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Gifted adolescent girls : self-perceptions of ability within one middle school setting

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Gifted adolescent girls : self-perceptions of ability within one middle school setting
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Kramer, Linda R
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ix, 167 leaves : ; 28 cm.

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Adolescents ( jstor )
Classrooms ( jstor )
Ethnography ( jstor )
Middle schools ( jstor )
Motivation ( jstor )
Observational research ( jstor )
Schools ( jstor )
Self perception ( jstor )
Students ( jstor )
Teachers ( jstor )
Dissertations, Academic -- Educational Leadership -- UF
Educational Leadership thesis Ph. D
Gifted children ( fast )
Self-perception in children ( fast )
Teenage girls ( fast )
United States ( fast )
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theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )

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Thesis:
Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Florida, 1985.
Bibliography:
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 158-166).
Additional Physical Form:
Also available online.
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Typescript.
General Note:
Vita.
Statement of Responsibility:
by Linda R. Kramer.

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GIFTED ADOLESCENT GIRLS: SELF-PERCEPTIONS OF ABILITY
WITHIN ONE MIDDLE SCHOOL SETTING




By



LINDA R. KRAMER


A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF
THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE
DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY










UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA


1985
























Every person is, in part, "his own project" and
makes himself. Growth forward requires
courage and strength in the individual as well
as protection, permission, and encouragement from
the environment.


-- Abraham Maslow






























To Louis Geczy















ACKNOWLEDGMENTS


The writing of a dissertation is necessarily a solitary process.

Numerous long hours must be spent alone in contemplation and writing.

Yet, without the assistance, guidance, and support of a number of

people, this dissertation might not have reached fruition.

I would like to thank the members of my committee for their con-

tributions. My chairperson, Dr. Paul George, has a special insight

into the nature and needs of early adolescents, and his expertise in

this area has guided my own thinking and question-asking. Throughout

this study Dr. George has given his time and support, encouraging me

to persevere when my own spirits were lagging. My cochairperson, Dr.

Dorene Ross, has been an inspiration to me throughout my doctoral pro-

gram. I have appreciated her unfailing interest in this study, her

astute editorial comments, her confidence, and friendship. Dr. Rod

Webb has helped me develop sound research skills, as well as a broader

perspective on schooling. His dedication and enthusiasm have been

powerful sources of motivation. Dr. Sandra Damico has offered a willing

ear and numerous suggestions throughout my graduate studies. I am

grateful for her confidence in me and her ability to find the humor

in almost any situation. Dr. Gordon Lawrence has taught me how complex

the human personality is, and in so doing, has helped me come to better

understand myself. His knowledge of instruction and learning has enabled










me to become a better teacher. It is difficult to adequately thank

these individuals for their support and guidance during the last several

years.

To the girls, teachers, and mothers who opened their lives to me

I am most grateful. I have appreciated their trust, friendship, and

warm welcome, without which this study could not have been completed.

In addition, I would like to thank the many other middle school students

who offered their opinions and humorous anecdotes for inclusion in my

field notes.

I am also indebted to the many friends who spent hours listening

to my experiences and helping me clarify my thoughts. Debbie Hathaway,

Robert Hunt, Deborah Marshall, and Thomas Palumbo have been especially

supportive in this endeavor, and for their friendship I will always be

grateful.

My mother, sisters, and brother have offered their love, encourage-

ment, and support. Their faith in me has given me the strength and

desire to complete this difficult task.
















TABLE OF CONTENTS


Page
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS . . . . . .. vi

ABSTRACT . . . . . . .. viii

CHAPTER

I BACKGROUND FOR THE STUDY . . . ... 1

Statement of the Problem . . . ... 1
Significance of the Study . . . . 2
Definition of Terms . . . . 5
Design of the Study . . . . 6
Scope of the Study . . . . . 7

II REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE . . . .. 9

Theoretical Framework: Attribution and Self-Worth
Theories .............. .......... 10
Ability Formation Theory and Related Studies. ...... 14
Gifted Adolescent Girls: Studies Related to Ability
Perceptions . . . . . 29

III METHODOLOGY . . . . . .. 34

The Research Perspective . . . ... 34
The Setting . . . . . .. 38
Selection of the Research Site . . .. .38
Gaining Entry to the Site . . .. 39
Description of the Site . . . .. 43
Research Methods and Procedures . . .. .49
Asking Ethnographic Questions . . ... .49
Collecting Ethnographic Data . . .. 52
Participant observation . . .. 53
Interviewing . . . . .. 58
Unobtrusive measures . . ... 60
Making an Ethnographic Record . . .. .62
Analyzing Ethnographic Data . . ... 64
Researcher Qualifications and Biases . .. 67
Validity and Ethical Issues . . ... 69










Page

IV GIFTED ADOLESCENT GIRLS' SELF-PERCEPTIONS OF ABILITY 72

Ability and Motivation: School and Community Contexts 75
Gifted Girls' Views About Themselves . ... .76
The Gifted Program . . . .. 82
Members of a Team ...... .................. .90
Gifted girls' perceptions of Team One. ........90
Gifted girls' perceptions of Team Two ..... 98
Beliefs about Ability .... . . . 107
Multiple Definitions of Giftedness. . . 108
Affiliation Needs . . . . 116
Social Comparison . . . . 125

V CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS . . . .. .131

Relationship of Findings to Previous Studies ........ .137
Use of Findings to Research Community . . ... .142
Use of Findings to Practitioners . . .. .146


APPENDIX

A LETTER OF PERMISSION .

B GROUP INTERVIEW WITH GIRLS

C INTERVIEW WITH TEACHERS.

D INTERVIEW WITH MOTHERS .

E INDIVIDUAL INTERVIEWS WITH

F INTERVIEW WITH PRINCIPAL .

REFERENCES . . ..

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH . .


. . . . 152

. . . . 153

S. . . . 154

S. . . . 155

GIRLS . . . 156

. . . . 157

S. . . . 158

. . . . 167













Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements
for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy

GIFTED ADOLESCENT GIRLS: SELF-PERCEPTIONS OF ABILITY
WITHIN ONE MIDDLE SCHOOL SETTING

by

Linda R. Kramer

August 1985

Chairperson: Dr. Paul George
Cochairperson: Dr. Dorene Ross
Major Department: Educational Leadership

The purpose of this study was to investigate in detail the

experiences of gifted adolescent girls in one middle school, de-

lineating the social-interactional factors which influenced ability

perceptions and attitudes toward achievement. The researcher assumed

a social-interactionist perspective by which self-perceptions of

ability were viewed as the interaction of gifted girls' attitudes,

perspectives, and values with variables inherent in the school environ-

ment. The study focused on two guiding questions:

(1) What kinds of experiences do gifted girls have as members of

heterogeneous teams and homogeneous gifted classes?

(2) How do they use these experiences to construct behavior and

beliefs about ability?

Qualitative research methods were used to collect and analyze data.

Observations were conducted on the gifted classroom and interdisci-

plinary teams for 200 hours the last five months of the school year.

These observations focused on gifted girls' achievement-related behavior


viii










inside and outside classrooms, their interactions with teachers and

peers, and their speech messages about achievement and ability. Formal

and informal interviews were conducted with the gifted girls, their

teachers, and five mothers. In addition, work samples, journals written

by the girls, and cumulative school records were examined.

Data analysis revealed three factors which influenced the formation

of gifted girls self-perceptions of ability. These factors included

the following: multiple definitions of giftedness held by significant

others, affiliation needs, and social comparison.

The majority of gifted girls described themselves as having poten-

tial rather than ability. They believed their achievements resulted

from effort, and their failures from lack of motivation. These per-

ceptions were found to be the result of a cyclic process in which

gifted girls used school experiences to interpret and modify their

beliefs and attitudes about achievement, and, in turn, these beliefs

and attitudes guided their choices of behavior at school. Specifically,

the variables which seemed to be related to gifted girls' self-

perceptions of ability were the nature of student-teacher relationships

within teams, the belief that social competence was an important area

in which to achieve, and the girls' entering views about themselves.
















CHAPTER I

BACKGROUND FOR THE STUDY


The unique characteristics of gifted girls have recently received

increased attention in light of the literature which illustrates that

more adult males than females are identified as gifted (Goertzel &

Goertzel, 1962; Goertzel, Goertzel, & Goertzel, 1978; Terman & Oden,

1959). "Even though gifted girls tend to earn higher grades in school

and the prevailing stereotype of females includes superior performance

in English, foreign languages, and the arts, the adult productivity of

males is superior in all areas" (Callahan, 1981, p. 499).

Experts in the area of gifted education are concerned about the

loss of contributions of gifted and talented women to society, but

research has failed to account for what appears to be a lack of

achievement motivation in bright women. Gifted adolescent girls'

beliefs about ability, a central component in achievement motivation,

may have great bearing on their accomplishments in later life.



Statement of the Problem

The purpose of this study was to investigate and describe gifted

adolescent girls' self-perceptions of ability within one middle

school. Studies which have focused on gifted girls or women have










concentrated on personality characteristics or career-ability conflicts,

but no studies have investigated self-perceptions of ability within

specific settings.

The way students come to think about their abilities is a function

of social experience (Maehr, 1974). This is particularly true for

adolescents who, at this developmental stage, use group standards

generated by social comparison to assess their achievements (Covington,

1984). For the adolescent girl, the impact of social experience on

ability perceptions may be even more pronounced. Research has indi-

cated that females are more sensitive to negative teacher or peer

feedback and that, as they grow older, females rate their abilities

lower than males (Brophy & Good, 1974; Maccoby & Jacklin, 1974).

Theorists postulate that females, to a greater degree than males,

define themselves in relation and connection to other people

(Chodorow, 1974). Therefore, when teachers and peers accept, reject,

encourage, or restrain, they may be affecting not only the present

achievement-related behavior and ability perceptions of girls, but they

may also be creating images that affect girls' future motivations and

aspirations. The goal of this study was to describe and explain the

experiences of gifted adolescent girls in one school, delineating

social-interactional factors which influence ability perceptions and

attitudes toward achievement.



Significance of the Study

While much of the theory and research on ability perceptions has

resulted from studies which have been conducted with adult subjects










and in laboratory settings, the focus of this study was on the school

contexts in which students' self-perceptions of ability develop. The

growing body of research conducted thus far on students' perceptions

of school experiences has indicated that students consciously attempt

to make sense of the social and cognitive aspects of school. These

studies have characterized students as active interpreters of classroom

experiences, sensitive to "the differential behaviors that teachers

might display toward various groups of students, such as high and low

achievers and boys and girls" (Weinstein, 1983, p. 302). An examina-

tion of school experiences as they relate to the formation of ability

perceptions, then, can provide information about how gifted girls come

to view and understand their own abilities relative to others.

Mishler (1979) has pointed out that the tendency for researchers

to apply the methodology developed in the natural sciences to the

investigation of social processes has resulted in context-stripping

methods which seek to formulate universal laws. Thus, the importance

of context has largely been ignored. By focusing on the school

contexts in which gifted girls' self-perceptions of ability occur,

this study attempted to investigate the possible environmental factors

which may influence the development of ability perceptions and

achievement-related behaviors in bright girls who are regularly

removed from the classroom to participate in special instruction.

The possibility of environmental conditions which would seem to affect

the motivation and achievement of gifted and talented females was noted

by Callahan (1981) who suggested that we have little conclusive










evidence because these conditions are "perhaps untestable in the

experimental traditions" (p. 502).

This study may also yield a number of contributions to both prac-

tice and research as they relate to the psychosocial development of

gifted adolescent girls. The need for such research has been illustrated

by the recent formation, in Florida, of a task force to examine middle

childhood education, and to make recommendations concerning program

structure, organization, curriculum, and student services. This task

force has found that students in grades four through eight "must

accomplish a number of developmental tasks, and middle childhood

programs must recognize the developmental diversity and needs of

students" (Speakers Task Force on Middle Childhood Education, 1983,

p. V-2). Based on the task force's work, a bill entitled Progress in

Middle Childhood Education (HB830) has called for new course require-

ments in math, science, and social studies for middle grade students.

This study will add to practitioners' knowledge about the develop-

mental diversity of gifted middle school females and illustrate

curricular needs for this group. In addition, by providing detailed

descriptions of the school experiences of gifted girls, this study

will enable educators to come to know the world of school from the

gifted girl's perspective.

Educators today (should) evaluate their attitudes
and behavior toward the gifted girls in the school
system. In providing special education programs
for the gifted we might unwittingly increase the
conflict between sex-role expectations (and the en-
suing pressure to conform) and the push toward
independent thinking (and competition) for gifted
girls without giving them the opportunity to be
aware of and emotionally prepared for the ambiguous
attitudes of the society in which they are growing
up. (Werner & Bachtold, 1969, p. 1818)










The value of this study to practitioners can be summed up by examining

the following facts. In the state in which this study occurred, the

number of students entering gifted programs has increased by 65.83%

over the last five years. Additionally, the tendency has been for

students to enter these programs during their early elementary years

and remain through high school.

This study will also be of value to researchers. In making

recommendations about "high-priority research activities," Hill (1983,

p. 1) cited his own work dealing with perspectives on adolescence and

indicated that a first priority was studies of "attachment, autonomy,

sexuality, intimacy, achievement, and identity" (p. 1), because

presently available studies are only incidentally related to adolescence

and focus mainly on males. Additionally, Callahan (1981) has noted

that the effects of programs for gifted students have not been

systematically studied. Therefore, implications concerning the

sociological or affective effects of participating in enrichment

programs on gifted females cannot be drawn from existing research.



Definition of Terms

1. Gifted: A student selected by state criteria which stressed

superior development and the capability of advanced performance.

The tested mental capacity of these students is two standard

deviations or more above the mean, that is, an IQ score of 130

or more.

2. Self-perception of ability: The individual's beliefs about her

competency to carry out the behaviors expected of her.










3. Middle school: "A school of some three to five years between the

elementary and high school focused on the educational needs of

students in these in-between years and designed to promote con-

tinuous educational progress for all concerned" (Alexander &

George, 1981, p. 3).

4. Context: The physical settings in which an event occurs. It is

"the constellation of norms, mutual rights, and obligations that

shape social relationships, determine participants' perceptions

about what goes on, and influence learning" (Gumperz, 1981, p. 5).

5. Interdisciplinary teams: Teachers from different subject areas

who are organized into groups, assigned a common area of the school

building, a common schedule, and the responsibility for a common

group of students.

6. Advisor-Advisee (AA): A component of the middle school program

created to meet the affective needs of early adolescents. Students

meet regularly with an advisor for academic counseling and affec-

tive education.

7. Multiage grouping: The placement of students at various grade

levels together for instruction.



Design of the Study


Upon receiving approval from the University Committee for the

Protection of Human Subjects, the county school board, the parents of

the participants, and the girls themselves, the researcher established

an observation schedule which would assure that equal amounts of time










would be spent in the school areas in which gifted girls regularly

interacted. Observations began in January, 1984, and were conducted

until the final day of school in early June. The researcher observed

200 hours of classroom activity primarily representing Mondays,

Wednesday, and Fridays, and all times of the school day. Observations

centered on gifted girls' speech messages concerning schoolwork, peers,

teachers, and self-perceptions; achievement-related behaviors in school

contexts; and interactions with teachers and peers before, during, and

after school. Formal and informal interviews were conducted throughout

the study. Those interviewed included the girls, their teachers, the

school principal, and five mothers. In addition, examples of the

girls' schoolwork, their personal journals kept in advisor-advisee

and the gifted classroom, report cards, and cumulative records were

examined.

Data collection and analysis were conducted as specified by

Spradley (1980). This process required that data be organized into

categories based on similarities. Taxonomies were then constructed

to represent gifted girls' self-perceptions of ability by drawing data

from across domains.


Scope of the Study


This study was conducted in one middle school and focused on

the self-perceptions of ability held by the school's ten gifted

females. These students included three sixth graders, two seventh

graders, and five eighth graders. Observations and interviews were










conducted during the second half of the school year in two of the

school's three team areas and in the gifted resource room. Although

this study can provide insight into gifted girls' self-perceptions of

ability, specific findings from this study should not be generalized

to other populations.

In the following chapters a review of the literature, the

methodology, findings, and implications of the study are discussed.

In Chapter II, a review of the literature on the role of context in

the development of ability perceptions and studies related to gifted

adolescent girls' self-perceptions of ability are discussed. In

Chapter III, the methodology is described. Chapter IV represents

the study's findings. Conclusions and implications are discussed

in Chapter V.















CHAPTER II

REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE


Research on perceptions of ability has attempted to answer two

different sets of questions. One set of questions has focused on the

feelings about ability that are produced when an individual success-

fully or unsuccessfully completes a task. The purpose of this research

has been to determine the types of feelings that lead to increased

achievement motivation on similar tasks. Researchers concerned with

these questions have been guided by attribution theory (Weiner, Frieze,

Kukla, Reed, Rest, & Rosenbaum, 1971), which proposes that an indi-

vidual's belief about the causes of success and failure affects future

achievement-related behavior, and self-worth theory (Covington & Beery,

1976), which proposes that achievement behavior can be explained in

terms of an individual's attempts to maintain a positive self-image.

Research stemming from these theories has generally been conducted

with adult subjects in laboratory settings. A second body of questions

has focused on possible environmental factors that may influence

feelings about ability. The purpose of this research has been to

determine how ability perceptions are formed. This body of research

has contributed to the recent development of ability formation theory

(Rosenholtz & Simpson, 1984; in press), which proposes that classroom

processes which contribute to a singular definition of ability lead to







-10-


stratification, and, therefore, make it less likely that students will

develop alternative interpretations of ability.

The focus of the present study was on the school contexts in which

gifted adolescent girls' self-perceptions of ability develop. For this

reason the review of the literature will be organized in the following

manner: 1) the contributions of the major proponents of attribution

and self-worth theories to our understanding of ability perceptions

will be summarized, 2) ability formation theory and studies related to

early adolescents will be discussed, and 3) research related to gifted

girls' ability perceptions and achievement behavior will be described.



Theoretical Framework: Attribution and Self-Worth
Theories


Both the attribution and self-worth theories of achievement

motivation have their roots in earlier "learned drive" theories which

stressed the fundamental conflict between attempting success and

avoiding failure (Covington, 1984). The most well-known of these

theories, one which is still influential today, was developed by John

Atkinson (1964) and David McCelland (1965). Atkinson found that the

way individuals resolved the conflict between seeking success and

avoiding failure depended upon differences in early childhood experi-

ences. For this reason, much of the research stemming from this model

has focused on the importance of childrearing practices in promoting

or hindering the development of a positive orientation necessary to

the pursuit of success (Winterbottom, 1953).







-11-


When Atkinson's and McCelland's theoretical model was applied to

females, however, the results were contradictory. "Females' scores

on the motivational measures do not correlate well with their actual

achievement" (Stein & Bailey, 1975, pp. 151-152). In an attempt to

resolve these major unexplained sex differences, Horner (1972; 1975)

posited the motive to avoid success. Horner proposed that women who

are most capable of achieving have a disposition to become anxious about

achieving success as a result of expected negative consequences.

Hornier's work will be reviewed further under research related to

gifted girls' ability perceptions.

Despite the contradictory results with female subjects which were

obtained using this model, Atkinson's (1964) work influenced the

development of both the attribution and self-worth theories of achieve-

ment motivation. Attributional theorists (Weiner et al., 1971) identi-

fied four major explanations about the causes of success and failure:

ability, effort, luck, and task ease/difficulty. These individual

perceptions of the causes of success or failure are believed to be

responsible for individual differences in achievement motivation.

That is, individuals who attribute success to a stable cause such as

ability are more likely to persevere in the future than individuals

who attribute success to an unstable cause such as luck. Thus, success-

oriented individuals attribute their successes to ability and their

failures to lack of effort. Failure-avoiding individuals attribute

success to external factors such as luck, and failure to inability

(Weiner et al., 1971; Weiner & Kuila, 1970).







-12-


In attribution theory the perception of effort has been seen as

central to achievement motivation. If individuals fail after putting

forth little effort, they are more likely to maintain a positive out-

look on future attempts than if the degree of effort expended had been

greater. Additionally, individuals who put forth high effort will show

greater pride in success (Covington & Omelich, 1979; Weiner et al.,

1971).

The self-worth theory (Covington & Beery, 1976) was a second spin-

off from Atkinson's work. Like attribution theory, self-worth theory

has characterized ability perceptions in terms of causality (Covington,

1984). Unlike attribution theory, students' beliefs about the causes

of success have not been considered sufficient explanations for

achievement behavior. Rather, self-worth theorists have postulated

that students' achievement behavior can be explained by the motivation

to maintain a positive self-image of ability and competence, especially

when some risk is involved (Covington & Omelich, 1979).

In self-worth theory, "the basic assumption is that several

factors influence one's sense of worth and adequacy, including per-

formance level, self-estimates of ability, and degree of effort

expenditure" (Covington, 1984, p. 8). While accomplishments are

considered salient clues about ability, perceptions of high ability

alone can imply worthiness. Like attribution theorists, self-worth

theorists have viewed effort as a mediator, for without significant

effort expenditure one's self-perception of ability will be unaffected

by failure. Great expenditures of effort which result in failure,

however, can lead to perceptions of incompetency that result in shame







-13-


(Covington & Omelich, 1979). According to self-worth theory, an

increased capacity for abstract thought among early adolescents and

increased competition in the classroom has contributed to this emphasis

on ability over effort (Covington, 1984).

The major difference between self-worth theory and attribution

theory is the motivational component. Specifically, self-worth theory

holds that students employ a variety of strategies to maintain a sense

of worthiness, and that the need to maintain this perception of worth

is the basic motivation for achievement behavior (Covington, 1984).

While there is much research to support both cognitive attribu-

tion and self-worth theory (see Weiner, 1980; Covington, 1984, for

reviews), the majority of this research results from studies conducted

with adult learners and in laboratory settings. Recently researchers

have pointed out that these theories fail to give adequate attention

to classroom context factors that may influence the formation of

ability perceptions (Blumenfeld, Pintrich, Meece, & Wessels, 1982;

Rosenholtz & Simpson, 1984; Weinstein, 1983). Other factors like

personal values and perceived consequences of success and failure may

be important in determining achievement-related behavior in the class-

room (Blumenfeld et al.. 1982). Thus, little is actually known about

factors influencing early adolescents' self-perceptions of effort and

ability within the classroom setting. By considering the classroom

context, a more satisfactory theoretical perspective can be constructed,

for context variables may "alter the ways students learn to interpret

their own ability" (Rosenholtz & Simpson, 1984, p. 32).







-14-


Studies of the influence of context factors on ability formation

may be particularly beneficial in understanding early adolescents'

self-perceptions of ability. As Blyth and Traeger (1983) noted in a

recent review of research on self-perceptions in early adolescence, at

this stage in life, young people "are changing cognitively in such a

way as to dramatically change the way they see and evaluate themselves.

There may be changes in what is of central importance to them" (p. 95).

Hill and Lynch (1983) argued that the effect of socialization and

context-related variables on the formation of role-related achievement

and ability perceptions of females may intensify during early adolescence.

In the following section a set of studies which address the role of

classroom context factors in the formation of early adolescents' ability

perceptions will be reviewed.



Ability Formation Theory and Related Studies


Rosenholtz and Simpson (1984; in press) proposed a theory of

ability formation in which context plays a primary role. The follow-

ing four assumptions underlie this theory:

1. Intellectual ability is a relative concept and
will be formed comparatively.
2. Students receive feedback from teachers and from
their peers which should influence their ability
perceptions.
3. The structure of students' academic tasks
symbolically will imply conclusions about the
abilities believed to determine performance at
that level.
4. The way in which performance evaluations are
organized and interpreted will provide a language
within which students will cast their interpre-
tations of ability. (Rosenholtz & Simpson, 1984,
p. 36)







-15-


Ability formation theory has proposed that students come to accept

institutional definitions of ability through the process of socializa-

tion. The more singular the picture students see and the more informa-

tion which contributes to this picture, the less likely it is that

students will develop alternative definitions of ability. From this

perspective, what students believe to be real is, at least in part,

socially structured (Berger & Luckmann, 1966). In addition, students,

themselves, are considered active participants in their own socializa-

tion.

Rosenholtz and Simpson (1984) noted that certain characteristics

of classroom organization are more likely to bring about shared defini-

tions of ability, that is, a consensus among students and the teacher

about who is most and least able. These characteristics include undif-

ferentiated task structure, low student autonomy, student grouping

patterns, and formal performance evaluations which are frequent and

visible. Classrooms which can be characterized by these criteria are

called unidimensional. Few student choices about activities and

learning goals which would enhance alternative definitions of ability,

and increasing stratification of students along a single dimension,

facilitate the formation of shared perceptions of ability in these

classrooms (Rosenholtz & Simpson, in press).

An important implication of ability formation theory noted by

Rosenholtz and Rosenholtz (1981) was that studies of the effects of

classroom organization on perceptions of ability should not be based

on static models which characterize students as passive entities. Such

a "perspective omits from consideration a variable likely to mediate







-16-


the impact of structure on self-evaluation of ability, the evaluative

responses of others" (Rosenholtz & Rosenholtz, 1981, p. 133). Thus,

the analysis of classroom effects should take into account conditions

which affect actors' perceptions and the effects of those perceptions

on individuals' self-perceptions of ability.

Several studies were conducted to test the assumptions which became

the basis of ability formation theory. Rosenholtz and Wilson (1980)

conducted a study to investigate whether different classroom organiza-

tions resulted in different interpretations of ability among students.

Their sample consisted of 15 fifth and sixth grade classrooms in

suburban and urban areas serving a working-class population.

Classrooms were selected based on interviews with principals con-

cerning the degree of curricular complexity within the school.

Specifically, the intent of the study was to determine if classrooms

with low task differentiation, low student autonomy, and comparisons

based on uniform criteria produce a climate in which the range of

alternative definitions of ability narrows and consensus about a

student's ability among classroom participants increases. Such class-

rooms were designated as high resolution classrooms, that is, "the

structure offers a clear picture of student performance" (p. 76).

To measure the degree of resolution, questionnaires were adminis-

tered to teachers who were asked to describe curricular methods and

instructional practices through Likert fixed-choice responses. Ques-

tions asked related to the number of different materials a teacher

used, how teachers organized student groups for instruction, how

frequently students made choices about activities, and how frequently

teachers compared one student's work with another.







-17-


Perceptions of ability measured in this study were limited to

dimensions of reading instruction and were obtained through student-

teacher questionnaires. Students were asked to rank order classmates

by their ability to read. Peer rankings of individual students were

then averaged, and a student's self-perception of ability was determined

by the student's placement of self in the rank order. Teachers were

asked to rate students' reading abilities as above average, average,

or below average. The degrees of concurrence among classmates, between

classmates and self, between classmates and teacher, and between teacher

and self were obtained through these rank orders.

Rosenholtz and Wilson concluded that students in high resolution

classrooms had fewer options to demonstrate competence and that, as a

result, ability was more narrowly defined and a greater student-teacher

consensus resulted. "The importance of classroom resolution may be

in its power to shape students' subjective identities" (p. 81), but how

this mediates the individual's self-perception of ability was not

answered by this study.

Using the data obtained in the Rosenholtz and Wilson (1980) study,

Rosenholtz and Rosenholtz (1981) investigated the ways classroom

organization might affect individual self-perceptions of ability.

They tested the following hypotheses: 1) self-evaluations of reading

ability will be more dispersed in unidimensional as opposed to multi-

dimensional classes, and 2) classmates' and teachers' evaluations will

be more dispersed in unidimensional classes. Unidimensional classes

were defined as high resolution classes.







-18-


The findings of this study indicated that in forming one's self-

perception of reading ability, the relative influence of the teacher

on the classmates and the teacher and classmates on the self was

affected, in part, by the organization for instruction. In classrooms

where fewer options were provided for students to demonstrate compe-

tence, definitions of ability became more narrowly defined. Grouping

practices and task structures restricted students' options. Rosenholtz

and Rosenholtz (1981) concluded that the effect was greater in situa-

tions where the classroom organization was unidimensional.

While the researchers stressed that the findings of this study

were preliminary because they did not examine the criteria by which

teachers and students made judgments and, therefore, could not assert

causal relationships, the implications are important. Classrooms with

narrow opportunity structures stratify students as compared to

instructional climates which offer students more alternatives in

terms of curriculum and evaluation. Rosenholtz and Rosenholtz (1981)

concluded:

To the degree that teacher, peer, and self-
perceptions influence future performance, ability
stratification as affected by classroom organiza-
tion could have profound consequences for the
individual's life chances. Instructional organi-
zation, then, may not only provide a framework by
which classroom actors define ability, it may also
enhance or limit capacity. (p. 140)

In a similar study of classroom structure and perceptions of

ability, Simpson (1981) drew conclusions which supported the Rosenholtz

and Rosenholtz (1981) study. Of the 16 classrooms included in his

study, Simpson found that in unidimensional classes teacher ratings







-19-


of students in different academic subjects were more widely dispersed

with a higher proportion of students in the below average range. In

multidimensional classes there was less agreement between teachers and

pupils on perceptions of ability.

The implications of the studies conducted by Rosenholtz and

Rosenholtz (1981) and Simpson (1981) point to the importance of class-

room structures which encourage more fluid, changing perceptions of

ability to exist. Such classroom would allow more divergent student-

teacher opinions and thus yield less restriction in performance

interpretation.

A group of studies related to ability formation theory have

investigated the active role students play in interpreting classroom

reality. The following studies are unique because they investigate

the effects of student perceptions of teacher and peer feedback on

student beliefs about ability. The studies reviewed focus on the early

adolescent age group.

Schmuck (1962; 1963) conducted a series of studies in which he

investigated the relationships between students' perceptions of social

status within a classroom, their actual social status as measured by

sociometric devices, and the degree to which students' performances

matched their academic abilities (utilization of abilities). His

sample included 727 students from elementary, junior, and senior high

schools in rural, urban, industrial, and university communities. Data

included the following: results from questionnaires and interviews

with students and teachers, intelligence scores obtained from student

records, and brief observations in the classrooms of students in grades







-20-


three through twelve. In Schmuck's (1963) analysis, which centered on

grades three through six, he found that students' perceptions of their

status within peer groups were related to their utilization of abilities.

Further, Schmuck (1962; 1963) identified two types of classroom

power structures. Centralized classrooms were those in which there was

a high consensus among peers in the choice of the most and least power-

ful individuals, as shown by the smaller proportion of different

students nominated in each category. Diffused classrooms were those

in which there was less consensus about the most and least powerful

individuals in the class. Schmuck found that students estimated their

own status more accurately in centralized classrooms, and that high

power students who correctly perceived their positions outperformed

lower power individuals who correctly perceived their positions.

While the results of Schmuck's (1962; 1963) research showed that

student perceptions of social status were related positively and sig-

nificantly to their attitudes toward self and school, actual liking

status showed no such significant relationship to attitudes toward

self and school. Thus, Schmuck's results stressed the importance of

student perceptions of self within the classroom. Further, this study

supports the idea that high peer consensus may influence ability

formations.

Schmuck's work left two questions unanswered. Would the results

have been different if measures other than interviews with teachers

had been utilized to divide students into high and low achieving groups

(high and low utilizers of ability)? Would the results have been

different if the analysis had concentrated on the upper grades?







-21-


Following Schmuck's research, Brookover, Thomas, and Patterson

(1964) conducted a study of 1,050 urban seventh graders in which they

tested the following hypotheses: 1) self-concept of ability is sig-

nificantly and positively related to academic performance; 2) students

have specific self-concepts of ability which correspond to specific

subjects, and which are better predictors of performance within those

subjects than the general self-concept of ability; and 3) students'

perceptions of the evaluations significant others make of their abilities

affect their self-concept of ability. A Self-Concept of Ability scale

was administered in two parallel forms to measure a general self-

concept of ability and subject-specific self-concepts of ability in

each of the four major subjects. Intelligence scores obtained in the

fourth and sixth grades were averaged and controlled. A measure of

academic performance was obtained from grade point averages.

The results of the study conducted by Brookover et al. (1964)

indicated that self-concept of ability and grade point average were

significantly and positively correlated, despite the fact that ability

was controlled. Interestingly, the specific self-concept of ability

was found to be a better predictor of performance in mathematics,

science, and social studies for males, though the same was not found

to be true for females except in social studies. Correlation between

the specific self-concept of ability and performance in English was

slightly, but not significantly, lower than the correlation between

the general self-concept of ability and performance in English.

Brookover et al. suggested that the sex differences obtained in this

study might reflect factors in the specific community and school system








-22-


or the cultural belief that math and science are considered inappro-

priate areas for female achievement. This, however, did not explain

the inability of specific self-concept of ability to predict performance

in English, an area generally considered appropriate for female achieve-

ment. Lastly, Brookover et al. found that the student's self-concept

of ability is significantly and positively correlated with the perceived

evaluations that significant others hold of the student. However, an

individual's self-concept of ability is "more closely related to his

estimate of general attitudes toward him than it is to the perceived

responses of a particular group" (p. 277).

The findings of Brookover et al. indicated that student perceptions

of peer ratings are strongly correlated to self-concept of ability.

Additionally, in finding that students' ability perceptions are more

closely related to estimates of general attitudes, this study suggests

that student self-concepts of ability are influenced by a variety of

sources which may extend beyond the school. This implication may be

important in understanding the sex differences found in this study.

Are the general attitudes which influence males' and females' ability

perceptions made up of different subgroups? In finding that a specific

self-concept of ability was not a better predictor of achievement for

females in science and math than the general self-concept of ability,

this study raises the additional possibility that perceptions of others'

evaluations may be more powerful for adolescent females.

Pittman (1979) addressed some of these issues in a study conducted

to explore the importance of parents, teachers, peers, tests, and self-

evaluation on the development of students' self-perceptions of








-23-


achievement. The Intellectual Achievement Responsibility Questionnaire

(IAR) was administered to 1,192 sixth and seventh grade students in

six school systems in North Carolina. The IAR was used to measure

students' perceptions of internal control in achievement situations in

which one influence, either parents, teachers, peers, or self-evaluation

was prominent. Student responses were analyzed separately by sex using

factor-analytic procedures.

The findings of this study indicated that, for both male and

female early adolescents, parents and teachers played more significant

roles in the development of students' perceptions of internal control

in achievement situations than peers, tests, or self-evaluation. How-

ever, in analyzing student responses by sex, Pittman noted that the

relationship of the home environment with achievement was stronger for

females than males. Thus, Pittman concluded that parents and teachers

are significant, possibly critical influences, on the development of

early adolescents' perceptions of achievement. The results of the study

also indicated that the significance of peers was second to the parent/

teacher factor in its influence on achievement perceptions.

In concluding that the home environment had a stronger influence

on females' beliefs about their achievement, this study raises the

question that community influences may also be more significant on

females' achievement perceptions. Is the influence of parents on

females' beliefs about ability different or more significant in a

rural or urban community?

A growing body of research has investigated the influence of

teacher expectations on student performance (see Braun, 1976; Brophy,







-24-


1983; Cooper, 1979, for reviews). These studies, conducted by outside

observers, have identified teacher behaviors which correlate with teacher

expectations for students at different ability levels. From this

perspective, teacher expectations become self-fulfilling prophecies.

The students' role in this process was recently investigated by Weinstein,

Marshall, Bratesani, and Middlestadt (1982). Rather than observing

teacher behaviors, these researchers investigated student perceptions

of the evaluative responses of teachers.

Weinstein et al. used the Teacher Treatment Inventory to measure

fourth, fifth, and sixth graders' perceptions of the frequency of 44

teacher behaviors toward a hypothetical male or female, high or low

achieving student. The sample of 243 students came from 16 classrooms

in 4 urban schools of varying socio-economic levels. The items on the

instrument were derived from reviews of the literature on the rela-

tionship between teaching behavior and student achievement, on the

expression of teacher expectations in behavior, and on student per-

ceptions of the classroom environment. Subjects were asked to pretend

that Anne (John) was a student in their class, and, using a Likert

forced-choice scale, rate how frequently their own teacher would work

with Anne (John) in the ways described.

The results of this study indicated that student perceptions of

differential treatment do exist regardless of the sex of the target

student rated. Neither the sex nor the achievement level of the sub-

ject influenced student perceptions. The results also indicated that

the differences students perceived were largely consistent with studies

of teacher expectations conducted by outside observers. That is,







-25-


students believed low achievers were given greater help, input, and

structure.

This study of student perceptions of differential teacher behaviors

raises important questions. Would high ability students who have low

self-concepts of ability prefer teachers who give more help, input, and

structure? If so, would these same high ability students behave in

ways which would make additional teacher attention more likely, thus

causing teachers to question their ability?

Parsons, Kaczala, and Meece (1982) conducted a study which investi-

gated individual student-teacher interactions in 17 junior high math

classes. In this study of predominantly seventh and ninth grade

students, the researchers looked at 1) the possible influence of student

sex or teacher expectations for individual students on the nature of

student-teacher interactions, and 2) the effects of variations in

teacher-student interaction patterns on student attitudes.

Student measures used in this observational study included

questionnaires containing a seven-point Likert scale to assess expec-

tancies, self-concept of ability, and concepts of task difficulty;

scores from standardized tests; and students' ratings as to how well

they believed their teachers expected them to do in math. Question-

naires were also used to obtain teacher expectancy scores for individual

students, thereby placing them in low or high expectancy groups accord-

ing to sex. Trained observers then coded classroom interactions between

teachers and individual high and low-expectancy students focusing on

the following: 1) type of interaction, 2) who initiated it, 3) type

of student response, 4) type of teacher feedback, and 5) whether the







-26-


interaction was public and monitored by the class or a private teacher-

student interaction.

The results of the study indicated that girls, as a whole, received

less criticism than low-teacher-expectancy boys, and that high-teacher-

expectancy girls received less praise than the other groups. Though

differences were small, low-expectancy boys received the most criticism

and low-expectancy girls the most praise, especially in response to

teacher controlled questioning. In general, boys had the most inter-

actions of all kinds with their teachers. These variations in

teacher-student interactions were found to affect male and female

self-perceptions of ability differently.

In this study, praise was found to have a positive relationship

with boys' self-perceptions of ability but it was not so for girls.

Rather, for girls, praise was predictive of their belief that math was

easy. Parsons, Kaczala, and Meece (1982) concluded that this may have

resulted from teachers' differential use of praise, that is, that praise

given to boys conveyed teacher expectations while praise given girls

was more random and focused on low-expectancy girls. Noted the

researchers, "it is the informative value of praise with regard to

teachers' expectations which is critical" (p. 336).

