Socio-Cultural Contexts for Talent Development: A Qualitative Study on High Ability, Hispanic, Bilingual Students

Valentina I. Kloosterman

The Hispanic population is one of the largest culturally aned linguistically diverse groups in the United States and is classified as a “minority group.” Officially, the United States government utilizes “Hispanic” as the ethnic designator of people of Latin American and Spanish descent living in the United States. It is necessary to recognize, however, that this term comprises persons of different ethnicities, cultures, languages, and countries of origin. According to the 1990 census, approximately 4.2 million United States youngsters aged 5 to 17 who speak a non-English language at home speak Spanish. A major concern for the public school system of the United States has been to serve students with different linguistic backgrounds in various types of bilingual/ESL (English as a Second Language) programs. In the last few decades, another concern to researchers and educators has been the significant underrepresentation of culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) students in gifted and talented programs. The absence of knowledge or understanding about the cultural, linguistic, and cognitive skills of CLD students results in limited educational policies, school programs, or other educational services that address the unique needs of this population.

This qualitative study examined personal (socio-emotional, linguistic, and cognitive aspects) and cultural characteristics of high ability, Hispanic, bilingual students in an urban elementary school, their educational experiences, and their home, school, and community environments. Case study research methods, including ethnographic interviews, participant observation, and document review were employed to gather and analyze data. The analysis of data generated themes and patterns that enabled the researcher to compare and contrast the cases. An in-depth description of each high ability, Hispanic, bilingual student provided a better understanding of his/her affective needs, interests, and abilities, as well as the school and home factors that supported academic achievement, talent development, and bilingualism.

The home and school environments of the participants played essential roles in their socio-emotional and cognitive development. Due to the young age of the participants, parents’, teachers’, and significant others’ attitudes, behaviors, and decisions, rather than willingness or personal motivation, appeared to determine the participants’ development of talents and bilingualism. The home factors identified as influencing participants’ cognitive and linguistic development were emotional support, family values such as respect or “respeto,” “be good,” “family first,” “education,” “see the world,” and “be someone.” Other factors included strong maternal role, Hispanic legacy, and maintenance of the Spanish language. Three major school factors appeared to support academic achievement and talent development in the 12 Hispanic, bilingual students: safe school environment, flexible grouping, and English support for those students who needed language development. A series of conflicting issues related to the characteristics, values, and perspectives of the school and home cultures emerged.


Kloosterman, V. I. (1999). Socio-cultural contexts for talent development: A qualitative study on high ability, Hispanic, bilingual students (RM99142). Storrs: University of Connecticut, The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented.

Socio-Cultural Contexts for Talent Development: A Qualitative Study on High Ability, Hispanic, Bilingual Students
Valentina I. Kloosterman


  1. Home factors influencing talent development of high ability, Hispanic, bilingual students include emotional support, family values (e.g., respect, family, education, career), maternal role, role models from extended family, Hispanic legacy, maintenance of the Spanish language, and trips to the country of parents’ origin.
  2. School factors influencing talent development of high ability, Hispanic, bilingual students include a safe school environment, flexible grouping, and English support, when necessary.
  3. Teachers of high ability, Hispanic students often have little or no knowledge of the language spoken at home. They have the impression, if a student is not in ESOL, that the student is not bilingual, when in fact many are also biliterate. Teachers show a limited understanding of the meaning and practices of multiculturalism.
  4. The assessment of Hispanic students should be measured by standards reflecting their ethnic and cultural background.
  5. Direct communication needs to be established between school and Hispanic parents including information regarding identification procedures for gifted programs, and methods that parents can use to help their children at home.
  6. Professional development needs to be established to help staff understand cultural, linguistic, and learning style differences among high ability, Hispanic students.
  7. Classroom teachers should have access to information regarding the linguistic history and current level of Spanish usage of their high ability, Hispanic students.