Gifted students and their school libraries: educational environments, experiences and explorations

Author: Mariusz Sterna

  • Thesis download: available for open access on 21 Sep 2024.

Sterna, Mariusz, 2023 Gifted students and their school libraries: educational environments, experiences and explorations, Flinders University, College of Education, Psychology and Social Work

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The research for this thesis investigated the role that secondary school libraries play in the lives of gifted students in South Australian schools. The following research questions framed and guided the research: How do intellectually gifted students (a) describe their experiences of using a secondary school library, and (b) differ from other students in the perceptions of those experiences? A three phase, mixed methods approach was used for the research, which comprised an exploratory qualitative phase, an exploratory quantitative and qualitative phase, and an explanatory qualitative phase. Research participants were undergraduate student volunteers in their first semester of tertiary education at Flinders University. Therefore, participants’ school library experiences, including the pivotal final year of high school subsequently reflected a high percentage of participant feedback from individuals who were either formally assessed as intellectually gifted or informally designated as such. The exploratory Focus Group Discussions provided initial data that assisted in creating a more focused survey instrument, which also included participant giftedness assessment measure. Three distinct participant giftedness groups were identified through the survey instrument. These were: students officially or formally identified as gifted, students who self-identified as gifted in the survey instrument and students who have not been officially identified and did not self-identify themselves as gifted. Three key findings emerged from the research, which reflected various aspects of the experience of school libraries by gifted and non-identified as gifted participants. These are 1) School libraries as places of refuge, 2) School library and academic achievement and 3) Students’ experiences of school library staff. The theoretical works of Hall’s Proxemics (1966), Foucault’s Heterotopia (1967) and Soja’s Thirdspace (1996) were used to interrogate and discuss the findings. The key message of the study signals concerns in the systemic design of the schooling experience in terms of inclusivity for students who are gifted, highly intellectually able or vulnerable, as well as the nature of student-staff social interactions within school libraries. The study found that for gifted students especially, a school library becomes their safe-haven in relation to wider school environments, which many of them perceive as not entirely safe. For gifted students the school library also becomes a space which positively impacts their affective and social needs as well as academic achievement (provided the library resourcing caters to their intellectual requirements). Finally, the study found that a school library is a problematic, contested space of often negative library staff - student interactions, which impact the lives of both gifted and students non-identified as gifted. The three research findings are also presented in relation to their implications for educational policy design and recommendations for practice. For each finding the recommendations are offered for three levels of educational operational governance and practice, i.e. educational systems, individual schools and individual school library. Some implications for policy development and practice for the tertiary education sector are also provided. Additionally, the study findings highlight opportunities for further research on libraries and giftedness for universities and other tertiary educational institutions.

Keywords: Gifted, school library, Thirdspace, Heterotopia, Proxemics, socio-emotional, safe haven, academic achievement

Subject: Education thesis

Thesis type: Professional Doctorate
Completed: 2023
School: College of Education, Psychology and Social Work
Supervisor: Prof John Halsey