Cassie: A Gifted Musician. Socio-Cultural and Educational Perspectives Related to the Development of Musical Understanding in Gifted Adolescents

By Tomlinson, Michelle M. | Australian Journal of Music Education, July 2010 | Go to article overview

Cassie: A Gifted Musician. Socio-Cultural and Educational Perspectives Related to the Development of Musical Understanding in Gifted Adolescents


Tomlinson, Michelle M., Australian Journal of Music Education


Statement of the problem and research questions

In this case study, the aim was to discuss specific problems inherent in the notion of musical understanding as an outcome of music education. The case study focused on the integration and interplay of factors of identity, social milieu, educational environment and motivation as having profound influence on the development of musical understanding in a gifted adolescent: Cassie. The purpose of the study was illustrative, and indicative of problems existing in the implementation of the music curriculum in a speciic socio-cultural context and with an exceptionally gifted student. It was not definitive, because findings from a single case study are not generalisable. This paper will conclude with a discussion of practical and insightful recommendations, some of which are also highlighted in the literature review.

The main question to be addressed was: How may the music curriculum and its implemented by teachers cater for a student's exceptional musical ability? A subsidiary question to be addressed was: How can the student's program be differentiated while maintaining positive social, cultural and peer relationships?

Although Cassie had achieved remarkable success in her musical activities, she expressed the lack of "encouragement, opportunity and challenging goals" in her senior years of music education at school, which limited the possibilities for individual and small group music performance opportunities within the parameters of the Queensland Studies Authority Trial-pilot senior syllabus Music Extension (2006). This problem, also expressed by some of her peers, prompted this study. Cassie was selected not only for her experiences of limiting choices in existing structures and systems of education and the inadequate provisions for challenge and opportunity in music performance, but also for her academic success in other domains of learning (physics, chemistry, language and the arts). In her community she won performance awards in eisteddfods, opportunities to attend workshops and master classes, and demonstrated ability to promote a musical culture among her peers, through outstanding leadership in music at church, school and in performance ensembles. In addition, she affirmed her talent when tested for musical giftedness in a series of assessments for entry to a private school considered to offer a leading program of music education for gifted and talented musicians. While she was offered a scholarship, she chose to remain in her familiar school setting for geographic convenience.

Giftedness and underachievement

Clark (2002) defines "giftedness" as a "biologically rooted concept that serves for a label for a high level of intelligence and indicates an advanced and accelerated development of functions within the brain". She also sees "talent development" as "appropriate, deliberate and planned stimulation to develop the individual intelligence in a variety of forms or expressions" (Clark, 2002, p. 26). Intelligence, therefore, can be enhanced or inhibited by the interaction between an individual's genetic patterns and those opportunities provided by the learning environment. With regard to the exceptionally gifted, Gross (1993) describes such students as being "unique in having an extremely specialised gift that is expressed only under very specific, culturally evolved, environmental conditions". These students are "the most specialised specialist we know about" (Gross, 1993, p. 10). In her longitudinal study of children from seven to nine years of age, she confirmed observations by Hollingworth (1942) that education for these students is inappropriate. "In the ordinary ... school, children of I.Q. 140 waste half their time; those above I.Q. 170 waste all of their time" (Hollingworth, 1942, p. 299). This data is important despite its historic dating, for rigorous longitudinal studies of exceptionally gifted students of this calibre are hard to identify and study over an extended period of time.

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