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Social and emotional factors and achievement patterns amongst high ability learners

ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 2009
Dissertation
Author: Jacquelynn Anne Truckey
Abstract:
Research indicates that social and emotional factors play a very important role in the achievement levels of all learners and especially so for gifted populations. This qualitative multi-case study was designed to explore, with a sample of secondary level gifted students, their lived experiences and the influences that contribute to their learning success. The rationale for this study stems from the researcher's desire to discover ways to better support secondary gifted students and to help them find more engagement and passion in school. The purposefully selected sample was composed of five students at the middle and high school levels who had been previously identified as gifted. Additionally, another 17 participants (parents, teachers, administrators, counselors, and one school board member) were included in the study to lend further insight into the experiences of the student participants. The primary data collection method was in-depth interviews. Supportive methods included multiple classroom observations and document analysis. The data were coded and organized according to the researcher's questions. Analysis and interpretation of findings were organized according to this abbreviated conceptual framework: (a) Intrinsic and extrinsic influences; (b) Programming; (c) Achievement; (d) Relationships; (e) Affective struggles; (f) Understanding. This research revealed that affective factors influenced these students greatly (in positive and negative ways) and these social and emotional student needs are rarely addressed at school. Further, it was discovered that the students lacked meaningful relationships with teachers at school and that there was a general lack of understanding about giftedness across all sections of this learning community. Recommendations are made for the school district, specific school sites, teachers, parents, and students as well as for future research possibilities.

v Table of Contents Chapter One: Introduction .................................................................................................. 1

Statement of the Problem ........................................................................................ 7

Purpose of the Study ............................................................................................... 9

Research Questions ............................................................................................... 10

Research Method .................................................................................................. 10

Organization of the Study ..................................................................................... 12

Personalizing the Work ......................................................................................... 13

Definition of Terms............................................................................................... 15

Chapter Two: Review of the Literature ............................................................................ 19

A Historical Look at Giftedness ........................................................................... 20

Identification ......................................................................................................... 26

Programming......................................................................................................... 29

Some Subgroups of The Gifted ............................................................................. 33

Some Social/Emotional Issues .............................................................................. 45

Chapter Three: Methodology ............................................................................................ 48

Introduction ........................................................................................................... 48

Purpose of the Study ............................................................................................. 49

Research Questions ............................................................................................... 50

Population and Sample ......................................................................................... 51

Data Collection ..................................................................................................... 52

Data Analysis ....................................................................................................... 56

Methods for Data Analysis and Synthesis ............................................................ 58

Issues of Trustworthiness ...................................................................................... 60

The Researcher...................................................................................................... 60

Limitations ............................................................................................................ 60

Summary ............................................................................................................... 61

Chapter Four: Description of the Setting and Players ...................................................... 63

Introduction ........................................................................................................... 63

School District Description ................................................................................... 63

Study Site: Ptarmigan Middle School ................................................................... 66

School Site: Ten Mile High School ...................................................................... 68

Profiles of Student Participants ............................................................................. 70

Summary ............................................................................................................... 77

Chapter Five: Results ....................................................................................................... 78

Introduction ........................................................................................................... 78

Research Questions and Results/Themes.............................................................. 79

Objective Analysis of Themes .............................................................................. 81

Chapter Summary ................................................................................................. 94

vi Chapter Six: Analysis and Interpretation of Results ......................................................... 95

Introduction ........................................................................................................... 95

Interpretation ....................................................................................................... 100

Passion or Interest Areas ..................................................................................... 100

Self-awareness .................................................................................................... 101

Self-efficacy ........................................................................................................ 102

Relatedness ......................................................................................................... 103

Motivation ........................................................................................................... 104

Effectiveness ....................................................................................................... 107

Summary ............................................................................................................. 110

Chapter Seven: Summary .............................................................................................. 111

Introduction ......................................................................................................... 111

Summary of the Study ........................................................................................ 112

Data Analysis ..................................................................................................... 118

Results ................................................................................................................. 120

Implications......................................................................................................... 127

Limitations .......................................................................................................... 130

Recommendations ............................................................................................... 130