This study raises several important questions. Does more criticism

for low-expectancy boys imply to students that math is more critical

for males? Does more praise for low-expectancy girls imply to high-

expectancy girls that praise is related to task ease, thereby resulting

in inaccurate estimates of ability?








-27-


Mason and Stipek (1985) investigated students' self-perceptions of

performance, their attributions for success and failure, their achieve-

ment-related behavior, and their actual performance in math and

reading. The sample included 77 fourth and fifth graders of various

socio-economic backgrounds from 17 different classrooms in four schools.

Data on 29 of the students from this sample were gathered across two

years from 1982-1984.

The methods of data collection included observations of students

while engaged in classroom tasks and interviews with students. During

these interviews students were asked to rank their performance compared

to classmates in reading and math, and to describe situations in which

they had succeeded or failed. They were then asked to choose the most

important cause of their success or failure by selecting from among

ability, effort, luck, or task difficulty. Students' emotional responses

were measured by asking to what degree they felt bored, confused, dumb,

embarrassed, smart, happy, or proud while working on tasks in math

and reading. Finally, teacher ratings of students' performances and

students' percentile rankings in math and reading were obtained.

Mason and Stipek reported that their findings from this study were

not surprising. High self-perceptions were associated with positive

emotions and a belief in ability. Low self-perceptions were associated

with negative emotions and a belief in lack of ability. However,

these researchers emphasized that students' perceptions of how well

they were doing predicted the degree to which they experienced positive

or negative emotions while working on tasks better than how well they

were actually doing. Thus, student perceptions may influence task







-28-


commitment more than actual feedback. Additionally, Mason and Stipek

found that student behavior and perceptions were relatively stable

across two years, thus suggesting that students enter new classrooms

not only with varied skill levels the teacher must consider, but also

with a set of achievement-related beliefs and perceptions.

Important questions are raised by the implication that students'

perceptions about their ability on tasks may influence task commitment

more than actual feedback. What criteria do students use in forming

task-specific perceptions of ability? Do personal values or values

attributed to the task itself affect perceptions of ability? Do per-

ceived consequences of success or failure on specific tasks affect

perceptions of ability before a student begins a task?

In a related study, Weinstein, Marshall, Botkin, and Sharp (1985)

investigated the development of student performance expectations in

high differential and low differential classrooms over one school year.

While this study focused on 579 students in 30 first, third, and fifth

grade classrooms rather than early adolescents, the findings suggested

that "student awareness of specific teacher expectations is only ap-

parent at the fifth grade level and only here influenced by the class-

room context" (pp. 2-3). Thus, this implies the importance of student

perspectives and classroom context for the development of older

students' self-perceptions of ability. Based on their findings,

Weinstein, Marshall, Botkin, and Sharp (1985) concluded, "perceived

teacher expectations may prove more critical than actual teacher

expectations in predicting student expectation and achievement out-

comes" (p. 30).







-29-


Taken together, these studies of the effects of classroom context

factors on the formation of early adolescents' ability perceptions

suggest, foremost, the importance of student perceptions of self in the

classroom. Perceived evaluations of significant others affect student

attitudes toward self and school (Schmuck,. 1962; 1963; Weinstein et al.,

1982; Weinstein et al., 1985), the formation of self-concept of ability

(Brookover et al., 1964; Parsons et al., 1982), and related beliefs

about achievement (Pittman, 1979). In addition, student perceptions

of performance predict emotional involvement in tasks better than actual

performance evaluation (Mason & Stipek, 1985). Finally, the research

suggests that student perceptions of self are influenced by classroom

organization in which unidimensional structure leads to the perception

of ability as a single dimension, thereby facilitating self-perception

of ability in agreement with student-teacher consensus (Rosenholtz &

Rosenholtz, 1981; Rosenholtz & Simpson, 1984; Rosenholtz & Simpson, in

press; Rosenholtz & Wilson, 1980; Weinstein et al., 1985).

In this review several studies have indicated sex differences in

students' beliefs about ability and achievement (Brookover et al.,

1964; Parsons et al., 1982; Pittman, 1979). In the final section of

this review, literature which relates to gifted adolescent girls' self-

perceptions of ability will be considered.



Gifted Adolescent Girls: Studies Related to
Ability Perceptions

Little research has focused on the gifted adolescent female

(Blaubergs, 1980; Joesting & Joesting, 1970; Shakeshaft & Palmieri,







-30-


1978), and virtually no studies have been conducted to investigate

the gifted girl's formation of self-perception of ability. Since the

1970's, however, the literature has grown to include studies within

two specific topic areas: the mathematically gifted female and the

personality characteristics of females working in various professions

(Blaubergs, 1980). This literature has grown in response to increasing

concern that accomplishments of gifted females do not compare with those

of males in adulthood. Of particular importance to the issue of

achievement motivation are studies which investigate obstacles to

women's achievement.

In her review of the literature on sexist barriers to gifted

women's achievement, Blaubergs (1978) addressed this issue. After

reviewing literature related to external barriers, lack of institu-

tional and societal support, and personality characteristics, she

concluded that "internal barriers to achievement faced by gifted

women and girls have been overemphasized" (p. 21), and that those

which are realities result from the consequences of socialization.

Similar conclusions were reached by Hill and Lynch (1983) in

their review of gender-related role expectations during early adoles-

cence. While Hill and Lynch did not limit their review to gifted

girls, their finding supported Blaubergs's (1978) conclusion that

socialization influences achievement behavior. As Hill and Lynch

noted, "Evidence discussed suggests that girls' achievement

behavior changes during early adolescence, but little research is

available on the determinants of this change" (p. 209). From their

review of the research they concluded that, during early adolescence,







-31-


standards for achievement become more sex-stereotyped and girls become

more concerned with interpersonal areas of competence than boys.

Other reviews of research on sex differences in achievement motiva-

tion suggest that females may be motivated to achieve by a desire for

approval and affiliation, rather than a desire to attain a standard of

excellence (Crandall, 1967; Hoffman, 1975; Rubovits, 1975; Sherman,

1975). However, using a different interpretation of many of the same

studies reviewed by the above researchers, Stein and Bailey (1975)

argued that "the social context of females' achievement has been mis-

interpreted as evidence for affiliation as opposed to achievement

motives" (p. 152). They proposed that social acceptance, itself, is

a central area of achievement for females; thus females are motivated

to achieve a standard of excellence in this area.

In her investigation of sex differences in achievement motivation,

Horner (1972; 1975) posited that women have "a disposition to become

anxious about achieving success because they expect negative conse-

quences as a result of succeeding" (1975, p. 207). In a study she

conducted with Rhoem in 1968 (Horner, 1975) to observe the incidence

of fear of success imagery in female subjects at different ages,

Horner found that seventh grade girls, when given the clue, "Sue has

just found out she has been made valedictorian of her class," exhibited

a 47% incidence of fear of success.

Other studies conducted to test Homrner's concept have provided

conflicting results. In a dissertation study conducted to find

evidence of the motive to avoid success in ten to fourteen year old

females, Cook (1976) found that support for the existence of a motive








-32-


as defined by Horner did not exist in her sample of 105 fifth through

eighth grade females in a parochial school. However, the girls did

show fear of negative consequences which might occur as a result of

deviating from traditional sex-role patterns. This fear of negative

consequences increased with the grade level of the subjects. Conversely,

Lavach and Lanier (1975), in testing Homrner's concept with seventh

through tenth grade high-achieving girls, found that the motive to avoid

success was prevalent and aroused by situations involving successful

competition with males. These studies suggest that, while there is

conflicting data about the motive to avoid success, adolescent girls

do experience a fear of negative consequences which might result from

behavior not considered feminine.

Studies which have investigated differential behaviors of gifted

adolescent girls in classroom situations have indicated that bright

girls have less confidence in their abilities than bright boys. For

example, in a study of creative ninth grade students, Kurtzman (1967)

found that more creative boys were more self-confident and mature than

less creative boys, but that no difference existed between more and

less creative girls. Kurtzman also found that more creative girls were

less well accepted by peers. Walberg (1969) came to similar conclu-

sions in his study of senior high students who participated in Harvard

Project Physics. Girls had more cautious attitudes, behaved in con-

forming, docile manners, and seemed uninterested in risk-taking.

In a review of the literature on gifted women, Morse and Bruch

(1970) noted "most of the literature and research findings available

for discussion have contributed much more to the articulation and







-33-


recognition of the problems than to their solution" (p. 31). It

appears that sex-role stereotyping may increase in adolescence (Hill &

Lynch, 1983) and that the achievement motivation of gifted women may be

affected by socialization (Blaubergs, 1978). Sex differences in

achievement motivation may also point to the importance of affiliation

and acceptance (Crandall, 1967; Cook, 1976; Hoffman, 1975; Horner,

1972; 1975; Lavach & Lanier, 1975; Rubovits, 1975; Sherman, 1975).

Finally, researchers who have investigated gifted adolescents in class-

room settings have noted that gifted girls lack confidence and behave

in conforming manners (Kurtzman, 1967; Walberg, 1969). Nevertheless,

questions about gifted girls' perceptions of ability and achievement

remain. It is still not clear what factors influence gifted adolescent

girls' perceptions of social norms that may hinder achievement. Nor

is it known if gifted girls are motivated by affiliation or if, as

Stein and Bailey (1975) proposed, affiliation is perceived as an area

of achievement itself, much like leadership or scholarship. Most

importantly, it is not clear how classroom structure and the perceived

evaluations of significant others influence the formation of ability

perceptions in students who enter classrooms already identified and

publicly labeled as able--gifted girls. What consequences do gifted

labels have on the formation of girls' self-perceptions of ability

within classroom contexts? The purpose of this study is to address

some of the unanswered questions in this area of research.
















CHAPTER III

METHODOLOGY



The Research Perspective


The purpose of this study was to explore and describe gifted

adolescent girls' self-perceptions of ability and achievement within the

context of one middle school setting. The students studied were members

of heterogeneously organized interdisciplinary teams four days a week

and attended homogeneously grouped gifted classes one day a week. The

study focused on the girls' definitions of achievement and ability,

their perceptions of the relationship between the two constructs, and

the effects of the school culture (i.e., organizational features,

student-teacher relationships, and peer group influences) on these

perceptions. Ethnographic techniques, methods of data collection and

analysis which enabled the researcher to investigate participants'

perspectives, were used.

Though the roots of ethnography have been in anthropology, an

increased interest in using this approach to do research in schools

has resulted in extensive observations of the school environment. This

growing body of literature illustrates the interactive nature of learning

in schools, suggesting ways students and teachers come to understand

each other (McDermott, 1977), and concentrating on perspectives not

often considered in educational research. As Wolcott (1976) noted,


-34-







-35-


"the ethnographer's unique contribution is this commitment to understand

and convey how it is to 'walk in someone else's shoes' and to 'tell it

like it is'" (p. 25). It is a methodology particularly suited to the

study of student perceptions of achievement and ability as they relate

to experiences within school settings. Ethnography is an appropriate

methodology for examining relationships which are not explicit or when

the problem under study is in the exploratory stage, because it allows

the researcher to proceed, initially, in an unstructured or flexible

manner (Dean, Eichhorn, & Dean, 1969). "In other words, there are few,

if any preestablished categories into which original data are cast.. .

Researchers approach reality with a perspective which will enable them

to observe relevant data" (Schaffir, Stebbins, & Turowetz, 1980, p. 6).

Ethnographic techniques encourage a process of discovery, that is, a

process of learning what is fundamental to the people under study.

Such a methodology enables the researcher to better understand the

complex meaning systems participants use to organize their behavior,

to understand themselves and others, and to make sense out of the world

in which they live (Spradley, 1980). The ethnographic perspective

stresses a commitment to holism and the accurate portrayal of events

from the point of view of the actors involved in the events (Erickson,

1984). Lutz (1981) described ethnography as

a holistic, thick description of the interactive
processes involving the discovery of important and
recurring variables in the society as they relate
to one another, under specified conditions, and
as they affect or produce certain results and
outcomes in the society. (p. 52)

As a methodology developed to uncover meanings, ethnography differs

from other research approaches in a number of ways. First, the







-36-


nondirective, open-ended nature of this methodology "enables the

researcher to understand and capture the points of view of other people,

without predetermining those points of view through prior selection of

questionnaire categories or rating scale forms" (Stainback & Stainback,

1984, p. 405). Secondly, because the goal is to describe the native or

insider's point of view, the nature of the relationship between the

researcher and the population under study is interactive. Rather than

being passive, reactive subjects, the participants become the expert

informants from whom the ethnographer gathers data. "The essential

core of ethnography is this concern with the meaning of actions and

events to the people we seek to understand" (Spradley, 1980, p. 5).

Some of these meanings are derived from explicit, verbalized cultural

knowledge while others are tacit, or taken for granted by participants

who may not realize the full extent of their knowledge. In this study,

a cyclic process of asking questions, collecting data, and analyzing

data again and again was used throughout a prolonged period of observa-

tion. This cyclic process attempts to reveal both the explicit and the

tacit cultural knowledge of the participants.

The ethnographer acquires an emic understanding, that is, an

understanding of the participants' points of view, through watching,

talking, listening, and participating with people in their own environ-

ments (Rist, 1982). The researcher observes behavior and constructs

meaning from that which is observed through the discovery of patterns

or trends which emerge through prolonged exposure to the environment.

These patterns form an interpretation that is a way of explaining the

participants' culture, or the norms, values, and knowledge they use to

understand their experiences and from which they generate behavior.







-37-


People everywhere learn their culture by making
inferences. We observe what people do (cultural
behavior); we observe things people make and use
such as clothes and tools (cultural artifacts);
and we listen to what people say (speech messages).
Every ethnographer employs this same process of
inference to go beyond what is seen and heard to
find out what people know. (Spradley, 1980, p. 10)

This concept of culture is compatible with symbolic interactionism,

a theory which posits that to understand human behavior one must dis-

cover the meanings or definitions humans assign to objects, activities,

or individuals of interest. Symbolic interactionists beginning with

G.H. Mead (1934) hypothesized that humans, because of the possession

of a self, act toward or interpret things that confront them and organize

their actions on the basis of that interpretation. This process of

self-interaction enables people to deal with the world through a

defining procedure which results in construction or generation of

action rather than a mere release of action (Blumer, 1969). Blumer

(1969) delineated three basic premises:

1) Human beings act toward things on the basis of
the meanings that the things have for them.
2) The meanings of such thingsare derived from, or
arise out of, the social interaction that one
has with one's fellows.
3) These meanings are handled in, and modified
through, an interpretative process. (p. 2)

The theoretical orientation of symbolic interactionism provides

a framework for the social-interactive perspective taken in this study

of gifted adolescent females' self-perceptions of ability. This

perspective is illustrated most clearly by Mead's Triadic matrix

(Mead, 1934, p. 76) which emphasizes that individuals construct and

share meanings through interpretation and interaction. Ethnography







-38-


holds that humans are interpreting, defining creatures "whose behavior

can only be understood by having the researcher enter into the defining

process through such methods as participant-observation" (Bodgan &

Biklen, 1982, p. 76). Spradley (1980) suggested that we think of these

shared meanings, or culture, as a cognitive map and ethnography as the

methodology designed for its investigation.


The Setting

Selection of the Research Site


The study was conducted in one middle school located in a rural

area in the Southeast. The population under study, ten identified

gifted girls in grades six through eight, belonged to two of the

school's three interdisciplinary teams. Observations were therefore

conducted predominantly in two team areas, the gifted resource room,

and other areas of the school environment in which the girls interacted.

The criteria for school selection were as follows: (a) the

recognition of its exemplary status by experts in the field of middle

school education; (b) a population of ten gifted girls in grades six

through eight which was within reasonable bounds for regular and pro-

longed observation of the total population; (c) an open-space environ-

ment which enabled the researcher to move about and interact freely

without disturbing the scene, maximizing the amount of classroom

observation time; (d) the enthusiastic acceptance of the study by

teachers, parents, and the students involved; and (e) the researcher's

expertise in the area of middle school education. According to







-39-


Wolcott (1976), "Ethnography is best served when the researcher feels

free to 'muddle about' in the field setting and to pursue hunches or

to address himself to problems that he deems interesting and worthy of

sustained attention" (p. 25). The selection of this site met this

criterion.


Gaining Entry to the Site


Lofland (1971) noted that it is easier to gain access to informa-

tion when the researcher has established grounds for a trusting

relationship before the project is initiated. Prior to the selection

of the site, the researcher had met informally and discussed the aims

of the study with the team leaders while attending a professional

conference on middle schools. Sharing a common status as educators

interested in adolescents defused potential concern about the study.

The team leaders' interest encouraged the researcher to take the next

step. Project goals were explained to the county supervisor for gifted

students, and, subsequently, a meeting was arranged in late November

to include the school's gifted resource teacher, the supervisor, and

the researcher. Believing that the majority of the gifted girls were

not achieving in accordance with their potential, the resource teacher,

Mrs. Johnson, noted that the study might increase classroom teachers'

understanding of gifted students' particular problems. Establishing

the team leaders' and Mrs. Johnson's interest in the study provided


1This name and all names used in this study are pseudonyms.







-40-


the basis for a trusting relationship with the researcher and paved the

way for the formal attempt to gain entry to the site.

Next, a meeting was.held with the school principal to discuss the

project and obtain his permission to propose the study-to the ten girls.

On that same morning the researcher met with the students in a con-

ference area located near the gifted resource room to explain the study

and distribute permission slips. The letter of permission is included

in Appendix A.

According to Cassell (1978), a skilled ethnographer once informed

her that casting oneself in the role of learner was the secret of

successful fieldwork. If the goal is to understand students' perceptions

of school experiences it is important for the students to perceive the

researcher as an eager learner in search of good teaching. With this

rationale in mind, the researcher used the occasion of the first

meeting to immediately begin taking field notes of the girls' reactions

to the study. In addition to establishing her position as a learner,

the researcher believed this behavior would serve to illustrate the

type of methodology which would be used and to establish the stance

that, during this study, "nothing is off the record" (Cassell, 1978,

p. 37). The researcher also believed this initial behavior with the

girls was essential (a) to indicate to the students that she cared

about what they were saying and was therefore writing it down; (b) to

establish the pattern of continuous documentation; and (c) to allow

the girls to express curiosity, question, and become comfortable with

this method of data gathering prior to its use in a classroom

situation.







-41-


All of the girls attended this informal meeting. Sitting in a

circle around the conference table they listened to the researcher

present the study.

Observer: I want to write a book about what school
is really like, but I want to describe school through
the eyes of gifted girls. This might be hard to do
because it means I'll have to hang around a lot and
ask a lot of questions. I really want to know what
things are like here, but I'll need your help to
understand them. I wanted to ask you if you were
interested in helping.

The sixth and seventh grade girls were quickest to express interest in

the idea, asking if their names would be used, if their parents would

be told, and if their teachers and classmates could know about the

research. The five eighth grade girls were stand-offish at first.

Three of these girls sat close together in a group apart from the

other two and conferred quietly while the observer pointed out that

the quality of the research would hinge on accuracy and careful atten-

tion to factual detail, but that chief among the researcher's responsi-

bilities was the preservation of anonymity (Kottak, 1979, p. 336). As

if making the decision for her friends, Connie, one of the three eighth

graders who had not yet joined the discussion, announced, "We are

definitely doing this! It sounds neat!"

This initial meeting, held three weeks prior to Christmas break,

culminated in the distribution of permission forms. Several of the

girls suggested the researcher collect the permission forms and

individual class schedules from the resource teacher. The researcher,

encouraging their roles as key informants, agreed with their plan, and

a date was suggested to collect the forms and make preliminary visits

to the team areas before the holidays. As they exited, one girl







-42-


responded to the observer's concern about explaining the study to other

students by laughing and shrugging her shoulders. "Forget it. You

don't know people here."

The following week the researcher attended a holiday party held

after a brief faculty meeting, met the teachers of both teams, and

scheduled a time to visit team meetings to explain the goals of the

study and the nature of qualitative research. As in the first meeting

with students, the researcher appeared at both team meetings with

notebooks, pencils, and a taperecorder and wrote field notes while

discussing the study. Team One's meeting was held at lunch, was in-

formal in nature, and did not produce any questions or concerns about

the research. The teachers indicated students were used to visitors

due to the school's status as an excellent middle school, and that no

one would notice the researcher's presence. In contrast, Team Two's

meeting was held after school and included an agenda of formal business

upon which the teachers kept themselves focused and on task. After a

brief discussion of the study, the team leader indicated to the

researcher that it would not take long before students and teachers

would consider her "a member of the family" (team).

While obtaining the consent of students, teachers, parents, and

administrators at the school, an application to conduct research in

the public schools was submitted to the school district office and a

description of the proposed project to the University's Committee for

the Protection of Human Subjects. By the beginning of January the

project was approved.







-43-


In discussing the issue of gaining entry, Bogdan and Taylor (1975)

suggested the importance of keeping detailed field notes during this

stage as a way of gaining insight into how organizations socialize

outsiders. "Gaining entry, and the conditions under which it is estab-

lished, is one of the most critical phases of qualitative research"

(Rist, 1982, p. 442).


Description of the Site


The study was conducted in a public middle school in a rural area

in the Southeast. The school's 442-member population was housed in a

modern, open-space building. The school, itself, was described by the

town's Chamber of Commerce as one of the finest in the United States.

According to the residents of the area, the community's rural

lifestyle was one of unequaled quality, characterized by warm friend-

ships and a close-knit community. This description was made clear to

the researcher on three separate occasions, the first of which occurred

early in the data collection when the researcher had the opportunity

to conduct an informal interview with a substitute who was temporarily

replacing the gifted resource teacher, Mrs. Johnson. During the

interview the substitute teacher, who had grown up and gone to school

in the community, described her perceptions and what she termed the

community's perceptions of several of the gifted girls. She indicated

that in such a small community most people knew something about their

neighbors, especially if they had lived in the community for awhile

or attended the same church. On a second occasion, the researcher

accompanied the seventh grade gifted class on a field trip to the







-44-


local Chamber of Commerce. Because of the school's close location the

trip was conducted on foot. The students used this opportunity to

provide the researcher with unsolicited data about the neighborhood

and its residents, and their own family histories. The extent of their

knowledge about the community and its citizens was considerable,

especially when contrasted with the comments of Nancy, a gifted seventh

grade girl who had just moved into the rural community from a city, and

was having difficulty being accepted. In addition, while walking

through the downtown area, the close-knit feeling of the community

was made apparent when several local merchants and passers-by waved

greetings to the students. Thirdly, once inside the Chamber building,

the students and Mrs. Johnson pointed out a pictorial display of the

community's past mayors, indicating their current roles in the community.

The researcher noted that the principal of the middle school who had

served since its opening had also recently served as the town's mayor.

The school's student body was 47% male and 53% female, including

a black population of 22%. Slightly less than half of the students

were bussed to and from the school. The percentage of students in

various Exceptional Student Education programs was 17, of which

approximately 7% were classified as gifted. Of the 29

gifted students in grades six through eight, ten were female.

The physical layout of the school was very modern. In the center

a large open-pit area served as the library and media-center and

included several enclosed conference rooms. Located nearby were the

central office, teacher's lounge, the home economics room, and a science

lab. To the right of the library pit were three large instructional

areas which comprised the school's three teams.











-45-


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-46-


Each team area was a large open space housing heterogeneously

grouped students in two grade levels: team one, seventh and eighth

graders; team two, sixth and seventh graders; and team three, fifth and

sixth graders. While originally this organization of students had

reflected developmental grouping based on social-emotional as well as

academic factors, the majority of teachers indicated that this was no

longer true. Now students were placed in teams depending on their

curriculum needs. For example, Team One offered pre-algebra to its

seventh graders whereas Team Two did not. For this reason Mr. Lakeman,

team leader for Team Two, had described his team as being a "dumping

ground" in the past because the more academically able seventh graders

were placed on Team One. To counteract this problem, he had recently

begun to make yearly lists of sixth graders who voluntarily signed up

to remain in Team Two a second year. All students would spend two years

on one team if they entered the school as fifth graders and stayed

through the completion of eighth grade.

Observations conducted at the school centered on Teams One and Two

because none of the studied population were members of Team Three.

Although both of these teams were divided into four equal classrooms,

one for each of the four core teachers, the physical use of space

within the teams was distinctly different. Team Two organized large

book shelves, moveable chalkboards, and tables to separate the class-

rooms into separate spaces, thereby reducing the noise level and forcing

the students to walk in narrow pathways when exiting and entering the

individual classrooms. Team One did not use furniture to create an
atmosphere of separate classrooms, and the noise level and random
atmosphere of separate classrooms, and the noise level and random







-47-


movement throughout the team area were correspondingly high. Wall space

was not utilized in Team One to display student work or announce team

activities to the extent that it was in Team Two. While teachers on

both teams attributed these physical differences to the age level of

students and the individual personalities of teachers on the team, the

principal attributed them to different philosophies which had developed

within the teams themselves.

While examination of student schedules suggested that the organiza-

tional features of an exemplary middle school were in effect, prolonged

observations pointed out that some of these features were stronger than

others. For example, an advisor-advisee program, multiage grouping,

and interdisciplinary teams had been built into the school at its

inception and were based on the middle school philosophy that organiza-

tion of this nature would encourage the development of a community of

learners. "A student knows that s(he) is a member of a specific team,

and even a specific advisory group; that these structures have dimensions

that early adolescents can manage" (Alexander & George, 1981, p. 134).

Repeated observations at the site, however, revealed that while inter-

disciplinary teams were a strong organizational characteristic of the

school, the use of advisor-advisee time and multiage grouping had

greatly changed since the school's inception. At the time the study

was conducted, the time allotted to advisor-advisee programs had been

shortened to 15 minutes and was rarely used; multiage grouping existed

only in that teams contained students in two grade levels. Strict

curriculum guidelines handed down by the county had resulted in only

a few math and language arts classes which could be multiage-grouped.






-48-


Additional scheduling problems had also discouraged the use of multi-

age grouping in exploratory classes, physical education, and resource

classes such as gifted. The decreased emphasis at the school level

on multiage grouping and advisor-advisee programs was mirrored in

comments made by the girls throughout the study.

Cindy: This year 15 minutes for AA (advisor-
advisee) is not long enough to do a project, and
it's too long to get your pencils and paper so
unless you want to be a social butterfly, it's
wasted. Usually I don't have anything to do.
Some teachers will plan something but most don't.
But even if we could have a longer AA, I'd
rather have a longer lunch.

Sally: The seventh and eighth graders on our team
are separated all the time. Last year we had some
classes together. Well it's like we
don't even hang around together. We (eighth
graders) have our own feelings and all, and they
don't understand yet.

The gifted program in operation had also changed greatly during

the school's history due to a shifting emphasis at the county level.

No set county curriculum existed for middle school gifted programs

other than the adoption of five major goals including the development

of (a) higher levels of thinking, (b) self-directed learning, (c) posi-

tive attitudes of self-worth, (d) interpersonal relationship skills

and leadership techniques, and (e) creative thinking. Mrs. Johnson

informed the researcher that the major difference between her program

and those found at other county middle schools was that students were

staffed into the gifted room one entire day per week rather than one

period per day.

The population under study consisted of three sixth, two seventh,

and five eighth graders, including one black student. The girls were







-49-


identified for the program using the state criteria of a 130 I.Q. score

and represented a range of I.Q. scores from 131-140. Eight of the girls

had spent the majority of their school experience at the elementary and

now the middle school in the same rural community, and seven of these

had entered the gifted program during or before the third grade. At

the time the study took place, the state policy did not require periodic

retesting to remain in the program. Two of the girls, including one

who was new to the school, had spent the majority of their past school

experiences in private settings. With the exception of one student,

all came from two parent homes in which the majority of mothers had

equal or more formal education than the fathers, though in traditional

fields such as teaching, nursing, or library science. The majority of

mothers did not work full time.



Research Methods and Procedures

Asking Ethnographic Questions


Spradley's (1980) Developmental Research Model is cyclic in nature,

in contrast to quantitative research models which proceed in a linear

fashion from the statement of a hypothesis to the collection and

analysis of data, to the research conclusion. In doing ethnography,

"the fieldworker generates a situation-based inquiry process, learning,

through time, to ask questions of the field setting in such a way that

the setting, by its answers, teaches the next situationally appropriate

questions to ask" (Erickson, 1984, p. 51). This questioning process

is a critical aspect of the research cycle because the questions asked







-50-


direct data collection and lead the researcher closer to the emic

knowledge (personal perspectives) of the people being studied.

Ethnographic research begins without a precise hypothesis which

may "close off prematurely the process of discovery of that which is

significant in the setting" (Wilcox, 1982, p. 459). Rather, the

researcher begins with foreshadowed problems to direct and focus the

study. Malinowski (1922) noted that foreshadowed problems are "the

main endowment of a scientific thinker and these problems are first

revealed to the observer by his theoretical studies" (p. 9). In this

study two broad general questions were posed to serve as a framework

for the study: What kinds of experiences do gifted girls have in a

middle school setting in which they are members of heterogeneous teams

as well as homogeneous gifted classes? How do they use these experiences

to construct their own behavior and self-perceptions? In order to

provide some focus for the initial observations and interviews, the

following list of foreshadowed problems was posed.

1. How do gifted girls define achievement?

2. How do gifted girls' self-perceptions of ability differ from

their perceptions of peers' abilities?

3. How do gifted girls behave in academic and nonacademic situa-

tions in regard to (a) task commitment, (b) risk-taking,

(c) leadership, and (d) creativity?

4. How do team organization, participation in a gifted program

which entails removal from the team one day per week, and

peer influences affect gifted girls' experiences in school

and their perceptions of experiences?







-51-


Ethnographic questions are the main tools for discovering cultural

knowledge (Spradley, 1979). As the study progressed, descriptive,

structural, and contrast questions were asked. Each kind of question

directed observations and interviews in different ways and provided

for different levels of data analysis.

Descriptive questions were asked during the early stage of obser-

vations, to collect samples of language and aid the researcher in

becoming familiar with the social scene. These general questions included

"What happens in the gifted resource room?" "What seating patterns

exist in classrooms?" and "How do gifted girls spend their classroom

time?"

Following initial data analysis, structural questions were asked

to add depth to the researcher's knowledge of the social scene. For

example, an early observation was that different groups of the girls

tended to have different territories before and after school. Struc-

tural questions posed were "What activities are students in the different

territories engaged in?" and "Do student behaviors change if students

change territories?" These structural questions were asked repeatedly

and led to more narrowly focused observations.

Finally, contrast questions were asked to identify differences

between elements in a category. For example, in the category Things

I Worry About were elements such as being popular, physical appearance,

and making good grades. To ensure that these were distinct elements

in the category the researcher asked the contrast question, "How are

these problems different?" The question led the researcher to review






-52-


field notes and interviews and to conduct additional observations to

find the differences.


Collecting Ethnographic Data


The researcher's objective was to discover and describe the experi-

ences that adolescent girls labeled as gifted have within a middle school

setting and to construct, from those experiences and the students'

perceptions of them, ways the girls defined their own abilities and

achievements. Since these definitions were aspects of the girls'

cultural knowledge that could not be directly observed, the researcher

used three types of information to make cultural inferences. The types

of information used were the girls' behavior in class as well as before

and after school, the things they produced in school including the tools

they used to do so, and their speech messages (Spradley, 1980).

Gathering evidence of this nature enabled the researcher to uncover

the fundamental assumptions about personal abilities and achievements

that were taken for granted by the girls.

Three main methods were used to collect data. Spindler (1982)

observed the need for a variety of methods to uncover the participants'

view of reality, noting that whenever possible technical devices should

be used to collect live data. Other qualitative researchers such as

Wolcott (1976), Pelto and Pelto (1978), and Denzen (1978) have asserted

that using multiple methods to gather data increases the credibility

of the study. They note that data obtained using different methods

can be compared through triangulation, thus allowing the researcher







-53-


to strengthen the validity of constructs and rise above any weakness

that might result from using only one method. In this study, participant

observation, interviewing, and unobtrusive measures were used to collect

data. A tape recorder was used to record interviews and some gifted

classes. These methods will be described, and problems inherent in

their use discussed.


Participant observation


Participant observation is the primary tool used in gathering data

for a qualitative study (Spradley, 1980). As Blumer (1969) described

the researcher's role within a given setting, this method requires

getting close to the people involved in it, seeing
it in a variety of situations they meet, noting
their problems and observing how they handle them,
being party to their conversations and watching
their way of life as it flows along. (p. 37)

In this study, the researcher observed 200 hours of classroom

activity over a five-month period from January to early June of 1984.

Observations were conducted three days a week, usually on Mondays,

Wednesday, and Fridays. The first and third weeks of observations

were conducted only in the gifted room so that a smaller student

population (classes usually did not exceed ten) would enable the

researcher to develop rapport with the participants at a faster pace.

The second and fourth weeks consisted of descriptive observations in

both teams. From the fifth week on the researcher spent three weeks

following the girls in each grade level, one week in the gifted room,

an additional week at each grade level, and a final week in general







-54-


observations. The teachers were offered a schedule of observations,

but did not indicate an interest in one.

Successful participant observation requires time to sample the

range of experiences and situations the participants encounter. Parti-

cipant observation requires the development of an acceptable role for

the researcher. This role should encourage the growth of trust and

rapport. This presents a particular problem for researchers in schools

where no formal role exists which will allow participation (Wolcott,

1976). While ethnographers, depending on the requirements of the

setting, have assumed roles anywhere along the continuum from passive

to active participant, Schwartz and Schwartz (1969) noted that the more

active observer "increased his identification with the observed and was

better able to become aware of the subtleties of communication and

interaction" (p. 98). The decision made regarding the amount of

participation the researcher will undertake evolves not only from the

structure of the particular school or classroom, but also from the

perceptions the participants form regarding the researcher. "In every

case the field worker is fitted into a plausible role by the population

he is studying and within a context meaningful to them" (Vidich, 1969,

p. 81). The result is that the researcher's role, a product of his or

her own intentions and the perceptions of participants, determines what

the researcher will see. This, in turn, influences the value of the

items of evidence produced by the study. "For the way the subjects

of his study define that role affects what they will tell him or let

him see" (Becker, 1969, p. 250).







-55-


The researcher introduced herself to the participants as a graduate

student who was interested in women's studies. The girls were told that

the researcher wanted to write a book about gifted girls' experiences in

school, and that their help would be needed to produce a factual

account. In assuming a role of one who needed to be taught, the

researcher stressed the idea that she "would not be offended by being

told 'obvious' things and being 'lectured to'" (Lofland, 1971, p. 99).

During the course of the study the researcher took great care

not to have the manner or appearance of any group
which his informant group distinguishes sharply
from itself. This does not mean forcing identity
with the informant group; it does mean that the
observer of students, if he wishes a good under-
standing with them, will avoid the manner of
teacher and authoritative adult.. (Geer, 1969,
p. 147)

For this reason, once the researcher had gained entry, interactions

between the researcher and teachers were limited to formal interviews,

attendance at two team meetings and a faculty meeting, and occasional

informal conversation initiated by the researcher to verify observa-

tions. The researcher took care to wear attire such as jeans and tennis

shoes which was more acceptable to the student culture, to use student

language, to "hang around" with student groups before and after school,

and to eat lunch in the student cafeteria. During classroom observa-

tions the researcher sat with students, the majority of the time

beside one or several of the girls. When leaving classrooms or going

to lunch required lining up, the researcher lined up with students. At

all times the researcher subjected herself to the same rules set up

for students, though on occasion this caused discomfort for teachers.

For instance, when leaving the book fair required that students be







-56-


searched, the researcher lined up to be searched. The librarian laughed

and refused to do so.

The extent to which the researcher came to be identified with the

girls was considerable. On numerous occasions, teachers would comment

to the researcher that they had not noticed her presence in class until

the end of the period. Several times the researcher was stopped from

entering the building before school by the janitor who assumed she was

a student. On one occasion, after telling her class that she wanted

"All eyes up front," a sixth grade teacher turned to the researcher and

laughed, "No! No! Not you!"

Other student members in both teams under observation showed some

curiosity about the researcher, but as Cassell (1978) noted, participant

observers who hang around more and interact with students find their

visibility decreases with time. Many students, both boys and girls,

sought out the researcher to talk about school. This was especially

true of the different peer groups that each girl associated with.

During the course of the study, several girls who were friends of the

participants came to confide in the researcher, invite her to after

school clubs, and sit with her at lunch. Several informal interviews

were conducted with these girls, many of whom had previously been

tested for admission into the gifted program.

Strauss et al. (1969) commented that the fieldworker'ss identity

shifts when he spends an expanded period of time interacting with the

same people" (p. 70). During the early stages of data collection

several girls quite naturally became "key informants" (Spradley, 1980),

seeking out the researcher during free time, sitting with her in class







-57-


or at lunch, and initiating conversations. The researcher reacted by

concentrating her observations on these girls, using them as focal

students. Cassell (1978) suggested this strategy helps to reduce bias,

control the observer's tendency to find what he or she is looking for,

and to make sure that the observer was not attracted to just observing

interesting things. The kinds of girls who were initially attracted to

the researcher were considered significant data and were carefully

documented in the researcher's journal.

As the study progressed the researcher was able to establish

excellent rapport with each girl, though the process took much longer

with Connie and Debbie, two eighth graders who were members of the most

popular girls' clique. The nature of the difficulty became clear during

a formal interview with Connie which occurred in April.

Connie: People are totally different away from
school. I show a lot of this [behave this way].
What I'm telling you now is what I can say when
I'm away from school. Then there's not pressure
to be cool. I thought it would be hard to
talk to you because you're older, but it's not.
I was worried. I guess the clique teaches you to
watch out what you say and who you talk to.

The girls initially displayed curiosity in the fieldworker's notes

and would often drift over and read them as she wrote. The researcher

maintained the openness of notes written during observations throughout

the study as a rapport building device. The girls knew that observa-

tion notes were not shared with teachers, parents, or other students

and came to trust her with confidences. On several occasions the

researcher's policy of open-notes led to expanded and clarified accounts

of classroom interaction as the girls filled in details for the

researcher. This policy proved a valuable way to triangulate data.







-58-


The girls did not ask to read field notes from formal interviews, and,

as the study neared completion, showed less interest in notes taken

during observation periods.


