This is my honours research proposal which demonstrates my ability to explore educational ideas and issues through research. This presents an opportunity for me to contribute to the professional community and improve my own knowledge and practice. It also demonstrates my knowledge of policies that may be implemented in a school enviornment.
All schools have the responsibility of providing education to assist students in reaching their potential. Gifted and talented students are one particular student population, which has been identified by the New South Wales Department of Education and Training (NSW DET) as requiring specialised educational provisions to ensure that identified students achieve high quality educational outcomes. The NSW DET defines gifted and talented students using Gagné’s Differentiatied Model of Giftedness and Talent (2003, cited in NSW DET, 2004, p. 6). This definition recognises gifted students as those whose potential is above average in intellectual, creative, social and physical domains.
To cater for the needs of gifted and talented students, educational initiatives such as opportunity classes, specialist schools and full-time or part-time classes are provided to create opportunities for identified students. These opportunities are similarly present in an international context, with much of the research exploring the cognitive and academic implications of these programs from a wide range of countries.
Educational research devoted to gifted and talented programs is largely concerned with the cognitive affects on participants of these programs. This is particularly vital, as gifted students in regular classrooms are often provided with very little modifications, thus causing students to remain unchallenged, feel frustrated and ultimately underachieve (Knight & Becker, 2000, p. 11). The research in this area spans across a wide range of initiatives including acceleration, ‘pull-out’ programs and homogeneous grouping. Despite the substantial research advocating the many advantages of grouping gifted and talented students homogenously, there is still wide-spread debate as to whether all the needs of gifted and talented students are met in this environment (Adams-Byers, Whitsell & Moon, 2004).
There is also an increasing body of research which argues for the investigation of how students’ social and emotional needs are met in a gifted and talented learning context (Neihart, 2007, p. 330). High ability students often have higher levels of emotional intensity that are not representative of their chronological age and cognitive capacity (Plunkett & Kronberg, 2007) which may often affect the relationship that gifted students will have with their peers. Eddles-Hirsch (2006, p. 14) similarly highlights the lack of provision for the differences in social and emotional development of gifted children within various enrichment programs. The DET policy for gifted and talented students also recognises that the most effective gifted and talented programs should incorporate provisions for the social and emotional development of students with the inclusion of counselling options (2004, p. 10).
In an attempt to investigate the way in which the academic and emotional needs of gifted students are met in an Australian context, Plunkett and Kronberg (2007) carried out a study which investigated the effects of an Extended Curriculum Program in an independent single sex secondary school. The study found that the implementation of this ‘pull-out’ program met the cognitive needs of students while providing them with a social environment where they could be with ‘like-minded’ peers. However, other case studies have shown that measures taken to meet the academic needs of students may lead to negative social implications, including social isolation from previous friends (Knight & Becker, 2000, p. 13; Adams-Byers et al., 2004, p.12).
These two research papers present just some of the issues that are still unresolved in the area of gifted education, particularly within an Australian context. Despite the use of acceleration and enrichment programs over the past 80 years, it is still not yet determined what the most effective intervention method is for gifted students (Van Tassel- Baska, 1994, cited in Knight & Becker, 2000). Similarly further research needs to be conducted to determine the how effectively gifted programs provide social and emotional support for high-ability students. The most effective method in providing for gifted students is to ask them whether their needs are currently being met and how circumstances could be changed to provide a more beneficial learning environment (Knight & Becker, 2000, p.11). The lack of research which directly investigates students’ beliefs (Gallagher, Harradine and Coleman, 1997, cited in Knight & Becker, 2000) is one that I hope to address through my research on student perceptions on the cognitive and social-emotional provisions of their classrooms.