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Talent Development for English Language Learners: Identifying and Developing Potential

reviewed by Youb Kim - February 21, 2014

coverTitle: Talent Development for English Language Learners: Identifying and Developing Potential
Author(s): Michael Matthews & Jaime Castellano (eds.)
Publisher: Prufrock Press, Austin
ISBN: 1618211056, Pages: 250, Year: 2013
Search for book at Amazon.com

This edited book provides a much-needed empowering perspective about English language learners. Rather than focusing on what English language learners, due to their linguistic and cultural deficits, cannot accomplish, the book focuses on the task of seeing their strengths and developing their talents and potential. A key challenge for this task is the implicit beliefs about the connection between language proficiency and intelligence that many monolinguals hold. Informed by practical wisdom, the editors provide readers opportunities to examine these tacit beliefs engendering inequity and offer practical strategies for promoting high achievement among English language learners.

The book consists of nine chapters from contributing authors. Chapter One introduces definitions of key terms (e.g., English language learners vs. Limited English proficient students) and issues of identifying and supporting academically advanced English language learners. Chapter Two describes the connections between talent and language development, and the development of writing skills of English language learners. Chapter Three provides information about gifted education in several countries around the world. The authors argue that taking a global perspective is one of the ways to improve education for high-ability English language learners. Chapter Four focuses specifically on talent development of Latino transnationals. Considering the possibility that underrepresentation of Latinos in gifted education might be due to educators’ unexamined assumptions about language proficiency and academic talents, the authors argue that educators need to be aware of structural barriers to talent development for Latino transnationals.  Chapter Five explicates the connection between motivation and high-ability English language learners. Chapter Six focuses on building collaborative partnerships in schools and communities to engage high-ability English language learners. Chapter Seven explains service learning as an effective method to support high-ability English language learners’ school success. Chapter Eight explains the roles of state education agencies, district leaders, superintendents, principals, and teachers. Chapter Nine is a summary of key perspectives in the previous chapters and recommendations for knowledge, attitudes, and practice for teachers and other school leaders.

Among these nine chapters, four chapters are especially insightful. Chapter One serves as a forum for examining tacit but powerful assumptions behind commonly used terms such as Limited English Proficient (LEP) and offers alternatives. Chapter Three provides a global perspective about talent development by introducing gifted education, legal requirements, and programming. In Chapter Six, the authors begin with a definition of collaboration, which guides readers to follow the logic of the chapter. It includes a conceptual map of resource support services and infuses the multicultural and global perspectives used in Chapter Three. There are also specific guides for teachers to develop collaborative partnerships in their own classrooms. In Chapter Seven, readers can find information about service learning that they can use to support high ability English language learners. Because teachers can structure service learning based on individual students’ interests and needs, service learning can be useful for other students whose talents and potential could have been undetected. The information in the chapter about the definition, participants, and five stages of service learning helps readers plan immediate implementation.

Because English language learners are a heterogeneous student population, developing their talent and potential requires utilizing a body of knowledge from an interdisciplinary perspective. Drawing upon my experiential and professional knowledge in teacher education, I have identified four areas that require further exploration to maximize the full potential of the book: 1) Target audience: Although the book is intended for “teachers, parents, and school administrators,” (p. x), it cannot be assumed that the parents of academically advanced English language learners have the English language skills to access the content; 2) Case studies: Case studies included in the book can be more intentionally utilized in the main body of the text. The current structure of side bars often disrupts the flow of reading; 3) Edupolitical contextualization: Common Core State Standards are used as a rationale for the need for greater attention to advanced academic English language learners, but the argument can be made stronger. Considering the exponential growth rate of English language learners in U.S. schools, the goal of educating all students to be college and career ready can be achieved when adequate attention is paid to the talent development of English language learners; 4) Language and literacy theories: Theories about language development need greater depth. As the editors note, language development is “an extremely social process” (p. 7). It is also a cognitive process. Vocabulary is a key element of language development as Tomasello (2003) explains in his language learning theory. The need for greater depth applies to the discussion of literacy development. Writing is an important skill that students need to develop to be college and career ready, but it cannot be developed alone, as reading and writing development are interconnected (Kim & Hinchey, 2013). The rationale for the attention to writing skill development among academically advanced English language learners needs to be explained in greater depth.

Despite these few areas in need of elaboration, the book offers an important perspective about supporting English language learners by focusing on their strengths, talents, and potential. The book is also written based upon practical wisdom and great expectations for English language learners’ school success, as noted in the following excerpt, “Strong interest in a subject area may also be a good predictor of the student’s ability to benefit from advanced learning opportunities. Although their relationship is complex and not necessarily direct, motivation and ability are interrelated and both likely predict future academic success” (p. 7). This perspective is especially important for English language learners as their proficiency or lack of proficiency in English can hinder them from demonstrating what they know. This is one of many essential reasons why the role of teachers is important in developing the talents and potential of academically advanced English language learners, as highlighted throughout the book. While the school, district, state, and national contexts are crucial, teachers are a key to the success of the development of talents and potential of English language learners. In this sense, this book rightfully acknowledges the importance of teachers. Based on the empowering perspective about educating English language learners and practical wisdom, the book makes an important contribution for teacher educators who can expand on the ideas written in the book.


Kim, Y. & Hinchey, P. (2013) Educating English language learners in an inclusive environment. New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing.

Tomasello, M. (2003). Constructing a language: A usage-based theory of language acquisition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: February 21, 2014
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17440, Date Accessed: 5/25/2022 7:53:24 PM

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About the Author
  • Youb Kim
    University of Northern Colorado
    E-mail Author
    YOUB KIM is an associate professor in Reading Program at University of Northern Colorado. She specializes in teacher education, English language learners (ELL)’ language and literacy instruction and assessment. She is a co-editor of a special issue of Theory Into Practice entitled Looking back and moving forward: No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and Quality Teaching, which will be published in the summer of 2014.
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