Interviewing

Three types of interviews were utilized in this study: formal,

informal, and structured. Formal interviews were conducted at the

request of the researcher with all teachers in both teams, the principal,

all ten girls, and the mothers of five of the girls. These interviews

included several core or guide questions whose object was to

elicit from the interviewee what he considers to
be important questions relative to a given topic
to find out what kinds of things are happening,
rather than to determine the frequency of predeter-
mined kinds of things that the researcher already
believes can happen. (Lofland, 1971, p. 76)

During these interviews the researcher took care to make repeated

explanations, restate what informants had said, and to phrase questions

in terms of use rather than meaning (Spradley, 1979). For example,

questions such as "How do you get in with the popular crowd?" proved

more helpful than "What does it mean to be popular?" Interviews of

individual girls, the teachers, and mothers generally took place by

grade level during the three week period of concentrated observation

at that level. Core questions for formal interviews are included in

Appendices B, C, D, E, and F.

Formal interviews were also held with groups of girls by grade

level. Though the researcher would have preferred to have multiage

groups during these interviews, different schedules and requests by







-59-


the participants made this impossible. In particular, the eighth grade

girls did not wish to meet with the sixth or seventh graders. These

group interviews gave the girls time to reflect, to remember specific

incidents, and to verify or contradict each other's statements. Group

interviews were held during the first four weeks of the study.

As a part of the formal interview conducted with individual students

the researcher asked several structured questions requiring students to

select an answer on a scale from "not at all" to "all the time"

(Whitmore, 1980, Appendix L). In most cases, the researcher found

students' responses to these items to be very confusing and probed for

explanations. For example, when given the item, "I look forward to

going to school," the girls, without exception, selected "all the time."

Because the researcher's observations revealed the girls to be inatten-

tive frequently during class, the researcher expressed her confusion.

In clarifying their answers, the girls explained that school was

exciting because it was a place to meet friends. An additional example

which proved insightful to the researcher was the item, "My teachers

listen carefully to my ideas." Sally, an eighth grader who was observed

to rarely volunteer ideas, selected "all the time." When probed to

explain her choice, she informed the researcher that teachers listened

to her precisely because she never spoke out. The use of such forced-

choice items proved insightful only when additional questioning was

used to reveal the girls' perceptions of the statements themselves.

The differences between the girls' definitions of the statements and

the researcher's definitionswere considered valuable data.







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Informal interviewing occurred frequently and was a method of

verifying observations. Ample opportunities for informal interviews

were provided by hanging around before or after school, eating lunch

with students, or during class itself. While the researcher refrained

from talking to students during class, in moments before or after

instruction students often initiated conversation with the researcher.

The researcher also informally interviewed several gifted boys and

several of the girls' female friends.

Constant comparison of observations and interviews enabled the

researcher to assess the validity of comments made by participants

(Becker, 1969). The researcher found, for example, that the girls'

positions in the school's social hierarchy affected their perceptions

and descriptions of events. The girls who were able to describe the

school's cliques most vividly, including clique membership, were those

girls occupying a middle status. Gifted girls who were members of the

upper clique were least likely to talk about this membership, while

gifted girls who were social isolates verbally denied the existence

of cliques or misrepresented their position in them.


Unobtrusive measures

Unobtrusive measures are those measures which do not require

interaction between the researcher and the setting under study, thus

minimizing the possibility that the observer's presence "may change

the very world being examined" (Schwartz & Jacobs, 1979, p. 75). In

this study the researcher reviewed the girls' cumulative records,







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report cards, and random assignments completed in class. It was thought

that these data would be helpful in characterizing teachers' expecta-

tions and in clarifying the girls' perceptions of their achievement.

Personal journals kept by each girl as a part of the gifted curriculum

were examined along with journals kept by three of the eighth grade

girls for their advisor-advisee class. Written materials provided by

the school for its five year review were also examined. Lightfoot

(1983) stated these documents can give the researcher a sense of how

the school wished to be perceived.

While using a variety of methods to collect data increases the

credibility of a study, there are problems inherent in participant

observation which must be addressed in assessing the quality of the

study. McCall and Simmons (1969) described three categories of problems:

"(1) reactive effects of the phenomena being studied; (2) distorting

effects of selective perception and interpretation on the observer's

part; and (3) limitations on the observer's ability to witness all

relevant aspects of the phenomena in question" (p. 78). The following

steps were taken by the researcher to minimize these problems. The

researcher selected a site in which teachers and students were used

to and comfortable with a variety of visitors. The physical openness

of the school made it easy for the observer to move about without

attracting attention. The policy of the researcher to associate her-

self with the students and to allow the girls to look at field notes

written in classrooms encouraged the girls to behave as they normally

would if no researcher were present. The girls' tendency to pass notes

in front of the researcher and, on one occasion to bring alcohol to







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school, are indications that they did. The lengthy period spent

collecting data, the researcher's journal, and the variety of methods

used to collect data helped the researcher overcome distorting effects

of selective perceptions. Finally, using unobtrusive sources of data

helped the researcher overcome her inability to witness all relevant

aspects of an event.


Making an Ethnographic Record


Data collected in this study were recorded in the form of field

notes, interviews, and a research journal. The major portion of the

data was recorded in written form while activities were actually

occurring. All formal interviews and several gifted classes were

recorded on tape as well and transcribed by the researcher.

Field notes written during observations were recorded in as much

detail as possible. These field notes, written at the site, represented

what Spradley (1980) called a condensed account of what had occurred.

Typically the researcher's notes reflected phrases, partial drawings,

or unconnected sentences. As soon as possible after observation

periods, for instance, when classes changed or activities within the

same class changed, the researcher expanded these notes by filling in

details. Frequently the researcher left the classroom scene and created

an expanded account while sitting in the library pit. The researcher

did not leave the school site without rereading and filling in the

day's observations. Expanded accounts were typed into formal protocols

by the researcher.







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Lofland (1971) stressed the need to take notes at the lowest level

of inference, that is, to be concrete and behavioristic when in the

field. In an effort to get at concrete descriptions the use of verbatim

language was especially important to the researcher. Every attempt

was made to quote the subjects directly, and symbols were used in field

notes to indicate when the language used was not verbatim, but repre-

sented the researcher's summary or paraphrasing. Also included in the

field notes were brief descriptions of the researcher's reactions to

events as they happened or questions which occurred to the researcher

during observation periods. These were separated by brackets from the

rest of the field notes.

Other data recorded in the field notes were descriptions of entries

the girls had made in journals they kept for their gifted class, direct

examples of poetry or prose they had written, and information gleaned

from school records. Diagrams were included periodically when the

physical arrangement of a room changed or when seating arrangements

within a class changed. Other diagrams recorded by the researcher

were chalkboard work, visual displays, and social notes written by the

girls during class. These social notes were included in the researcher's

field notes only when the student voluntarily shared the note or when,

in three instances, the student actually wrote the note and passed it

to the researcher during class.

Formal interviews with groups of girls, individual girls, teachers,

and parents were recorded on tape, transcribed, and filed separately

from field notes. While recording these interviews the researcher took

written notes so that gestures, facial expressions, and posture would

be included in the expanded account.







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A research journal was kept which reflected the researcher's

experiences from the initial stages of gaining entry through the final

day of observation. As a record of the ethnographer's experiences in

the field, the journal provided a tool for reflection on concerns,

insights, and problems which occurred (Spradley, 1980). Entries in

the journal were typically written after the researcher had mused over

several sets of protocols. The journal was most valuable in that it

enabled the researcher to monitor her changing role in the social

scene, providing a record of her attitudes and biases that were later

examined during data analysis. These issues are discussed in the final

sections of this chapter.


Analyzing Ethnographic Data


Ethnography is "a naturalistic, observational, descriptive, con-

textual, open-ended, and in-depth approach to doing research" (Wilcox,

1982, p. 462). As such, researchers use a variety of methods and

techniques to gather and analyze data. In qualitative research, the

analyst's aim is to provide an explicit account of the structure,

order, and patterns found among participants in the social setting under

study (Lofland, 1971).

In doing ethnography, a certain amount of analysis is required

while the researcher remains in the field. This stage of analysis is

extremely important in that it serves to guide the study, continually

narrowing the focus to fundamental issues heuristic to the setting.

Analysis as an ongoing part of this study was previously discussed in







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the section on asking ethnographic questions. In summary, after examin-

ing initial data, the researcher asked descriptive, structural, and

contrast questions. These questions served to guide subsequent data

collection sessions. This cycle of questioning, collecting, and

analyzing was repeated throughout the duration of the study.

Data collected from participant observation, interviews, and

unobtrusive measures were analyzed using Spradley's (1980) four-step

method. The stages of data analysis are described below:

1. Domain analysis was begun with the first set of protocols.

In this phase of analysis the researcher looked for patterns or cate-

gories of meaning, what Spradley called domains. These categories were

discovered through continuous reading of protocols with specific

questions in mind. Spradley described nine semantic relationships

that could be used to question the data and uncover relevant domains.

The most helpful semantic relationships were strict inclusion (X is a

kind of Y), cause-effect (X is a result of Y), rationale (X is a reason

for doing Y), means-end (X is a way to do Y), and attribution (X is a

characteristic of Y). This task of "delineating forms, kinds, and

types of social phenomena; of documenting in loving detail the things

that exist" (Lofland, 1971, p. 13), continued throughout the study.

The linguistics used by the participants themselves were utilized as

included terms within domains as often as possible.

2. Taxonomic analysis, uncovering the organization of domains

themselves, was the second phase of analysis. A taxonomy reveals

relationships among the terms inside the domain, uncovering subsets

and the ways individual terms are related to the whole. Taxonomic







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analysis also helps the researcher to relate domains to one another.

One taxonomy, Kinds of Ability Perceptions, became the framework for

the findings of the study.

3. Componential analysis is a search for attributes of domains

and their included terms. For example, in conducting a componential

analysis the researcher looks for characteristics of the acts, activi-

ties, relationships, setting, and participation, and the variations they

display. The goal is to determine if the domains and terms within them

are distinct elements in the social setting.

4. Theme analysis, the final stage of the four step model, involved

looking for meanings which were recurrent in domains and which illus-

trated a relationship within taxonomies. Although a theme may not unite

all domains, it should make sense of the whole and thereby have a high

degree of generality. In this study the theme was revealed through a

recurrent set of questions which clarified the organization within

domains and across taxonomies. These questions were "What is problematic

to the participants?" "What things cause them concern, irritation, or

happiness?" "When they think about their roles in school, what appears

to them as stressful, important, or difficult?"

In a discussion on gathering and analyzing ethnographic data,

Lightfoot (1983) characterized the doing of ethnography as similar to

the painting of a portrait:

Portraiture is a genre whose methods are shaped
by empirical and aesthetic dimensions, whose
descriptions are often penetrating and personal,
whose goals include generous and tough scrutiny.
It is a sensitive kind of work that requires the
perceptivity and skill of a practiced observer
and the empathy and care of a clinician. (p. 369)







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Implied in her discussion are two important issues which will be dis-

cussed in the final sections of this chapter: (a) researcher qualifi-

cations and biases and (b) validity of the findings.


Researcher Qualifications and Biases


The ethnographer is the key research instrument. For this reason

a discussion of the researcher's qualifications and biases is essential

in judging the quality of the research effort. "One's frame of

reference, in part a product of one's professional training, influences

the selections one makes from the phenomenon and determines how and

what is observed" (Schwartz & Schwartz, 1969, p. 102).

The researcher's qualifications and professional training are

listed below:

1. The researcher had eight years of professional teaching

experience, including extensive work with gifted children in a regular

classroom setting and one year as a teacher of the gifted in a university

laboratory school. Five of the eight years of experience were at the

middle level.

2. The researcher has completed coursework for a Ph.D. in curriculum

and instruction, specializing in middle school and gifted education.

The researcher is certified by the state of Florida as a teacher in

both areas.

3. The researcher has taken four courses which provided a

theoretical and practical background in qualitative research and has

read extensively in this area.







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4. The researcher has completed an ethnographic study of gifted

adolescent females involved in a career awareness seminar. Based on

this study two articles have been accepted for publication and one

regional research presentation was made.

5. The researcher has presented workshops and in-service presen-

tations for classroom teachers working with gifted students, has worked

as a consultant for district middle schools, and has made a presentation

at the National Association for Gifted Children.

In addition to examining the researcher's qualifications, both in

regards to her ability to conduct qualitative research and in terms of

the researcher's frame of reference, it is important for the researcher

to make clear any underlying assumptions or biases which may have

resulted in a selective perception of data. "The researcher can and

does know what his biases are, and knowing what they are, he can,

by specifying them, prevent distortion of his observations" (Schwartz &

Schwartz, 1969, p. 103). The researcher's journal enabled her to

actively look for personal biases and explore their consequences. The

following list demonstrates the researcher's awareness and provides

the reader with a framework for evaluating the study (Ross, 1978).

1. The researcher believes that gifted students require an

enriched curriculum through special programs which stress critical

thinking, problem solving, leadership, and creativity. Related to this

is the researcher's concern that practice in these skills is not being

adequately provided for all students in regular classroom settings.

2. The researcher is especially concerned about the kinds of

social and academic experiences encountered by gifted adolescent girls







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in public school settings and their tendency toward underachievement

as revealed by previous research.

3. The researcher holds a social-interactionist perspective; that

is, that human perceptions are influenced by contextual settings and

that those settings, in turn, are influenced by human perceptions.

4. The researcher assumes that gifted adolescent girls' perceptions

of school experiences and their own abilities and achievements may not

be congruent with the perceptions of others within the school.


Validity and Ethical Issues

The degree to which scientific observations record or measure that

which they purport to measure determines the validity of the study

(Pelto & Pelto, 1978). This is a central issue in ethnography where

the match between the research model and the world under study is its

major strength (Lecompte & Goetz, 1982). In their discussion of criteria

which can be used to appraise the validity of qualitative studies, Ross

and Kyle (1982) have suggested the following questions as guides for

both researchers and consumers of research.

1. Is the problem studied significant, and is there
sufficient depth to the study?
2. Does the author refer to appropriate theory and
research?
3. Does the researcher provide a comprehensive
description of the methodology?
4. Does the researcher explore alternative explana-
tions?
5. Does the researcher support interpretations and
explanations with multiple evidence?
6. Is the study well-written and organized?
(pp. 9-10)

In asking these questions the researcher acknowledges their importance

in determining the quality of the study.







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The steps taken to ensure the validity of this study's findings

included the following:

1. The lengthy period of data collection ensured the researcher's

familiarity with the social setting and provided ample opportunity for

continual data analysis to refine domains and taxonomies and to ensure

the match between these categories and the setting.

2. Formal and informal interviewing of the girls, their parents,

and teachers, and the use of unobtrusive measures enabled the researcher

to get at emic perspectives and to triangulate data obtained through

observations.

3. The search for negative examples enabled the researcher to

refine constructs.

4. The acceptance of the researcher by the participants allowed

the researcher to achieve a significant level of participation.

5. The practice of keeping open field notes, or allowing the

girls to read and comment on field notes taken during classes, enabled

the researcher to clarify, enlarge, and validate observations. This

practice also contributed to the rapport which developed between the

researcher and subjects.

Yet another procedure for establishing the validity of the

researcher's findings was to discuss them with some of the participants.

In early December, 1984, one year following the onset of data collection,

the researcher returned to the school to discuss the findings of the

study with participants. By sharing findings with the teachers and

some of the girls who had been involved in the study, the researcher

received important feedback on her interpretations of participants'

perspectives.







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In considering the ethical issues involved in fieldwork, Schaffir,

Stebbins, and Turowetz (1980) noted that, "the oft discussed questions

of what to write about the group one has studied, how to protect con-

fidentiality against legal proceedings, and the like are of greatest

concern after leaving the field" (p. 15). The researcher has, during

the writing of this study, attended to the facts and reported the

findings while making every effort to protect the identity of the

school, the teachers, and the girls themselves. For this reason,

descriptive facts which did not affect the findings of this study have

been changed or omitted. The researcher further notes that, during the

data collection period, participants were continually reminded of the

researcher's interests and were not misled or recorded without their

knowledge. Upon completion, a final copy of this research will be made

available to county personnel, as well as the school's administration,

teachers, and gifted girls.

In the next chapter the researcher's findings are described and

discussed. In the final chapter, implications of the present study

are discussed.















CHAPTER IV

GIFTED ADOLESCENT GIRLS' SELF-PERCEPTIONS OF ABILITY



The goal of this study was to uncover the self-perceptions of

ability held by gifted females attending a middle school in which they

were members of interdisciplinary teams and a pull-out gifted program.

As previously discussed, this research was based on a social-

interactionist perspective, and thus on the assumption that indi-

viduals' self-perceptions of ability are constructed through their

interactions in social settings.

In this study the researcher focused on interactions which took

place in the gifted classroom, two of the school's three team areas,

and in the library, cafeteria, and other areas of the school environ-

ment which were regularly inhabited by the girls. Observations

centered on the girls' interactions with teachers, peers, and educa-

tional materials within and outside the classroom setting. Additionally,

both formal and informal interviews were conducted with each girl

individually and in groups throughout the study. Teachers on both

teams and five of the girls' mothers were formally interviewed.

Artifacts such as cumulative folders, personal journals kept by the

girls, report cards, and work completed for classes were examined.

These kinds of concrete phenomena were used by the researcher as indi-

cators of gifted adolescent girls' self-perceptions of ability.


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Data were analyzed into domains according to Spradley's

Developmental Research Sequence (Spradley, 1980). This process re-

quired that data be analyzed continuously to isolate relevant categories

of language, behavior, objects, people, etc. Domains which proved to be

particularly significant in uncovering gifted girls' self-perceptions

of ability included Results of Being in the Gifted Program, Ways to

Know You've Done Your Best, Kinds of Goals, Kinds of Status, Things

That Are Important, Steps in Getting a Teacher to Like You, Attributes

of Smart People, Differences Between Gifted Boys and Girls, and

Responsibilities of Students on a Team. Domains were then organized

into taxonomies. That is, data which indicated ways gifted girls

thought about their abilities were drawn from across many domains

and organized into new domains which represented factors influencing

self-perceptions of ability. Taxonomies were also constructed to

represent achievement-related behaviors within different contexts such

as the different teams and the gifted classroom.

This analysis reflected the social-interactionist perspective

which served as a theoretical framework for the findings of this

study. From this perspective, individuals create meanings for people,

things, and events in their world through their interactions in social

contexts. The meanings, or perceptions, are not inherent in the

people or events themselves, but instead are products of social

interaction. These premises of symbolic interaction (Blumer, 1969;

Mead, 1934) were found to be useful in understanding and describing

the self-perceptions of ability held by the gifted girls studied, and

the effects of the school culture (i.e., organizational features,







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student-teacher relationships, and peer group influences) on their

perceptions.

The student perspective which emerged from the data was based on

evidence from all ten girls in the school's gifted female population,

though individual aspects of the perspective were shared by the girls

in varying degrees. As previously discussed, the majority of the ten

girls in the study group had grown up in the school's rural community,

attended the local elementary school, and participated in a pull-out

gifted program since third grade. Comparison of their perceptions

with those of girls who were new to the school community provided what

initially appeared to be negative examples. Componential analysis,

however, revealed these data to be supportive of the interactional

nature of ability formation.

The purpose of this analysis was to describe gifted adolescent

girls' self-perceptions of ability, and, more specifically, their

perceptions of the relationship between ability and achievement. As

gifted girls' perceptions are described, data from the taxonomies will

be used to illustrate and support their perspective. The excerpts

from field notes and interview transcripts used as illustrations were

selected from among numerous examples as being representative of the

experiences, statements, and shared beliefs of the group of gifted

adolescent girls studied. To protect the anonymity of the partici-

pants, ficticious names were used for students and teachers, and

details about the subject being taught were changed whenever it was

possible to do so without changing the data.







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In the present study, gifted girls' beliefs about ability were

influenced by (1) definitions of giftedness held by significant

others, (2) affiliation needs, and (3) social comparison. Before

these influences on the development of self-perceptions of ability

are discussed, the community and school contexts which contributed

to the girls' self-perceptions will be described. In this section

the girls' views about themselves, as well as their perceptions of

the gifted program and interdisciplinary team membership,will be

presented. It is important to note that neither the girls' views about

themselves, nor teachers' or peers' behaviors and beliefs alone, can

sufficiently explain the perceptions of ability which emerged from the

data in this study. Rather, self-perceptions of ability must be viewed

as products of social interaction.


Ability and Motivation: School and
Community Contexts

Callahan's (1979) observation that "girls earn higher grades in

school, yet men write more books, earn more degrees, produce more

works of art, and make more contributions in all professional fields"

(p. 402), led her to note that our present understanding of gifted

girls' abilities and motivations is inadequate. Research has failed

to account for the factors which might explain the discrepant numbers

of gifted men and women, or to delineate the unique characteristics

of gifted females which might guide educators in the creation of

effective programs for these learners. Though educators have noted

the need for studies conducted from the learners' point of view







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(Meighan, 1978) in order to provide descriptive data (Weinstein,

1983), little is known about the role of the school and community in

the development of gifted adolescent girls' self-perceptions of ability.

As Lipsitz (1980) pointed out:

What we can say at this point is that young
adolescents, at a critical stage of self-defini-
tion, take their signals from society at large
and from the subculture. They are dependent upon
social institutions, like the schools, for the
limitations or the boundlessness of their aspira-
tions. (p. 29)

In the present study, the interaction between community and

family values and the school experiences of gifted girls contributed

to their beliefs about ability and their motivation to achieve. Before

the girls' experiences in the gifted program and their team organiza-

tions are described, some background will be provided on the girls'

entering views about themselves. As Brim (1976) proposed, the set

of ideas, beliefs, and attitudes that individuals hold with regard

to the world and their place within it constitutes their conception

of self. For the girls in this study, community and family values

provided the background from which beliefs and attitudes about them-

selves were constructed, and therefore influenced their ideas about

who they were as well as who they might become.


Gifted Girls' Views About Themselves

Teachers believed that the nature of the rural community affected

the school's student population, and, in particular, the gifted girls

in several ways. When describing their perceptions of the girls,







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every teacher, with the exception of one, referred to the influence

of the community and home values on girls' attitudes and behaviors in

school. Specifically, community values were believed to affect girls

in that they (1) provided a well-defined set of behavioral norms and

(2) restricted girls' awareness of achievement opportunities.

The set of behavioral norms to which teachers referred became

obvious to the observer when documenting seating patterns in the

classrooms and in the gifted resource room. Unless a teacher-made

seating organization was in effect, girls and boys tended to select

seats beside peers of the same sex. In the gifted room where desks

were arranged in a semi-circle and the number of students in the group

was small, the separation of sexes was most obvious. The girls ex-

plained this to the observer by commenting that boys and girls usually

did not sit by each other "unless they were going together." The

resource teacher, listening to the conversation between the gifted

students and the observer, interjected the belief that this seating

pattern reflected a community norm:

Teacher: (standing beside the group of students) I
call it Madison-itus. (Madison refers to the com-
munity.)
Observer: What? What's that?
Teacher: When you go to a party around here the men
are all in one room and the women are in another.
Several of the gifted students laugh.
Gifted male: We just always sit that way. We were
sitting on the other side (of the semi-circle), but
they (the girls) pushed us around the table.

Norms of behavior which existed in Madison and the influence of

individual parents were frequently cited by teachers in explaining

the difference in behaviors they perceived to be characteristic of







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gifted girls and gifted boys. The following excerpts illustrate

teachers' beliefs about the influence of norms on gifted girls:

Teacher A: I've never had a wierd (gifted) girl,
but we've had some guys. Rick (gifted boy), for
example, acts abnormally. He doesn't follow the
norms of the school or the community. Our gifted
girls all have consequences for poor performance at
home, and the majority of them are interested in
pleasing and doing well. You can't be accepted here
unless you go to the right church, [your] parents
know the right people, and you do the right things
around town. I think our gifted girls try to please,
just like other girls.

Teacher B: (standing in the back of a classroom and
pointing out a gifted girl to the observer) See Cindy?
She has her hand raised. Being polite just like her
mother expects. She's a producer.

Teacher C: It's hard to tell these gifted girls
that the skills they develop now will affect their
future progress. I know Debbie is capable of a lot
more demanding work, but I won't follow up the
parent and talk. I feel like an outsider.
I came from a big city, and I feel like I stress
academics more than anyone else here. Gifted
girls aren't super students in math. They tend to
do well in language. (pause) I guess it's O.K. to
do well in language.

An additional perspective on community norms was provided by a

life-time community resident who substituted for the gifted resource

teacher one day during February. After telling the observer that,

though she knew most of the gifted girls slightly, she knew Cindy

best through their church affiliation, she commented about the com-

munity's perception:

Substitute: The community thinks of Cindy as a very
bright girl.
Observer: Would the community be surprised if she
became a nuclear engineer?
Substitute: Well, she is well accepted (pause) be-
cause (longer pause) because she does what the com-
munity expects a bright girl to do. She's musically
inclined, she has a beautiful voice, and she's real
polite. She's like a dream girl. I heard a parent







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say that one day. (pause) A lot of people would
never say they felt differently about boy-girl
achievements, but I guess we do behave that way.
We separate ourselves at social gatherings without
even knowing it. (pause) I never thought about it.
Teachers frequently described the community as a closed one which

did not value academics, and, as such, restricted students' awareness

of educational opportunities. One teacher, noting that he lived in a

neighboring city and was not well accepted by the school's community,

told the observer, "This community doesn't give kids a chance to

expand their lifestyles. Gifted kids here probably just have

more open parents."

The teacher who taught the most classes to seven of the ten

gifted girls was concerned about what she perceived to be a lack of

community emphasis on female achievement. Explaining to the observer

that she was the only regular classroom teacher at the school who had

some background in gifted education, she voiced the opinion that

gifted girls' awareness of educational opportunities might be re-

stricted because there was a general lack of awareness that girls

could be smart:

Teacher: There's a difference between the gifted
girls here and the ones I taught in the South. I
don't see the aspirations for individual achievement
here. I think it's because they don't see females
in leadership roles and aren't brought up to see
women as achievers. They may tell you they want to
be doctors and lawyers, but I think their innermost
drive is to find a husband and get married and have
children.

The influence of parents and the community on the girls' percep-

tions of themselves frequently surfaced during formal interviews.

Comments made by the girls in answer to the question "What kinds of







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things do you want to be able to achieve?" reflected the influence of

parental values. The girls' answers frequently centered on doing well

to make parents proud rather than naming actual accomplishments they

would like to achieve. "I listen to my mother," Cindy informed the

observer. "I think she knows my potential. She doesn't encourage the

idea of being a composer because it would be a hard job. Not many

people do well. But it's not that she doesn't encourage me. She

wants what's best for me." It should be noted that comments made by

the girls reflected not only the importance of parental views, but the

tendency for girls to compare ability characteristics they perceived

in themselves with characteristics they perceived in their parents.

Comments such as, "I think my strong point is that I'm organized--like

my mother" or "My father says I'm lazy just like him!" were frequently

made in connection with expressions of the desire to please parents

and make them proud. The kinds of things gifted girls wanted to

achieve were influenced by their perceptions of the abilities and

qualities valued by parents.

The influence of community organizations on the ways gifted girls

thought about themselves was also related to parental values. For

example, girls who were actively involved in organizations such as

Girl Scouts, 4-H, or community sports often gave examples of activi-

ties in these organizations to describe things they did well. These

girls tended to have parents who were actively involved in these

organizations as adult leaders or who had been involved in them as

children.







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One of the social institutions within the community which

affected the majority of gifted girls in this study was the church.

Eight of the ten girls listed God as one of the two most important

things they believed in when completing a values exercise in journals

kept in the gifted class. Family and friends were listed as second.

The following excerpt is representative of the influence of religious

values on the way girls thought about themselves and the importance of

achievement:

Cindy: A lot of ladies think well, a lot of
ladies are as good as men and some are better,
but I just believe God put men on earth first and
they should take care of ladies. She should do as
well as she can.
Nancy: Man provides for women. That's what the
BibTe says.
Cindy; If I apply for a job when I'm older and a
man gets it, I'm not going to think he did just be-
cause he's a man.
Observer: What would happen if you knew you were
the better person for the job?
Cindy: Well, I guess I would just have to try
somewhere else.

While teachers were consciously aware of the influence of the

community on gifted girls' views about themselves, they were less

clear about the school's ability to expand the opportunities available

to these girls. Comments such as, "Kids come in with established

patterns and all we can do is work with them!" and "The school can't

do everything. The parent's emphasis makes a difference in the child's

emphasis" were characteristic of teachers' feelings about the school's

role. A teacher who informed the observer that she had made several

attempts to encourage one of the gifted girls to sign up for an

advanced math class, but had been unsuccessful, remarked, "Why don't







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these girls want to develop their potential? I'm not sure there's

a pat answer. I guess the school's role is to expose the student to

as much information as possible to make a wise decision."



The Gifted Program


As previously described, the gifted program at the school was a

one day a week pull-out program which aimed to improve higher level

thinking skills, creativity, and leadership potential. The fact that

there was no set curriculum to accomplish these goals was seen as a

hardship by Mrs. Johnson, the gifted resource teacher. As a result,

she developed several major themes during the year and built lessons

around them for all three grade levels. The lack of appropriate

materials and resource guides, however, apparently made the development

of higher level thinking skills difficult.

Over the duration of this study, Mrs. Johnson taught units related

to space, the arts, and the history of the community. While these

units were in progress she continued weekly journal writing assignments

designed to promote creativity and affective development. In addition,

several weeks before the end of school, she required the students to

plan and organize field trips to areas of local interest "in order to

stress organization skills and to encourage leadership and responsi-

bility."

The level of interest expressed by the gifted girls in the topics

covered by Mrs. Johnson varied. Journal writing was considered an

important and enjoyable activity, as were the informal conversations







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which frequently followed the voluntary sharing of journal entries.

As Ellen explained, "A lot goes on then. We have times when we talk

or just write about things and everything comes out."

No opportunities were provided for the gifted students to make

choices about topics studied other than the selection of an individual

project which followed the unit on space. The unit, which took place

during the early stages of this study, proved particularly difficult

to teach because Mrs. Johnson was able to obtain only materials and

films which were considerably below the level of the students and, in

some cases, were noticeably outdated. The end result was that few

students were excited by the unit or by the prospect of an independent

project. The project Mrs. Johnson assigned was posted on the black-

board early in January as follows:

Space Reports

1. Choose an area of study.
2. Begin research.
a. School library
b. Public library
c. University library
d. University Science Department
e. National Geographic (and other publications)
f. Materials available in enrichment room
3. Write an outline. (Due Jan. 18)
4. Develop a report.

During the month of January and the first week of February,

students in the gifted room worked alternately on creative and per-

sonal writing in their journals, thinking techniques such as brain-

storming, and activities related to the unit on space. When the

February deadline arrived for presentation of reports, however, none

of the sixth or eighth grade girls were ready to present. Thus, the







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first day of presentations in those classes consisted of work com-

pleted by the gifted boys. The following two incidents are illustrative

of the level of student involvement in the projects and, in particular,

the behavior of gifted girls in the resource room:

Sixth Bobby moves to the front of the class, sets up a
grade poster and places a written report in front of him.
The other students sit in a semi-circle around
Bobby. Mrs. Johnson stands in the back with a tape
recorder and camera ready to document the report.
Jill and Marie have open encyclopedias on the table
in front of them and proceed to copy information and
a diagram while Bobby talks. Bobby has most of his
report memorized so that he does not refer to his
notes. He concludes by explaining his poster and
asks for questions. Eight males and Joan, one of
the three female sixth graders, ask questions. Jill
and Marie continue working.

Eighth Phil and Steve, two eighth grade boys continually
grade pointed out by the majority of girls as extremely
smart, are the only ones ready to present today. Mrs.
Johnson calls on Phil and explains that she will
record him as well as take pictures. In response,
Sally calls out: "Oh! My hair!" She then reaches
up and pretends to smooth it. Phil ignores the
laughter and begins his report on Saturn. Perhaps
because he is nervous, he reads his report a a pace
which becomes more and more rapid. As he speaks,
Lynn puts her foot on the table and deliberately
ties her shoe. Beside her Debbie sits quietly,
staring under the table. Ellen begins to make sound
effects which include the music to Twilight Zone.
Rushing through his final page, Phil concludes by
asking the class if they would like further informa-
tion. In a loud voice Sally responds: "I'm not
really interested." Mrs. Johnson looks at Sally, turns
off the tape, and begins discussing the good and bad
points of the audience and the report. When she
pauses, Ellen chimes in: "I liked the organization
and the visuals, but where's the beef?" The class
bursts into laughter and Ellen blushes slightly.
Mrs. Johnson rewinds the tape, plays back the first
few minutes, and becomes distressed with the giggling
and sound effects that were picked up on the tape.
Looking at the class she exclaims: "This is
ridiculous!"







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The levels of motivation exhibited by both gifted males and

females in the resource room varied over time and across subject

matter. This was of considerable concern to the mothers of the girls

interviewed during this study. One mother, after being notified that

her daughter's space project had not been completed on time, told the

observer, "When she got home we put her on restriction. She said she

didn't get it done because the girl who worked on it with her hadn't

come to school. I told her maybe I'd have her taken out of gifted

because it was too much pressure on her. She says the teachers don't

understand." Several other mothers expressed the concern that their

daughters did not seem to be getting very much out of enrichment this

year. One mother remarked, "For a while I thought she was learning

a lot, but now, not so much. She thinks so too. She's at the point

where she'll be glad when she gets to high school and she's not in

it anymore."

Data analysis revealed that the girls who had the least social

status in the regular classroom tended to describe the gifted classroom

in the most positive terms. This was true even for girls like Sally

whose behavior in the gifted room frequently indicated that she had

no interest in the curriculum. As Sally explained, "The only time I

feel part of the school is when I'm in gifted."

Field notes indicated that the verbal behavior of many of the

gifted girls in the resource room was significantly different from

their behavior in regular class. For example, Marie, who rarely spoke

above a whisper in her regular classes, interacted more frequently and

with vigor in the gifted classroom. When the researcher commented on







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this observation, several girls explained their more active participa-

tion by describing the gifted class as a smaller, more intimate

environment:

Sally: It's a lot different. You talk about
feelings. In there (gifted room), you put it
(express yourself) different.

Lynn: In here (gifted room) we're all friends.
There aren't any cliques and no one is more popular
unless maybe something (a status-giving event) is
happening.

Nancy: Gifted is my favorite class. We agree on
th same things, like the same things, and enjoy
being together. They understand how I feel.

Joan: I had to throw away my I-hate-Monday-Garfield-
tee-shirt this year! (Monday is the day Joan goes to
the gifted class.)

A comparison of the journals kept by several eighth grade girls

in their advisor-advisee class with those kept in the gifted room pro-

vided insight into the different levels of intimacy the girls attributed

to the two environments. During a group interview these girls informed

the observer that nothing of importance was ever written in the

journals kept in advisor-advisee, and that reading them would not

produce information for this study. Sally explained, "We never write

anything in there! Mrs. Myers reads them." It is important to note

that Mrs. Johnson also read the gifted journals, though students in

the gifted class had the option of requesting that Mrs. Johnson (and

the researcher) not read a particular entry. It should also be noted

that girls were given no directions when writing in their advisor-

advisee journals, while Mrs. Johnson usually led a discussion based on

a selected topic as a pre-writing activity. The result was that entries







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written for advisor-advisee class reflected basic daily activities,

but journals kept in the gifted room revealed intimate, personal

thoughts, as illustrated in the following examples:

Gifted Connie: Friendship is what impresses me most.
jourals Everyone wants to fit in. You see someone
everyone admires, and you want to be like
them.

Debbie: Life is like an endless standing in
Tine for something. It just seems to go on and
on and never gets anywhere. I wonder if I am
accomplishing anything.

Lynn: When you are in a fog you don't see any-
thing, but when it leaves and you look back, you
see all the opportunities you missed.

Ellen: I feel like a time bomb. Things could
explode any minute.


Advisor- Connie: This Saturday we went shopping at the
Advisee maiTT and to the movies. Ellen spent the
journals night.

Lynn: Yesterday I cleaned the house and read a
book for class. My friend came over and we went
riding.
Ellen: I called Connie and we talked on the phone
for an hour. Then Debbie called me.

Though the girls were more verbal in the gifted room than in

their regular classes, their overall behavior in the gifted room was

more passive than the behavior of gifted boys. This observation was

consistent throughout the study, despite the varying levels of motiva-

tion expressed by both males and females in regard to the gifted

curriculum. When activities were in progress, males moved about the

room more, used a wider variety of materials, asked more questions,

and interacted with each other more aggressively than did females.







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When journal writing occurred, males tended to finish writing sooner

and spend the remainder of the time talking to each other or to Mrs.

Johnson. In addition, equipment such as the record player and computer

were controlled almost exclusively by the males with the exception of

the sixth grade class. These students did not use the record player,

and both males and females were equally interested in obtaining time

on the computer.

For the majority of girls, particularly the eighth graders, the

significance of being in the gifted program had gradually decreased

since their entry into middle school. Even Ellen, who described the

gifted class as a place "where everything comes out," told the
researcher that, "It used to be important to be in it (during elementary

school). I used to love to come." On several occasions, and on at

least one occasion when the observer was present, one girl skipped

class and was later found by Mrs. Johnson in her regular class.

Data analysis revealed two reasons many of the girls felt parti-

cipation in the gifted class was no longer important. First, the

girls frequently expressed feelings of wanting to be exposed to more

and different topics than were covered in the class. Human nature,

relationships, physical growth, astrology, and animals were mentioned

by the girls as topics they would like to investigate. Second, nine

of the ten girls made spontaneous comments to the observer about very

popular girls who had taken the test for entry into the program, but

had missed the cut-off score by "a few points." The girls believed

that including popular students in the gifted program would increase

its status among students, thus making it a more appealing program.







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Carrie, the most popular eighth grade girl, was often given as an

example. As Ellen explained, "Carrie said she hoped she'd make it,

but when she didn't, she said she didn't really want to. Now no one

really wants to get in."

An additional explanation for the girls' feelings about the

importance of being in the gifted program was offered by the principal.

He described for the researcher the motivation-achievement conflict he

believed characterized gifted students, and in particular, girls, in

the middle school:

Principal: The only thing about gifted is there's no
real direction about what gifted kids should be exposed
to. Teachers expect them to make up work they miss
(on days absent for the gifted program) and the kids
don't feel they should. Too, gifted girls won't
sign up for advanced classes because of peer pressure.
They don't want to be different. That's what we do
when we label them. We make them different. People
don't really understand the amount of pressure these
kids are under. I don't understand it. They look
to others for leadership and follow their example.
That's just the way it works. We've had kids tell
us, "We don't want to have to work that hard."
There's a few of these kids from time to time that
don't let it affect them, but they're socially
outcast.

