might as well be speaking to them in Klingon.

So we start making assumptions: “I guess they aren’t really gifted.”

In order to understand the true ability of students raised in poverty, we need BOTH a verbal and a nonverbal cognitive ability score.  The level of the nonverbal score indicates their giftedness.  The gap between the verbal and the nonverbal  score directs us to the types of services the child needs to build their verbal abilities to the level needed to succeed in academic settings.

At the very least, the knowledge in today’s article and in this course will help the individual teacher determine, by observation, if a student has a wide gap between their verbal and nonverbal intelligence. Ideally, this information will allow your district to provide differentiated learning to students with low verbal scores but high nonverbal scores.

In my next article, we’ll be discussing the different forms of intelligence.


Only two weeks left for this article series.
Deadline for buying this course for only $60 ($30 off regular price) is fast approaching.
Buy Joyce Juntune’s 6 Hour Nature & Needs by clicking here or call (281) 560-3499.

The guided online course is designed to provide teachers with the tools to:

  1. Identify and understand gifted and talented students
  2. Learn the characteristics of gifted children and how to separate these from behaviors
  3. Discover the four different types of gifted
  4. Gain awareness of the danger of “underground” G/T students
  5. Understand what makes gifted students different from normal and high achieving students.
  6. Learn the 4 domains of development in students and how it applies to gifted students
  7. Why gifted programs are necessary in our districts and why we should model high school football programs
  8. Know the importance of differentiation even within the G/T classroom
  9. Discover the impact of a child’s environment and how it will influence their development

For Coordinators and Directors: Call (281) 560-3499 to speak with Jan for bulk purchases. Reflective questions and activities in the online course facilitate user engagement, and the learning management system provides built-in accountability and tracking.

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