Recommendations for School District ................................................................ 132

Recommendations for Schools ........................................................................... 133

Recommendations for Teachers .......................................................................... 136

Recommendations for Parents ............................................................................ 137

Recommendations for Students .......................................................................... 139

Recommendations for Future Studies ................................................................. 141

Reflection ............................................................................................................ 141

Bibliography ................................................................................................................... 144

Appendix A ..................................................................................................................... 154

Appendix B ..................................................................................................................... 156

Appendix C ..................................................................................................................... 157

Appendix D ..................................................................................................................... 158

Appendix E ..................................................................................................................... 159

Appendix F...................................................................................................................... 160

Appendix G ..................................................................................................................... 162

Appendix H ..................................................................................................................... 164

1 Chapter One: Introduction

“More important than being gifted is feeling good about oneself, feeling that what one does is important. And that one fits with the world.” James Webb

Gifted education and gifted programs routinely ignite controversy in the literature, in the news and in general conversation amongst educators and non-educators alike. As Colangelo states: The base of the controversy is society’s subtle (and not so subtle) love-hate relationship with giftedness and talent…as a nation we have a strong commitment to egalitarianism, as reflected in that mighty phrase, “All men are created equal” (Colangelo, 2003, p. 3).

Critics accuse gifted programs of inequity and the failure to abide by democratic principles and refer to gifted programs as “…meritocratic, inequitable educational programming within schools…” (Sapon-Shevin, 1993, p. 66). Effectively meeting the needs of gifted learners, at the elementary and secondary levels, has been difficult in both the academic and social/emotional realms. Educators differ not only on their perspectives on how to optimize instruction but even on the basic tenets of the subject: What is giftedness? Is giftedness an absolute (a person is gifted or not gifted) or a relative (varying degrees of giftedness develop in certain people at certain times under certain conditions) concept? Is giftedness static (you have it or you don’t) or is it dynamic (it varies within each individual and situation)? These questions have led to fundamental change in the ways in which we view the gifted. Contemporary viewpoints see

2 giftedness as an evolving, dynamic potential rather than a fixed trait. This basic philosophy impacts how school districts provide for the identification as well as the ongoing programming for these children and we must turn to current research findings as we strive to shape our own perspectives. But putting all of our efforts into proper identification and programming is only part of the picture. The bottom line and our main focus, however, should be the student. Taking the time to develop a holistic understanding of each one of our students will undoubtedly enable us to pave educational pathways for each that are not only appropriate but highly engaging as well. When developing a holistic understanding of each child as an individual, one must begin with a foundational understanding of the typical characteristics of gifted children in general, knowing that each child is different and this understanding is only a starting point. In the following thesis our lens is narrowed even more toward the gifted adolescent, with a particular focus on the social and emotional behaviors and traits of these learners, especially as this relates to their ability to be successful and achieve at appropriate levels in school. Student achievement in schools has always been of interest to persons both in and out of education. Parents are concerned about their own student’s ability to achieve as they know this directly impacts their son or daughter’s ability be happy, successful, and fulfilled in their adult life. Businesses are concerned about how students in their local schools achieve because they know this can put the local offerings in a positive light. Politicians are concerned because taxpayer’s money is used to fund our public schools. Student achievement has been a topic of interest dating back to the beginning of the

3 United States of America, but, despite this fact, educators still struggle with the dilemma of those that, for whatever reason, underachieve. This situation is especially baffling when the student has been found to have high potential but just doesn’t perform at the levels one would expect. What could possibly account for this? This study is intended to contribute to the knowledge base in this area of quandary and could shed some light on this topic of student academic performance. Now in the twenty-first century we, as educators, find ourselves consumed with how to ensure that each and every child learns and is challenged to his or her potential. Twenty years ago, headlines in our nation’s newspapers issued a wake-up call to the American public: student learning across the United States of America was at a most depressing low. “A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform,” a report authored by the National Commission on Excellence (1983), specifically cited the following: 1. International comparisons of student achievement, completed a decade ago, reveal that on 19 academic tests, American students were never first or second, and, in comparison with other industrialized nations, were last seven times. 2. 23 million American adults are functionally illiterate by the simplest tests of everyday reading, writing, and comprehension. 3. About 13 percent of all 17-year-olds in the United States can be considered functionally illiterate. Functional illiteracy among minority youth may run as high as 40 percent (Fraser, 2001, p.323).