In summary, the majority of girls were unsure that the gifted class

was one in which they were learning advanced skills. They expressed

to the observer a desire to investigate topics different from those

which were part of Mrs. Johnson's program. At the same time, however,

they perceived the class as one in which they were able to be them-

selves. The girls named Mrs. Johnson, along with the school counselor,

as the adults they would most likely go to with problems. In addi-

tion, their perception of the gifted room as a place without cliques







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encouraged a feeling of being understood; thus girls who had difficulty

interacting verbally in the regular classroom did not have this diffi-

culty in the gifted room. Despite the observation that the girls

expressed their feelings more openly in the gifted room, when their

overall behavior was compared to the behavior of gifted boys, girls

were found to exhibit more passive behaviors.



Members of a Team


Membership on a team was an integral part of the student experi-

ence at this middle school. Over the duration of the study numerous

students from both teams discussed their perceptions of school with

the researcher, perceptions which were phrased in terms of team life,

and which often compared one team to another. Students who shared

their perceptions with the researcher, including the gifted girls, be-

lieved that the two teams offered very different learning experiences.

As previously discussed, the researcher spent several weeks

collecting observational data in both teams, and three-week periods

in which observations were solely focused on a specific grade level

within one team. During these three-week periods the researcher com-

pared gifted girls' perceptions of the team with the behavior of

teachers, peers, and the girls themselves. Gifted girls' experiences

as members of Team One and Team Two will be discussed separately.


Gifted girls' perceptions of Team One


Team One contained all of the eighth graders and half of the

seventh graders in the school. At the time of this study, seven of







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the gifted girls were members of the team. This group of girls in-

cluded one student who was new to the school and six who had been

members of Team Two the year preceding the study. Their comparisons

of the two teams provided insight into gifted girls' perceptions of

classroom features and the effects of these features on motivation

and ability perceptions.

The majority of Team One students who discussed their perceptions

with the researcher, including the seven gifted girls, described the

team as much freer. Observations and interview data indicated that

the girls used this term in two different ways. First, the gifted

girls believed that a wider variety of classroom behavior was tolerated

by teachers in Team One. Additionally, the girls believed that the

work they produced in Team One was evaluated by less strict criteria,

and thus, they had a greater degree of freedom when completing assign-

ments. As Cindy explained it, "Team One is just freer! I like it

better because things don't always have to be perfect like the teacher

wants. In Team Two if you didn't do it exactly a certain way you lost

points."

Data indicated that these student perceptions resulted from the

consciously organized system of beliefs about students' developmental

levels and teaching that guided the team teachers' decisions and

behavior. Team One teachers believed that seventh and eighth grade

students should be able to manage themselves without teacher-imposed

restrictions, and that teachers should concentrate their efforts on

the cognitive dimension of the curriculum. The teachers' attitudes

are illustrated in the comments below:




Full Text
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2) The majority of gifted girls attributed future success and
happiness to being liked and accepted by others, thus social competence
was perceived as an important area of achievement. To be socially
competent, the majority of girls believed it was necessary for gifted
students to fit in and not act smarter than others. Thus, the desire
to achieve social competence resulted in a tendency for girls to devalue
or underestimate their own abilities and to avoid classroom situations
which required frequent public displays of knowledge.
3) The girls assessed the importance of having abilities by com
paring themselves to gifted boys whom they did not consider socially
competent, and to peers with high social standing. If a specific
ability was perceived as having little social value, the girls did not
demonstrate achievement-related behaviors or express high evaluations
of their abilities in that area. For example, Ellen's belief that she
was not a good singer was influenced by school experiences in which
she perceived singing brought her recognition as being socially incom
petent.
4) A mismatch between gifted girls' classroom performance and
teachers' beliefs about ability caused teachers to question whether
the majority of girls were gifted students. Teachers often compared
gifted girls to high-achieving girls who volunteered more answers and
appeared more motivated in class. Though teachers did not believe
they treated gifted girls differently, the girls believed that teachers
expected more from gifted students, often calling on gifted girls to
publicly demonstrate knowledge to which they believed they had not yet
been exposed. To explain their inability to meet teacher expectations,


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things do you want to be able to achieve?" reflected the influence of
parental values. The girls' answers frequently centered on doing well
to make parents proud rather than naming actual accomplishments they
would like to achieve. "I listen to my mother," Cindy informed the
observer. "I think she knows my potential. She doesn't encourage the
idea of being a composer because it would be a hard job. Not many
people do well. But it's not that she doesn't encourage me. She
wants what's best for me." It should be noted that comments made by
the girls reflected not only the importance of parental views, but the
tendency for girls to compare ability characteristics they perceived
in themselves with characteristics they perceived in their parents.
Comments such as, "I think my strong point is that I'm organized1 ike
my mother" or "My father says I'm lazy just like him!" were frequently
made in connection with expressions of the desire to please parents
and make them proud. The kinds of things gifted girls wanted to
achieve were influenced by their perceptions of the abilities and
qualities valued by parents.
The influence of community organizations on the ways gifted girls
thought about themselves was also related to parental values. For
example, girls who were actively involved in organizations such as
Girl Scouts, 4-H, or community sports often gave examples of activi
ties in these organizations to describe things they did well. These
girls tended to have parents who were actively involved in these
organizations as adult leaders or who had been involved in them as
children.


-51-
Ethnographic questions are the main tools for discovering cultural
knowledge (Spradley, 1979). As the study progressed, descriptive,
structural, and contrast questions were asked. Each kind of question
directed observations and interviews in different ways and provided
for different levels of data analysis.
Descriptive questions were asked during the early stage of obser
vations, to collect samples of language and aid the researcher in
becoming familiar with the social scene. These general questions included
"What happens in the gifted resource room?" "What seating patterns
exist in classrooms?" and "How do gifted girls spend their classroom
time?"
Following initial data analysis, structural questions were asked
to add depth to the researcher's knowledge of the social scene. For
example, an early observation was that different groups of the girls
tended to have different territories before and after school. Struc
tural questions posed were "What activities are students in the different
territories engaged in?" and "Do student behaviors change if students
change territories?" These structural questions were asked repeatedly
and led to more narrowly focused observations.
Finally, contrast questions were asked to identify differences
between elements in a category. For example, in the category Things
I Worry About were elements such as being popular, physical appearance,
and making good grades. To ensure that these were distinct elements
in the category the researcher asked the contrast question, "How are
these problems different?" The question led the researcher to review


-94-
point, the school's dean was asked to sit in on several classes to
observe the students. When questioned about student behavior, however,
the teachers maintained that the students needed to learn to manage
themselves. They did not appear to be aware that the need for increased
discipline left less time for academics.
Though the gifted girls frequently informed the researcher that
they liked Team One much better than Team Two because of the freedom
it allowed them, several of the girls expressed an awareness that this
atmosphere influenced their motivation. As Connie explained it, "These
teachers have a different attitude. I don't really know what the
difference is . but we aren't being pushed." Sally identified
the difference as a lack of enthusiasm. The majority of girls felt
that teachers actually ignored their inappropriate behavior such as
passing notes and talking. Nancy described Team One as a team whose
student members "have a problem. Kids on our team just don't work
a lot." The general consensus was that in Team One, students and
teachers had less time to form relationships and that teachers were
less interested in students.
Observations and interview data indicated that, with the exception
of Cindy, the gifted girls in Team One were frustrated and confused
about their lack of motivation, as the following excerpts illustrate:
Nancy: I try, but I can't make myself do it (school-
work). I guess I want to do other things. (She
shrugs.) I've thought about it, but I can't figure
out why.
Ellen: (to the observer) I cannot stand to do my
homework. I've got a hundred million things I'd
rather do than my homework. My mom says I'm so lazy
it stunts my mind. There may not be much homework,
but I hate it!


-117-
one's ability. The girls in this study expressed beliefs that being
liked by their teachers enabled them to do better in class. In addi
tion, they believed that being successful in their interactions with
peers, or being socially competent, was an important indicator of
future success and happiness. Thus, being socially competent was,
itself, an area of achievement.
In delineating the factors which caused gifted adolescent girls
anxiety, or which brought them a sense of accomplishment, the data
analysis indicated that the girls in this study believed that affilia
tion (being liked) was itself a means to greater achievement. That is,
on numerous occasions they expressed the belief that if a teacher liked
you, you were more apt to do well. The belief that being liked made
achievement more likely indicated that relationships with teachers had
great impact on gifted girls' self-perceptions of ability. The
following statements were taken from the domain, Ways to Know If a
Teacher Likes/Doesn't Like You:
1. If a teacher likes you your work will probably
be put up in the room.
2. You can almost feel who is high (popular) in
the team because if a teacher likes you, you
get to do a lot and you do well.
3. If a teacher doesn't like your work you feel
like they were giving you that grade because
they don't like you.
4. My grades are falling because of the teachers
. . and I guess because of me. We don't get
along.
The girls frequently spoke about getting reputations with teachers
and how a good reputation affected the way you behaved in class.
Cindy, the gifted girl most often referred to by teachers in Team One
as a producer, described for the researcher a series of steps she took


-58-
The girls did not ask to read field notes from formal interviews, and,
as the study neared completion, showed less interest in notes taken
during observation periods.
Interviewing
Three types of interviews were utilized in this study: formal,
informal, and structured. Formal interviews were conducted at the
request of the researcher with all teachers in both teams, the principal,
all ten girls, and the mothers of five of the girls. These interviews
included several core or guide questions whose object was to
elicit from the interviewee what he considers to
be important questions relative to a given topic
... to find out what kinds of things are happening,
rather than to determine the frequency of predeter
mined kinds of things that the researcher already
believes can happen. (Lofland, 1971, p. 76)
During these interviews the researcher took care to make repeated
explanations, restate what informants had said, and to phrase questions
in terms of use rather than meaning (Spradley, 1979). For example,
questions such as "How do you get in with the popular crowd?" proved
more helpful than "What does it mean to be popular?" Interviews of
individual girls, the teachers, and mothers generally took place by
grade level during the three week period of concentrated observation
at that level. Core questions for formal interviews are included in
Appendices B, C, D, E, and F.
Formal interviews were also held with groups of girls by grade
level. Though the researcher would have preferred to have multiage
groups during these interviews, different schedules and requests by


To Louis Geczy


-43-
In discussing the issue of gaining entry, Bogdan and Taylor (1975)
suggested the importance of keeping detailed field notes during this
stage as a way of gaining insight into how organizations socialize
outsiders. "Gaining entry, and the conditions under which it is estab
lished, is one of the most critical phases of qualitative research"
(Rist, 1982, p. 442).
Description of the Site
The study was conducted in a public middle school in a rural area
in the Southeast. The school's 442-member population was housed in a
modern, open-space building. The school, itself, was described by the
town's Chamber of Commerce as one of the finest in the United States.
According to the residents of the area, the community's rural
lifestyle was one of unequaled quality, characterized by warm friend
ships and a close-knit community. This description was made clear to
the researcher on three separate occasions, the first of which occurred
early in the data collection when the researcher had the opportunity
to conduct an informal interview with a substitute who was temporarily
replacing the gifted resource teacher, Mrs. Johnson. During the
interview the substitute teacher, who had grown up and gone to school
in the community, described her perceptions and what she termed the
community's perceptions of several of the gifted girls. She indicated
that in such a small community most people knew something about their
neighbors, especially if they had lived in the community for awhile
or attended the same church. On a second occasion, the researcher
accompanied the seventh grade gifted class on a field trip to the


-125-
Connie: They're like the bottom of the barrel.
They're really low. The way they dress! (She
grimaces.) They're strange.
The open-space environment of the teams made it easy for the
researcher to document the frequent occasions when gifted boys were
publicly reprimanded. It should be noted that this ease of observa
tion was also true for all students and teachers in the team area.
On one occasion, the researcher, observing in one class, overheard
a teacher at the opposite end of the team area instruct her students,
"Raise your hands, but not like Mr. Burton (gifted boy) who raises
his hand like this (she waves hers in the air) and yells, 'Miss Martin!
Miss Martin!'" When the researcher asked a student sitting nearby how
Bobby (Burton) must feel, the student indicated matter-of-factly that
Bobby was always in trouble.
In summary, the girls in this study perceived affiliation as a
means to an end. They believed that being liked by teachers was an
indication that their chances of doing well would be greater. Addi
tionally, being liked by peers was an indication of valued social
status. Since an association with specific peer groups was impor
tant, the girls' perceptions of teacher interaction with gifted boys
encouraged their desire to avoid being identified as gifted. Being
liked by teachers and being socially competent were measures the
gifted girls in this study used to assess their abilities.
Social Comparison
Other researchers have noted that girls do not recognize their
own strengths (Hoffman, 1975; Rubovits, 1975), and in particular,
bright girls generally underestimate their own abilities (Khatena, 1982).


-11-
When Atkinson's and McCelland's theoretical model was applied to
females, however, the results were contradictory. "Females' scores
on the motivational measures do not correlate well with their actual
achievement" (Stein & Bailey, 1975, pp. 151-152). In an attempt to
resolve these major unexplained sex differences, Horner (1972; 1975)
posited the motive to avoid success. Horner proposed that women who
are most capable of achieving have a disposition to become anxious about
achieving success as a result of expected negative consequences.
Horner's work will be reviewed further under research related to
gifted girls' ability perceptions.
Despite the contradictory results with female subjects which were
obtained using this model, Atkinson's (1964) work influenced the
development of both the attribution and self-worth theories of achieve-
ment motivation. Attributional theorists (Weiner et al., 1971) identi
fied four major explanations about the causes of success and failure:
ability, effort, luck, and task ease/difficulty. These individual
perceptions of the causes of success or failure are believed to be
responsible for individual differences in achievement motivation.
That is, individuals who attribute success to a stable cause such as
ability are more likely to persevere in the future than individuals
who attribute success to an unstable cause such as luck. Thus, success-
oriented individuals attribute their successes to ability and their
failures to lack of effort. Failure-avoiding individuals attribute
success to external factors such as luck, and failure to inability
(Weiner et al., 1971; Weiner & Kuila, 1970).


-3-
and in laboratory settings, the focus of this study was on the school
contexts in which students' self-perceptions of ability develop. The
growing body of research conducted thus far on students' perceptions
of school experiences has indicated that students consciously attempt
to make sense of the social and cognitive aspects of school. These
studies have characterized students as active interpreters of classroom
experiences, sensitive to "the differential behaviors that teachers
might display toward various groups of students, such as high and low
achievers and boys and girls" (Weinstein, 1983, p. 302). An examina
tion of school experiences as they relate to the formation of ability
perceptions, then, can provide information about how gifted girls come
to view and understand their own abilities relative to others.
Mishler (1979) has pointed out that the tendency for researchers
to apply the methodology developed in the natural sciences to the
investigation of social processes has resulted in context-stripping
methods which seek to formulate universal laws. Thus, the importance
of context has largely been ignored. By focusing on the school
contexts in which gifted girls' self-perceptions of ability occur,
this study attempted to investigate the possible environmental factors
which may influence the development of ability perceptions and
achievement-related behaviors in bright girls who are regularly
removed from the classroom to participate in special instruction.
The possibility of environmental conditions which would seem to affect
the motivation and achievement of gifted and talented females was noted
by Callahan (1981) who suggested that we have little conclusive


-142-
of accomplishing this was to insist that they were no different from
other girls. They believed gifted boys were able, but they, themselves,
simply worked hard.
To summarize, the present study indicated that gifted girls'
self-perceptions of ability were influenced by 1) the perceived evalua
tions of others, 2) the belief that being liked by teachers made achieve
ment more likely, and 3) the belief that social competence was a valued
achievement itself. The organization of curriculum and instruction
within the teams motivated girls to achieve, and promoted positive
perceptions of ability, to the extent that girls perceived the learning
environment as a place where teachers cared and where they would be
given more options and frequent chances to do well.
Use of Findings to Researchers
The present study may be of use to researchers in middle school
and in gifted education in three ways. First, the study represents
the use of a methodology not often utilized in either area. Second,
the detailed descriptions highlighted a number of variables which
could be further investigated by researchers interested in middle
school and gifted education. Third, the findings suggest questions
to be addressed in future research on gifted middle school girls.
These possible uses are discussed below.
Toepfer and Marani (1980) noted that naturalistic methods are
promising new approaches to learning more about middle schools and the
age group they serve. This study illustrates that the use of such a


-27-
Mason and Stipek (1985) investigated students' self-perceptions of
performance, their attributions for success and failure, their achieve
ment-related behavior, and their actual performance in math and
reading. The sample included 77 fourth and fifth graders of various
socio-economic backgrounds from 17 different classrooms in four schools.
Data on 29 of the students from this sample were gathered across two
years from 1982-1984.
The methods of data collection included observations of students
while engaged in classroom tasks and interviews with students. During
these interviews students were asked to rank their performance compared
to classmates in reading and math, and to describe situations in which
they had succeeded or failed. They were then asked to choose the most
important cause of their success or failure by selecting from among
ability, effort, luck, or task difficulty. Students' emotional responses
were measured by asking to what degree they felt bored, confused, dumb,
embarrassed, smart, happy, or proud while working on tasks in math
and reading. Finally, teacher ratings of students' performances and
students' percentile rankings in math and reading were obtained.
Mason and Stipek reported that their findings from this study were
not surprising. High self-perceptions were associated with positive
emotions and a belief in ability. Low self-perceptions were associated
with negative emotions and a belief in lack of ability. However,
these researchers emphasized that students' perceptions of how well
they were doing predicted the degree to which they experienced positive
or negative emotions while working on tasks better than how well they
were actually doing. Thus, student perceptions may influence task


-25-
students believed low achievers were given greater help, input, and
structure.
This study of student perceptions of differential teacher behaviors
raises important questions. Would high ability students who have low
self-concepts of ability prefer teachers who give more help, input, and
structure? If so, would these same high ability students behave in
ways which would make additional teacher attention more likely, thus
causing teachers to question their ability?
Parsons, Kaczala, and Meece (1982) conducted a study which investi
gated individual student-teacher interactions in 17 junior high math
classes. In this study of predominantly seventh and ninth grade
students, the researchers looked at 1) the possible influence of student
sex or teacher expectations for individual students on the nature of
student-teacher interactions, and 2) the effects of variations in
teacher-student interaction patterns on student attitudes.
Student measures used in this observational study included
questionnaires containing a seven-point Likert scale to assess expec
tancies, self-concept of ability, and concepts of task difficulty;
scores from standardized tests; and students' ratings as to how well
they believed their teachers expected them to do in math. Question
naires were also used to obtain teacher expectancy scores for individual
students, thereby placing them in low or high expectancy groups accord
ing to sex. Trained observers then coded classroom interactions between
teachers and individual high and low-expectancy students focusing on
the following: 1) type of interaction, 2) who initiated it, 3) type
of student response, 4) type of teacher feedback, and 5) whether the


-119-
iinteresting comparison between behaviors which had gained Nancy a
reputation as dishonest, and similar behaviors among gifted boys:
Teacher: I have trouble looking at these gifted
girls as being gifted. Now, Nancy maybe. I can't
associate with her because she's new and I've only
known her awhile, but I've known the others for
years. Also because of her behavior. Her behavior
isn't antisocial like the gifted boys' behavior.
It's dishonest. When James (gifted boy) doesn't
do his homework, it's because he sees no reason.
Because he knows it. Nancy tells me she did it,
but it got lost. . The majority of the girls
are more interested in pleasing and doing well be
cause it pleases the teacher.
Beyond drawing a distinction between this teacher's perception of the
same behavior (not doing the work) acted out by a gifted boy and
Nancy, this comment illustrates two additional points. First, it
should be noted that the teacher was reaffirming the girls's beliefs
that reputations do exist and are based on long term relationships.
Second, if it is assumed that students caught in Nancy's position
would resort to excuses they viewed as most acceptable and reasonable
to teachers, then Nancy's emphasis on effort as opposed to James's use
of ability illustrated differential perceptions of teacher expecta
tions.
Nancy often described having feelings of guilt and confusion about
her ability and motivation to do schoolwork. She informed the researcher
that teachers did not really listen to her and that she believed they
were making things up about her. The researcher's observations that
Nancy's usual peer group, composed of gifted and high achieving girls,
interacted with her less and less frequently over the duration of the
study were explained by Cindy. "She (Nancy) is getting a bad reputa
tion with teachers."


APPENDIX B
GROUP INTERVIEW WITH GIRLS
y
1. Describe a really good day at school. What kinds of things make
it good? How do you behave when you have a really good day?
2. Now tell me about a really awful day. What happened to make it so
bad? If you decided to talk to someone about this, to whom would
you go?
3. What kinds of things do you do best? Would your friends say this
about you? Your teachers?
4. How do you know when you've accomplished something really
important?
5. What makes you want to do your very best? Do you feel this way
often?
6. When you are unsure of yourself, how do you behave?
7. How would you describe yourself to someone who doesn't know you?
Do others see you this way? Would any of your teachers see you
this way?
8. What do you think students are missing if they go to a school that
doesn't have teams like yours?
9. Does coming to enrichment once a week change the way other students
see you? Teachers? Is it important for you to go?
-153-


-78-
gifted girls and gifted boys. The following excerpts illustrate
teachers' beliefs about the influence of norms on gifted girls:
Teacher A: I've never had a wierd (gifted) girl,
but we've had some guys. Rick (gifted boy), for
example, acts abnormally. He doesn't follow the
norms of the school or the community. Our gifted
girls all have consequences for poor performance at
home, and the majority of them are interested in
pleasing and doing well. You can't be accepted here
unless you go to the right church, [your] parents
know the right people, and you do the right things
around town. I think our gifted girls try to please,
just like other girls.
Teacher B: (standing in the back of a classroom and
pointing out a gifted girl to the observer) See Cindy?
She has her hand raised. Being polite just like her
mother expects. She's a producer.
Teacher C: It's hard to tell these gifted girls
that the skills they develop now will affect their
future progress. I know Debbie is capable of a lot
more demanding work, but I won't follow up the
parent and talk. ... I feel like an outsider.
I came from a big city, and I feel like I stress
academics more than anyone else here. . Gifted
girls aren't super students in math. They tend to
do well in language, (pause) I guess it's O.K. to
do well in language.
An additional perspective on community norms was provided by a
life-time community resident who substituted for the gifted resource
teacher one day during February. After telling the observer that,
though she knew most of the gifted girls slightly, she knew Cindy
best through their church affiliation, she commented about the com
munity's perception:
Substitute: The community thinks of Cindy as a very
bright girl.
Observer: Would the community be surprised if she
became a nuclear engineer?
Substitute: Well, she is well accepted (pause) be-
cause (longer pause) because she does what the com
munity expects a bright girl to do. She's musically
inclined, she has a beautiful voice, and she's real
polite. She's like a dream girl. I heard a parent


-87-
written for advisor-advisee class reflected basic daily activities,
but journals kept in the gifted room revealed initimate, personal
thoughts, as illustrated in the following examples:
Gifted
journal s
Connie: Friendship is what impresses me most.
Everyone wants to fit in. You see someone
everyone admires, and you want to be like
them.
Debbie: Life is like an endless standing in
line for something. It just seems to go on and
on and never gets anywhere. I wonder if I am
accomplishing anything.
Lynn: When you are in a fog you don't see any-
thing, but when it leaves and you look back, you
see all the opportunities you missed.
Ellen: I feel like a time bomb. Things could
explode any minute.
Advisor-
Advisee
journals
Connie: This Saturday we went shopping at the
mall and to the movies. Ellen spent the
night.
Lynn: Yesterday I cleaned the house and read a
book for class. My friend came over and we went
riding.
Ellen: I called Connie and we talked on the phone
for an hour. Then Debbie called me.
Though the girls were more verbal in the gifted room than in
their regular classes, their overall behavior in the gifted room was
more passive than the behavior of gifted boys. This observation was
consistent throughout the study, despite the varying levels of motiva
tion expressed by both males and females in regard to the gifted
curriculum. When activities were in progress, males moved about the
room more, used a wider variety of materials, asked more questions,
and interacted with each other more aggressively than did females.


-90-
encouraged a feeling of being understood; thus girls who had difficulty
interacting verbally in the regular classroom did not have this diffi
culty in the gifted room. Despite the observation that the girls
expressed their feelings more openly in the gifted room, when their
overall behavior was compared to the behavior of gifted boys, girls
were found to exhibit more passive behaviors.
Members of a Team
Membership on a team was an integral part of the student experi
ence at this middle school. Over the duration of the study numerous
students from both teams discussed their perceptions of school with
the researcher, perceptions which were phrased in terms of team life,
and which often compared one team to another. Students who shared
their perceptions with the researcher, including the gifted girls, be
lieved that the two teams offered very different learning experiences.
As previously discussed, the researcher spent several weeks
collecting observational data in both teams, and three-week periods
in which observations were solely focused on a specific grade level
within one team. During these three-week periods the researcher com
pared gifted girls' perceptions of the team with the behavior of
teachers, peers, and the girls themselves. Gifted girls' experiences
as members of Team One and Team Two will be discussed separately.
Gifted girls' perceptions of Team One
Team One contained all of the eighth graders and half of the
seventh graders in the school. At the time of this study, seven of


-136-
three factors were identified as influential in the ability formation
process. These factors are as follows:
1) Multiple definitions of giftedness. The girls believed that
the definitions of giftedness held by significant others within the
school setting led to confusing expectations. In turn, these expecta
tions brought about conflict-producing situations in which girls per
ceived their chances for failure were increased, and thus, their
competency questioned. The multiple definitions of giftedness held
by significant others led the girls to frequently express concern over
the possible public disclosure that they did not know the answer and
a fear of peer rejection if they appeared too bright. In order to
cope with this conflict and preserve their own sense of competence,
the girls frequently referred to themselves as having potential, but
as being no different or smarter than other girls.
2) Affiliation needs. The girls believed that being liked by
teachers meant that they would be given more chances to do well and
that their work would be perceived more favorably. Thus, affiliation
was a means to greater achievement. In addition, membership in popular
peer groups was believed to be a sign of social competence, and thus,
a valued form of achievement in itself.
3) Social comparison. The girls made decisions about their
abilities by comparing themselves to peers with high social standing
and to gifted boys. These decisions about ability took into con
sideration 1) the potential for specific abilities to contribute to
greater social competence both at present and in the future, and
2) the amount of effort girls believed they expended in comparison to
gifted boys.


-127-
"I don't care what anybody thinks." Ellen and Sally were members,
respectively, of upper and lower status cliques.
When discussing their progress in different subject areas, the gifted
girls in this study tended to compare themselves with gifted boys rather
than other peers. "I usually know in the easy classes, but in the hard
classes like algebra . a lot of the boys like Steve and Fred (two
gifted boys), the smartest boys, always know. I usually don't understand.
I don't catch on until I go home at night and look it over. Then I under
stand a little." Comments such as these were frequently made by the girls.
The girls' perceptions that the causes of their achievement stemmed
mainly from studying and trying hard resulted in a tendency to use per
ceptions of effort as a measuring device when comparing themselves to
gifted boys. As Debbie explained, "Tom and Bob don't have to try as hard.
Their whole life is brains. . Their talk is scientific notation!" The
result of comparison based on perceptions of effort was a tendency for
gifted girls to underestimate, and in fact, devalue their ability. The
majority of girls believed that they only knew the answers when they
studied, and that, therefore, they were not any smarter than anyone else.
The following excerpt from field notes illustrates the girls' tendency
to perceive gifted boys as more able. In early April the researcher accom
panied the seventh grade gifted class on a fieldtrip to the city govern
ment building as a part of their unit on Madison's history. There the
city clerk explained the importance of the computer system in use:
City Clerk: Right now we're fixin' to boom! This whole
area is growing so we need systems like this. (The boys
crowd around, asking questions and touching the computer.
Nancy and Cindy stand outside the group, next to the
observer, and listen politely.)
Nancy: (whispering to the observer) Why's he doing
this? I'm not going into computer sciences. I want
to be a dentist or a nurse . one that takes care
of babies.


-120-
The relationship between gifted girls' self-perceptions of
ability and their affiliation needs was illustrated by their belief
that being liked made success more likely. This idea surfaced during
individual interviews as well as during classroom interaction when
teachers were giving oral feedback on students' work. When feedback
was positive it was often equated with being liked. In addition, the
girls explained that they usually liked teachers who liked them, and
that liking the teacher also meant that you had a better chance of
doing well. When asked to give an example of this relationship the
majority of the gifted girls in this study indicated that liking the
teacher meant liking the subject, and if you liked the subject you
would listen more and try harder. Evidence that this perception was
not shared by all was found in Lynn's remark to the researcher con
cerning her report card. "Everyone has a best subject and mine is
English. I doubt I would do better in any of my classes even if I
liked the teachers." Her use of the term, "even if," however, sug
gested that Lynn saw this as a commonly held belief.
The significance of the girls' belief that liking a subject meant
that they were more apt to do well was clearly illustrated when the
majority of eighth grade gifted girls declined to register for several
honors classes which were being offered at the local high school the
following year. In addition to desiring to be with peers not taking
honors, the girls expressed the concerns that honors classes just meant
more homework, and that if they were not interested they would not be
able to keep up with the class. The decision not to take honors classes
unless they really liked the subject may have been reinforced after


-70-
The steps taken to ensure the validity of this study's findings
included the following:
1. The lengthy period of data collection ensured the researcher's
familiarity with the social setting and provided ample opportunity for
continual data analysis to refine domains and taxonomies and to ensure
the match between these categories and the setting.
2. Formal and informal interviewing of the girls, their parents,
and teachers, and the use of unobtrusive measures enabled the researcher
to get at emic perspectives and to triangulate data obtained through
observations.
3. The search for negative examples enabled the researcher to
refine constructs.
4. The acceptance of the researcher by the participants allowed
the researcher to achieve a significant level of participation.
5. The practice of keeping open field notes, or allowing the
girls to read and comment on field notes taken during classes, enabled
the researcher to clarify, enlarge, and validate observations. This
practice also contributed to the rapport which developed between the
researcher and subjects.
Yet another procedure for establishing the validity of the
researcher's findings was to discuss them with some of the participants.
In early December, 1984, one year following the onset of data collection,
the researcher returned to the school to discuss the findings of the
study with participants. By sharing findings with the teachers and
some of the girls who had been involved in the study, the researcher
received important feedback on her interpretations of participants'
perspectives.


-135-
encouraged them to achieve. At the same time, however, these girls
expressed high levels of anxiety about teachers' and peers' perceptions
of their performance, believing that competition was especially diffi
cult for gifted girls who were expected to know the answer. The girls
described the situation as one in which negative sanctions resulted both
from not knowing the answer and knowing the answer too often.
8) The girls who had the least social status perceived the gifted
program most positively, describing it as the context in which they were
most able to be themselves. For the majority of girls, the gifted
program was one in which they believed they could express themselves
/
more freely without negative sanctions.
9) The majority of gifted girls believed their successful school
experiences resulted from effort and their failures from lack of moti
vation. This belief supported their perception that gifted girls had
potential rather than ability. The one student who believed her
achievements were not related to effort was least able to do well and
most negatively perceived by teachers. In contrast, gifted boys'
achievements were described by girls as resulting from ability.
As previously stated, ability formation was seen as a cyclic
process in which girls' entering views, teachers' and peers' beliefs
and behaviors, and the organization of instruction within teams affected
girls' achievement-related behaviors and beliefs about ability. That
the girls used school experiences to interpret and modify their be
liefs about ability, and, in turn, that their beliefs about ability
guided their choices of behavior at school were illustrative of this
cyclic process. From gifted girls' perceptions of school experiences,


CHAPTER V
CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS
The purpose of this study was to describe and explain the
experiences of gifted adolescent girls in one middle school, de
lineating the social-interactional factors which influenced ability
perceptions and attitudes toward achievement. Researchers who have
focused on gifted girls have investigated personality characteristics,
career-ability conflicts, or the mathematically gifted girl, but no
studies have investigated the formation of self-perceptions of ability
within specific contexts. In this study two broad general questions
were posed as a framework: What kinds of experiences do gifted girls
have in a middle school setting in which they are members of
heterogeneous teams as well as homogeneous gifted classes? How do
they use these experiences to construct their own behavior and self
perceptions?
In order to identify the social-interactional factors which
influenced ability perceptions, the researcher observed in the inter
disciplinary teams and gifted classroom of one middle school for 200
hours. These observations were conducted during the last half of the
school year. In addition, interviews were conducted with the girls,
their teachers, and five mothers. The data collected represented
the girls' interactions with teachers, peers, and educational
-131-


GIFTED ADOLESCENT GIRLS: SELF-PERCEPTIONS OF ABILITY
WITHIN ONE MIDDLE SCHOOL SETTING
By
LINDA R. KRAMER
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF
THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE
DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
1985


-63-
Lofland (1971) stressed the need to take notes at the lowest level
of inference, that is, to be concrete and behavioristic when in the
field. In an effort to get at concrete descriptions the use of verbatim
language was especially important to the researcher. Every attempt
was made to quote the subjects directly, and symbols were used in field
notes to indicate when the language used was not verbatim, but repre
sented the researcher's summary or paraphrasing. Also included in the
field notes were brief descriptions of the researcher's reactions to
events as they happened or questions which occurred to the researcher
during observation periods. These were separated by brackets from the
rest of the field notes.
Other data recorded in the field notes were descriptions of entries
the girls had made in journals they kept for their gifted class, direct
examples of poetry or prose they had written, and information gleaned
from school records. Diagrams were included periodically when the
physical arrangement of a room changed or when seating arrangements
within a class changed. Other diagrams recorded by the researcher
were chalkboard work, visual displays, and social notes written by the
girls during class. These social notes were included in the researcher's
field notes only when the student voluntarily shared the note or when,
in three instances, the student actually wrote the note and passed it
to the researcher during class.
Formal interviews with groups of girls, individual girls, teachers,
and parents were recorded on tape, transcribed, and filed separately
from field notes. While recording these interviews the researcher took
written notes so that gestures, facial expressions, and posture would
be included in the expanded account.


-8-
conducted during the second half of the school year in two of the
school's three team areas and in the gifted resource room. Although
this study can provide insight into gifted girls' self-perceptions of
ability, specific findings from this study should not be generalized
to other populations.
In the following chapters a review of the literature, the
methodology, findings, and implications of the study are discussed.
In Chapter II, a review of the literature on the role of context in
the development of ability perceptions and studies related to gifted
adolescent girls' self-perceptions of ability are discussed. In
Chapter III, the methodology is described. Chapter IV represents
the study's findings. Conclusions and implications are discussed
in Chapter V.


-92-
Teacher A: Our team provides students with more
academic focus than Team Two. We have to prepare
them for high school. We try to wean them. . .
Each level sees the other level as a jungle. We
tell them stories (about high school) all the time.
I know I do.
Teacher B: Our emphasis has to be on content . .
on academics. . It's our obligation to warn them
about next year (high school).
Observations of Team One indicated that the teachers' focus on
academics without an organized and consistently implemented management
strategy resulted in less actual classroom time being devoted to lesson
content. Rather, in Team One, a greater portion of classroom time
was spent managing transitions, organizing for instruction, disciplining,
and repeating directions. The following excerpts from field notes are
illustrative of the particular experiences of the seventh and eighth
grade gifted girls in Team One:
Seventh The teacher begins class by rapidly calling out
grade the answers to last night's homework without look-
pre- ing up. All students have exchanged papers and are
algebra checking answers, with the exception of two females
who are sitting beside the observer. They complete
the assignment seconds before the teacher finishes
calling out answers. The process takes 10 minutes
after which the teacher spends five minutes
introducing the lesson on properties, and assigns
two pages to be completed. During his presentation
Cindy has been listening carefully, but Nancy,
sitting several rows away from Cindy and in front
of the observer, has been completing a geography
assignment. Her geography book is openly displayed
on her desk. The teacher asks if there are any
questions. None are asked. Cindy and her best
friends, two girls she sits beside in almost every
class, begin the assignment but are distracted by
a scene one row in front of them. A male (gifted
student) has attached his baseball glove to his desk
chair with a combination lock before leaving his
seat, and two other boys are trying to remove it.
Cindy catches the observer's eye and laughs. Mean
while the teacher is calling out names and recording


-89-
Carrie, the most popular eighth grade girl, was often given as an
example. As Ellen explained, "Carrie said she hoped she'd make it,
but when she didn't, she said she didn't really want to. Now no one
really wants to get in."
An additional explanation for the girls' feelings about the
importance of being in the gifted program was offered by the principal.
He described for the researcher the motivation-achievement conflict he
believed characterized gifted students, and in particular, girls, in
the middle school:
Principal: The only thing about gifted is there's no
real direction about what gifted kids should be exposed
to. Teachers expect them to make up work they miss
(on days absent for the gifted program) and the kids
don't feel they should. . Too, gifted girls won't
sign up for advanced classes because of peer pressure.
They don't want to be different. That's what we do
when we label them. We make them different. People
don't really understand the amount of pressure these
kids are under. I don't understand it. They look
to others for leadership and follow their example.
That's just the way it works. We've had kids tell
us, "We don't want to have to work that hard."
There's a few of these kids from time to time that
don't let it affect them, but they're socially
outcast.
In summary, the majority of girls were unsure that the gifted class
was one in which they were learning advanced skills. They expressed
to the observer a desire to investigate topics different from those
which were part of Mrs. Johnson's program. At the same time, however,
they perceived the class as one in which they were able to be them
selves. The girls named Mrs. Johnson, along with the school counselor,
as the adults they would most likely go to with problems. In addi
tion, their perception of the gifted room as a place without cliques


-33-
recognition of the problems than to their solution" (p. 31). It
appears that sex-role stereotyping may increase in adolescence (Hill &
Lynch, 1983) and that the achievement motivation of gifted women may be
affected by socialization (Blaubergs, 1978). Sex differences in
achievement motivation may also point to the importance of affiliation
and acceptance (Crandall, 1967; Cook, 1976; Hoffman, 1975; Horner,
1972; 1975; Lavach & Lanier, 1975; Rubovits, 1975; Sherman, 1975).
Finally, researchers who have investigated gifted adolescents in class
room settings have noted that gifted girls lack confidence and behave
in conforming manners (Kurtzman, 1967; Walberg, 1969). Nevertheless,
questions about gifted girls' perceptions of ability and achievement
remain. It is still not clear what factors influence gifted adolescent
girls' perceptions of social norms that may hinder achievement. Nor
is it known if gifted girls are motivated by affiliation or if, as
Stein and Bailey (1975) proposed, affiliation is perceived as an area
of achievement itself, much like leadership or scholarship. Most
importantly, it is not clear how classroom structure and the perceived
evaluations of significant others influence the formation of ability
perceptions in students who enter classrooms already identified and
publicly labeled as able--gifted girls. What consequences do gifted
labels have on the formation of girls' self-perceptions of ability
within classroom contexts? The purpose of this study is to address
some of the unanswered questions in this area of research.


