Supporting Gifted Learners in Dual Immersion Programs

How do you support gifted students in your dual immersion program? The following are insights offered by national experts in dual immersion implementation responding to the inquiry of Michael J. Shapiro, Dual Language Washington Leadership.


Michael J. Shapiro, Bilingual Education Advisory Committee (OSPI), Vice Chair ,  Dual Language Washington, Leadership ,  Madison Elementary Dual Language Enrichment Program, Third Grade Teacher,  Southern Poverty Law Center, Leadership Council

The Mount Vernon School District is currently working on how best to address the needs of its highly capable students who are enrolled in its dual immersion programs. The same is being proposed in non-dual immersion settings. Through testing in both English and Spanish, highly capable students have been identified in elementary grades. There is a proposal to put all highly capable students into one classroom and then  distribute high achievers, mainstream, and below grade level students into the high achiever class as well as into the classes with no highly capable students. The term being used to identify this grouping is “clustering”. In our dual language fourth grade cohort of 50 students, 6 have been identified as highly capable.

Are you aware of other dual immersion programs who utilize clustering or research on the use of clustering in dual immersion settings? In addition, what are your thoughts about this proposal?

Responses from Dual Immersion Leaders:

Dr. Leo Gomez , Dual Language Training Institute

The position of Gomez & Gomez on this issue has always been to “not” cluster (or separate) the highly capable children and instead mix them with other children across classrooms, but provide them opportunities certain times in the week where they can come together for certain instructional/project-based activities. If program is implemented with full fidelity, the G & G DLE program uses instructional practices designed for “highly capable” children (the 28 best practices embedded in the program), but for all children in the program. The DLE program should deliver engaged, rigorous lessons at the level of the top 25% of the class (which would target the highly capable and high achievers) and through paired work, CR, (following lesson cycle) supports the lower students so that we close

academic gaps. I attached two documents related to what was mentioned in this discussion: 28 Best Practices and the DLE Lesson Cycle for your review.

I have not read any dual immersion literature or research regarding “clustering” for this group, but I imagine that some DL programs may do that or consist of only this group, which in essence creates segregated elite DL programs only for this group.

I have copied your email to Richard Gomez so that he may weigh in on your question. I’m sure he has additional insights, especially as it relates to WA perspective on the education of highly capable children.


David Rogers, Executive Director, Dual Language Education New Mexico 

My opinion on clustering comes most from my years as a school principal with one of our states best gifted/talented programs.   Clustering can be helpful for scheduling purposes (ie. for when enrichment activities can/should be provided to that specific group), but you want to make sure you don’t isolate these students from the general population because A) they are academic models and resources for their peers, and B) in many cases the enrichment activities aren’t as linguistically rich or challenging, when provided through the Spanish language.  If you have been sensitive to this in your decisions for classroom and/or group placement, then it can be a very good thing.  As for the research, good luck . . . .  I would probably turn to the same folks as you in order to find a school community or two that is trying on something similar.  Kathryn Lindholm-Leary and Rosa Molina are doing much work in your area, and would be the ones who could most likely find you a pair.  I’m presently in Costa Rica studying a program that focuses on Global Learning and there are a bunch of highly capable students participating (mostly because they have had higher socio-economic opportunities).  Dr. Elizabeth Howard is also working at the school during her sabbatical, so let me ask her about schools who are doing similar clustering of students.


Ann E. Ebe, PhD, Coordinator of Bilingual Programs,  Associate Professor of Literacy Education, Department of Curriculum & Teaching , Hunter College, City University of New York

If  I’m understanding this correctly, students who are identified as “highly capable” are put together in one class and then “high, med, and low” children are distributed among all the classes. The idea would be at all of the ‘high flyers’ would be in one class – if I’m reading this correctly.

Both colleagues immediately commented on how deeply troubling and disturbing the ‘highly capable’ (vs not highly capable?) terminology was. We also have not heard of tracking in DL programs. In fact, a lot of the literature (in general) is against tracking. Having mixed ability classrooms is much more typical, with a focus on differentiation. One colleague wrote:

They probably should think about the benefits of heterogeneous classes for everyone and talk about what differentiated instruction would look like in each language. 

Another colleague wrote:

I do understand that programs use assessments to get a sense of their students’ abilities.  It is paramount that DL programs use multiple measures that match the language goals of the program in order to assess their students.  For example, when I was a teacher and we were doing classroom reorganization, we would sit down with each students’ running records in English and Spanish.  We would also have some math assessments and a general idea of their ‘language dominance’ and lastly we would consider their behavior and attitudes.  Based on all these measures we would create classes that were truly heterogeneous and most importantly balanced.  I don’t have research to back this up, but I do think that balance across multiple measures is important in order for things like grouping and student partnerships to work.


Virginia P. Collier, Ph.D., Professor Emerita of Bilingual/Multicultural/ESL Education,  George Mason University

I haven’t kept up with this issue.  Our latest book (Creating Dual Language Schools for a Transformed World: Administrators Speak) has a very brief section written by Marjorie Myers (pp. 5-6) on this kind of careful distribution of students in each classroom for making sure that students of all levels work together and help each other, and as a principal of a dual language school (in Arlington, VA), Marjorie finds this works very well and is important to do.  I certainly have always advocated for integration and mixing of students in dual language classes.  The power of dual language itself is that students are constantly teaching each other, and when we mix students across ethnic background, social class, and abilities, they learn powerful lessons from each other.


Elizabeth LaFever,  Additive Bilingual Developer, Spanish Dual Language Program,  Bellevue School District, WA

I  was talking with Tina and she said that within the Mandarin program they chose not to cluster students who have been identified in K-1.  Teachers are given materials to extend and enrich.  After 2nd grade if students are identified as gifted they can opt to transfer into the gifted program which is located at a few other schools in our district.  One rationale they had for not clustering was the workload on one teacher of having many IEPs.

I guess my wondering is what are the benefits of clustering?  I haven’t read research on it, I’m curious to learn more.

We do have supplemental enrichment programs (1 x/week?) at our 3 spanish DL schools but at this point they are all in English.  I hope that in the future we can include something in Spanish as well.

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