4 A Nation at Risk not only grabbed the attention of the nation but it inspired action as well. As Al Shanker, late president of the American Federation of Teachers noted: A Nation at Risk was an exposition of what we would now call systemic reform: figuring out what we want students to know and be able to do and making sure that all parts of the educational system—standards, curriculum, textbooks, assessments, teacher training—move simultaneously toward the achievement of agreed-upon goals (Gordon, 2003, p. 2).

Among other important goals, a focusing on results ensued. In 1989 the nation’s governors were summoned to a meeting on education by President George Bush. The result of that collaboration was the following, Goals 2000: 1. All children in America will start school ready to learn; 2. The high school graduation rate will increase to at least 90%; 3. American students will leave grades four, eight, and twelve having demonstrated competency in challenging subject matter, including English, mathematics, science, history, and geography, and every school in America will ensure that all students learn to use their minds well, so they may be prepared for responsible citizenship, further learning, and productive employment in our modern economy; 4. U.S. students will be first in the world in mathematics and science achievement; 5. Every adult American will be literate and will possess the knowledge and skills necessary to compete in a global economy and exercise the right and responsibilities of citizenship; and

5 6. Every school in America will be free of drugs and violence and will offer a disciplined environment that is conducive to learning (United States Department of Education, 1994). The following two goals were added by Congress and included in Goals 2000 when signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994: 7. Teachers will have access to professional development opportunities that will assist them in effectively supporting students for the twenty-first century. 8. By the year 2000, every school will promote partnerships that will increase parental involvement and participation in promoting the social, emotional, and academic growth of children (United States Department of Education, 1994). Student achievement has remained a national focus of concern and in 2002 The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) was signed into law by President George W. Bush. This act required that schools show evidence that “every child is learning…regardless of race, family background, or income” (United States Government online, 2002). In addition, specific to our public schools’ gifted population, the Exceptional Child Education Act (ECEA) mandates that achievement is monitored for these students as well. The rules state that each school district is deemed an administrative unit and in order to be eligible for funding it must submit a detailed program plan: The administrative unit program plan shall describe:

12.02 (1) (e) (i) Methods by which student achievement is monitored and measured for continual learning progress and how such methods align with the state accreditation process (e.g., intervention progress monitoring data sources, advanced learning plan goals, and performance, district, and state assessment data);

6 12.02 (1) (e) (ii) Methods by which student affective growth is monitored and measured for continual development (e.g., rubrics for personal journals and anecdotal data, student surveys, demonstration of self-advocacy, and student career and/or college plans);

12.02 (1) (e) (iii) Methods for ensuring that gifted student achievement and reporting are consistent with accreditation requirements (i.e., disaggregation of state assessment data for gifted students, identification of discrepancies in the data, goal setting and demonstration of growth);

12.02 (1) (e) (iv) Methods for self-evaluation of the gifted program including a schedule for periodic feedback and review (e.g., review of gifted policy, goals, identification process, programming components, personnel, budget and reporting practices, and the impact of gifted programming on student achievement and progress); (ECEA Rules, Colorado Department of Education online, 2008). Students in gifted programs are expected to achieve commensurate growth annually. ECEA defines this as:

12.01 (6) “Commensurate Growth” means the academic and affective progress that can be measured and should be expected of a gifted student given the student’s level of achievement, learning needs, and abilities matched with the appropriate instructional level.”

According to Dr. Karen Rogers (Rogers, 2002) for average kids, commensurate growth is to advance one year of knowledge in one academic year. She indicates we should expect more than a year’s growth for gifted kids and best practices in gifted education will allow for this development. There is no doubt that everyone involved in a child’s education must work together to ensure that the student’s learning experience is highly successful. Rick DuFour believes that schools must do “whatever it takes” to ensure high achievement and school success. He says that “a fixation on results” will: …ultimately, inevitably, lead educators to immerse themselves in the question of “How will we respond when, despite our best efforts, our students experience difficulty in learning key concepts?” (DuFour, 2004, p. 141).