-57-
or at lunch, and initiating conversations. The researcher reacted by
concentrating her observations on these girls, using them as focal
students. Cassell (1978) suggested this strategy helps to reduce bias,
control the observer's tendency to find what he or she is looking for,
and to make sure that the observer was not attracted to just observing
interesting things. The kinds of girls who were initially attracted to
the researcher were considered significant data and were carefully
documented in the researcher's journal.
As the study progressed the researcher was able to establish
excellent rapport with each girl, though the process took much longer
with Connie and Debbie, two eighth graders who were members of the most
popular girls' clique. The nature of the difficulty became clear during
a formal interview with Connie which occurred in April.
Connie: People are totally different away from
school. I show a lot of this [behave this way].
What I'm telling you now is what I can say when
I'm away from school. Then there's not pressure
to be cool. ... I thought it would be hard to
talk to you because you're older, but it's not.
I was worried. I guess the clique teaches you to
watch out what you say and who you talk to.
The girls initially displayed curiosity in the fieldworker's notes
and would often drift over and read them as she wrote. The researcher
maintained the openness of notes written during observations throughout
the study as a rapport building device. The girls knew that observa
tion notes were not shared with teachers, parents, or other students
and came to trust her with confidences. On several occasions the
researcher's policy of open-notes led to expanded and clarified accounts
of classroom interaction as the girls filled in details for the
researcher. This policy proved a valuable way to triangulate data.


-47-
movement throughout the team area were correspondingly high. Wall space
was not utilized in Team One to display student work or announce team
activities to the extent that it was in Team Two. While teachers on
both teams attributed these physical differences to the age level of
students and the individual personalities of teachers on the team, the
principal attributed them to different philosophies which had developed
within the teams themselves.
While examination of student schedules suggested that the organiza
tional features of an exemplary middle school were in effect, prolonged
observations pointed out that some of these features were stronger than
others. For example, an advisor-advisee program, multiage grouping,
and interdisciplinary teams had been built into the school at its
inception and were based on the middle school philosophy that organiza
tion of this nature would encourage the development of a community of
learners. "A student knows that s(he) is a member of a specific team,
and even a specific advisory group; that these structures have dimensions
that early adolescents can manage" (Alexander & George, 1981, p. 134).
Repeated observations at the site, however, revealed that while inter
disciplinary teams were a strong organizational characteristic of the
school, the use of advisor-advisee time and multiage grouping had
greatly changed since the school's inception. At the time the study
was conducted, the time allotted to advisor-advisee programs had been
shortened to 15 minutes and was rarely used; multiage grouping existed
only in that teams contained students in two grade levels. Strict
curriculum guidelines handed down by the county had resulted in only
a few math and language arts classes which could be multiage-grouped.


-107-
to do it. Removal from classes one day per week meant being absent
from daily class activities for one-fifth of the year. For students
who were absent other days due to illness, the effect could be disaster-
ous. This was true for Jill who, having missed numerous days of school
at the beginning of the study, found herself seated in the ghetto (Team
Two) in several classes.
Being in the gifted class did provide some opportunity to par
ticipate more actively, but, just as the goals of the gifted program
were described by Mrs. Johnson as affective, the active student role
was primarily one of exploring feelings rather than constructing
knowledge. The majority of girls in this study expressed confusion
and frustration about their roles as students and concern over their
perceived lack of motivation.
The researcher assumed from the outset that self-perceptions
of ability were constructed through an interactive progress. That is,
self-perceptions of ability reflected the interaction of girls'
attitudes, perspectives, and values with variables inherent in the
school environment. In the next section factors influencing the
construction of gifted girls' self-perceptions of ability will be
discussed.
Beliefs about Ability
Many educators have noted that issues of ability, achievement,
social acceptance, and gender identity are sources of conflict for
talented and gifted female adolescents (Fox, 1978; Horner, 1972;


ESE
Classes
(Gifted)
Cafeteria
Chapt
I
pt Jr
Art
To Gymnasium
+To Band & Industrial Arts
I
cn
i
Figure 1. School Map


-93-
grades. When he finishes he asks that papers be
passed in. It is now ten minutes into the work
period and Nancy opens her math book. Just as she
begins to work the teacher calls her up to the desk.
From their conversation it is apparent that, though
Nancy called out a grade, her paper is not in the
pile. Nancy goes to the trash can and begins
searching. After class the teacher tells the
observer that Nancy threw away her paper because
it only contained answers and no solutions. Several
days later Nancy recounts the experience to the
observer by explaining there was no need to work
the problems.
Eighth The teacher announces that today a review of the
grade metric system will be conducted to get ready for
science standardized achievement tests which are coming
up. The observer is sitting at a table with three
gifted females, one gifted male, and another high
achieving female. They groan loudly with the rest
of the class and someone calls out; "Do we have to
write?" Janet, the high achieving female tells
our table, "I hope not! I'm going to fail anyhow."
The noise grows and prompts the teacher to tell the
class, "Shut-up." He explains that he is sick of
rudeness, turns to two males still talking, and
sends them out. The lesson begins but Ellen has to
get up frequently to open the lab door for students
who are late because our table is in the rear of the
room. At one point she accidently shuts the door on
a male who yells out. The teacher becomes very
upset and tells the male, "Don't open your mouth
again this period. Unless you all treat me with
dignity, then mine will fly out the window." The
lesson proceeds and the teacher calls on Ellen to
answer a question. Ellen: "What did you say?"
Teacher: "That's right! What did I say? I'm going
to ask you again and you better get it right!" He
repeats the question, Ellen answers correctly, and
the students at her table sigh almost in unison.
Debbie: (to the observer) He's our favorite teacher
even though he gets mad. The teacher asks a
question about milliliters and Janet whispers to
our table, "Millie Jackson? I know her!" The
students at the table burst into laughter.
Team One teachers were aware of increasing behavioral problems
as the school year approached the last grading period, and, at one


-150-
3) Regular and individual interaction with adults who are talented
in areas in which girls express ability or interest should be provided.
Such mentors may fill the need gifted girls feel for affiliation,
providing support and encouraging achievement motivation.
4) Activities should be provided which allow girls to investigate
a wide range of career options in a warm and supportive environment.
Thornburg (1985) noted the importance of alerting middle school
teachers and teacher trainers to the fact that, in today's society,
"Early adolescents are growing up faster. . Their self-worth seems
more fragile" (p. 23). Gifted adolescent girls need teachers who are
sensitive to the effects of classroom context variables on the forma
tion of ability perceptions, and who examine the effects of their own
perceptions and beliefs on students' self-perceptions. To prepare such
middle school teachers, teacher trainers need to emphasize instructional
organization and curriculum strategies which encourage the development
of a positive sense of worth among gifted girls. Positive perceptions
of ability are central to achievement motivation, and, as such,
strategies which enable gifted adolescent girls to more fully under
stand their own abilities may have great bearing on their accomplish
ments in later life.


-112-
definition of giftedness. The confusion they expressed was charac
terized by concern over the possible public disclosure that they did
not know the answer and a fear of peer rejection if they appeared too
bright too often.
The girls' perceptions that they should know the answer, but that
appearing to be a brain was not normal, produced a unique conflict
between their identity as gifted and their need to be accepted within
the school culture. Comments such as the following were characteristic
of the girls' feelings:
Joan: People ask you questions and if you don't
know the answers they'll say, "W-e-1-1! (She pro
nounces the word with mock indignity.) _I_ thought
you were in enrichment. _I_ thought you knew every
thing!"
Sally: Just because we're in enrichment doesn't
mean we know everything.
Ellen: In social studies this morning a guy said
to me, "I thought you were in enrichment and I'm
smarter than you." (This comment was made after
Ellen missed the answer to a question.)
Perhaps in order to cope with this conflict the girls frequently
expressed the idea that, while they might have potential, they were
no different and no smarter than other girls. The idea of potential
enabled them to credit their successes with trying and their failures
with not trying. Having potential offered a safe explanation for
not always knowing the expected answer, while, at the same time, it
created the acceptable role of someone-who-tries in place of the
unacceptable role of someone-who-knows, the brain.
Constant references to potential as an explanation for their
placement in a gifted program were made by girls during individual and


APPENDIX D
INTERVIEW WITH MOTHERS
1. Who is (daughter) closest to in your family? Does she confide in
or model anyone's behavior?
2. Who goes to school functions like conferences for your daughter?
3. Tell me about her adjustment in school as she has moved from team
to team. For example, have you noticed any changes in her motiva
tional level, grades, participation, or friendship patterns?
4. How long has (daughter) been in the gifted program? How do her
friends and teachers react to her participation in the program?
5. How does (daughter) use her study time? Do you motivate her in
any way? Punish or reward her?
6. Does (daughter) have a lot of personal confidence? How does she
show it?
7. Does she indicate a desire to conform or "fit in" a lot? Do you
talk about this?
8. What are her future goals? Do you encourage her in these goals?
-155-


-101-
girls in Team One, these girls rarely described the curriculum as
routine. The researcher's observations, however, revealed the format
of the curriculum in Team Two to be similar to that of Team One.
This was especially true of language arts and reading classes which
were typically conducted using structured schedules such as those used
in Team One. Perhaps because the teaching materials used for language
arts and reading included kits, workbooks, and story questions which
were mandatory, teachers found it convenient to divide the work
according to days of the week.
Data analysis indicated that, unlike the gifted girls in Team One
who tended to joke about and exaggerate their potential for failure,
girls in Team Two expressed their anxiety about good performance and
high grades in a more concrete manner. They more frequently expressed
concerns about their abilities prior to tests or major assignments,
and their comments tended to be specific to the subject itself. In
contrast, Team One girls joked about grades and failure in general
terms. While observation and interview data did not indicate that
the joking behavior of Team One girls necessarily implied a less
serious attitude, data analysis did indicate that for Team One girls,
the immediate classroom consequences of poor performance were less
frequent and less public than for girls in Team Two. Thus, Team Two
gifted girls appeared to express subject-specific concerns about
ability more frequently, and without the teasing quality which
characterized the comments of Team One girls. When the researcher asked
about the difference in joking behavior, girls and their mothers spoke
about the more public nature of evaluation and feedback in Team Two:


-5-
The value of this study to practitioners can be summed up by examining
the following facts. In the state in which this study occurred, the
number of students entering gifted programs has increased by 65.83%
over the last five years. Additionally, the tendency has been for
students to enter these programs during their early elementary years
and remain through high school.
This study will also be of value to researchers. In making
recommendations about "high-priority research activities," Hill (1983,
p. 1) cited his own work dealing with perspectives on adolescence and
indicated that a first priority was studies of "attachment, autonomy,
sexuality, intimacy, achievement, and identity" (p. 1), because
presently available studies are only incidentally related to adolescence
and focus mainly on males. Additionally, Callahan (1981) has noted
that the effects of programs for gifted students have not been
systemtically studied. Therefore, implications concerning the
sociological or affective effects of participating in enrichment
programs on gifted females cannot be drawn from existing research.
Definition of Terms
1. Gifted: A student selected by state criteria which stressed
superior development and the capability of advanced performance.
The tested mental capacity of these students is two standard
deviations or more above the mean, that is, an IQ score of 130
or more.
2. Self-perception of ability: The individual's beliefs about her
competency to carry out the behaviors expected of her.


-118-
dun* ng the first weeks of school to make a good impression. The steps
included trying hard, answering a lot of questions, being polite, and
not hanging around students who caused problems. "I make a good
impression and they'll remember it unless I do something really bad
to change it. Then I stop answering questions except once in a while
so they still know I'm trying." For Cindy, being liked by the teacher
was important not only for approval reasons, but also because, once she
gained the reputation, she believed she could "stay on the teacher's
good side" even though her participation in class became minimal.
In contrast, Nancy, a new student at the school, described getting
a reputation as having teachers "know you a long time and like your
mother." Interviews with Nancy and observations of her school
experiences provided rich descriptions of what occurred when the
teacher didn't like you. It is important to note that Nancy's class
room behavior was the most deviant of all the gifted girls. It was
difficult for her to sit still, she frequently broke rules, when she
worked during class it was on assignments related to other classes,
and she often failed to do homework assignments. The ramifications of
gaining a reputation based on this behavior were most apparent when,
sitting in the teachers' lounge, the researcher heard Nancy's teachers
discuss her behavior as very "sneaky and dishonest." A resource
teacher listening to the conversation commented, "Wait till I get her
next term. I'll whip her into shape!" During the course of the re
searcher's observations, Nancy's behavior grew steadily worse in
her teacher's eyes, despite numerous parental attempts to remedy the
situation. A comment made to the researcher by one teacher drew an


-55-
The researcher introduced herself to the participants as a graduate
student who was interested in women's studies. The girls were told that
the researcher wanted to write a book about gifted girls' experiences in
school, and that their help would be needed to produce a factual
account. In assuming a role of one who needed to be taught, the
researcher stressed the idea that she "would not be offended by being
told 'obvious' things and being 'lectured to'" (Lofland, 1971, p. 99).
During the course of the study the researcher took great care
not to have the manner or appearance of any group
which his informant group distinguishes sharply
from itself. This does not mean forcing identity
with the informant group; it does mean that the
observer of students, if he wishes a good under
standing with them, will avoid the manner of
teacher and authoritative adult. (Geer, 1969,
p. 147)
For this reason, once the researcher had gained entry, interactions
between the researcher and teachers were limited to formal interviews,
attendance at two team meetings and a faculty meeting, and occasional
informal conversation initiated by the researcher to verify observa
tions. The researcher took care to wear attire such as jeans and tennis
shoes which was more acceptable to the student culture, to use student
language, to "hang around" with student groups before and after school,
and to eat lunch in the student cafeteria. During classroom observa
tions the researcher sat with students, the majority of the time
beside one or several of the girls. When leaving classrooms or going
to lunch required lining up, the researcher lined up with students. At
all times the researcher subjected herself to the same rules set up
for students, though on occasion this caused discomfort for teachers.
For instance, when leaving the book fair required that students be


-24-
1983; Cooper, 1979, for reviews). These studies, conducted by outside
observers, have identified teacher behaviors which correlate with teacher
expectations for students at different ability levels. From this
perspective, teacher expectations become self-fulfilling prophecies.
The students' role in this process was recently investigated by Weinstein,
Marshall, Bratesani, and Middlestadt (1982). Rather than observing
teacher behaviors, these researchers investigated student perceptions
of the evaluative responses of teachers.
Weinstein et al. used the Teacher Treatment Inventory to measure
fourth, fifth, and sixth graders' perceptions of the frequency of 44
teacher behaviors toward a hypothetical male or female, high or low
achieving student. The sample of 243 students came from 16 classrooms
in 4 urban schools of varying socio-economic levels. The items on the
instrument were derived from reviews of the literature on the rela
tionship between teaching behavior and student achievement, on the
expression of teacher expectations in behavior, and on student per
ceptions of the classroom environment. Subjects were asked to pretend
that Anne (John) was a student in their class, and, using a Likert
forced-choice scale, rate how frequently their own teacher would work
with Anne (John) in the ways described.
The results of this study indicated that student perceptions of
differential treatment do exist regardless of the sex of the target
student rated. Neither the sex nor the achievement level of the sub
ject influenced student perceptions. The results also indicated that
the differences students perceived were largely consistent with studies
of teacher expectations conducted by outside observers. That is,


-29-
Taken together, these studies of the effects of classroom context
factors on the formation of early adolescents' ability perceptions
suggest, foremost, the importance of student perceptions of self in the
classroom. Perceived evaluations of significant others affect student
attitudes toward self and school (Schmuck,. 1962; 1963; Weinstein et al.,
1982; Weinstein et al., 1985), the formation of self-concept of ability
(Brookover et al., 1964; Parsons et al., 1982), and related beliefs
about achievement (Pittman, 1979). In addition, student perceptions
of performance predict emotional involvement in tasks better than actual
performance evaluation (Mason & Stipek, 1985). Finally, the research
suggests that student perceptions of self are influenced by classroom
organization in which unidimensional structure leads to the perception
of ability as a single dimension, thereby facilitating self-perception
of ability in agreement with student-teacher consensus (Rosenholtz &
Rosenholtz, 1981; Rosenholtz & Simpson, 1984; Rosenholtz & Simpson, in
press; Rosenholtz & Wilson, 1980; Weinstein et al., 1985).
In this review several studies have indicated sex differences in
students' beliefs about ability and achievement (Brookover et al.,
1964; Parsons et al., 1982; Pittman, 1979). In the final section of
this review, literature which relates to gifted adolescent girls' self
perceptions of ability will be considered.
Gifted Adolescent Girls: Studies Related to
Ability Perceptions
Little research has focused on the gifted adolescent female
(Blaubergs, 1980; Joesting & Joesting, 1970; Shakeshaft & Palmieri,


-30-
1978), and virtually no studies have been conducted to investigate
the gifted girl's formation of self-perception of ability. Since the
1970's, however, the literature has grown to include studies within
two specific topic areas: the mathematically gifted female and the
personality characteristics of females working in various professions
(Blaubergs, 1980). This literature has grown in response to increasing
concern that accomplishments of gifted females do not compare with those
of males in adulthood. Of particular importance to the issue of
achievement motivation are studies which investigate obstacles to
women's achievement.
In her review of the literature on sexist barriers to gifted
women's achievement, Blaubergs (1978) addressed this issue. After
reviewing literature related to external barriers, lack of institu
tional and societal support, and personality characteristics, she
concluded that "internal barriers to achievement faced by gifted
women and girls have been overemphasized" (p. 21), and that those
which are realities result from the consequences of socialization.
Similar conclusions were reached by Hill and Lynch (1983) in
their review of gender-related role expectations during early adoles
cence. While Hill and Lynch did not limit their review to gifted
girls, their finding supported Blaubergs's (1978) conclusion that
socialization influences achievement behavior. As Hill and Lynch
noted, "Evidence discussed . suggests that girls' achievement
behavior changes during early adolescence, but little research is
available on the determinants of this change" (p. 209). From their
review of the research they concluded that, during early adolescence,


-54-
observations. The teachers were offered a schedule of observations,
but did not indicate an interest in one.
Successful participant observation requires time to sample the
range of experiences and situations the participants encounter. Parti
cipant observation requires the development of an acceptable role for
the researcher. This role should encourage the growth of trust and
rapport. This presents a particular problem for researchers in schools
where no formal role exists which will allow participation (Wolcott,
1976). While ethnographers, depending on the requirements of the
setting, have assumed roles anywhere along the continuum from passive
to active participant, Schwartz and Schwartz (1969) noted that the more
active observer "increased his identification with the observed and was
better able to become aware of the subtleties of communication and
interaction" (p. 98). The decision made regarding the amount of
participation the researcher will undertake evolves not only from the
structure of the particular school or classroom, but also from the
perceptions the participants form regarding the researcher. "In every
case the field worker is fitted into a plausible role by the population
he is studying and within a context meaningful to them" (Vidich, 1969,
p. 81). The result is that the researcher's role, a product of his or
her own intentions and the perceptions of participants, determines what
the researcher will see. This, in turn, influences the value of the
items of evidence produced by the study. "For the way the subjects
of his study define that role affects what they will tell him or let
him see" (Becker, 1969, p. 250).


-50-
direct data collection and lead the researcher closer to the emic
knowledge (personal perspectives) of the people being studied.
Ethnographic research begins without a precise hypothesis which
may "close off prematurely the process of discovery of that which is
significant in the setting" (Wilcox, 1982, p. 459). Rather, the
researcher begins with foreshadowed problems to direct and focus the
study. Malinowski (1922) noted that foreshadowed problems are "the
main endowment of a scientific thinker and these problems are first
revealed to the observer by his theoretical studies" (p. 9). In this
study two broad general questions were posed to serve as a framework
for the study: What kinds of experiences do gifted girls have in a
middle school setting in which they are members of heterogeneous teams
as well as homogeneous gifted classes? How do they use these experiences
to construct their own behavior and self-perceptions? In order to
provide some focus for the initial observations and interviews, the
following list of foreshadowed problems was posed.
1. How do gifted girls define achievement?
2. How do gifted girls' self-perceptions of ability differ from
their perceptions of peers' abilities?
3. How do gifted girls behave in academic and nonacademic situa
tions in regard to (a) task commitment, (b) risk-taking,
(c) leadership, and (d) creativity?
4. How do team organization, participation in a gifted program
which entails removal from the team one day per week, and
peer influences affect gifted girls' experiences in school
and their perceptions of experiences?


-32-
as defined by Horner did not exist in her sample of 105 fifth through
eighth grade females in a parochial school. However, the girls did
show fear of negative consequences which might occur as a result of
deviating from traditional sex-role patterns. This fear of negative
consequences increased with the grade level of the subjects. Conversely,
Lavach and Lanier (1975), in testing Horner's concept with seventh
through tenth grade high-achieving girls, found that the motive to avoid
success was prevalent and aroused by situations involving successful
competition with males. These studies suggest that, while there is
conflicting data about the motive to avoid success, adolescent girls
do experience a fear of negative consequences which might result from
behavior not considered feminine.
Studies which have investigated differential behaviors of gifted
adolescent girls in classroom situations have indicated that bright
girls have less confidence in their abilities than bright boys. For
example, in a study of creative ninth grade students, Kurtzman (1967)
found that more creative boys were more self-confident and mature than
less creative boys, but that no difference existed between more and
less creative girls. Kurtzman also found that more creative girls were
less well accepted by peers. Walberg (1969) came to similar conclu
sions in his study of senior high students who participated in Harvard
Project Physics. Girls had more cautious attitudes, behaved in con
forming, docile manners, and seemed uninterested in risk-taking.
In a review of the literature on gifted women, Morse and Bruch
(1970) noted "most of the literature and research findings available
for discussion have contributed much more to the articulation and


-160-
Covington, M., & Beery, R. (1976). Self-worth and school learning.
New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.
Covington, M., & Omelich, C. (1979). Effort: The double-edged sword
in school achievement. Journal of Educational Psychology, 71,
169-182.
Crandall, V. (1967). Achievement behavior in young children. In
W. Hartup & N. Smothergill (Eds.), The Young child: Reviews of
research (pp. 165-185). Washington, DC: National Association
for the Education of Young Children.
Dean, J.P., Eichhorn, R., & Dean, L. (1969). Limitations and advantages
of unstructured methods. In G.J. McCall & J.L. Simmons (Eds.),
Issues in participant observation: A text and reader (pp. 19-24).
Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
Denzen, N.k. (1978). The research act: A theoretical introduction to
sociological methods (2nd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.
Erickson, F. (1984). What makes school ethnography "ethnographic"?
Anthropology and Education Quarterly, _15(1), 51-66.
Fox, L. (1978). Gifted girls: Scientists and mathematicians of the
future. In B. Johnson (Ed.), Advantage: Disadvantaged gifted
(pp. 47-52). Ventura, CA: National State Leadership Training
Institute for the Gifted and Talented.
Geer, B. (1969). First days in the field: A chronicle of research in
progress. In G.J. McCall & M.C. Simmons (Eds.), Issues in
participant observation: A text and reader (pp. 144-162).
Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
Goertzel, V., & Goertzel, M. (1962). Cradles of eminence. Boston:
Little & Brown.
Goertzel, V., Goertzel, M., & Goertzel, T. (1978). 300 eminent
personalities. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Gumperz, J.J. (1981). Conversational inference and classroom learn
ing. In J.L. Green & C. Wallat (Eds.), Ethnography and language
in educational settings (pp. 3-23). Norwood, NJ: Ablex.
Hill, J.P. (1983). Early adolescence: A research agenda. The
Journal of Early Adolescence, _3(l-2), 1-21.
Hill, J.P., & Lynch, M. (1983). The intensification of gender-related
role expectations during early adolescence. In J. Brooks-Gunn &
A. Peterson (Eds.), Girls at puberty (pp. 127-154). New York:
PIenum.


-113-
group interviews. At the same time, however, many of the girls
expressed the idea that potential was something everyone had. An
eighth grader explained, "I feel everyone has the same intelligence
level. Motivation is important. If you try hard enough and motivate
yourself, you can do anything." The idea was further clarified by
Lynn after finishing a particularly difficult test:
Lynn: Some people say, "Look at the brain! She
knows all the answers. Some of those people could
be just as smart as us if they'd study. They just
don't want to take the time.
Observer: Are you sure studying is the only
reason?
Lynn: (Pause) I don't know. I try to be nice to
everyone. I don't want to be a brain. I try to
have fun.
The day after being absent from regular classes for instruction
in the gifted program was a particularly frustrating one for many of
the girls. The policy of completing classwork missed on those days
differed with different teachers, and was often a source of problems.
Jill and Marie described their frustration this way:
Jill: She (the teacher) doesn't like the enrich
ment (gifted) kids much. She says we don't come
and get our work, and I always do. Or she says we
aren't prepared. She wishes there wasn't any
enrichment. Science is my worst subject anyhow.
We have to go after school to get our work and it's
hard! She says all the teachers say we don't get
our work.
Marie: She told me (mimicing the teacher's voice)
"You have your Ski 11 pac all done, but you ain't
going to be so lucky in science!"
Observer: She said that to you?
Marie: Yeah! (nodding her head rapidly)
In an effort to cope with the expectations they perceived others
to have, the girls often behaved in ways that would avoid conflict-
producing situations. Analysis of classroom interaction in this study


GIFTED ADOLESCENT GIRLS: SELF-PERCEPTIONS OF ABILITY
WITHIN ONE MIDDLE SCHOOL SETTING
By
LINDA R. KRAMER
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF
THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE
DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
1985

Every person is, in part, "his own project" and
makes himself. Growth forward . requires
courage and strength in the individual as well
as protection, permission, and encouragement from
the environment.
-- Abraham Maslow

To Louis Geczy

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
The writing of a dissertation is necessarily a solitary process.
Numerous long hours must be spent alone in contemplation and writing.
Yet, without the assistance, guidance, and support of a number of
people, this dissertation might not have reached fruition.
I would like to thank the members of my committee for their con
tributions. My chairperson, Dr. Paul George, has a special insight
into the nature and needs of early adolescents, and his expertise in
this area has guided my own thinking and question-asking. Throughout
this study Dr. George has given his time and support, encouraging me
to persevere when my own spirits were lagging. My cochairperson, Dr.
Dorene Ross, has been an inspiration to me throughout my doctoral pro
gram. I have appreciated her unfailing interest in this study, her
astute editorial comments, her confidence, and friendship. Dr. Rod
Webb has helped me develop sound research skills, as well as a broader
perspective on schooling. His dedication and enthusiasm have been
powerful sources of motivation. Dr. Sandra Damico has offered a willing
ear and numerous suggestions throughout my graduate studies. I am
grateful for her confidence in me and her ability to find the humor
in almost any situation. Dr. Gordon Lawrence has taught me how complex
the human personality is, and in so doing, has helped me come to better
understand myself. His knowledge of instruction and learning has enabled
iv

me to become a better teacher. It is difficult to adequately thank
these individuals for their support and guidance during the last several
years.
To the girls, teachers, and mothers who opened their lives to me
I am most grateful. I have appreciated their trust, friendship, and
warm welcome, without which this study could not have been completed.
In addition, I would like to thank the many other middle school students
who offered their opinions and humorous anecdotes for inclusion in my
field notes.
I am also indebted to the many friends who spent hours listening
to my experiences and helping me clarify my thoughts. Debbie Hathaway,
Robert Hunt, Deborah Marshall, and Thomas Palumbo have been especially
supportive in this endeavor, and for their friendship I will always be
grateful.
My mother, sisters, and brother have offered their love, encourage
ment, and support. Their faith in me has given me the strength and
desire to complete this difficult task.
v

TABLE OF CONTENTS
Page
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS vi
ABSTRACT viii
CHAPTER
IBACKGROUND FOR THE STUDY 1
Statement of the Problem 1
Significance of the Study 2
Definition of Terms 5
Design of the Study 6
Scope of the Study 7
IIREVIEW OF THE LITERATURE 9
Theoretical Framework: Attribution and Self-Worth
Theories 10
Ability Formation Theory and Related Studies 14
Gifted Adolescent Girls: Studies Related to Ability
Perceptions 29
IIIMETHODOLOGY 34
The Research Perspective 34
The Setting 38
Selection of the Research Site 38
Gaining Entry to the Site 39
Description of the Site 43
Research Methods and Procedures 49
Asking Ethnographic Questions 49
Collecting Ethnographic Data 52
Participant observation 53
Interviewing 58
Unobtrusive measures 60
Making an Ethnographic Record 62
Analyzing Ethnographic Data 64
Researcher Qualifications and Biases 67
Validity and Ethical Issues 69
vi

Page
IV GIFTED ADOLESCENT GIRLS' SELF-PERCEPTIONS OF ABILITY ... 72
Ability and Motivation: School and Community Contexts . 75
Gifted Girls' Views About Themselves 76
The Gifted Program 82
Members of a Team 90
Gifted girls' perceptions of Team One 90
Gifted girls' perceptions of Team Two 98
Beliefs about Ability 107
Multiple Definitions of Giftedness 108
Affiliation Needs 116
Social Comparison 125
V CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS 131
Relationship of Findings to Previous Studies 137
Use of Findings to Research Community 142
Use of Findings to Practitioners 146
APPENDIX
A LETTER OF PERMISSION 152
B GROUP INTERVIEW WITH GIRLS 153
C INTERVIEW WITH TEACHERS 154
D INTERVIEW WITH MOTHERS 155
E INDIVIDUAL INTERVIEWS WITH GIRLS 156
F INTERVIEW WITH PRINCIPAL 157
REFERENCES 158
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH 167
vi i

Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements
for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
GIFTED ADOLESCENT GIRLS: SELF-PERCEPTIONS OF ABILITY
WITHIN ONE MIDDLE SCHOOL SETTING
by
Linda R. Kramer
August 1985
Chairperson: Dr. Paul George
Cochairperson: Dr. Dorene Ross
Major Department: Educational Leadership
The purpose of this study was to investigate in detail the
experiences of gifted adolescent girls in one middle school, de
lineating the social-interactional factors which influenced ability
perceptions and attitudes toward achievement. The researcher assumed
a social-interactionist perspective by which self-perceptions of
ability were viewed as the interaction of gifted girls' attitudes,
perspectives, and values with variables inherent in the school environ
ment. The study focused on two guiding questions:
(1) What kinds of experiences do gifted girls have as members of
heterogeneous teams and homogeneous gifted classes?
(2) How do they use these experiences to construct behavior and
beliefs about ability?
Qualitative research methods were used to collect and analyze data.
Observations were conducted on the gifted classroom and interdisci
plinary teams for 200 hours the last five months of the school year.
These observations focused on gifted girls' achievement-related behavior
v i i i

inside and outside classrooms, their interactions with teachers and
peers, and their speech messages about achievement and ability. Formal
and informal interviews were conducted with the gifted girls, their
teachers, and five mothers. In addition, work samples, journals written
by the girls, and cumulative school records were examined.
Data analysis revealed three factors which influenced the formation
of gifted girls self-perceptions of ability. These factors included
the following: multiple definitions of giftedness held by significant
others, affiliation needs, and social comparison.
The majority of gifted girls described themselves as having poten
tial rather than ability. They believed their achievements resulted
from effort, and their failures from lack of motivation. These per
ceptions were found to be the result of a cyclic process in which
gifted girls used school experiences to interpret and modify their
beliefs and attitudes about achievement, and, in turn, these beliefs
and attitudes guided their choices of behavior at school. Specifically,
the variables which seemed to be related to gifted girls' self
perceptions of ability were the nature of student-teacher relationships
within teams, the belief that social competence was an important area
in which to achieve, and the girls' entering views about themselves.
IX

CHAPTER I
BACKGROUND FOR THE STUDY
The unique characteristics of gifted girls have recently received
increased attention in light of the literature which illustrates that
more adult males than females are identified as gifted (Goertzel &
Goertzel, 1962; Goertzel, Goertzel, & Goertzel, 1978; Terman & Oden,
1959). "Even though gifted girls tend to earn higher grades in school
and the prevailing stereotype of females includes superior performance
in English, foreign languages, and the arts, the adult productivity of
males is superior in all areas" (Callahan, 1981, p. 499).
Experts in the area of gifted education are concerned about the
loss of contributions of gifted and talented women to society, but
research has failed to account for what appears to be a lack of
achievement motivation in bright women. Gifted adolescent girls'
beliefs about ability, a central component in achievement motivation,
may have great bearing on their accomplishments in later life.
Statement of the Problem
The purpose of this study was to investigate and describe gifted
adolescent girls' self-perceptions of ability within one middle
school. Studies which have focused on gifted girls or women have
-1-

-2-
concentrated on personality characteristies or career-ability conflicts,
but no studies have investigated self-perceptions of ability within
specific settings.
The way students come to think about their abilities is a function
of social experience (Maehr, 1974). This is particularly true for
adolescents who, at this developmental stage, use group standards
generated by social comparison to assess their achievements (Covington,
1984). For the adolescent girl, the impact of social experience on
ability perceptions may be even more pronounced. Research has indi
cated that females are more sensitive to negative teacher or peer
feedback and that, as they grow older, females rate their abilities
lower than males (Brophy & Good, 1974; Maccoby & Jacklin, 1974).
Theorists postulate that females, to a greater degree than males,
define themselves in relation and connection to other people
(Chodorow, 1974). Therefore, when teachers and peers accept, reject,
encourage, or restrain, they may be affecting not only the present
achievement-related behavior and ability perceptions of girls, but they
may also be creating images that affect girls' future motivations and
aspirations. The goal of this study was to describe and explain the
experiences of gifted adolescent girls in one school, delineating
social-interactional factors which influence ability perceptions and
attitudes toward achievement.
Significance of the Study
While much of the theory and research on ability perceptions has
resulted from studies which have been conducted with adult subjects

-3-
and in laboratory settings, the focus of this study was on the school
contexts in which students' self-perceptions of ability develop. The
growing body of research conducted thus far on students' perceptions
of school experiences has indicated that students consciously attempt
to make sense of the social and cognitive aspects of school. These
studies have characterized students as active interpreters of classroom
experiences, sensitive to "the differential behaviors that teachers
might display toward various groups of students, such as high and low
achievers and boys and girls" (Weinstein, 1983, p. 302). An examina
tion of school experiences as they relate to the formation of ability
perceptions, then, can provide information about how gifted girls come
to view and understand their own abilities relative to others.
Mishler (1979) has pointed out that the tendency for researchers
to apply the methodology developed in the natural sciences to the
investigation of social processes has resulted in context-stripping
methods which seek to formulate universal laws. Thus, the importance
of context has largely been ignored. By focusing on the school
contexts in which gifted girls' self-perceptions of ability occur,
this study attempted to investigate the possible environmental factors
which may influence the development of ability perceptions and
achievement-related behaviors in bright girls who are regularly
removed from the classroom to participate in special instruction.
The possibility of environmental conditions which would seem to affect
the motivation and achievement of gifted and talented females was noted
by Callahan (1981) who suggested that we have little conclusive

-4-
evidence because these conditions are "perhaps untestable in the
experimental traditions" (p. 502).
This study may also yield a number of contributions to both prac
tice and research as they relate to the psychosocial development of
gifted adolescent girls. The need for such research has been illustrated
by the recent formation, in Florida, of a task force to examine middle
childhood education, and to make recommendations concerning program
structure, organization, curriculum, and student services. This task
force has found that students in grades four through eight "must
accomplish a number of developmental tasks, and middle childhood
programs must recognize the developmental diversity and needs of
students" (Speakers Task Force on Middle Childhood Education, 1983,
p. V-2). Based on the task force's work, a bill entitled Progress in
Middle Childhood Education (HB830) has called for new course require
ments in math, science, and social studies for middle grade students.
This study will add to practitioners' knowledge about the develop
mental diversity of gifted middle school females and illustrate
curricular needs for this group. In addition, by providing detailed
descriptions of the school experiences of gifted girls, this study
will enable educators to come to know the world of school from the
gifted girl's perspective.
Educators today (should) evaluate their attitudes
and behavior toward the gifted girls in the school
system. In providing special education programs
for the gifted we might unwittingly increase the
conflict between sex-role expectations (and the en
suing pressure to conform) and the push toward
independent thinking (and competition) for gifted
girls without giving them the opportunity to be
aware of and emotionally prepared for the ambiguous
attitudes of the society in which they are growing
up. (Werner & Bachtold, 1969, p. 1818)

-5-
The value of this study to practitioners can be summed up by examining
the following facts. In the state in which this study occurred, the
number of students entering gifted programs has increased by 65.83%
over the last five years. Additionally, the tendency has been for
students to enter these programs during their early elementary years
and remain through high school.
This study will also be of value to researchers. In making
recommendations about "high-priority research activities," Hill (1983,
p. 1) cited his own work dealing with perspectives on adolescence and
indicated that a first priority was studies of "attachment, autonomy,
sexuality, intimacy, achievement, and identity" (p. 1), because
presently available studies are only incidentally related to adolescence
and focus mainly on males. Additionally, Callahan (1981) has noted
that the effects of programs for gifted students have not been
systemtically studied. Therefore, implications concerning the
sociological or affective effects of participating in enrichment
programs on gifted females cannot be drawn from existing research.
Definition of Terms
1. Gifted: A student selected by state criteria which stressed
superior development and the capability of advanced performance.
The tested mental capacity of these students is two standard
deviations or more above the mean, that is, an IQ score of 130
or more.
2. Self-perception of ability: The individual's beliefs about her
competency to carry out the behaviors expected of her.

