A Tall Poppy in a Small Field

Author: Kylie Booker

Booker, Kylie, 2018 A Tall Poppy in a Small Field, Flinders University, College of Education, Psychology and Social Work

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Few studies have examined the lived experiences of profoundly gifted students in mainstream school contexts. A consensus exists in the research literature (Clarke, 2009; Delisle 2012; Renzulli, 2005) that special classes or special schools are the most effective provision for profoundly gifted students rather than provisions in mainstream schools. The reality in Australian schools is that profoundly gifted students have limited opportunities to access special schools or special classes or to establish connections with like-minded peers in mainstream schooling.

This research addresses a gap in Australian research by exploring the educational experiences and perceptions of a profoundly gifted student in terms of the student’s academic, social, and emotional development while in a mainstream schooling context. This study presents the perspective of one profoundly gifted student with supporting narratives from her parents, two siblings and seven teachers from an independent co-educational school and a government primary school. Participants were involved in four personal interview sessions over a six-month period, which took place in the family home of the main participant and in the two school environs where the profoundly gifted student completed her education.

Data were collected through interviews where participants responded to open-ended questions. This was triangulated with additional data from school documents including journals and school reports. A ‘narrative analysis’ of the data was adopted using narrative representation to unify all of the data (Clandinin & Huber, 2006) and then represent the findings through stories.

The stories provide a window to understanding the lived experiences of a profoundly gifted student in mainstream schooling. The student cited feeling and being different coupled with social awkwardness, perfectionism with intense competitiveness and the conflict of prescribed learning with successful provisions. These provisions included radical acceleration, mentorship and autonomy with individualised programs.

The findings indicate that a profoundly gifted student can be successfully educated in mainstream schools, but only in the presence of strong advocates and mentors to facilitate provisions appropriate to her abilities. A further finding of this research is the disparity between academic provisions and affective provisions in primary and secondary school contexts. Whilst this need may have been more naturally met at home, at school the profoundly gifted student’s social and emotional well-being was largely her responsibility.

The study has found that teachers had varying experiences working with this profoundly gifted student. Teachers highlighted the impact of their low self-efficacy for teaching profoundly gifted students on their instructional practice, their feelings of inadequacy about meeting the needs of such a profoundly gifted student, and their lack of knowledge and understanding of profoundly gifted students due to limited opportunities for professional development in gifted education. The teachers who indicated having success teaching the profoundly gifted student gave her freedom and encouragement to extend her learning based on her skills and interests at a complexity and pace that she determined.

This study has implications for schools because they are responsible for promoting the effective academic, social and emotional development of all students including those with diverse needs such as the profoundly gifted. The degree to which mainstream schools can achieve and maintain this for profoundly gifted students has not been determined.

This study has implications for parents of profoundly gifted students, who are shown to be valued advocates and resources. Their partnership with educators is paramount because they understand their child and can contribute to teachers being able to meet the child’s needs while in the education system.

Keywords: profoundly gifted, gifted, gifted education

Subject: Education thesis

Thesis type: Masters
Completed: 2018
School: College of Education, Psychology and Social Work
Supervisor: Dr Penny Van Deur