Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Gifted Students' Perception of Special Courses. (On-Going Topics)

Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Gifted Students' Perception of Special Courses. (On-Going Topics)

Article excerpt

Abstract

In Salzburg, for many years, special courses have been offered to students who are particularly gifted. In an evaluation, the students reported their perceptions of the learning situation on a lesson-to-lesson base with the so-called lesson-interruption method and in a summative questionnaire at the end of the school year. Selected results of this study are reported, dealing with situation specificity of teaching, interest of the students, demands and student independence in the lessons. The results show, among others, that the teaching is less situation specific, less demanding, and more direct than assumed. Further, interest seems to be a very important parameter even with students who are very interested anyway. Some conclusions are drawn.

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How do gifted students perceive the special courses they follow because they are particularly interested in the topic? This was the general question addressed when we were asked to do an evaluation of the so-called Plus-courses, a set of enrichment courses offered to gifted students of 16 years and above in Salzburg. The courses have been offered since 1987; the selected students from different schools all over the Austrian Bundesland Salzburg join a course with two weekly hours on a special topic. There is no admission test, but the courses are known for challenging new experiences beyond the daily routine; students who show high performances in the regular lessons are nominated by their teachers to attend these special courses. In the academic year 1999-2000 the courses were evaluated for the first time. The aim of the present study was to collect information about the courses and how the teaching was perceived by the students.

To answer the evaluation question, we used several instruments; in the present paper, we report the results of assessments which can be seen as alternative or at least as a complement to the traditional assessments of the students' perceptions of teaching.

The traditional approach for such assessments is to use questionnaires with very general statements like "The teacher is not very strict" (Moos, 1974). However, teachers claim that they teach very situation specifically (see Patry, 1995a), so they may be strict in some lessons (or even parts of the lessons) and not strict at all in other lessons (or parts of lessons) -- and this is what research results show (Patry, 1995b). Hence, it becomes problematic to know what actually the students report when they say that a given teacher is strict: whether it is the last experience with this teacher, or the average over the lessons of the last week, or of the last month, or of the last year.

In contrast, we used the so-called "lesson interruption method" (Patty, 1997) which allows the assessment on a on a lesson-to-lesson basis: The students answer questions of the kind mentioned above; however, the context or situation to which the statements apply are given with high precision, stating, for instance, "in the last 15 minutes the teacher was very strict". This can be done several times (usually not within the same lesson, though), and after some experience the students can answer very quickly and the lesson is not disturbed: The teacher can continue without any problem where he or she stopped before the assessment. This instrument can be used to assess any construct that is typically investigated in the traditional global classroom atmosphere studies, yet it is by far more precise and sensitive to changes. In previous studies, significant differences between lessons within the same teacher teaching the same topic to the same class were found in most cases (Patry, 1997) or in almost half of the cases (Patry, Schwetz & Gastager, 2000:79 significant differences with p<.05 out of 163). Do to space restrictions we cannot give details in this regard; a theory that can explain these findings is provided by Patry (1992). Such situation specificity jeopardizes assessments of teaching if the situations are not accounted for: One does not know what the assessment is representative for, i. …

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