-6-
3. Middle school: "A school of some three to five years between the
elementary and high school focused on the educational needs of
students in these in-between years and designed to promote con
tinuous educational progress for all concerned" (Alexander &
George, 1981, p. 3).
4. Context: The physical settings in which an event occurs. It is
"the constellation of norms, mutual rights, and obligations that
shape social relationships, determine participants' perceptions
about what goes on, and influence learning" (Gumperz, 1981, p. 5).
5. Interdisciplinary teams: Teachers from different subject areas
who are organized into groups, assigned a common area of the school
building, a common schedule, and the responsibility for a common
group of students.
6. Advisor-Advisee (AA): A component of the middle school program
created to meet the affective needs of early adolescents. Students
meet regularly with an advisor for academic counseling and affec
tive education.
7. Multiage grouping: The placement of students at various grade
levels together for instruction.
Design of the Study
Upon receiving approval from the University Committee for the
Protection of Human Subjects, the county school board, the parents of
the participants, and the girls themselves, the researcher established
an observation schedule which would assure that equal amounts of time

-7-
would be spent in the school areas in which gifted girls regularly
interacted. Observations began in January, 1984, and were conducted
until the final day of school in early June. The researcher observed
200 hours of classroom activity primarily representing Mondays,
Wednesdays, and Fridays, and all times of the school day. Observations
centered on gifted girls' speech messages concerning schoolwork, peers,
teachers, and self-perceptions; achievement-related behaviors in school
contexts; and interactions with teachers and peers before, during, and
after school. Formal and informal interviews were conducted throughout
the study. Those interviewed included the girls, their teachers, the
school principal, and five mothers. In addition, examples of the
girls' schoolwork, their personal journals kept in advisor-advisee
and the gifted classroom, report cards, and cumulative records were
examined.
Data collection and analysis were conducted as specified by
Spradley (1980). This process required that data be organized into
categories based on similarities. Taxonomies were then constructed
to represent gifted girls' self-perceptions of ability by drawing data
from across domains.
Scope of the Study
This study was conducted in one middle school and focused on
the self-perceptions of ability held by the school's ten gifted
females. These students included three sixth graders, two seventh
graders, and five eighth graders. Observations and interviews were

-8-
conducted during the second half of the school year in two of the
school's three team areas and in the gifted resource room. Although
this study can provide insight into gifted girls' self-perceptions of
ability, specific findings from this study should not be generalized
to other populations.
In the following chapters a review of the literature, the
methodology, findings, and implications of the study are discussed.
In Chapter II, a review of the literature on the role of context in
the development of ability perceptions and studies related to gifted
adolescent girls' self-perceptions of ability are discussed. In
Chapter III, the methodology is described. Chapter IV represents
the study's findings. Conclusions and implications are discussed
in Chapter V.

CHAPTER II
REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE
Research on perceptions of ability has attempted to answer two
different sets of questions. One set of questions has focused on the
feelings about ability that are produced when an individual success
fully or unsuccessfully completes a task. The purpose of this research
has been to determine the types of feelings that lead to increased
achievement motivation on similar tasks. Researchers concerned with
these questions have been guided by attribution theory (Weiner, Frieze,
Kukla, Reed, Rest, & Rosenbaum, 1971), which proposes that an indi
vidual's belief about the causes of success and failure affects future
achievement-related behavior, and self-worth theory (Covington & Beery,
1976), which proposes that achievement behavior can be explained in
terms of an individual's attempts to maintain a positive self-image.
Research stemming from these theories has generally been conducted
with adult subjects in laboratory settings. A second body of questions
has focused on possible environmental factors that may influence
feelings about ability. The purpose of this research has been to
determine how ability perceptions are formed. This body of research
has contributed to the recent development of ability formation theory
(Rosenholtz & Simpson, 1984; in press), which proposes that classroom
processes which contribute to a singular definition of ability lead to
-9-

-10-
stratification, and, therefore, make it less likely that students will
develop alternative interpretations of ability.
The focus of the present study was on the school contexts in which
gifted adolescent girls' self-perceptions of ability develop. For this
reason the review of the literature will be organized in the following
manner: 1) the contributions of the major proponents of attribution
and self-worth theories to our understanding of ability perceptions
will be summarized, 2) ability formation theory and studies related to
early adolescents will be discussed, and 3) research related to gifted
girls' ability perceptions and achievement behavior will be described.
Theoretical Framework: Attribution and Self-Worth
Theories
Both the attribution and self-worth theories of achievement
motivation have their roots in earlier "learned drive" theories which
stressed the fundamental conflict between attempting success and
avoiding failure (Covington, 1984). The most well-known of these
theories, one which is still influential today, was developed by John
Atkinson (1964) and David McCelland (1965). Atkinson found that the
way individuals resolved the conflict between seeking success and
avoiding failure depended upon differences in early childhood experi
ences. For this reason, much of the research stemming from this model
has focused on the importance of childrearing practices in promoting
or hindering the development of a positive orientation necessary to
the pursuit of success (Winterbottom, 1953).

-11-
When Atkinson's and McCelland's theoretical model was applied to
females, however, the results were contradictory. "Females' scores
on the motivational measures do not correlate well with their actual
achievement" (Stein & Bailey, 1975, pp. 151-152). In an attempt to
resolve these major unexplained sex differences, Horner (1972; 1975)
posited the motive to avoid success. Horner proposed that women who
are most capable of achieving have a disposition to become anxious about
achieving success as a result of expected negative consequences.
Horner's work will be reviewed further under research related to
gifted girls' ability perceptions.
Despite the contradictory results with female subjects which were
obtained using this model, Atkinson's (1964) work influenced the
development of both the attribution and self-worth theories of achieve-
ment motivation. Attributional theorists (Weiner et al., 1971) identi
fied four major explanations about the causes of success and failure:
ability, effort, luck, and task ease/difficulty. These individual
perceptions of the causes of success or failure are believed to be
responsible for individual differences in achievement motivation.
That is, individuals who attribute success to a stable cause such as
ability are more likely to persevere in the future than individuals
who attribute success to an unstable cause such as luck. Thus, success-
oriented individuals attribute their successes to ability and their
failures to lack of effort. Failure-avoiding individuals attribute
success to external factors such as luck, and failure to inability
(Weiner et al., 1971; Weiner & Kuila, 1970).

-12-
In attribution theory the perception of effort has been seen as
central to achievement motivation. If individuals fail after putting
forth little effort, they are more likely to maintain a positive out
look on future attempts than if the degree of effort expended had been
greater. Additionally, individuals who put forth high effort will show
greater pride in success (Covington & Omelich, 1979; Weiner et al.,
1971).
The self-worth theory (Covington & Beery, 1976) was a second spin
off from Atkinson's work. Like attribution theory, self-worth theory
has characterized ability perceptions in terms of causality (Covington,
1984). Unlike attribution theory, students' beliefs about the causes
of success have not been considered sufficient explanations for
achievement behavior. Rather, self-worth theorists have postulated
that students' achievement behavior can be explained by the motivation
to maintain a positive self-image of ability and competence, especially
when some risk is involved (Covington & Omelich, 1979).
In self-worth theory, "the basic assumption is that several
factors influence one's sense of worth and adequacy, including per
formance level, self-estimates of ability, and degree of effort
expenditure" (Covington, 1984, p. 8). While accomplishments are
considered salient clues about ability, perceptions of high ability
alone can imply worthiness. Like attribution theorists, self-worth
theorists have viewed effort as a mediator, for without significant
effort expenditure one's self-perception of ability will be unaffected
by failure. Great expenditures of effort which result in failure,
however, can lead to perceptions of incompetency that result in shame

-13-
(Covington & Omelich, 1979). According to self-worth theory, an
increased capacity for abstract thought among early adolescents and
increased competition in the classroom has contributed to this emphasis
on ability over effort (Covington, 1984).
The major difference between self-worth theory and attribution
theory is the motivational component. Specifically, self-worth theory
holds that students employ a variety of strategies to maintain a sense
of worthiness, and that the need to maintain this perception of worth
is the basic motivation for achievement behavior (Covington, 1984).
While there is much research to support both cognitive attribu
tion and self-worth theory (see Weiner, 1980; Covington, 1984, for
reviews), the majority of this research results from studies conducted
with adult learners and in laboratory settings. Recently researchers
have pointed out that these theories fail to give adequate attention
to classroom context factors that may influence the formation of
ability perceptions (Blumenfeld, Pintrich, Meece, & Wessels, 1982;
Rosenholtz & Simpson, 1984; Weinstein, 1983). Other factors like
personal values and perceived consequences of success and failure may
be important in determining achievement-related behavior in the class
room (Blumenfeld et al.. 1982). Thus, little is actually known about
factors influencing early adolescents' self-perceptions of effort and
ability within the classroom setting. By considering the classroom
context, a more satisfactory theoretical perspective can be constructed,
for context variables may "alter the ways students learn to interpret
their own ability" (Rosenholtz & Simpson, 1984, p. 32).

-14-
Studies of the influence of context factors on ability formation
may be particularly beneficial in understanding early adolescents'
self-perceptions of ability. As Blyth and Traeger (1983) noted in a
recent review of research on self-perceptions in early adolescence, at
this stage in life, young people "are changing cognitively in such a
way as to dramatically change the way they see and evaluate themselves.
There may be changes in what is of central importance to them" (p. 95).
Hill and Lynch (1983) argued that the effect of socialization and
context-related variables on the formation of role-related achievement
and ability perceptions of females may intensify during early adolescence.
In the following section a set of studies which address the role of
classroom context factors in the formation of early adolescents' ability
perceptions will be reviewed.
Ability Formation Theory and Related Studies
Rosenholtz and Simpson (1984; in press) proposed a theory of
ability formation in which context plays a primary role. The follow
ing four assumptions underlie this theory:
1. Intellectual ability is a relative concept and
will be formed comparatively.
2. Students receive feedback from teachers and from
their peers which should influence their ability
perceptions.
3. The structure of students' academic tasks
symbolically will imply conclusions about the
abilities believed to determine performance at
that level.
4. The way in which performance evaluations are
organized and interpreted will provide a language
within which students will cast their interpre
tations of ability. (Rosenholtz & Simpson, 1984,
p. 36)

-15-
Ability formation theory has proposed that students come to accept
institutional definitions of ability through the process of socializa
tion. The more singular the picture students see and the more informa
tion which contributes to this picture, the less likely it is that
students will develop alternative definitions of ability. From this
perspective, what students believe to be real is, at least in part,
socially structured (Berger & Luckmann, 1966). In addition, students,
themselves, are considered active participants in their own socializa
tion.
Rosenholtz and Simpson (1984) noted that certain characteristics
of classroom organization are more likely to bring about shared defini
tions of ability, that is, a consensus among students and the teacher
about who is most and least able. These characteristics include undif
ferentiated task structure, low student autonomy, student grouping
patterns, and formal performance evaluations which are frequent and
visible. Classrooms which can be characterized by these criteria are
called unidimensional. Few student choices about activities and
learning goals which would enhance alternative definitions of ability,
and increasing stratification of students along a single dimension,
facilitate the formation of shared perceptions of ability in these
classrooms (Rosenholtz & Simpson, in press).
An important implication of ability formation theory noted by
Rosenholtz and Rosenholtz (1981) was that studies of the effects of
classroom organization on perceptions of ability should not be based
on static models which characterize students as passive entities. Such
a "perspective omits from consideration a variable likely to mediate

-16-
the impact of structure on self-evaluation of ability, the evaluative
responses of others" (Rosenholtz & Rosenholtz, 1981, p. 133). Thus,
the analysis of classroom effects should take into account conditions
which affect actors' perceptions and the effects of those perceptions
on individuals' self-perceptions of ability.
Several studies were conducted to test the assumptions which became
the basis of ability formation theory. Rosenholtz and Wilson (1980)
conducted a study to investigate whether different classroom organiza
tions resulted in different interpretations of ability among students.
Their sample consisted of 15 fifth and sixth grade classrooms in
suburban and urban areas serving a working-class population.
Classrooms were selected based on interviews with principals con
cerning the degree of curricular complexity within the school.
Specifically, the intent of the study was to determine if classrooms
with low task differentiation, low student autonomy, and comparisons
based on uniform criteria produce a climate in which the range of
alternative definitions of ability narrows and consensus about a
student's ability among classroom participants increases. Such class
rooms were designated as high resolution classrooms, that is, "the
structure offers a clear picture of student performance" (p. 76).
To measure the degree of resolution, questionnaires were adminis
tered to teachers who were asked to describe curricular methods and
instructional practices through Likert fixed-choice responses. Ques
tions asked related to the number of different materials a teacher
used, how teachers organized student groups for instruction, how
frequently students made choices about activities, and how frequently
teachers compared one student's work with another.

-17-
Perceptions of ability measured in this study were limited to
dimensions of reading instruction and were obtained through student-
teacher questionnaires. Students were asked to rank order classmates
by their ability to read. Peer rankings of individual students were
then averaged, and a student's self-perception of ability was determined
by the student's placement of self in the rank order. Teachers were
asked to rate students' reading abilities as above average, average,
or below average. The degrees of concurrence among classmates, between
classmates and self, between classmates and teacher, and between teacher
and self were obtained through these rank orders.
Rosenholtz and Wilson concluded that students in high resolution
classrooms had fewer options to demonstrate competence and that, as a
result, ability was more narrowly defined and a greater student-teacher
consensus resulted. "The importance of classroom resolution may be
in its power to shape students' subjective identities" (p. 81), but how
this mediates the individual's self-perception of ability was not
answered by this study.
Using the data obtained in the Rosenholtz and Wilson (1980) study,
Rosenholtz and Rosenholtz (1981) investigated the ways classroom
organization might affect individual self-perceptions of ability.
They tested the following hypotheses: 1) self-evaluations of reading
ability will be more dispersed in unidimensional as opposed to multi
dimensional classes, and 2) classmates' and teachers' evaluations will
be more dispersed in unidimensional classes. Unidimensional classes
were defined as high resolution classes.

-18-
The findings of this study indicated that in forming one's self
perception of reading ability, the relative influence of the teacher
on the classmates and the teacher and classmates on the self was
affected, in part, by the organization for instruction. In classrooms
where fewer options were provided for students to demonstrate compe
tence, definitions of ability became more narrowly defined. Grouping
practices and task structures restricted students' options. Rosenholtz
and Rosenholtz (1981) concluded that the effect was greater in situa
tions where the classroom organization was unidimensional.
While the researchers stressed that the findings of this study
were preliminary because they did not examine the criteria by which
teachers and students made judgments and, therefore, could not assert
causal relationships, the implications are important. Classrooms with
narrow opportunity structures stratify students as compared to
instructional climates which offer students more alternatives in
terms of curriculum and evaluation. Rosenholtz and Rosenholtz (1981)
concluded:
To the degree that teacher, peer, and self
perceptions influence future performance, ability
stratification as affected by classroom organiza
tion could have profound consequences for the
individual's life chances. Instructional organi
zation, then, may not only provide a framework by
which classroom actors define ability, it may also
enhance or limit capacity, (p. 140)
In a similar study of classroom structure and perceptions of
ability, Simpson (1981) drew conclusions which supported the Rosenholtz
and Rosenholtz (1981) study. Of the 16 classrooms included in his
study, Simpson found that in unidimensional classes teacher ratings

-19-
of students in different academic subjects were more widely dispersed
with a higher proportion of students in the below average range. In
multidimensional classes there was less agreement between teachers and
pupils on perceptions of ability.
The implications of the studies conducted by Rosenholtz and
Rosenholtz (1981) and Simpson (1981) point to the importance of class
room structures which encourage more fluid, changing perceptions of
ability to exist. Such classroom would allow more divergent student-
teacher opinions and thus yield less restriction in performance
interpretation.
A group of studies related to ability formation theory have
investigated the active role students play in interpreting classroom
reality. The following studies are unique because they investigate
the effects of student perceptions of teacher and peer feedback on
student beliefs about ability. The studies reviewed focus on the early
adolescent age group.
Schmuck (1962; 1963) conducted a series of studies in which he
investigated the relationships between students' perceptions of social
status within a classroom, their actual social status as measured by
sociometric devices, and the degree to which students' performances
matched their academic abilities (utilization of abilities). His
sample included 727 students from elementary, junior, and senior high
schools in rural, urban, industrial, and university communities. Data
included the following: results from questionnaires and interviews
with students and teachers, intelligence scores obtained from student
records, and brief observations in the classrooms of students in grades

- 20-
three through twelve. In Schmuck's (1963) analysis, which centered on
grades three through six, he found that students' perceptions of their
status within peer groups were related to their utilization of abilities.
Further, Schmuck (1962; 1963) identified two types of classroom
power structures. Centralized classrooms were those in which there was
a high consensus among peers in the choice of the most and least power
ful individuals, as shown by the smaller proportion of different
students nominated in each category. Diffused classrooms were those
in which there was less consensus about the most and least powerful
individuals in the class. Schmuck found that students estimated their
own status more accurately in centralized classrooms, and that high
power students who correctly perceived their positions outperformed
lower power individuals who correctly perceived their positions.
While the results of Schmuck's (1962; 1963) research showed that
student perceptions of social status were related positively and sig
nificantly to their attitudes toward self and school, actual liking
status showed no such significant relationship to attitudes toward
self and school. Thus, Schmuck's results stressed the importance of
student perceptions of self within the classroom. Further, this study
supports the idea that high peer consensus may influence ability
formations.
Schmuck's work left two questions unanswered. Would the results
have been different if measures other than interviews with teachers
had been utilized to divide students into high and low achieving groups
(high and low utilizers of ability)? Would the results have been
different if the analysis had concentrated on the upper grades?

-21-
Following Schmuck's research, Brookover, Thomas, and Patterson
(1964) conducted a study of 1,050 urban seventh graders in which they
tested the following hypotheses: 1) self-concept of ability is sig
nificantly and positively related to academic performance; 2) students
have specific self-concepts of ability which correspond to specific
subjects, and which are better predictors of performance within those
subjects than the general self-concept of ability; and 3) students'
perceptions of the evaluations significant others make of their abilities
affect their self-concept of ability. A Self-Concept of Ability scale
was administered in two parallel forms to measure a general self-
concept of ability and subject-specific self-concepts of ability in
each of the four major subjects. Intelligence scores obtained in the
fourth and sixth grades were averaged and controlled. A measure of
academic performance was obtained from grade point averages.
The results of the study conducted by Brookover et al. (1964)
indicated that self-concept of ability and grade point average were
significantly and positively correlated, despite the fact that ability
was controlled. Interestingly, the specific self-concept of ability
was found to be a better predictor of performance in mathematics,
science, and social studies for males, though the same was not found
to be true for females except in social studies. Correlation between
the specific self-concept of ability and performance in English was
slightly, but not significantly, lower than the correlation between
the general self-concept of ability and performance in English.
Brookover et al. suggested that the sex differences obtained in this
study might reflect factors in the specific community and school system

-22-
or the cultural belief that math and science are considered inappro
priate areas for female achievement. This, however, did not explain
the inability of specific self-concept of ability to predict performance
in English, an area generally considered appropriate for female achieve
ment. Lastly, Brookover et al. found that the student's self-concept
of ability is significantly and positively correlated with the perceived
evaluations that significant others hold of the student. However, an
individual's self-concept of ability is "more closely related to his
estimate of general attitudes toward him than it is to the perceived
responses of a particular group" (p. 277).
The findings of Brookover et al. indicated that student perceptions
of peer ratings are strongly correlated to self-concept of ability.
Additionally, in finding that students' ability perceptions are more
closely related to estimates of general attitudes, this study suggests
that student self-concepts of ability are influenced by a variety of
sources which may extend beyond the school. This implication may be
important in understanding the sex differences found in this study.
Are the general attitudes which influence males' and females' ability
perceptions made up of different subgroups? In finding that a specific
self-concept of ability was not a better predictor of achievement for
females in science and math than the general self-concept of ability,
this study raises the additional possibility that perceptions of others'
evaluations may be more powerful for adolescent females.
Pittman (1979) addressed some of these issues in a study conducted
to explore the importance of parents, teachers, peers, tests, and self-
evaluation on the development of students' self-perceptions of

-23-
achievement. The Intellectual Achievement Responsibility Questionnaire
(IAR) was administered to 1,192 sixth and seventh grade students in
six school systems in North Carolina. The IAR was used to measure
students' perceptions of internal control in achievement situations in
which one influence, either parents, teachers, peers, or self-evaluation
was prominent. Student responses were analyzed separately by sex using
factor-analytic procedures.
The findings of this study indicated that, for both male and
female early adolescents, parents and teachers played more significant
roles in the development of students' perceptions of internal control
in achievement situations than peers, tests, or self-evaluation. How
ever, in analyzing student responses by sex, Pittman noted that the
relationship of the home environment with achievement was stronger for
females than males. Thus, Pittman concluded that parents and teachers
are significant, possibly critical influences, on the development of
early adolescents' perceptions of achievement. The results of the study
also indicated that the significance of peers was second to the parent/
teacher factor in its influence on achievement perceptions.
In concluding that the home environment had a stronger influence
on females' beliefs about their achievement, this study raises the
question that community influences may also be more significant on
females' achievement perceptions. Is the influence of parents on
females' beliefs about ability different or more significant in a
rural or urban community?
A growing body of research has investigated the influence of
teacher expectations on student performance (see Braun, 1976; Brophy,

-24-
1983; Cooper, 1979, for reviews). These studies, conducted by outside
observers, have identified teacher behaviors which correlate with teacher
expectations for students at different ability levels. From this
perspective, teacher expectations become self-fulfilling prophecies.
The students' role in this process was recently investigated by Weinstein,
Marshall, Bratesani, and Middlestadt (1982). Rather than observing
teacher behaviors, these researchers investigated student perceptions
of the evaluative responses of teachers.
Weinstein et al. used the Teacher Treatment Inventory to measure
fourth, fifth, and sixth graders' perceptions of the frequency of 44
teacher behaviors toward a hypothetical male or female, high or low
achieving student. The sample of 243 students came from 16 classrooms
in 4 urban schools of varying socio-economic levels. The items on the
instrument were derived from reviews of the literature on the rela
tionship between teaching behavior and student achievement, on the
expression of teacher expectations in behavior, and on student per
ceptions of the classroom environment. Subjects were asked to pretend
that Anne (John) was a student in their class, and, using a Likert
forced-choice scale, rate how frequently their own teacher would work
with Anne (John) in the ways described.
The results of this study indicated that student perceptions of
differential treatment do exist regardless of the sex of the target
student rated. Neither the sex nor the achievement level of the sub
ject influenced student perceptions. The results also indicated that
the differences students perceived were largely consistent with studies
of teacher expectations conducted by outside observers. That is,

-25-
students believed low achievers were given greater help, input, and
structure.
This study of student perceptions of differential teacher behaviors
raises important questions. Would high ability students who have low
self-concepts of ability prefer teachers who give more help, input, and
structure? If so, would these same high ability students behave in
ways which would make additional teacher attention more likely, thus
causing teachers to question their ability?
Parsons, Kaczala, and Meece (1982) conducted a study which investi
gated individual student-teacher interactions in 17 junior high math
classes. In this study of predominantly seventh and ninth grade
students, the researchers looked at 1) the possible influence of student
sex or teacher expectations for individual students on the nature of
student-teacher interactions, and 2) the effects of variations in
teacher-student interaction patterns on student attitudes.
Student measures used in this observational study included
questionnaires containing a seven-point Likert scale to assess expec
tancies, self-concept of ability, and concepts of task difficulty;
scores from standardized tests; and students' ratings as to how well
they believed their teachers expected them to do in math. Question
naires were also used to obtain teacher expectancy scores for individual
students, thereby placing them in low or high expectancy groups accord
ing to sex. Trained observers then coded classroom interactions between
teachers and individual high and low-expectancy students focusing on
the following: 1) type of interaction, 2) who initiated it, 3) type
of student response, 4) type of teacher feedback, and 5) whether the

-26-
interaction was public and monitored by the class or a private teacher-
student interaction.
The results of the study indicated that girls, as a whole, received
less criticism than 1ow-teacher-expectancy boys, and that high-teacher-
expectancy girls received less praise than the other groups. Though
differences were small, low-expectancy boys received the most criticism
and low-expectancy girls the most praise, especially in response to
teacher controlled questioning. In general, boys had the most inter
actions of all kinds with their teachers. These variations in
teacher-student interactions were found to affect male and female
self-perceptions of ability differently.
In this study, praise was found to have a positive relationship
with boys' self-perceptions of ability but it was not so for girls.
Rather, for girls, praise was predictive of their belief that math was
easy. Parsons, Kaczala, and Meece (1982) concluded that this may have
resulted from teachers' differential use of praise, that is, that praise
given to boys conveyed teacher expectations while praise given girls
was more random and focused on low-expectancy girls. Noted the
researchers, "it is the informative value of praise with regard to
teachers' expectations which is critical" (p. 336).
This study raises several important questions. Does more criticism
for low-expectancy boys imply to students that math is more critical
for males? Does more praise for low-expectancy girls imply to high-
expectancy girls that praise is related to task ease, thereby resulting
in inaccurate estimates of ability?

-27-
Mason and Stipek (1985) investigated students' self-perceptions of
performance, their attributions for success and failure, their achieve
ment-related behavior, and their actual performance in math and
reading. The sample included 77 fourth and fifth graders of various
socio-economic backgrounds from 17 different classrooms in four schools.
Data on 29 of the students from this sample were gathered across two
years from 1982-1984.
The methods of data collection included observations of students
while engaged in classroom tasks and interviews with students. During
these interviews students were asked to rank their performance compared
to classmates in reading and math, and to describe situations in which
they had succeeded or failed. They were then asked to choose the most
important cause of their success or failure by selecting from among
ability, effort, luck, or task difficulty. Students' emotional responses
were measured by asking to what degree they felt bored, confused, dumb,
embarrassed, smart, happy, or proud while working on tasks in math
and reading. Finally, teacher ratings of students' performances and
students' percentile rankings in math and reading were obtained.
Mason and Stipek reported that their findings from this study were
not surprising. High self-perceptions were associated with positive
emotions and a belief in ability. Low self-perceptions were associated
with negative emotions and a belief in lack of ability. However,
these researchers emphasized that students' perceptions of how well
they were doing predicted the degree to which they experienced positive
or negative emotions while working on tasks better than how well they
were actually doing. Thus, student perceptions may influence task

-28-
commitment more than actual feedback. Additionally, Mason and Stipek
found that student behavior and perceptions were relatively stable
across two years, thus suggesting that students enter new classrooms
not only with varied skill levels the teacher must consider, but also
with a set of achievement-related beliefs and perceptions.
Important questions are raised by the implication that students'
perceptions about their ability on tasks may influence task commitment
more than actual feedback. What criteria do students use in forming
task-specific perceptions of ability? Do personal values or values
attributed to the task itself affect perceptions of ability? Do per
ceived consequences of success or failure on specific tasks affect
perceptions of ability before a student begins a task?
In a related study, Weinstein, Marshall, Botkin, and Sharp (1985)
investigated the development of student performance expectations in
high differential and low differential classrooms over one school year.
While this study focused on 579 students in 30 first, third, and fifth
grade classrooms rather than early adolescents, the findings suggested
that "student awareness of specific teacher expectations is only ap
parent at the fifth grade level and only here influenced by the class
room context" (pp. 2-3). Thus, this implies the importance of student
perspectives and classroom context for the development of older
students' self-perceptions of ability. Based on their findings,
Weinstein, Marshall, Botkin, and Sharp (1985) concluded, "perceived
teacher expectations may prove more critical than actual teacher
expectations in predicting student expectation and achievement out
comes" (p. 30).

-29-
Taken together, these studies of the effects of classroom context
factors on the formation of early adolescents' ability perceptions
suggest, foremost, the importance of student perceptions of self in the
classroom. Perceived evaluations of significant others affect student
attitudes toward self and school (Schmuck,. 1962; 1963; Weinstein et al.,
1982; Weinstein et al., 1985), the formation of self-concept of ability
(Brookover et al., 1964; Parsons et al., 1982), and related beliefs
about achievement (Pittman, 1979). In addition, student perceptions
of performance predict emotional involvement in tasks better than actual
performance evaluation (Mason & Stipek, 1985). Finally, the research
suggests that student perceptions of self are influenced by classroom
organization in which unidimensional structure leads to the perception
of ability as a single dimension, thereby facilitating self-perception
of ability in agreement with student-teacher consensus (Rosenholtz &
Rosenholtz, 1981; Rosenholtz & Simpson, 1984; Rosenholtz & Simpson, in
press; Rosenholtz & Wilson, 1980; Weinstein et al., 1985).
In this review several studies have indicated sex differences in
students' beliefs about ability and achievement (Brookover et al.,
1964; Parsons et al., 1982; Pittman, 1979). In the final section of
this review, literature which relates to gifted adolescent girls' self
perceptions of ability will be considered.
Gifted Adolescent Girls: Studies Related to
Ability Perceptions
Little research has focused on the gifted adolescent female
(Blaubergs, 1980; Joesting & Joesting, 1970; Shakeshaft & Palmieri,

-30-
1978), and virtually no studies have been conducted to investigate
the gifted girl's formation of self-perception of ability. Since the
1970's, however, the literature has grown to include studies within
two specific topic areas: the mathematically gifted female and the
personality characteristics of females working in various professions
(Blaubergs, 1980). This literature has grown in response to increasing
concern that accomplishments of gifted females do not compare with those
of males in adulthood. Of particular importance to the issue of
achievement motivation are studies which investigate obstacles to
women's achievement.
In her review of the literature on sexist barriers to gifted
women's achievement, Blaubergs (1978) addressed this issue. After
reviewing literature related to external barriers, lack of institu
tional and societal support, and personality characteristics, she
concluded that "internal barriers to achievement faced by gifted
women and girls have been overemphasized" (p. 21), and that those
which are realities result from the consequences of socialization.
Similar conclusions were reached by Hill and Lynch (1983) in
their review of gender-related role expectations during early adoles
cence. While Hill and Lynch did not limit their review to gifted
girls, their finding supported Blaubergs's (1978) conclusion that
socialization influences achievement behavior. As Hill and Lynch
noted, "Evidence discussed . suggests that girls' achievement
behavior changes during early adolescence, but little research is
available on the determinants of this change" (p. 209). From their
review of the research they concluded that, during early adolescence,

-31-
standards for achievement become more sex-stereotyped and girls become
more concerned with interpersonal areas of competence than boys.
Other reviews of research on sex differences in achievement motiva
tion suggest that females may be motivated to achieve by a desire for
approval and affiliation, rather than a desire to attain a standard of
excellence (Crandall, 1967; Hoffman, 1975; Rubovits, 1975; Sherman,
1975). However, using a different interpretation of many of the same
studies reviewed by the above researchers, Stein and Bailey (1975)
argued that "the social context of females' achievement has been mis
interpreted as evidence for affiliation as opposed to achievement
motives" (p. 152). They proposed that social acceptance, itself, is
a central area of achievement for females; thus females are motivated
to achieve a standard of excellence in this area.
In her investigation of sex differences in achievement motivation,
Horner (1972; 1975) posited that women have "a disposition to become
anxious about achieving success because they expect negative conse
quences as a result of succeeding" (1975, p. 207). In a study she
conducted with Rhoem in 1968 (Horner, 1975) to observe the incidence
of fear of success imagery in female subjects at different ages,
Horner found that seventh grade girls, when given the clue, "Sue has
just found out she has been made valedictorian of her class," exhibited
a 47% incidence of fear of success.
Other studies conducted to test Horner's concept have provided
conflicting results. In a dissertation study conducted to find
evidence of the motive to avoid success in ten to fourteen year old
females, Cook (1976) found that support for the existence of a motive

-32-
as defined by Horner did not exist in her sample of 105 fifth through
eighth grade females in a parochial school. However, the girls did
show fear of negative consequences which might occur as a result of
deviating from traditional sex-role patterns. This fear of negative
consequences increased with the grade level of the subjects. Conversely,
Lavach and Lanier (1975), in testing Horner's concept with seventh
through tenth grade high-achieving girls, found that the motive to avoid
success was prevalent and aroused by situations involving successful
competition with males. These studies suggest that, while there is
conflicting data about the motive to avoid success, adolescent girls
do experience a fear of negative consequences which might result from
behavior not considered feminine.
Studies which have investigated differential behaviors of gifted
adolescent girls in classroom situations have indicated that bright
girls have less confidence in their abilities than bright boys. For
example, in a study of creative ninth grade students, Kurtzman (1967)
found that more creative boys were more self-confident and mature than
less creative boys, but that no difference existed between more and
less creative girls. Kurtzman also found that more creative girls were
less well accepted by peers. Walberg (1969) came to similar conclu
sions in his study of senior high students who participated in Harvard
Project Physics. Girls had more cautious attitudes, behaved in con
forming, docile manners, and seemed uninterested in risk-taking.
In a review of the literature on gifted women, Morse and Bruch
(1970) noted "most of the literature and research findings available
for discussion have contributed much more to the articulation and

-33-
recognition of the problems than to their solution" (p. 31). It
appears that sex-role stereotyping may increase in adolescence (Hill &
Lynch, 1983) and that the achievement motivation of gifted women may be
affected by socialization (Blaubergs, 1978). Sex differences in
achievement motivation may also point to the importance of affiliation
and acceptance (Crandall, 1967; Cook, 1976; Hoffman, 1975; Horner,
1972; 1975; Lavach & Lanier, 1975; Rubovits, 1975; Sherman, 1975).
Finally, researchers who have investigated gifted adolescents in class
room settings have noted that gifted girls lack confidence and behave
in conforming manners (Kurtzman, 1967; Walberg, 1969). Nevertheless,
questions about gifted girls' perceptions of ability and achievement
remain. It is still not clear what factors influence gifted adolescent
girls' perceptions of social norms that may hinder achievement. Nor
is it known if gifted girls are motivated by affiliation or if, as
Stein and Bailey (1975) proposed, affiliation is perceived as an area
of achievement itself, much like leadership or scholarship. Most
importantly, it is not clear how classroom structure and the perceived
evaluations of significant others influence the formation of ability
perceptions in students who enter classrooms already identified and
publicly labeled as able--gifted girls. What consequences do gifted
labels have on the formation of girls' self-perceptions of ability
within classroom contexts? The purpose of this study is to address
some of the unanswered questions in this area of research.

CHAPTER III
METHODOLOGY
The Research Perspective
The purpose of this study was to explore and describe gifted
adolescent girls' self-perceptions of ability and achievement within the
context of one middle school setting. The students studied were members
of heterogeneously organized interdisciplinary teams four days a week
and attended homogeneously grouped gifted classes one day a week. The
study focused on the girls' definitions of achievement and ability,
their perceptions of the relationship between the two constructs, and
the effects of the school culture (i.e., organizational features,
student-teacher relationships, and peer group influences) on these
perceptions. Ethnographic techniques, methods of data collection and
analysis which enabled the researcher to investigate participants'
perspectives, were used.
Though the roots of ethnography have been in anthropology, an
increased interest in using this approach to do research in schools
has resulted in extensive observations of the school environment. This
growing body of literature illustrates the interactive nature of learning
in schools, suggesting ways students and teachers come to understand
each other (McDermott, 1977), and concentrating on perspectives not
often considered in educational research. As Wolcott (1976) noted,
-34-

-35-
"the ethnographer's unique contribution is this commitment to understand
and convey how it is to 'walk in someone else's shoes' and to 'tell it
like it is'" (p. 25). It is a methodology particularly suited to the
study of student perceptions of achievement and ability as they relate
to experiences within school settings. Ethnography is an appropriate
methodology for examining relationships which are not explicit or when
the problem under study is in the exploratory stage, because it allows
the researcher to proceed, initially, in an unstructured or flexible
manner (Dean, Eichhorn, & Dean, 1969). "In other words, there are few,
if any preestablished categories into which original data are cast. . .
Researchers approach reality with a perspective which will enable them
to observe relevant data" (Schaffir, Stebbins, & Turowetz, 1980, p. 6).
Ethnographic techniques encourage a process of discovery, that is, a
process of learning what is fundamental to the people under study.
Such a methodology enables the researcher to better understand the
complex meaning systems participants use to organize their behavior,
to understand themselves and others, and to make sense out of the world
in which they live (Spradley, 1980). The ethnographic perspective
stresses a commitment to holism and the accurate portrayal of events
from the point of view of the actors involved in the events (Erickson,
1984). Lutz (1981) described ethnography as
a holistic, thick description of the interactive
processes involving the discovery of important and
recurring variables in the society as they relate
to one another, under specified conditions, and
as they affect or produce certain results and
outcomes in the society, (p. 52)
As a methodology developed to uncover meanings, ethnography differs
from other research approaches in a number of ways. First, the

-36-
nondirective, open-ended nature of this methodology "enables the
researcher to understand and capture the points of view of other people,
without predetermining those points of view through prior selection of
questionnaire categories or rating scale forms" (Stainback & Stainback,
1984, p. 405). Secondly, because the goal is to describe the native or
insider's point of view, the nature of the relationship between the
researcher and the population under study is interactive. Rather than
being passive, reactive subjects, the participants become the expert
informants from whom the ethnographer gathers data. "The essential
core of ethnography is this concern with the meaning of actions and
events to the people we seek to understand" (Spradley, 1980, p. 5).
Some of these meanings are derived from explicit, verbalized cultural
knowledge while others are tacit, or taken for granted by participants
who may not realize the full extent of their knowledge. In this study,
a cyclic process of asking questions, collecting data, and analyzing
data again and again was used throughout a prolonged period of observa
tion. This cyclic process attempts to reveal both the explicit and the
tacit cultural knowledge of the participants.
The ethnographer acquires an emic understanding, that is, an
understanding of the participants' points of view, through watching,
talking, listening, and participating with people in their own environ
ments (Rist, 1982). The researcher observes behavior and constructs
meaning from that which is observed through the discovery of patterns
or trends which emerge through prolonged exposure to the environment.
These patterns form an interpretation that is a way of explaining the
participants' culture, or the norms, values, and knowledge they use to
understand their experiences and from which they generate behavior.