7 It is now believed that a systematic, school-wide process must be in place that routinely examines each child’s progress in school and immediately takes action and implements a response if something is found off track. This is a paradigm shift for educators, however, and every school and district is at a different place in this process. This Response to Instruction/Intervention (RTI) process will ultimately cause all connected with an educated child to become even more sensitive to results and assessments, including formative and summative, formal and anecdotal. Statement of the Problem This study is significant because there are many high-ability students in our schools who underachieve. The prestigious Marland Report (1972) noted that: …disturbingly, research has confirmed that many talented children perform far below their intellectual potential. We are increasingly being stripped of the comfortable notion that a bright mind will make its own way (p. 3).

In 1975, one report (Lemov, 1979) estimated that as many as 15-30% of high school dropouts were gifted and talented and the majority of those students were from low socio- economic status (SES) families and culturally and linguistically diverse groups (Renzulli & Park, 2002). Studies indicate that these students may suffer from depression, may be pessimistic or distrustful, may feel alienated or withdrawn, may be aggressive, hostile, resentful, or touchy. In some cases these factors may lead to dropping out of school entirely. These are serious issues that must be adequately addressed within any gifted program that strives to effectively educate the whole child. This begs the question: Why do some students with high potential just not live up to it? According to Webb: Although gifted students possess exceptional capabilities, most cannot excel without assistance. They need assistance academically, but they also need

8 assistance emotionally through understanding, acceptance, support, and encouragement (Webb, 1994, p.10).

Understandably, providing advanced academic challenges for the gifted learner is not enough. Programming options in most of our secondary schools address academic needs of students through honors classes, advanced placement, and/or community college offerings at the high school level. In addition, students can immerse themselves in arts- related activities, Speech & Debate, or athletics, etc. The conundrum that presents itself is why, if given such a variety of options to enhance school performance and enjoyment, do students continue to underachieve? What needs still must be addressed? Numerous professionals in the field of gifted education, in particular, point to the need for a more intensive focus on the affective needs of high ability learners. Howard Gardner has said: The less a person understands his own feelings, the more he will fall prey to them. The less a person understands the feelings, the responses, and behavior of others, the more likely he will interact inappropriately with them and therefore fail to secure his proper place within the larger community (Delisle, 2002, p. 62).

According to Jim Delisle (2002) there are vastly different ways of being gifted and gifted kids have very different emotional needs. Delisle infers that there are predictors that seem useful, however, in beginning to generalize about the affective needs of gifted individuals and include both quantitative and qualitative factors. One way to do this is to think of the learner as being in need of either acceleration or enrichment. Colangelo and Zaffrann (1979) point to the terms “accelerated” and “enrichment” and state that they actually describe qualitatively different needs and learning styles of gifted youngsters and not simply methods of how to provide for those needs. These experts say that educators

9 must take deliberate steps to (1) deeply understand their gifted students and (2) understand the frameworks for “accelerated” and “enriched” learners and be able to begin to think of and plan for these learners based upon these contexts because certain known traits and behaviors exist for each category. The social and emotional needs of gifted learners is complex but adequately defining and systematically addressing those needs can have a great impact on the student’s ability to achieve according to their unique potential in school, and, ultimately, beyond their school experience. Purpose of the Study The primary purpose of this case study was to observe and describe the current programming practice for gifted learners in a school district in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain region, specifically the practices addressing the affective or social/emotional aspects of the gifted child as this relates to the child’s academic programming and his or her level of achievement. The secondary purpose was to use the data to examine whether there are disparities between student needs and services provided in this area and, if so, to make recommendations for ways to implement more strategies, policies, and programming to more adequately address these needs. Thirdly, there is undoubtedly a problem with underachievement in schools across our nation and within this specific school district studied. The additional data and observations gleaned from this study will add to the research base in this field.

