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The lived experience of highly gifted adolescent girls in a radically accelerated high school program Richardson, Pamela

Abstract

This phenomenological study employs Gilligan's (2003) "Listening Guide" to examine the experiences of eight highly gifted adolescent girls, ages 13-16, who are attending Canada's only radically accelerated, high school to university transition program. Adolescence is seen as a precarious time for girls and in this period gifted girls have been known to "disappear" as they experience a decline of positive self-concept and loss of identity as gifted individuals. Academic acceleration and self-awareness building are recommended in the literature as two protective strategies against some of the pitfalls gifted adolescent girls encounter. Recent conceptions of giftedness provide alternatives to traditional performance based measures in favour of experiential, phenomenological and feminist approaches that emphasize the quality of an individual's experience, as defined for example by "asynchronous or uneven development, complexity, intensity and heightened awareness" (Silverman, 1997), or social positioning and relative access to resources as a factor in talent development. Through phenomenological interviews and group discussion, this study engages gifted adolescent girls in an examination of their thoughts, feelings and day-to-day experiences as students attending a radically accelerated high school with the goal of early entrance to university. Ten themes that represent the experience of being a highly gifted adolescent girl in a radically accelerated high school program emerged: gendered asynchrony; time outside of school; being gifted; how I learn best; adjusting habits and attitudes regarding the increased workload and pace; favouritism; competition and aggression; a complicated closeness; living social complexity; and fitting in and making friends. The researcher and the participants coanalyzed the data using Gilligan's "Listening Guide". This enables a view from the inside out of what gifted adolescent girls have to lose or gain from radical acceleration and helps them build conscious awareness of the meaning of their experiences. Despite the vast amount of research accomplished in the field of gifted education and psychology, the experience of participants during the research process is never investigated and the suitability of a particular method to gifted individuals is never queried. As such, the perceived benefits of a phenomenological and ' voice-centered method in working with a population of highly gifted adolescent girls are investigated.

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