-37-
People everywhere learn their culture by making
inferences. We observe what people do (cultural
behavior); we observe things people make and use
such as clothes and tools (cultural artifacts);
and we listen to what people say (speech messages).
Every ethnographer employs this same process of
inference to go beyond what is seen and heard to
find out what people know. (Spradley, 1980, p. 10)
This concept of culture is compatible with symbolic interactionism,
a theory which posits that to understand human behavior one must dis
cover the meanings or definitions humans assign to objects, activities,
or individuals of interest. Symbolic interactionists beginning with
G.H. Mead (1934) hypothesized that humans, because of the possession
of a self, act toward or interpret things that confront them and organize
their actions on the basis of that interpretation. This process of
self-interaction enables people to deal with the world through a
defining procedure which results in construction or generation of
action rather than a mere release of action (Blumer, 1969). Blumer
(1969) delineated three basic premises:
1) Human beings act toward things on the basis of
the meanings that the things have for them.
2) The meanings of such things are derived from, or
arise out of, the social interaction that one
has with one's fellows.
3) These meanings are handled in, and modified
through, an interpretative process, (p. 2)
The theoretical orientation of symbolic interactionism provides
a framework for the social-interactive perspective taken in this study
of gifted adolescent females' self-perceptions of ability. This
perspective is illustrated most clearly by Mead's Triadic matrix
(Mead, 1934, p. 76) which emphasizes that individuals construct and
share meanings through interpretation and interaction. Ethnography

-38-
holds that humans are interpreting, defining creatures "whose behavior
can only be understood by having the researcher enter into the defining
process through such methods as participant-observation" (Bodgan &
Biklen, 1982, p. 76). Spradley (1980) suggested that we think of these
shared meanings, or culture, as a cognitive map and ethnography as the
methodology designed for its investigation.
The Setting
Selection of the Research Site
The study was conducted in one middle school located in a rural
area in the Southeast. The population under study, ten identified
gifted girls in grades six through eight, belonged to two of the
school's three interdisci pi inary teams. Observations were therefore
conducted predominantly in two team areas, the gifted resource room,
and other areas of the school environment in which the girls interacted.
The criteria for school selection were as follows: (a) the
recognition of its exemplary status by experts in the field of middle
school education; (b) a population of ten gifted girls in grades six
through eight which was within reasonable bounds for regular and pro
longed observation of the total population; (c) an open-space environ
ment which enabled the researcher to move about and interact freely
without disturbing the scene, maximizing the amount of classroom
observation time; (d) the enthusiastic acceptance of the study by
teachers, parents, and the students involved; and (e) the researcher's
expertise in the area of middle school education. According to

-39-
Wolcott (1976), "Ethnography is best served when the researcher feels
free to 'muddle about' in the field setting and to pursue hunches or
to address himself to problems that he deems interesting and worthy of
sustained attention" (p. 25). The selection of this site met this
criterion.
Gaining Entry to the Site
Lofland (1971) noted that it is easier to gain access to informa
tion when the researcher has established grounds for a trusting
relationship before the project is initiated. Prior to the selection
of the site, the researcher had met informally and discussed the aims
of the study with the team leaders while attending a professional
conference on middle schools. Sharing a common status as educators
interested in adolescents defused potential concern about the study.
The team leaders' interest encouraged the researcher to take the next
step. Project goals were explained to the county supervisor for gifted
students, and, subsequently, a meeting was arranged in late November
to include the school's gifted resource teacher, the supervisor, and
the researcher. Believing that the majority of the gifted girls were
not achieving in accordance with their potential, the resource teacher,
Mrs. Johnson,1 noted that the study might increase classroom teachers'
understanding of gifted students' particular problems. Establishing
the team leaders' and Mrs. Johnson's interest in the study provided
1
Thi
s name and all names used in this
study are pseudonyms.

-40-
the basis for a trusting relationship with the researcher and paved the
way for the formal attempt to gain entry to the site.
Next, a meeting was.held with the school principal to discuss the
project and obtain his permission to propose the study- to the ten girls.
On that same morning the researcher met with the students in a con
ference area located near the gifted resource room to explain the study
and distribute permission slips. The letter of permission is included
in Appendix A.
According to Cassell (1978), a skilled ethnographer once informed
her that casting oneself in the role of learner was the secret of
successful fieldwork. If the goal is to understand students' perceptions
of school experiences it is important for the students to perceive the
researcher as an eager learner in search of good teaching. With this
rationale in mind, the researcher used the occasion of the first
meeting to immediately begin taking field notes of the girls' reactions
to the study. In addition to establishing her position as a learner,
the researcher believed this behavior would serve to illustrate the
type of methodology which would be used and to establish the stance
that, during this study, "nothing is off the record" (Cassell, 1978,
p. 37). The researcher also believed this initial behavior with the
girls was essential (a) to indicate to the students that she cared
about what they were saying and was therefore writing it down; (b) to
establish the pattern of continuous documentation; and (c) to allow
the girls to express curiosity, question, and become comfortable with
this method of data gathering prior to its use in a classroom
situation.

-41-
All of the girls attended this informal meeting. Sitting in a
circle around the conference table they listened to the researcher
present the study.
Observer: I want to write a book about what school
is really like, but I want to describe school through
the eyes of gifted girls. This might be hard to do
because it means I'll have to hang around a lot and
ask a lot of questions. I really want to know what
things are like here, but I'll need your help to
understand them. I wanted to ask you if you were
interested in helping.
The sixth and seventh grade girls were quickest to express interest in
the idea, asking if their names would be used, if their parents would
be told, and if their teachers and classmates could know about the
research. The five eighth grade girls were stand-offish at first.
Three of these girls sat close together in a group apart from the
other two and conferred quietly while the observer pointed out that
the quality of the research would hinge on accuracy and careful atten
tion to factual detail, but that chief among the researcher's responsi
bilities was the preservation of anonymity (Kottak, 1979, p. 336). As
if making the decision for her friends, Connie, one of the three eighth
graders who had not yet joined the discussion, announced, "We are
definitely doing this! It sounds neat!"
This initial meeting, held three weeks prior to Christmas break,
culminated in the distribution of permission forms. Several of the
girls suggested the researcher collect the permission forms and
individual class schedules from the resource teacher. The researcher,
encouraging their roles as key informants, agreed with their plan, and
a date was suggested to collect the forms and make preliminary visits
to the team areas before the holidays. As they exited, one girl

-42-
responded to the observer's concern about explaining the study to other
students by laughing and shrugging her shoulders. "Forget it. You
don't know people here."
The following week the researcher attended a holiday party held
after a brief faculty meeting, met the teachers of both teams, and
scheduled a time to visit team meetings to explain the goals of the
study and the nature of qualitative research. As in the first meeting
with students, the researcher appeared at both team meetings with
notebooks, pencils, and a taperecorder and wrote field notes while
discussing the study. Team One's meeting was held at lunch, was in
formal in nature, and did not produce any questions or concerns about
the research. The teachers indicated students were used to visitors
due to the school's status as an excellent middle school, and that no
one would notice the researcher's presence. In contrast, Team Two's
meeting was held after school and included an agenda of formal business
upon which the teachers kept themselves focused and on task. After a
brief discussion of the study, the team leader indicated to the
researcher that it would not take long before students and teachers
would consider her "a member of the family" (team).
While obtaining the consent of students, teachers, parents, and
administrators at the school, an application to conduct research in
the public schools was submitted to the school district office and a
description of the proposed project to the University's Committee for
the Protection of Human Subjects. By the beginning of January the
project was approved.

-43-
In discussing the issue of gaining entry, Bogdan and Taylor (1975)
suggested the importance of keeping detailed field notes during this
stage as a way of gaining insight into how organizations socialize
outsiders. "Gaining entry, and the conditions under which it is estab
lished, is one of the most critical phases of qualitative research"
(Rist, 1982, p. 442).
Description of the Site
The study was conducted in a public middle school in a rural area
in the Southeast. The school's 442-member population was housed in a
modern, open-space building. The school, itself, was described by the
town's Chamber of Commerce as one of the finest in the United States.
According to the residents of the area, the community's rural
lifestyle was one of unequaled quality, characterized by warm friend
ships and a close-knit community. This description was made clear to
the researcher on three separate occasions, the first of which occurred
early in the data collection when the researcher had the opportunity
to conduct an informal interview with a substitute who was temporarily
replacing the gifted resource teacher, Mrs. Johnson. During the
interview the substitute teacher, who had grown up and gone to school
in the community, described her perceptions and what she termed the
community's perceptions of several of the gifted girls. She indicated
that in such a small community most people knew something about their
neighbors, especially if they had lived in the community for awhile
or attended the same church. On a second occasion, the researcher
accompanied the seventh grade gifted class on a field trip to the

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local Chamber of Commerce. Because of the school's close location the
trip was conducted on foot. The students used this opportunity to
provide the researcher with unsolicited data about the neighborhood
and its residents, and their own family histories. The extent of their
knowledge about the community and its citizens was considerable,
especially when contrasted with the comments of Nancy, a gifted seventh
grade girl who had just moved into the rural community from a city, and
was having difficulty being accepted. In addition, while walking
through the downtown area, the close-knit feeling of the community
was made apparent when several local merchants and passers-by waved
greetings to the students. Thirdly, once inside the Chamber building,
the students and Mrs. Johnson pointed out a pictorial display of the
community's past mayors, indicating their current roles in the community.
The researcher noted that the principal of the middle school who had
served since its opening had also recently served as the town's mayor.
The school's student body was 47% male and 53% female, including
a black population of 22%. Slightly less than half of the students
were bussed to and from the school. The percentage of students in
various Exceptional Student Education programs was 17, of which
approximately 7% were classified as gifted. Of the 29
gifted students in grades six through eight, ten were female.
The physical layout of the school was very modern. In the center
a large open-pit area served as the library and media-center and
included several enclosed conference rooms. Located nearby were the
central office, teacher's lounge, the home economics room, and a science
lab. To the right of the library pit were three large instructional
areas which comprised the school's three teams.

ESE
Classes
(Gifted)
Cafeteria
Chapt
I
pt Jr
Art
To Gymnasium
+To Band & Industrial Arts
I
cn
i
Figure 1. School Map

-46-
Each team area was a large open space housing heterogeneously
grouped students in two grade levels: team one, seventh and eighth
graders; team two, sixth and seventh graders; and team three, fifth and
sixth graders. While originally this organization of students had
reflected developmental grouping based on social-emotional as well as
academic factors, the majority of teachers indicated that this was no
longer true. Now students were placed in teams depending on their
curriculum needs. For example, Team One offered pre-algebra to its
seventh graders whereas Team Two did not. For this reason Mr. Lakeman,
team leader for Team Two, had described his team as being a "dumping
ground" in the past because the more academically able seventh graders
were placed on Team One. To counteract this problem, he had recently
begun to make yearly lists of sixth graders who voluntarily signed up
to remain in Team Two a second year. All students would spend two years
on one team if they entered the school as fifth graders and stayed
through the completion of eighth grade.
Observations conducted at the school centered on Teams One and Two
because none of the studied population were members of Team Three.
Although both of these teams were divided into four equal classrooms,
one for each of the four core teachers, the physical use of space
within the teams was distinctly different. Team Two organized large
book shelves, moveable chalkboards, and tables to separate the class
rooms into separate spaces, thereby reducing the noise level and forcing
the students to walk in narrow pathways when exiting and entering the
individual classrooms. Team One did not use furniture to create an
atmosphere of separate classrooms, and the noise level and random

-47-
movement throughout the team area were correspondingly high. Wall space
was not utilized in Team One to display student work or announce team
activities to the extent that it was in Team Two. While teachers on
both teams attributed these physical differences to the age level of
students and the individual personalities of teachers on the team, the
principal attributed them to different philosophies which had developed
within the teams themselves.
While examination of student schedules suggested that the organiza
tional features of an exemplary middle school were in effect, prolonged
observations pointed out that some of these features were stronger than
others. For example, an advisor-advisee program, multiage grouping,
and interdisciplinary teams had been built into the school at its
inception and were based on the middle school philosophy that organiza
tion of this nature would encourage the development of a community of
learners. "A student knows that s(he) is a member of a specific team,
and even a specific advisory group; that these structures have dimensions
that early adolescents can manage" (Alexander & George, 1981, p. 134).
Repeated observations at the site, however, revealed that while inter
disciplinary teams were a strong organizational characteristic of the
school, the use of advisor-advisee time and multiage grouping had
greatly changed since the school's inception. At the time the study
was conducted, the time allotted to advisor-advisee programs had been
shortened to 15 minutes and was rarely used; multiage grouping existed
only in that teams contained students in two grade levels. Strict
curriculum guidelines handed down by the county had resulted in only
a few math and language arts classes which could be multiage-grouped.

-48-
Additional scheduling problems had also discouraged the use of multi-
age grouping in exploratory classes, physical education, and resource
classes such as gifted. The decreased emphasis at the school level
on multiage grouping and advisor-advisee programs was mirrored in
comments made by the girls throughout the study.
Cindy: This year 15 minutes for AA (advisor-
advisee) is not long enough to do a project, and
it's too long to get your pencils and paper so
unless you want to be a social butterfly, it's
wasted. Usually I don't have anything to do.
Some teachers will plan something but most don't.
. . But even if we could have a longer AA, I'd
rather have a longer lunch.
Sal1y: The seventh and eighth graders on our team
are separated all the time. Last year we had some
classes together. . Well . it's like we
don't even hang around together. We (eighth
graders) have our own feelings and all, and they
don't understand yet.
The gifted program in operation had also changed greatly during
the school's history due to a shifting emphasis at the county level.
No set county curriculum existed for middle school gifted programs
other than the adoption of five major goals including the development
of (a) higher levels of thinking, (b) self-directed learning, (c) posi
tive attitudes of self-worth, (d) interpersonal relationship skills
and leadership techniques, and (e) creative thinking. Mrs. Johnson
informed the researcher that the major difference between her program
and those found at other county middle schools was that students were
staffed into the gifted room one entire day per week rather than one
period per day.
The population under study consisted of three sixth, two seventh,
and five eighth graders, including one black student. The girls were

-49-
identified for the program using the state criteria of a 130 I.Q. score
and represented a range of I.Q. scores from 131-140. Eight of the girls
had spent the majority of their school experience at the elementary and
now the middle school in the same rural community, and seven of these
had entered the gifted program during or before the third grade. At
the time the study took place, the state policy did not require periodic
retesting to remain in the program. Two of the girls, including one
who was new to the school, had spent the majority of their past school
experiences in private settings. With the exception of one student,
all came from two parent homes in which the majority of mothers had
equal or more formal education than the fathers, though in traditional
fields such as teaching, nursing, or library science. The majority of
mothers did not work full time.
Research Methods and Procedures
Asking Ethnographic Questions A
Spradley's (1980) Developmental Research Model is cyclic in nature,
in contrast to quantitative research models which proceed in a linear
fashion from the statement of a hypothesis to the collection and
analysis of data, to the research conclusion. In doing ethnography,
"the fieldworker generates a situation-based inquiry process, learning,
through time, to ask questions of the field setting in such a way that
the setting, by its answers, teaches the next situationally appropriate
questions to ask" (Erickson, 1984, p. 51). This questioning process
is a critical aspect of the research cycle because the questions asked

-50-
direct data collection and lead the researcher closer to the emic
knowledge (personal perspectives) of the people being studied.
Ethnographic research begins without a precise hypothesis which
may "close off prematurely the process of discovery of that which is
significant in the setting" (Wilcox, 1982, p. 459). Rather, the
researcher begins with foreshadowed problems to direct and focus the
study. Malinowski (1922) noted that foreshadowed problems are "the
main endowment of a scientific thinker and these problems are first
revealed to the observer by his theoretical studies" (p. 9). In this
study two broad general questions were posed to serve as a framework
for the study: What kinds of experiences do gifted girls have in a
middle school setting in which they are members of heterogeneous teams
as well as homogeneous gifted classes? How do they use these experiences
to construct their own behavior and self-perceptions? In order to
provide some focus for the initial observations and interviews, the
following list of foreshadowed problems was posed.
1. How do gifted girls define achievement?
2. How do gifted girls' self-perceptions of ability differ from
their perceptions of peers' abilities?
3. How do gifted girls behave in academic and nonacademic situa
tions in regard to (a) task commitment, (b) risk-taking,
(c) leadership, and (d) creativity?
4. How do team organization, participation in a gifted program
which entails removal from the team one day per week, and
peer influences affect gifted girls' experiences in school
and their perceptions of experiences?

-51-
Ethnographic questions are the main tools for discovering cultural
knowledge (Spradley, 1979). As the study progressed, descriptive,
structural, and contrast questions were asked. Each kind of question
directed observations and interviews in different ways and provided
for different levels of data analysis.
Descriptive questions were asked during the early stage of obser
vations, to collect samples of language and aid the researcher in
becoming familiar with the social scene. These general questions included
"What happens in the gifted resource room?" "What seating patterns
exist in classrooms?" and "How do gifted girls spend their classroom
time?"
Following initial data analysis, structural questions were asked
to add depth to the researcher's knowledge of the social scene. For
example, an early observation was that different groups of the girls
tended to have different territories before and after school. Struc
tural questions posed were "What activities are students in the different
territories engaged in?" and "Do student behaviors change if students
change territories?" These structural questions were asked repeatedly
and led to more narrowly focused observations.
Finally, contrast questions were asked to identify differences
between elements in a category. For example, in the category Things
I Worry About were elements such as being popular, physical appearance,
and making good grades. To ensure that these were distinct elements
in the category the researcher asked the contrast question, "How are
these problems different?" The question led the researcher to review

-52-
field notes and interviews and to conduct additional observations to
find the differences.
Collecting Ethnographic Data
The researcher's objective was to discover and describe the experi
ences that adolescent girls labeled as gifted have within a middle school
setting and to construct, from those experiences and the students'
perceptions of them, ways the girls defined their own abilities and
achievements. Since these definitions were aspects of the girls'
cultural knowledge that could not be directly observed, the researcher
used three types of information to make cultural inferences. The types
of information used were the girls' behavior in class as well as before
and after school, the things they produced in school including the tools
they used to do so, and their speech messages (Spradley, 1980).
Gathering evidence of this nature enabled the researcher to uncover
the fundamental assumptions about personal abilities and achievements
that were taken for granted by the girls.
Three main methods were used to collect data. Spindler (1982)
observed the need for a variety of methods to uncover the participants'
view of reality, noting that whenever possible technical devices should
be used to collect live data. Other qualitative researchers such as
Wolcott (1976), Pelto and Pelto (1978), and Denzen (1978) have asserted
that using multiple methods to gather data increases the credibility
of the study. They note that data obtained using different methods
can be compared through triangulation, thus allowing the researcher

-53-
to strengthen the validity of constructs and rise above any weakness
that might result from using only one method. In this study, participant
observation, interviewing, and unobtrusive measures were used to collect
data. A tape recorder was used to record interviews and some gifted
classes. These methods will be described, and problems inherent in
their use discussed.
Participant observation
Participant observation is the primary tool used in gathering data
for a qualitative study (Spradley, 1980). As Blumer (1969) described
the researcher's role within a given setting, this method requires
getting close to the people involved in it, seeing
it in a variety of situations they meet, noting
their problems and observing how they handle them,
being party to their conversations and watching
their way of life as it flows along, (p. 37)
In this study, the researcher observed 200 hours of classroom
activity over a five-month period from January to early June of 1984.
Observations were conducted three days a week, usually on Mondays,
Wednesdays, and Fridays. The first and third weeks of observations
were conducted only in the gifted room so that a smaller student
population (classes usually did not exceed ten) would enable the
researcher to develop rapport with the participants at a faster pace.
The second and fourth weeks consisted of descriptive observations in
both teams. From the fifth week on the researcher spent three weeks
following the girls in each grade level, one week in the gifted room,
an additional week at each grade level, and a final week in general

-54-
observations. The teachers were offered a schedule of observations,
but did not indicate an interest in one.
Successful participant observation requires time to sample the
range of experiences and situations the participants encounter. Parti
cipant observation requires the development of an acceptable role for
the researcher. This role should encourage the growth of trust and
rapport. This presents a particular problem for researchers in schools
where no formal role exists which will allow participation (Wolcott,
1976). While ethnographers, depending on the requirements of the
setting, have assumed roles anywhere along the continuum from passive
to active participant, Schwartz and Schwartz (1969) noted that the more
active observer "increased his identification with the observed and was
better able to become aware of the subtleties of communication and
interaction" (p. 98). The decision made regarding the amount of
participation the researcher will undertake evolves not only from the
structure of the particular school or classroom, but also from the
perceptions the participants form regarding the researcher. "In every
case the field worker is fitted into a plausible role by the population
he is studying and within a context meaningful to them" (Vidich, 1969,
p. 81). The result is that the researcher's role, a product of his or
her own intentions and the perceptions of participants, determines what
the researcher will see. This, in turn, influences the value of the
items of evidence produced by the study. "For the way the subjects
of his study define that role affects what they will tell him or let
him see" (Becker, 1969, p. 250).

-55-
The researcher introduced herself to the participants as a graduate
student who was interested in women's studies. The girls were told that
the researcher wanted to write a book about gifted girls' experiences in
school, and that their help would be needed to produce a factual
account. In assuming a role of one who needed to be taught, the
researcher stressed the idea that she "would not be offended by being
told 'obvious' things and being 'lectured to'" (Lofland, 1971, p. 99).
During the course of the study the researcher took great care
not to have the manner or appearance of any group
which his informant group distinguishes sharply
from itself. This does not mean forcing identity
with the informant group; it does mean that the
observer of students, if he wishes a good under
standing with them, will avoid the manner of
teacher and authoritative adult. (Geer, 1969,
p. 147)
For this reason, once the researcher had gained entry, interactions
between the researcher and teachers were limited to formal interviews,
attendance at two team meetings and a faculty meeting, and occasional
informal conversation initiated by the researcher to verify observa
tions. The researcher took care to wear attire such as jeans and tennis
shoes which was more acceptable to the student culture, to use student
language, to "hang around" with student groups before and after school,
and to eat lunch in the student cafeteria. During classroom observa
tions the researcher sat with students, the majority of the time
beside one or several of the girls. When leaving classrooms or going
to lunch required lining up, the researcher lined up with students. At
all times the researcher subjected herself to the same rules set up
for students, though on occasion this caused discomfort for teachers.
For instance, when leaving the book fair required that students be

-56-
searched, the researcher lined up to be searched. The librarian laughed
and refused to do so.
The extent to which the researcher came to be identified with the
girls was considerable. On numerous occasions, teachers would comment
to the researcher that they had not noticed her presence in class until
the end of the period. Several times the researcher was stopped from
entering the building before school by the janitor who assumed she was
a student. On one occasion, after telling her class that she wanted
"All eyes up front," a sixth grade teacher turned to the researcher and
laughed, "No! No! Not you!"
Other student members in both teams under observation showed some
curiosity about the researcher, but as Cassell (1978) noted, participant
observers who hang around more and interact with students find their
visibility decreases with time. Many students, both boys and girls,
sought out the researcher to talk about school. This was especially
true of the different peer groups that each girl associated with.
During the course of the study, several girls who were friends of the
participants came to confide in the researcher, invite her to after
school clubs, and sit with her at lunch. Several informal interviews
were conducted with these girls, many of whom had previously been
tested for admission into the gifted program.
Strauss et al. (1969) commented that the "fieldworker1s identity
shifts when he spends an expanded period of time interacting with the
same people" (p. 70). During the early stages of data collection
several girls quite naturally became "key informants" (Spradley, 1980),
seeking out the researcher during free time, sitting with her in class

-57-
or at lunch, and initiating conversations. The researcher reacted by
concentrating her observations on these girls, using them as focal
students. Cassell (1978) suggested this strategy helps to reduce bias,
control the observer's tendency to find what he or she is looking for,
and to make sure that the observer was not attracted to just observing
interesting things. The kinds of girls who were initially attracted to
the researcher were considered significant data and were carefully
documented in the researcher's journal.
As the study progressed the researcher was able to establish
excellent rapport with each girl, though the process took much longer
with Connie and Debbie, two eighth graders who were members of the most
popular girls' clique. The nature of the difficulty became clear during
a formal interview with Connie which occurred in April.
Connie: People are totally different away from
school. I show a lot of this [behave this way].
What I'm telling you now is what I can say when
I'm away from school. Then there's not pressure
to be cool. ... I thought it would be hard to
talk to you because you're older, but it's not.
I was worried. I guess the clique teaches you to
watch out what you say and who you talk to.
The girls initially displayed curiosity in the fieldworker's notes
and would often drift over and read them as she wrote. The researcher
maintained the openness of notes written during observations throughout
the study as a rapport building device. The girls knew that observa
tion notes were not shared with teachers, parents, or other students
and came to trust her with confidences. On several occasions the
researcher's policy of open-notes led to expanded and clarified accounts
of classroom interaction as the girls filled in details for the
researcher. This policy proved a valuable way to triangulate data.

-58-
The girls did not ask to read field notes from formal interviews, and,
as the study neared completion, showed less interest in notes taken
during observation periods.
Interviewing
Three types of interviews were utilized in this study: formal,
informal, and structured. Formal interviews were conducted at the
request of the researcher with all teachers in both teams, the principal,
all ten girls, and the mothers of five of the girls. These interviews
included several core or guide questions whose object was to
elicit from the interviewee what he considers to
be important questions relative to a given topic
... to find out what kinds of things are happening,
rather than to determine the frequency of predeter
mined kinds of things that the researcher already
believes can happen. (Lofland, 1971, p. 76)
During these interviews the researcher took care to make repeated
explanations, restate what informants had said, and to phrase questions
in terms of use rather than meaning (Spradley, 1979). For example,
questions such as "How do you get in with the popular crowd?" proved
more helpful than "What does it mean to be popular?" Interviews of
individual girls, the teachers, and mothers generally took place by
grade level during the three week period of concentrated observation
at that level. Core questions for formal interviews are included in
Appendices B, C, D, E, and F.
Formal interviews were also held with groups of girls by grade
level. Though the researcher would have preferred to have multiage
groups during these interviews, different schedules and requests by

-59-
the participants made this impossible. In particular, the eighth grade
girls did not wish to meet with the sixth or seventh graders. These
group interviews gave the girls time to reflect, to remember specific
incidents, and to verify or contradict each other's statements. Group
interviews were held during the first four weeks of the study.
As a part of the formal interview conducted with individual students
the researcher asked several structured questions requiring students to
select an answer on a scale from "not at all" to "all the time"
(Whitmore, 1980, Appendix L). In most cases, the researcher found
students' responses to these items to be very confusing and probed for
explanations. For example, when given the item, "I look forward to
going to school," the girls, without exception, selected "all the time."
Because the researcher's observations revealed the girls to be inatten
tive frequently during class, the researcher expressed her confusion.
In clarifying their answers, the girls explained that school was
exciting because it was a place to meet friends. An additional example
which proved insightful to the researcher was the item, "My teachers
listen carefully to my ideas." Sally, an eighth grader who was observed
to rarely volunteer ideas, selected "all the time." When probed to
explain her choice, she informed the researcher that teachers listened
to her precisely because she never spoke out. The use of such forced-
choice items proved insightful only when additional questioning was
used to reveal the girls' perceptions of the statements themselves.
The differences between the girls' definitions of the statements and
the researcher's definitionswere considered valuable data.

- 60-
Informa 1 interviewing occurred frequently and was a method of
verifying observations. Ample opportunities for informal interviews
were provided by hanging around before or after school, eating lunch
with students, or during class itself. While the researcher refrained
from talking to students during class, in moments before or after
instruction students often initiated conversation with the researcher.
The researcher also informally interviewed several gifted boys and
several of the girls' female friends.
Constant comparison of observations and interviews enabled the
researcher to assess the validity of comments made by participants
(Becker, 1969). The researcher found, for example, that the girls'
positions in the school's social hierarchy affected their perceptions
and descriptions of events. The girls who were able to describe the
school's cliques most vividly, including clique membership, were those
girls occupying a middle status. Gifted girls who were members of the
upper clique were least likely to talk about this membership, while
gifted girls who were social isolates verbally denied the existence
of cliques or misrepresented their position in them.
Unobtrusive measures
Unobtrusive measures are those measures which do not require
interaction between the researcher and the setting under study, thus
minimizing the possibility that the observer's presence "may change
the very world being examined" (Schwartz & Jacobs, 1979, p. 75). In
this study the researcher reviewed the girls' cumulative records,

- 61-
report cards, and random assignments completed in class. It was thought
that these data would be helpful in characterizing teachers' expecta
tions and in clarifying the girls' perceptions of their achievement.
Personal journals kept by each girl as a part of the gifted curriculum
were examined along with journals kept by three of the eighth grade
girls for their advisor-advisee class. Written materials provided by
the school for its five year review were also examined. Lightfoot
(1983) stated these documents can give the researcher a sense of how
the school wished to be perceived.
While using a variety of methods to collect data increases the
credibility of a study, there are problems inherent in participant
observation which must be addressed in assessing the quality of the
study. McCall and Simmons (1969) described three categories of problems
"(1) reactive effects of the phenomena being studied; (2) distorting
effects of selective perception and interpretation on the observer's
part; and (3) limitations on the observer's ability to witness all
relevant aspects of the phenomena in question" (p. 78). The following
steps were taken by the researcher to minimize these problems. The
researcher selected a site in which teachers and students were used
to and comfortable with a variety of visitors. The physical openness
of the school made it easy for the observer to move about without
attracting attention. The policy of the researcher to associate her
self with the students and to allow the girls to look at field notes
written in classrooms encouraged the girls to behave as they normally
would if no researcher were present. The girls' tendency to pass notes
in front of the researcher and, on one occasion to bring alcohol to

-62-
school, are indications that they did. The lengthy period spent
collecting data, the researcher's journal, and the variety of methods
used to collect data helped the researcher overcome distorting effects
of selective perceptions. Finally, using unobtrusive sources of data
helped the researcher overcome her inability to witness all relevant
aspects of an event.
Making an Ethnographic Record
Data collected in this study were recorded in the form of field
notes, interviews, and a research journal. The major portion of the
data was recorded in written form while activities were actually
occurring. All formal interviews and several gifted classes were
recorded on tape as well and transcribed by the researcher.
Field notes written during observations were recorded in as much
detail as possible. These field notes, written at the site, represented
what Spradley (1980) called a condensed account of what had occurred.
Typically the researcher's notes reflected phrases, partial drawings,
or unconnected sentences. As soon as possible after observation
periods, for instance, when classes changed or activities within the
same class changed, the researcher expanded these notes by filling in
details. Frequently the researcher left the classroom scene and created
an expanded account while sitting in the library pit. The researcher
did not leave the school site without rereading and filling in the
day's observations. Expanded accounts were typed into formal protocols
by the researcher.

-63-
Lofland (1971) stressed the need to take notes at the lowest level
of inference, that is, to be concrete and behavioristic when in the
field. In an effort to get at concrete descriptions the use of verbatim
language was especially important to the researcher. Every attempt
was made to quote the subjects directly, and symbols were used in field
notes to indicate when the language used was not verbatim, but repre
sented the researcher's summary or paraphrasing. Also included in the
field notes were brief descriptions of the researcher's reactions to
events as they happened or questions which occurred to the researcher
during observation periods. These were separated by brackets from the
rest of the field notes.
Other data recorded in the field notes were descriptions of entries
the girls had made in journals they kept for their gifted class, direct
examples of poetry or prose they had written, and information gleaned
from school records. Diagrams were included periodically when the
physical arrangement of a room changed or when seating arrangements
within a class changed. Other diagrams recorded by the researcher
were chalkboard work, visual displays, and social notes written by the
girls during class. These social notes were included in the researcher's
field notes only when the student voluntarily shared the note or when,
in three instances, the student actually wrote the note and passed it
to the researcher during class.
Formal interviews with groups of girls, individual girls, teachers,
and parents were recorded on tape, transcribed, and filed separately
from field notes. While recording these interviews the researcher took
written notes so that gestures, facial expressions, and posture would
be included in the expanded account.

-64-
A research journal was kept which reflected the researcher's
experiences from the initial stages of gaining entry through the final
day of observation. As a record of the ethnographer's experiences in
the field, the journal provided a tool for reflection on concerns,
insights, and problems which occurred (Spradley, 1980). Entries in
the journal were typically written after the researcher had mused over
several sets of protocols. The journal was most valuable in that it
enabled the researcher to monitor her changing role in the social
scene, providing a record of her attitudes and biases that were later
examined during data analysis. These issues are discussed in the final
sections of this chapter.
Analyzing Ethnographic Data
Ethnography is "a naturalistic, observational, descriptive, con
textual, open-ended, and in-depth approach to doing research" (Wilcox,
1982, p. 462). As such, researchers use a variety of methods and
techniques to gather and analyze data. In qualitative research, the
analyst's aim is to provide an explicit account of the structure,
order, and patterns found among participants in the social setting under
study (Lofland, 1971).
In doing ethnography, a certain amount of analysis is required
while the researcher remains in the field. This stage of analysis is
extremely important in that it serves to guide the study, continually
narrowing the focus to fundamental issues heuristic to the setting.
Analysis as an ongoing part of this study was previously discussed in

-65-
the section on asking ethnographic questions. In summary, after examin
ing initial data, the researcher asked descriptive, structural, and
contrast questions. These questions served to guide subsequent data
collection sessions. This cycle of questioning, collecting, and
analyzing was repeated throughout the duration of the study.
Data collected from participant observation, interviews, and
unobtrusive measures were analyzed using Spradley's (1980) four-step
method. The stages of data analysis are described below:
1. Domain analysis was begun with the first set of protocols.
In this phase of analysis the researcher looked for patterns or cate
gories of meaning, what Spradley called domains. These categories were
discovered through continuous reading of protocols with specific
questions in mind. Spradley described nine semantic relationships
that could be used to question the data and uncover relevant domains.
The most helpful semantic relationships were strict inclusion (X is a
kind of Y), cause-effect (X is a result of Y), rationale (X is a reason
for doing Y), means-end (X is a way to do Y), and attribution (X is a
characteristic of Y). This task of "delineating forms, kinds, and
types of social phenomena; of documenting in loving detail the things
that exist" (Lofland, 1971, p. 13), continued throughout the study.
The linguistics used by the participants themselves were utilized as
included terms within domains as often as possible.
2. Taxonomic analysis, uncovering the organization of domains
themselves, was the second phase of analysis. A taxonomy reveals
relationships among the terms inside the domain, uncovering subsets
and the ways individual terms are related to the whole. Taxonomic

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analysis also helps the researcher to relate domains to one another.
One taxonomy, Kinds of Ability Perceptions, became the framework for
the findings of the study.
3. Componential analysis is a search for attributes of domains
and their included terms. For example, in conducting a componential
analysis the researcher looks for characteristics of the acts, activi
ties, relationships, setting, and participation, and the variations they
display. The goal is to determine if the domains and terms within them
are distinct elements in the social setting.
4. Theme analysis, the final stage of the four step model, involved
looking for meanings which were recurrent in domains and which illus
trated a relationship within taxonomies. Although a theme may not unite
all domains, it should make sense of the whole and thereby have a high
degree of generality. In this study the theme was revealed through a
recurrent set of questions which clarified the organization within
domains and across taxonomies. These questions were "What is problematic
to the participants?" "What things cause them concern, irritation, or
happiness?" "When they think about their roles in school, what appears
to them as stressful, important, or difficult?"
In a discussion on gathering and analyzing ethnographic data,
Lightfoot (1983) characterized the doing of ethnography as similar to
the painting of a portrait:
Portraiture is a genre whose methods are shaped
by empirical and aesthetic dimensions, whose
descriptions are often penetrating and personal,
whose goals include generous and tough scrutiny.
It is a sensitive kind of work that requires the
perceptivity and skill of a practiced observer
and the empathy and care of a clinician, (p. 369)

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Implied in her discussion are two important issues which will be dis
cussed in the final sections of this chapter: (a) researcher qualifi
cations and biases and (b) validity of the findings.
Researcher Qualifications and Biases
The ethnographer is the key research instrument. For this reason
a discussion of the researcher's qualifications and biases is essential
in judging the quality of the research effort. "One's frame of
reference, in part a product of one's professional training, influences
the selections one makes from the phenomenon and determines how and
what is observed" (Schwartz & Schwartz, 1969, p. 102).
The researcher's qualifications and professional training are
listed below:
1. The researcher had eight years of professional teaching
experience, including extensive work with gifted children in a regular
classroom setting and one year as a teacher of the gifted in a university
laboratory school. Five of the eight years of experience were at the
middle level.
2. The researcher has completed coursework for a Ph.D. in curriculum
and instruction, specializing in middle school and gifted education.
The researcher is certified by the state of Florida as a teacher in
both areas.
3. The researcher has taken four courses which provided a
theoretical and practical background in qualitative research and has
read extensively in this area.

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4. The researcher has completed an ethnographic study of gifted
adolescent females involved in a career awareness seminar. Based on
this study two articles have been accepted for publication and one
regional research presentation was made.
5. The researcher has presented workshops and in-service presen
tations for classroom teachers working with gifted students, has worked
as a consultant for district middle schools, and has made a presentation
at the National Association for Gifted Children.
In addition to examining the researcher's qualifications, both in
regards to her ability to conduct qualitative research and in terms of
the researcher's frame of reference, it is important for the researcher
to make clear any underlying assumptions or biases which may have
resulted in a selective perception of data. "The researcher can and
does know what his biases are, and . knowing what they are, he can,
by specifying them, prevent distortion of his observations" (Schwartz &
Schwartz, 1969, p. 103). The researcher's journal enabled her to
actively look for personal biases and explore their consequences. The
following list demonstrates the researcher's awareness and provides
the reader with a framework for evaluating the study (Ross, 1978).
1. The researcher believes that gifted students require an
enriched curriculum through special programs which stress critical
thinking, problem solving, leadership, and creativity. Related to this
is the researcher's concern that practice in these skills is not being
adequately provided for all students in regular classroom settings.
2. The researcher is especially concerned about the kinds of
social and academic experiences encountered by gifted adolescent girls

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in public school settings and their tendency toward underachievement
as revealed by previous research.
3. The researcher holds a social-interactionist perspective; that
is, that human perceptions are influenced by contextual settings and
that those settings, in turn, are influenced by human perceptions.
4. The researcher assumes that gifted adolescent girls' perceptions
of school experiences and their own abilities and achievements may not
be congruent with the perceptions of others within the school.
Validity and Ethical Issues
The degree to which scientific observations record or measure that
which they purport to measure determines the validity of the study
(Pel to & Pel to, 1978). This is a central issue in ethnography where
the match between the research model and the world under study is its
major strength (Lecompte & Goetz, 1982). In their discussion of criteria
which can be used to appraise the validity of qualitative studies, Ross
and Kyle (1982) have suggested the following questions as guides for
both researchers and consumers of research.
1. Is the problem studied significant, and is there
sufficient depth to the study?
2. Does the author refer to appropriate theory and
research?
3. Does the researcher provide a comprehensive
description of the methodology?
4. Does the researcher explore alternative explana
tions?
5. Does the researcher support interpretations and
explanations with multiple evidence?
6. Is the study well-written and organized?
(pp. 9-10)
In asking these questions the researcher acknowledges their importance
in determining the quality of the study.