10 Research Questions In order to observe and describe practices that address the social and emotional needs of gifted learners, specific questions were examined to determine if further need existed within this school district’s gifted programming to more adequately address both the academic and affective needs of the students. The research questions that drove this study included the following: 1. What factors did gifted students identify as influencing their academic achievement at the secondary level? How did past and current programming options promote long-term academic success for the identified gifted students within the school district? Were the students who were identified at the elementary level (and who were achieving at high levels) continuing to achieve at high levels at the middle and high school? 2. What relationships and systems shaped the behaviors, attitudes, and aspirations of gifted students at the secondary levels? 3. What were the social and emotional issues that identified gifted students were dealing with? Were these needs being addressed by the current gifted programming? How might these needs be met more effectively? Research Method Research questions for this multiple-case study were investigated using a qualitative approach. This is considered an instrumental case study as the cases

11 examined were used instrumentally to illustrate the issue of whether past and current programming options offered to gifted learners are effective (Creswell, 1998). Extensive, multiple sources of information in data collection were used to provide the detailed and in-depth picture of the impactfulness of this rural school district’s approach to the education of its gifted students. This case is bounded by time (approximately 3 months data collection) and place (rural Colorado). An in-depth description of the setting of each case is included, as the context to which this situation takes place is a necessary component for understanding and interpreting this picture fully. The multiple sources used in data collection for this study included observations, interviews, documents, and reports. Through this data collection, a detailed description of the case emerges, as does an analysis of themes or issues and an interpretation or assertions about the case by the researcher (Stake, 1995). To accomplish the goals of this study, the researcher began with a deliberate analysis of a variety of data points available within the district, for identified gifted students in grades 5-12, involving six elementary, one middle, and one high school, to initially determine a cohort group. This included CSAP, NWEA, student grades, attendance records, and extra-curricular activity involvement, for the past three years. The next step involved determining five students that had shown a significant drop or stagnation in achievement as compared with their own earlier academic performance. These students and their families then formed the cohort group, of which multiple in- class observations took place to gauge engagement and garner evidence of in-class higher-order thinking. Additionally, personal interviews were conducted of students and

12 their parents to begin to ascertain the reasons why school became more difficult for them (or why it was successful) and to give ideas of what could be put in place to better support the learners, socially and emotionally, throughout their secondary-level school years. Interviews were also conducted with administrators, teachers, counselors, and a gifted coach to ascertain the level of knowledge and support for the affective needs of gifted learners. Finally, a document analysis was done to look at school improvement plans and other such artifacts to determine whether social and emotional factors are acknowledged and planned for in the overall planning stages of the educational process at these schools. Organization of the Study This study is composed of seven chapters and describes and interprets the social and emotional factors that relate to student achievement for the five students intently studied. Chapter One summarizes the importance of and our focus on student achievement as well as the significance of how affective factors impact a child’s ability to achieve at high levels. Chapter Two focuses on defining giftedness; examines giftedness and other related topics throughout history; presents an integrated timeline and major contributing theorists; presents research-based identification and programming options; and takes a closer look at some subcategories of gifted students, particularly those that underachieve. Chapter Three summarizes the case study methodology and begins to delineate the specific steps involved in this particular investigation. Chapter Four presents a detailed description of the students that were included in the cohort group as well as a description of each school site. Chapter Five objectively presents the initial

13 results from all data analyses, interviews, observations, including the patterns and themes gleaned from the observations, interviews, and other data analyses. Chapter Six further analyzes the identified themes and narrows the scope by identifying three analytic categories, that are directly tied to the three main research questions. As a result of further analysis of these analytic categories, ten components representing the participants’ predominant influences on their achievement were analyzed and interpreted. These components were then related and compared to the literature in the field. These results were summarized and discussed in Chapter Seven with recommendations made upon the analysis of all results, along with implications for further study. Personalizing the Work As a classroom teacher, gifted coach, former academic tutor, and mother of two daughters, I know, first hand, that recognizing and paying close attention to the affective needs of all learners matters, but matters most intensely to the gifted learner. I have spent the past fifteen years mothering an especially bright but equally emotionally intense child and the impact that this has had on all of our family cannot be understated. As an educator and mother I have noticed areas in which academic needs were being met but where the social and emotional needs of my child could have been addressed more adequately at school. I noticed opportunities where the school and parents could have been more of a team. Adolescence is a tricky and sometimes problematic time in any child’s life, but this child’s intensities and personality patterns, it turns out, were fairly predictable and could have been better supported at school. Unfortunately this didn’t happen and these issues lead to missed opportunities, intense sadness and loss of self-

