Academic journal article Journal of Secondary Gifted Education

"A Shock to Study"

Academic journal article Journal of Secondary Gifted Education

"A Shock to Study"

Article excerpt

Learning about the experience of living in a state-funded, public residential high school for academically talented children was the purpose of an ethnographic inquiry. Studying and homework dominated the students' lives throughout the year. Eager academically gifted high school students were "shocked" to meet the homework demands of a rigorous academic program. The general story of doing homework is told, as well as four characteristic patterns of adjustment presented as cases of studying in action. Theoretical issues related to talent development are discussed.

Adjusting to the Shock of Studying: Four Stories

Learning from the students' perspective what it is like to enter and live within an academically rigorous program was the goal of this qualitative naturalistic study of a residential public high school for the gifted. The purpose of this paper is to tell the story of how gifted students experienced the academic requirements, or more specifically, one such demand: homework. The term--shock--in the title of this paper captures the initial response many students had to this environment. Most of this paper describes how students adjusted to doing homework from their perspective as part of living in this particular program.

The idea for the paper appeared when I was considering the answers to a phenomenological-type question I had asked students: "Tell me what stands out in your mind about the experience of being at the Greenhouse Institute?" (1) One repeated phrase was "shock." That response moved me toward investigating what was shocking. I discovered that much of the life of the school could be linked to homework and studying.

Theoretical Perspective

Two theoretical perspectives are advanced in this study: a general theory and a personal theory. A nascent general theory of talent development with variations can be gleaned from the work of scholars (Bloom, 1985; Feldman, 1994; Gagne, 1999) that postulates development as occurring within the context of domains or disciplines over a relatively long period of education in which the person steadfastly is involved in his or her own growth. One postulated benchmark is the commitment of oneself to the development of one's talent. In an incremental, perhaps unconscious, manner, more and more activity and thought is devoted to learning and practicing the talent. The students in this school were selected for general academic talent with special attention given to the sciences and humanities. In this setting, students' motivation to learn is assumed. An indirect indicator of growing commitment to their academic talent may be students' ability to handle the demands of homework and studying. This paper documents how th is happened in one special program.

My personal theoretical perspective also informs this study. I have argued that we should look more closely at the development of talent in settings in which we know talent is nurtured (Coleman, 1995). These settings could be schools like Juilliard, clubs like a local chess club, or centers like the Midwest Talent Search or Olympic Village. I contend that the conventional notion that a person develops his or her talent in isolation spurred on by some mysterious inner drive downplays the more important experience of being in the right place at the right time for developing that talent (see indirect examples in Rena Subotnik's "Conversation With the Masters" series in various issues of the Journal for the Education of the Gifted). Instead, my view maintains that various cognitive and affective experiences relative to a talent domain, such as commitment, tacit knowledge, networking, modeling, and so forth, are acquired in the special setting. One crucial aspect for the emergence of high levels of talent is an in creasing level of commitment. Significantly, the commitment develops in special settings where the talent is taught, refined, and practiced. …

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