'Being in the World of School'. A Phenomenological Exploration of Experiences for Gifted and Talented Adolescents
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
This thesis explores the experiences of school for gifted and talented adolescents in New Zealand. The foci of inquiry are a) what it is like to be gifted and talented in a New Zealand schooling context, and b) the understandings of a group of students, their parents and teachers, about the achievement and underachievement of gifted learners. The research relates specifically to a group of 11 gifted and talented students, their experiences and ideas about what it means to be gifted and talented and to achieve as gifted and talented learners. Adopting a qualitative, phenomenological methodology, the voices of the students were prioritised in the research process and thesis writing. Semi-structured interviews are the main source of data. Multiple interviews were conducted with the adolescent participants over a period of 18 months, within their first two years of secondary schooling, and with their parents and teachers. Written reflections by the students provide supplementary data. The thesis explores and problematises understandings of achievement and underachievement that are presented in literature and were held by the research participants. The implications of these understandings on the decisions that gifted adolescents make, about what constitutes achievement and whether and how they seek to achieve in school, are highlighted. The essences of the lived schooling experiences for the gifted and talented adolescents in this study are drawn together and summarised in three main themes. The first theme relates to culture and context and how this influenced the students’ understandings about what it meant to be gifted and talented within the particular socio-cultural milieu of a New Zealand school. The participants showed an understanding of the preferred New Zealand values of modesty and the downplaying of any perceived advantages. The second theme relates to the concept of ‘potential’ as an enigma and a nebulous term that is assumed to mean different and particular things for gifted and talented learners. It is argued that it is not theoretically sound to structure definitions of underachievement for gifted learners around the idea of ‘not reaching your potential.’ The third theme relates to the negotiation of adolescent identities. Being gifted and talented added to the complexities around identity development for the students who participated in the study, as they worked to find their fit within the socio-cultural context of a New Zealand school. Four different identity profiles are developed to provide an illustration of the variation and complexity of gifted and talented students’ identity negotiations. There is little research literature that centres on the lived experiences of gifted students within New Zealand society. This study seeks to address this gap. The research and theorising from this thesis will add to the growing research base in New Zealand on educating gifted and talented learners. Readers of the thesis, who may include a range of education professionals, are invited to draw implications from the study about the experiences and achievement of gifted adolescents and relate the findings to their knowledge and understanding of gifted and talented learners, within their own work situations and cultural contexts.