14 esteem, poor grades, and almost full-blown academic failure for this child. This was an at-risk student to be sure and only fervent and continuous focus on the social and emotional aspects of this child’s life led to recovery. This eventually translated to high achievement and school success once again, but it is still a day-by-day undertaking and support is now in place (both at home and at school) to enable continued progress. All of this round-the-clock learning that I have experienced has created a passion in me to better meet the social and emotional needs of not only my own daughter but for all of our gifted learners as well. I have seen areas where their unique needs, aside from the academic ones, could be addressed more fully. I have known students that, although they achieved and seemed happy in elementary school, gradually stopped achieving at high levels as they progressed in school. While I have worked with many successful and highly engaged learners I have also known students that have experienced a multitude of failures that left their mark…and I think these failures could have been prevented, in part, by having social and emotional supports in place at school. I have come to believe that educating our youth must involve two, intense and explicit, focuses: one on academics, involving a systematic monitoring of the results of best, first instruction and then the deliberate, research-based response to whatever the results tell us. The other focus must involve a deep analysis of the student’s social and emotional behaviors and traits and a quick but deliberate, research-based response to what we see there too. Every year gifted students appear in classrooms, their eyes sparkling with eagerness for challenge but with, oftentimes, their worries locked within. Highly capable but underachieving students continue to drop out of school, if not

15 physically then mentally and emotionally. These “disenchanted” students must be looked at beyond achievement because the affective components can be a huge aid in effectively teaching the academic components (Betts, 2008). We are allowing children to fail and we, as educators, can do better. I believe this can happen through targeted, systematic, and intentional efforts, but the bottom line is we must have put deliberate steps in place, within the social and emotional realms, that will enable us to deeply know and understand our students so that we may truly help to move them forward in all areas of their development. This cannot be left to chance. Definition of Terms Advanced Learning Plan (ALP) – Also called a Personalized Learning Plan (PLP) or Developmental Learning Plan (DLP). This is a plan developed usually at the school level for a gifted student that includes a variety of information such as: academic strengths and areas of concern, affective needs, assessment information, programming needs and experiences, as well as individual learning goals, objectives, and measures. The ALP is usually written with input from all stakeholders within the student’s support system.

Full document contains 172 pages
Abstract: Research indicates that social and emotional factors play a very important role in the achievement levels of all learners and especially so for gifted populations. This qualitative multi-case study was designed to explore, with a sample of secondary level gifted students, their lived experiences and the influences that contribute to their learning success. The rationale for this study stems from the researcher's desire to discover ways to better support secondary gifted students and to help them find more engagement and passion in school. The purposefully selected sample was composed of five students at the middle and high school levels who had been previously identified as gifted. Additionally, another 17 participants (parents, teachers, administrators, counselors, and one school board member) were included in the study to lend further insight into the experiences of the student participants. The primary data collection method was in-depth interviews. Supportive methods included multiple classroom observations and document analysis. The data were coded and organized according to the researcher's questions. Analysis and interpretation of findings were organized according to this abbreviated conceptual framework: (a) Intrinsic and extrinsic influences; (b) Programming; (c) Achievement; (d) Relationships; (e) Affective struggles; (f) Understanding. This research revealed that affective factors influenced these students greatly (in positive and negative ways) and these social and emotional student needs are rarely addressed at school. Further, it was discovered that the students lacked meaningful relationships with teachers at school and that there was a general lack of understanding about giftedness across all sections of this learning community. Recommendations are made for the school district, specific school sites, teachers, parents, and students as well as for future research possibilities.