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The steps taken to ensure the validity of this study's findings
included the following:
1. The lengthy period of data collection ensured the researcher's
familiarity with the social setting and provided ample opportunity for
continual data analysis to refine domains and taxonomies and to ensure
the match between these categories and the setting.
2. Formal and informal interviewing of the girls, their parents,
and teachers, and the use of unobtrusive measures enabled the researcher
to get at emic perspectives and to triangulate data obtained through
observations.
3. The search for negative examples enabled the researcher to
refine constructs.
4. The acceptance of the researcher by the participants allowed
the researcher to achieve a significant level of participation.
5. The practice of keeping open field notes, or allowing the
girls to read and comment on field notes taken during classes, enabled
the researcher to clarify, enlarge, and validate observations. This
practice also contributed to the rapport which developed between the
researcher and subjects.
Yet another procedure for establishing the validity of the
researcher's findings was to discuss them with some of the participants.
In early December, 1984, one year following the onset of data collection,
the researcher returned to the school to discuss the findings of the
study with participants. By sharing findings with the teachers and
some of the girls who had been involved in the study, the researcher
received important feedback on her interpretations of participants'
perspectives.

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In considering the ethical issues involved in fieldwork, Schaffir,
Stebbins, and Turowetz (1980) noted that, "the oft discussed questions
of what to write about the group one has studied, how to protect con
fidentiality against legal proceedings, and the like are of greatest
concern after leaving the field" (p. 15). The researcher has, during
the writing of this study, attended to the facts and reported the
findings while making every effort to protect the identity of the
school, the teachers, and the girls themselves. For this reason,
descriptive facts which did not affect the findings of this study have
been changed or omitted. The researcher further notes that, during the
data collection period, participants were continually reminded of the
researcher's interests and were not misled or recorded without their
knowledge. Upon completion, a final copy of this research will be made
available to county personnel, as well as the school's administration,
teachers, and gifted girls.
In the next chapter the researcher's findings are described and
discussed. In the final chapter, implications of the present study
are discussed.

CHAPTER IV
GIFTED ADOLESCENT GIRLS' SELF-PERCEPTIONS OF ABILITY
The goal of this study was to uncover the self-perceptions of
ability held by gifted females attending a middle school in which they
were members of interdisciplinary teams and a pull-out gifted program.
As previously discussed, this research was based on a social-
interactionist perspective, and thus on the assumption that indi
viduals' self-perceptions of ability are constructed through their
interactions in social settings.
In this study the researcher focused on interactions which took
place in the gifted classroom, two of the school's three team areas,
and in the library, cafeteria, and other areas of the school environ
ment which were regularly inhabited by the girls. Observations
centered on the girls' interactions with teachers, peers, and educa
tional materials within and outside the classroom setting. Additionally,
both formal and informal interviews were conducted with each girl
individually and in groups throughout the study. Teachers on both
teams and five of the girls' mothers were formally interviewed.
Artifacts such as cumulative folders, personal journals kept by the
girls, report cards, and work completed for classes were examined.
These kinds of concrete phenomena were used by the researcher as indi
cators of gifted adolescent girls' self-perceptions of ability.
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Data were analyzed into domains according to Spradley's
Developmental Research Sequence (Spradley, 1980). This process re
quired that data be analyzed continuously to isolate relevant categories
of language, behavior, objects, people, etc. Domains which proved to be
particularly significant in uncovering gifted girls' self-perceptions
of ability included Results of Being in the Gifted Program, Ways to
Know You've Done Your Best, Kinds of Goals, Kinds of Status, Things
That Are Important, Steps in Getting a Teacher to Like You, Attributes
of Smart People, Differences Between Gifted Boys and Girls, and
Responsibilities of Students on a Team. Domains were then organized
into taxonomies. That is, data which indicated ways gifted girls
thought about their abilities were drawn from across many domains
and organized into new domains which represented factors influencing
self-perceptions of ability. Taxonomies were also constructed to
represent achievement-related behaviors within different contexts such
as the different teams and the gifted classroom.
This analysis reflected the social-interactionist perspective
which served as a theoretical framework for the findings of this
study. From this perspective, individuals create meanings for people,
things, and events in their world through their interactions in social
contexts. The meanings, or perceptions, are not inherent in the
people or events themselves, but instead are products of social
interaction. These premises of symbolic interaction (Blumer, 1969;
Mead, 1934) were found to be useful in understanding and describing
the self-perceptions of ability held by the gifted girls studied, and
the effects of the school culture (i.e., organizational features,

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student-teacher relationships, and peer group influences) on their
perceptions.
The student perspective which emerged from the data was based on
evidence from all ten girls in the school's gifted female population,
though individual aspects of the perspective were shared by the girls
in varying degrees. As previously discussed, the majority of the ten
girls in the study group had grown up in the school's rural community,
attended the local elementary school, and participated in a pull-out
gifted program since third grade. Comparison of their perceptions
with those of girls who were new to the school community provided what
initially appeared to be negative examples. Componential analysis,
however, revealed these data to be supportive of the interactional
nature of ability formation.
The purpose of this analysis was to describe gifted adolescent
girls' self-perceptions of ability, and, more specifically, their
perceptions of the relationship between ability and achievement. As
gifted girls' perceptions are described, data from the taxonomies will
be used to illustrate and support their perspective. The excerpts
from field notes and interview transcripts used as illustrations were
selected from among numerous examples as being representative of the
experiences, statements, and shared beliefs of the group of gifted
adolescent girls studied. To protect the anonymity of the partici
pants, ficticious names were used for students and teachers, and
details about the subject being taught were changed whenever it was
possible to do so without changing the data.

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In the present study, gifted girls' beliefs about ability were
influenced by (1) definitions of giftedness held by significant
others, (2) affiliation needs, and (3) social comparison. Before
these influences on the development of self-perceptions of ability
are discussed, the community and school contexts which contributed
to the girls' self-perceptions will be described. In this section
the girls' views about themselves, as well as their perceptions of
the gifted program and interdisciplinary team membership,will be
presented. It is important to note that neither the girls' views about
themselves, nor teachers' or peers' behaviors and beliefs alone, can
sufficiently explain the perceptions of ability which emerged from the
data in this study. Rather, self-perceptions of ability must be viewed
as products of social interaction.
Ability and Motivation: School and
Community Contexts
Callahan's (1979) observation that "girls earn higher grades in
school, yet men write more books, earn more degrees, produce more
works of art, and make more contributions in all professional fields"
(p. 402), led her to note that our present understanding of gifted
girls' abilities and motivations is inadequate. Research has failed
to account for the factors which might explain the discrepant numbers
of gifted men and women, or to delineate the unique characteristics
of gifted females which might guide educators in the creation of
effective programs for these learners. Though educators have noted
the need for studies conducted from the learners' point of view

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(Meighan, 1978) in order to provide descriptive data (Weinstein,
1983), little is known about the role of the school and community in
the development of gifted adolescent girls' self-perceptions of ability.
As Lipsitz (1980) pointed out:
What we can say at this point is that young
adolescents, at a critical stage of self-defini
tion, take their signals from society at large
and from the subculture. They are dependent upon
social institutions, like the schools, for the
limitations or the boundlessness of their aspira
tions. (p. 29)
In the present study, the interaction between community and
family values and the school experiences of gifted girls contributed
to their beliefs about ability and their motivation to achieve. Before
the girls' experiences in the gifted program and their team organiza
tions are described, some background will be provided on the girls'
entering views about themselves. As Brim (1976) proposed, the set
of ideas, beliefs, and attitudes that individuals hold with regard
to the world and their place within it constitutes their conception
of self. For the girls in this study, community and family values
provided the background from which beliefs and attitudes about them
selves were constructed, and therefore influenced their ideas about
who they were as well as who they might become.
Gifted Girls' Views About Themselves
Teachers believed that the nature of the rural community affected
the school's student population, and, in particular, the gifted girls
in several ways. When describing their perceptions of the girls,

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every teacher, with the exception of one, referred to the influence
of the community and home values on girls' attitudes and behaviors in
school. Specifically, community values were believed to affect girls
in that they (1) provided a well-defined set of behavioral norms and
(2) restricted girls' awareness of achievement opportunities.
The set of behavioral norms to which teachers referred became
obvious to the observer when documenting seating patterns in the
classrooms and in the gifted resource room. Unless a teacher-made
seating organization was in effect, girls and boys tended to select
seats beside peers of the same sex. In the gifted room where desks
were arranged in a semi-circle and the number of students in the group
was small, the separation of sexes was most obvious. The girls ex
plained this to the observer by commenting that boys and girls usually
did not sit by each other "unless they were going together." The
resource teacher, listening to the conversation between the gifted
students and the observer, interjected the belief that this seating
pattern reflected a community norm:
Teacher: (standing beside the group of students) I
call it Madison-itus. (Madison refers to the com
munity. )
Observer: What? What's that?
Teacher: When you go to a party around here the men
are all in one room and the women are in another.
Several of the gifted students laugh.
Gifted male: We just always sit that way. We were
sitting on the other side (of the semi-circle), but
they (the girls) pushed us around the table.
Norms of behavior which existed in Madison and the influence of
individual parents were frequently cited by teachers in explaining
the difference in behaviors they perceived to be characteristic of

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gifted girls and gifted boys. The following excerpts illustrate
teachers' beliefs about the influence of norms on gifted girls:
Teacher A: I've never had a wierd (gifted) girl,
but we've had some guys. Rick (gifted boy), for
example, acts abnormally. He doesn't follow the
norms of the school or the community. Our gifted
girls all have consequences for poor performance at
home, and the majority of them are interested in
pleasing and doing well. You can't be accepted here
unless you go to the right church, [your] parents
know the right people, and you do the right things
around town. I think our gifted girls try to please,
just like other girls.
Teacher B: (standing in the back of a classroom and
pointing out a gifted girl to the observer) See Cindy?
She has her hand raised. Being polite just like her
mother expects. She's a producer.
Teacher C: It's hard to tell these gifted girls
that the skills they develop now will affect their
future progress. I know Debbie is capable of a lot
more demanding work, but I won't follow up the
parent and talk. ... I feel like an outsider.
I came from a big city, and I feel like I stress
academics more than anyone else here. . Gifted
girls aren't super students in math. They tend to
do well in language, (pause) I guess it's O.K. to
do well in language.
An additional perspective on community norms was provided by a
life-time community resident who substituted for the gifted resource
teacher one day during February. After telling the observer that,
though she knew most of the gifted girls slightly, she knew Cindy
best through their church affiliation, she commented about the com
munity's perception:
Substitute: The community thinks of Cindy as a very
bright girl.
Observer: Would the community be surprised if she
became a nuclear engineer?
Substitute: Well, she is well accepted (pause) be-
cause (longer pause) because she does what the com
munity expects a bright girl to do. She's musically
inclined, she has a beautiful voice, and she's real
polite. She's like a dream girl. I heard a parent

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say that one day. (pause) A lot of people would
never say they felt differently about boy-girl
achievements, but I guess we do behave that way.
We separate ourselves at social gatherings without
even knowing it. (pause) I never thought about it.
Teachers frequently described the community as a closed one which
did not value academics, and, as such, restricted students' awareness
of educational opportunities. One teacher, noting that he lived in a
neighboring city and was not well accepted by the school's community,
told the observer, "This community doesn't give kids a chance to
expand their lifestyles. . Gifted kids here probably just have
more open parents."
The teacher who taught the most classes to seven of the ten
gifted girls was concerned about what she perceived to be a lack of
community emphasis on female achievement. Explaining to the observer
that she was the only regular classroom teacher at the school who had
some background in gifted education, she voiced the opinion that
gifted girls' awareness of educational opportunities might be re
stricted because there was a general lack of awareness that girls
could be smart:
Teacher: There's a difference between the gifted
girls here and the ones I taught in the South. I
don't see the aspirations for individual achievement
here. I think it's because they don't see females
in leadership roles and aren't brought up to see
women as achievers. They may tell you they want to
be doctors and lawyers, but I think their innermost
drive is to find a husband and get married and have
children.
The influence of parents and the community on the girls' percep
tions of themselves frequently surfaced during formal interviews.
Comments made by the girls in answer to the question "What kinds of

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things do you want to be able to achieve?" reflected the influence of
parental values. The girls' answers frequently centered on doing well
to make parents proud rather than naming actual accomplishments they
would like to achieve. "I listen to my mother," Cindy informed the
observer. "I think she knows my potential. She doesn't encourage the
idea of being a composer because it would be a hard job. Not many
people do well. But it's not that she doesn't encourage me. She
wants what's best for me." It should be noted that comments made by
the girls reflected not only the importance of parental views, but the
tendency for girls to compare ability characteristics they perceived
in themselves with characteristics they perceived in their parents.
Comments such as, "I think my strong point is that I'm organized1 ike
my mother" or "My father says I'm lazy just like him!" were frequently
made in connection with expressions of the desire to please parents
and make them proud. The kinds of things gifted girls wanted to
achieve were influenced by their perceptions of the abilities and
qualities valued by parents.
The influence of community organizations on the ways gifted girls
thought about themselves was also related to parental values. For
example, girls who were actively involved in organizations such as
Girl Scouts, 4-H, or community sports often gave examples of activi
ties in these organizations to describe things they did well. These
girls tended to have parents who were actively involved in these
organizations as adult leaders or who had been involved in them as
children.

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One of the social institutions within the community which
affected the majority of gifted girls in this study was the church.
Eight of the ten girls listed God as one of the two most important
things they believed in when completing a values exercise in journals
kept in the gifted class. Family and friends were listed as second.
The following excerpt is representative of the influence of religious
values on the way girls thought about themselves and the importance of
achievement:
Cindy: A lot of ladies think . well, a lot of
ladies are ... as good as men and some are better,
but I just believe God put men on earth first and
they should take care of ladies. She should do as
well as she can.
Nancy: Man provides for women. That's what the
Bible says.
Cindy: If I apply for a job when I'm older and a
man gets it, I'm not going to think he did just be
cause he's a man.
Observer: What would happen if you knew you were
the better person for the job?
Cindy: Well, I guess I would just have to try
somewhere else.
While teachers were consciously aware of the influence of the
community on gifted girls' views about themselves, they were less
clear about the school's ability to expand the opportunities available
to these girls. Comments such as, "Kids come in with established
patterns and all we can do is work with them!" and "The school can't
do everything. The parent's emphasis makes a difference in the child's
emphasis" were characteristic of teachers' feelings about the school's
role. A teacher who informed the observer that she had made several
attempts to encourage one of the gifted girls to sign up for an
advanced math class, but had been unsuccessful, remarked, "Why don't

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these girls want to develop their potential? I'm not sure there's
a pat answer. I guess the school's role is to expose the student to
as much information as possible to make a wise decision."
The Gifted Program
As previously described, the gifted program at the school was a
one day a week pull-out program which aimed to improve higher level
thinking skills, creativity, and leadership potential. The fact that
there was no set curriculum to accomplish these goals was seen as a
hardship by Mrs. Johnson, the gifted resource teacher. As a result,
she developed several major themes during the year and built lessons
around them for all three grade levels. The lack of appropriate
materials and resource guides, however, apparently made the development
of higher level thinking skills difficult.
Over the duration of this study, Mrs. Johnson taught units related
to space, the arts, and the history of the community. While these
units were in progress she continued weekly journal writing assignments
designed to promote creativity and affective development. In addition,
several weeks before the end of school, she required the students to
plan and organize field trips to areas of local interest "in order to
stress organization skills and to encourage leadership and responsi
bility."
The level of interest expressed by the gifted girls in the topics
covered by Mrs. Johnson varied. Journal writing was considered an
important and enjoyable activity, as were the informal conversations

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which frequently followed the voluntary sharing of journal entries.
As Ellen explained, "A lot goes on then. We have times when we talk
or just write about things and everything comes out."
No opportunities were provided for the gifted students to make
choices about topics studied other than the selection of an individual
project which followed the unit on space. The unit, which took place
during the early stages of this study, proved particularly difficult
to teach because Mrs. Johnson was able to obtain only materials and
films which were considerably below the level of the students and, in
some cases, were noticeably outdated. The end result was that few
students were excited by the unit or by the prospect of an independent
project. The project Mrs. Johnson assigned was posted on the black
board early in January as follows:
Space Reports
1. Choose an area of study.
2. Begin research.
a. School library
b. Public library
c. University library
d. University Science Department
e. National Geographic (and other publications)
f. Materials available in enrichment room
3. Write an outline. (Due Jan. 18)
4. Develop a report.
During the month of January and the first week of February,
students in the gifted room worked alternately on creative and per
sonal writing in their journals, thinking techniques such as brain
storming, and activities related to the unit on space. When the
February deadline arrived for presentation of reports, however, none
of the sixth or eighth grade girls were ready to present. Thus, the

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first day of presentations in those classes consisted of work com
pleted by the gifted boys. The following two incidents are illustrative
of the level of student involvement in the projects and, in particular,
the behavior of gifted girls in the resource room:
Sixth Bobby moves to the front of the class, sets up a
grade poster and places a written report in front of him.
The other students sit in a semi-circle around
Bobby. Mrs. Johnson stands in the back with a tape
recorder and camera ready to document the report.
Jill and Marie have open encyclopedias on the table
in front of them and proceed to copy information and
a diagram while Bobby talks. Bobby has most of his
report memorized so that he does not refer to his
notes. He concludes by explaining his poster and
asks for questions. Eight males and Joan, one of
the three female sixth graders, ask questions. Jill
and Marie continue working.
Eighth Phil and Steve, two eighth grade boys continually
grade pointed out by the majority of girls as extremely
smart, are the only ones ready to present today. Mrs.
Johnson calls on Phil and explains that she will
record him as well as take pictures. In response,
Sally calls out: "Oh! My hair!" She then reaches
up and pretends to smooth it. Phil ignores the
laughter and begins his report on Saturn. Perhaps
because he is nervous, he reads his report a a pace
which becomes more and more rapid. As he speaks,
Lynn puts her foot on the table and deliberately
ties her shoe. Beside her Debbie sits quietly,
staring under the table. Ellen begins to make sound
effects which include the music to Twilight Zone.
Rushing through his final page, Phil concludes by
asking the class if they would like further informa
tion. In a loud voice Sally responds: "I'm not
really interested." Mrs. Johnson looks at Sally, turns
off the tape, and begins discussing the good and bad
points of the audience and the report. When she
pauses, Ellen chimes in: "I liked the organization
and the visuals, but where's the beef?" The class
bursts into laughter and Ellen blushes slightly.
Mrs. Johnson rewinds the tape, plays back the first
few minutes, and becomes distressed with the giggling
and sound effects that were picked up on the tape.
Looking at the class she exclaims: "This is
ridiculous!"

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The levels of motivation exhibited by both gifted males and
females in the resource room varied over time and across subject
matter. This was of considerable concern to the mothers of the girls
interviewed during this study. One mother, after being notified that
her daughter's space project had not been completed on time, told the
observer, "When she got home we put her on restriction. She said she
didn't get it done because the girl who worked on it with her hadn't
come to school. I told her maybe I'd have her taken out of gifted
because it was too much pressure on her. She says the teachers don't
understand." Several other mothers expressed the concern that their
daughters did not seem to be getting very much out of enrichment this
year. One mother remarked, "For a while I thought she was learning
a lot, but now, not so much. She thinks so too. She's at the point
where she'll be glad when she gets to high school and she's not in
it anymore."
Data analysis revealed that the girls who had the least social
status in the regular classroom tended to describe the gifted classroom
in the most positive terms. This was true even for girls like Sally
whose behavior in the gifted room frequently indicated that she had
no interest in the curriculum. As Sally explained, "The only time I
feel part of the school is when I'm in gifted."
Field notes indicated that the verbal behavior of many of the
gifted girls in the resource room was significantly different from
their behavior in regular class. For example, Marie, who rarely spoke
above a whisper in her regular classes, interacted more frequently and
with vigor in the gifted classroom. When the researcher commented on

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this observation, several girls explained their more active participa
tion by describing the gifted class as a smaller, more intimate
environment:
Sally: It's a lot different. You talk about
feelings. ... In there (gifted room), you put it
(express yourself) different.
Lynn: In here (gifted room) we're all friends.
There aren't any cliques and no one is more popular
unless maybe something (a status-giving event) is
happening.
Nancy: Gifted is my favorite class. We agree on
the same things, like the same things, and enjoy
being together. They understand how I feel.
Joan: I had to throw away my I-hate-Monday-Garfield-
tee- shirt this year! (Monday is the day Joan goes to
the gifted class.)
A comparison of the journals kept by several eighth grade girls
in their advisor-advisee class with those kept in the gifted room pro
vided insight into the different levels of intimacy the girls attributed
to the two environments. During a group interview these girls informed
the observer that nothing of importance was ever written in the
journals kept in advisor-advisee, and that reading them would not
produce information for this study. Sally explained, "We never write
anything in there! Mrs. Myers reads them." It is important to note
that Mrs. Johnson also read the gifted journals, though students in
the gifted class had the option of requesting that Mrs. Johnson (and
the researcher) not read a particular entry. It should also be noted
that girls were given no directions when writing in their advisor-
advisee journals, while Mrs. Johnson usually led a discussion based on
a selected topic as a pre-writing activity. The result was that entries

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written for advisor-advisee class reflected basic daily activities,
but journals kept in the gifted room revealed initimate, personal
thoughts, as illustrated in the following examples:
Gifted
journal s
Connie: Friendship is what impresses me most.
Everyone wants to fit in. You see someone
everyone admires, and you want to be like
them.
Debbie: Life is like an endless standing in
line for something. It just seems to go on and
on and never gets anywhere. I wonder if I am
accomplishing anything.
Lynn: When you are in a fog you don't see any-
thing, but when it leaves and you look back, you
see all the opportunities you missed.
Ellen: I feel like a time bomb. Things could
explode any minute.
Advisor-
Advisee
journals
Connie: This Saturday we went shopping at the
mall and to the movies. Ellen spent the
night.
Lynn: Yesterday I cleaned the house and read a
book for class. My friend came over and we went
riding.
Ellen: I called Connie and we talked on the phone
for an hour. Then Debbie called me.
Though the girls were more verbal in the gifted room than in
their regular classes, their overall behavior in the gifted room was
more passive than the behavior of gifted boys. This observation was
consistent throughout the study, despite the varying levels of motiva
tion expressed by both males and females in regard to the gifted
curriculum. When activities were in progress, males moved about the
room more, used a wider variety of materials, asked more questions,
and interacted with each other more aggressively than did females.

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When journal writing occurred, males tended to finish writing sooner
and spend the remainder of the time talking to each other or to Mrs.
Johnson. In addition, equipment such as the record player and computer
were controlled almost exclusively by the males with the exception of
the sixth grade class. These students did not use the record player,
and both males and females were equally interested in obtaining time
on the computer.
For the majority of girls, particularly the eighth graders, the
significance of being in the gifted program had gradually decreased
since their entry into middle school. Even Ellen, who described the
gifted class as a place "where everything comes out," told the
researcher that, "It used to be important to be in it (during elementary
school). I used to love to come." On several occasions, and on at
least one occasion when the observer was present, one girl skipped
class and was later found by Mrs. Johnson in her regular class.
Data analysis revealed two reasons many of the girls felt parti
cipation in the gifted class was no longer important. First, the
girls frequently expressed feelings of wanting to be exposed to more
and different topics than were covered in the class. Human nature,
relationships, physical growth, astrology, and animals were mentioned
by the girls as topics they would like to investigate. Second, nine
of the ten girls made spontaneous comments to the observer about very
popular girls who had taken the test for entry into the program, but
had missed the cut-off score by "a few points." The girls believed
that including popular students in the gifted program would increase
its status among students, thus making it a more appealing program.

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Carrie, the most popular eighth grade girl, was often given as an
example. As Ellen explained, "Carrie said she hoped she'd make it,
but when she didn't, she said she didn't really want to. Now no one
really wants to get in."
An additional explanation for the girls' feelings about the
importance of being in the gifted program was offered by the principal.
He described for the researcher the motivation-achievement conflict he
believed characterized gifted students, and in particular, girls, in
the middle school:
Principal: The only thing about gifted is there's no
real direction about what gifted kids should be exposed
to. Teachers expect them to make up work they miss
(on days absent for the gifted program) and the kids
don't feel they should. . Too, gifted girls won't
sign up for advanced classes because of peer pressure.
They don't want to be different. That's what we do
when we label them. We make them different. People
don't really understand the amount of pressure these
kids are under. I don't understand it. They look
to others for leadership and follow their example.
That's just the way it works. We've had kids tell
us, "We don't want to have to work that hard."
There's a few of these kids from time to time that
don't let it affect them, but they're socially
outcast.
In summary, the majority of girls were unsure that the gifted class
was one in which they were learning advanced skills. They expressed
to the observer a desire to investigate topics different from those
which were part of Mrs. Johnson's program. At the same time, however,
they perceived the class as one in which they were able to be them
selves. The girls named Mrs. Johnson, along with the school counselor,
as the adults they would most likely go to with problems. In addi
tion, their perception of the gifted room as a place without cliques

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encouraged a feeling of being understood; thus girls who had difficulty
interacting verbally in the regular classroom did not have this diffi
culty in the gifted room. Despite the observation that the girls
expressed their feelings more openly in the gifted room, when their
overall behavior was compared to the behavior of gifted boys, girls
were found to exhibit more passive behaviors.
Members of a Team
Membership on a team was an integral part of the student experi
ence at this middle school. Over the duration of the study numerous
students from both teams discussed their perceptions of school with
the researcher, perceptions which were phrased in terms of team life,
and which often compared one team to another. Students who shared
their perceptions with the researcher, including the gifted girls, be
lieved that the two teams offered very different learning experiences.
As previously discussed, the researcher spent several weeks
collecting observational data in both teams, and three-week periods
in which observations were solely focused on a specific grade level
within one team. During these three-week periods the researcher com
pared gifted girls' perceptions of the team with the behavior of
teachers, peers, and the girls themselves. Gifted girls' experiences
as members of Team One and Team Two will be discussed separately.
Gifted girls' perceptions of Team One
Team One contained all of the eighth graders and half of the
seventh graders in the school. At the time of this study, seven of

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the gifted girls were members of the team. This group of girls in
cluded one student who was new to the school and six who had been
members of Team Two the year preceding the study. Their comparisons
of the two teams provided insight into gifted girls' perceptions of
classroom features and the effects of these features on motivation
and ability perceptions.
The majority of Team One students who discussed their perceptions
with the researcher,including the seven gifted girls, described the
team as much freer. Observations and interview data indicated that
the girls used this term in two different ways. First, the gifted
girls believed that a wider variety of classroom behavior was tolerated
by teachers in Team One. Additionally, the girls believed that the
work they produced in Team One was evaluated by less strict criteria,
and thus, they had a greater degree of freedom when completing assign
ments. As Cindy explained it, "Team One is just freer! I like it
better because things don't always have to be perfect like the teacher
wants. In Team Two if you didn't do it exactly a certain way you lost
points."
Data indicated that these student perceptions resulted from the
consciously organized system of beliefs about students' developmental
levels and teaching that guided the team teachers' decisions and
behavior. Team One teachers believed that seventh and eighth grade
students should be able to manage themselves without teacher-imposed
restrictions, and that teachers should concentrate their efforts on
the cognitive dimension of the curriculum. The teachers' attitudes
are illustrated in the comments below:

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Teacher A: Our team provides students with more
academic focus than Team Two. We have to prepare
them for high school. We try to wean them. . .
Each level sees the other level as a jungle. We
tell them stories (about high school) all the time.
I know I do.
Teacher B: Our emphasis has to be on content . .
on academics. . It's our obligation to warn them
about next year (high school).
Observations of Team One indicated that the teachers' focus on
academics without an organized and consistently implemented management
strategy resulted in less actual classroom time being devoted to lesson
content. Rather, in Team One, a greater portion of classroom time
was spent managing transitions, organizing for instruction, disciplining,
and repeating directions. The following excerpts from field notes are
illustrative of the particular experiences of the seventh and eighth
grade gifted girls in Team One:
Seventh The teacher begins class by rapidly calling out
grade the answers to last night's homework without look-
pre- ing up. All students have exchanged papers and are
algebra checking answers, with the exception of two females
who are sitting beside the observer. They complete
the assignment seconds before the teacher finishes
calling out answers. The process takes 10 minutes
after which the teacher spends five minutes
introducing the lesson on properties, and assigns
two pages to be completed. During his presentation
Cindy has been listening carefully, but Nancy,
sitting several rows away from Cindy and in front
of the observer, has been completing a geography
assignment. Her geography book is openly displayed
on her desk. The teacher asks if there are any
questions. None are asked. Cindy and her best
friends, two girls she sits beside in almost every
class, begin the assignment but are distracted by
a scene one row in front of them. A male (gifted
student) has attached his baseball glove to his desk
chair with a combination lock before leaving his
seat, and two other boys are trying to remove it.
Cindy catches the observer's eye and laughs. Mean
while the teacher is calling out names and recording

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grades. When he finishes he asks that papers be
passed in. It is now ten minutes into the work
period and Nancy opens her math book. Just as she
begins to work the teacher calls her up to the desk.
From their conversation it is apparent that, though
Nancy called out a grade, her paper is not in the
pile. Nancy goes to the trash can and begins
searching. After class the teacher tells the
observer that Nancy threw away her paper because
it only contained answers and no solutions. Several
days later Nancy recounts the experience to the
observer by explaining there was no need to work
the problems.
Eighth The teacher announces that today a review of the
grade metric system will be conducted to get ready for
science standardized achievement tests which are coming
up. The observer is sitting at a table with three
gifted females, one gifted male, and another high
achieving female. They groan loudly with the rest
of the class and someone calls out; "Do we have to
write?" Janet, the high achieving female tells
our table, "I hope not! I'm going to fail anyhow."
The noise grows and prompts the teacher to tell the
class, "Shut-up." He explains that he is sick of
rudeness, turns to two males still talking, and
sends them out. The lesson begins but Ellen has to
get up frequently to open the lab door for students
who are late because our table is in the rear of the
room. At one point she accidently shuts the door on
a male who yells out. The teacher becomes very
upset and tells the male, "Don't open your mouth
again this period. Unless you all treat me with
dignity, then mine will fly out the window." The
lesson proceeds and the teacher calls on Ellen to
answer a question. Ellen: "What did you say?"
Teacher: "That's right! What did I say? I'm going
to ask you again and you better get it right!" He
repeats the question, Ellen answers correctly, and
the students at her table sigh almost in unison.
Debbie: (to the observer) He's our favorite teacher
even though he gets mad. The teacher asks a
question about milliliters and Janet whispers to
our table, "Millie Jackson? I know her!" The
students at the table burst into laughter.
Team One teachers were aware of increasing behavioral problems
as the school year approached the last grading period, and, at one

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point, the school's dean was asked to sit in on several classes to
observe the students. When questioned about student behavior, however,
the teachers maintained that the students needed to learn to manage
themselves. They did not appear to be aware that the need for increased
discipline left less time for academics.
Though the gifted girls frequently informed the researcher that
they liked Team One much better than Team Two because of the freedom
it allowed them, several of the girls expressed an awareness that this
atmosphere influenced their motivation. As Connie explained it, "These
teachers have a different attitude. I don't really know what the
difference is . but we aren't being pushed." Sally identified
the difference as a lack of enthusiasm. The majority of girls felt
that teachers actually ignored their inappropriate behavior such as
passing notes and talking. Nancy described Team One as a team whose
student members "have a problem. Kids on our team just don't work
a lot." The general consensus was that in Team One, students and
teachers had less time to form relationships and that teachers were
less interested in students.
Observations and interview data indicated that, with the exception
of Cindy, the gifted girls in Team One were frustrated and confused
about their lack of motivation, as the following excerpts illustrate:
Nancy: I try, but I can't make myself do it (school-
work). I guess I want to do other things. (She
shrugs.) I've thought about it, but I can't figure
out why.
Ellen: (to the observer) I cannot stand to do my
homework. I've got a hundred million things I'd
rather do than my homework. My mom says I'm so lazy
it stunts my mind. There may not be much homework,
but I hate it!

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Lynn: (in response to the gifted teacher's comments
about the need to sign up for advanced classes) Just
because they are gifted doesn't mean gifted students
have to take all honors! I don't feel like I'm
missing anything by not taking honors.
These girls frequently informed the researcher that the curriculum was
a routine which rarely changed.
Data from the researcher's field notes which were gathered during
early observations in Team One illustrated the routine format of the
curriculum. At the conclusion of several entries the researcher had
written the following question: What is happening in this class? On
these occasions the researcher had been unable to document the point at
which the teacher began the lesson and ceased clerical work, the
assignment given the students, or how the teacher determined who was
and who was not working. Students in the classroom, however, seemed
to have prior knowledge of what was expected. After observing one
such class in which the teacher spent the majority of the class period
standing beside the overhead projector, answering questions, and
occasionally writing a student's name on the screen, the following
conversation took place:
Observer: I don't understand what everyone was
doing in literature today. I never heard the
assignment.
Connie: Oh! (She looks surprised.) We have a
tight structure (schedule). On Monday we do
vocabulary and on Tuesday and Wednesday we read
the stories. We have two days because they are so
boring. I looked at the copyright on the book.
Would you believe it's 1956? (She grins.) On
Thursday we do questions and on Friday we turn in
our stuff and take a test. It's the same every
week.
Observer: Do you know the reason?
Connie: Well, literature is right after algebra
so she just gives us assignments (in literature).
It's the teacher's planning time. She grades and
reorganizes her afternoon.

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Observer: Oh. Do you know why names were on the
overhead?
Connie: Those are people who get too loud. See,
she tells us we can talk in class if we turn in our
work on Friday and if we-keep the noise down. I'm a
social bug. I like to talk.
Subsequent observations of this class, and algebra, revealed little
variation in the schedule Connie had outlined. As late as the middle
of April the same structure was the classroom norm, as indicated in
this excerpt from field notes:
The observer enters during algebra and sits beside
Ellen and Connie.
Observer: (to Ellen) What's going on?
Connie: (interrupting Ellen) It's like I told you
before. We have a schedule. She gives us our
homework and we can either do it here or at home.
I like to do it at home.
Observer: But why is she standing up there?
(The teacher is standing beside the overhead.)
Connie: She works things out when we ask. She
just stands there the whole period.
The researcher observed the girls use three different strategies
to cope with the routine. Frequently they used work time in class to
talk, pass notes, or study other subjects. On occasion, however,
several of the girls were observed using time in class to write un
assigned poetry or songs. On one such occasion Sally was so pleased
with her efforts that she approached the researcher during the class with
a song she had just completed. After asking if a copy could be
included in the field notes, the researcher indicated it was difficult
to imagine the tune. The following week Sally handed the researcher a
taped recording of the song in which she sang the melody and used
sticks to tap out the beat. The song was about being in love. Thus,
a second way of coping with the routine was to use time in class to

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pursue topics of individual interest. In Sally's case, the researcher's
expression of interest in her work may have increased Sally's task
motivation.
A third method of coping with routine assignments was used
exclusively by Cindy and her two best friends, both high achieving
girls, but not identified as gifted. These girls sat together in the
back of their classes and were always observed to be busily involved
with tasks. On some occasions at the beginning of the study Nancy
would join the group, but her involvement was infrequent and decreased
with time. Observing this group of girls at work in social studies
one morning, the researcher asked Nancy to describe what was going on:
Nancy: Cindy's group passes papers around with the
answers on it so you really don't have to talk. This
is a better system. Everyone works on one question
and everyone shares answers. It's not cheating. The
homework (classwork) doesn't count as much.
While the majority of gifted girls in Team One described feelings
of frustration concerning their levels of motivation, it was none
theless important to do well. However, because doing well was a
concern, the girls frequently expressed a desire to avoid taking risks
which might result in failure. This became most obvious toward the
end of the year when five of the Team One girls were preparing to
register for high school. The following incident occurred late in
March when the algebra teacher distributed a test designed to help
place students in math courses the following year:
Prior to the beginning of class, the observer,
sitting beside three of the gifted girls, asks
the girls if they have studied for the test.
Debbie informs the group that she will repeat
Algebra I even if the test shows she should be

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in Algebra II because she doesn't understand
Algebra I. The teacher enters the room and Ellen
calls out, "What if we don't want to take the
test? What if we want to stay in Algebra I?"
The teacher ignores her comment and distributes
the test. The observer notes that Ellen is one of
the first students to finish the test, and, after
class, asks Ellen if the test was easy. Ellen
replies, "No. I just quit. I want to go into
Algebra I next year because my grades have gone
downhill this year from an A in the beginning to
C's the last two times. I'm afraid to go into
Algebra II. My dad wants me to take it (Algebra
II), but he also doesn't want me to get C's. I
don't want to flunk."
Gifted girls' perceptions of Team Two
Team Two contained half of the sixth and half of the seventh
graders in the school. At the time of this study, three of the gifted
girls were members of this team. The comparison of these girls'
perceptions with the perceptions of the six gifted girls who had been
members of the team the previous year provided additional insight into
gifted girls' experiences in Team Two.
Gifted girls in Team Two described the team in terms of
student-teacher relationships. As Jill told the observer, "It's
funner on this team because you're closer to your teachers. You're
like a big family, but if you're in the whole school you don't feel
that way. It makes you feel like doing your work more." The girls
in Team Two perceived that the teachers cared more about them, and
therefore, gave them more chances to prepare for tests.
When asked how they would describe Team Two to a new student,
the gifted girls most frequently mentioned the activities that were

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continually occurring in the team. The team's newspaper, student
council, and student monitor system were a source of pride, and on
occasion, discomfort for the girls. The following excerpts from field
notes are illustrative of student experiences in Team Two:
Sixth
grade
social
studies
The class begins with a discussion of women's roles
in early American history, but quickly moves to a
discussion of American aggression. Noting that no
girls contribute to the initial discussion, the
observer begins to count the number of male-female
responses. At the end of 20 minutes one girl has
offered an opinion as compared to 15 boys. The two
gifted girls in this class sit quietly at opposite
ends of the room. Marie sits beside the teacher and
Jill sits in the last row. During the discussion
Marie smiles at the teacher's jokes and reacts
facially to students' comments but does not speak
out. The discussion, a controlled lesson in which
each student's contribution is reacted to by the
teacher, shifts to last night's reading assignment
and almost immediately the female participation in
creases. During the remainder of the class the ratio
of male to female interactions is 18 to 12. Though
Marie sits in the section of the classroom in which
most of the interaction occurs, she speaks out once,
in a whisper, and only because she is directly
questioned. Students sitting around the edges of
the room, including Jill, interact less though they
all appear alert and attentive. The teacher seems
to be very interested in the students' ideas. He
keeps the discussion moving at a fast pace and on
occasion interjects humor. Two minutes before class
ends the team area becomes noisy. The teacher walks
to the center of the area, cups his hands around his
mouth, and calls out to all four classes in session,
"Quiet! I have two minutes left!" Several students
in the room grin. After class the observer shows the
teacher the tally of male-female interactions. The
teacher is initially surprised. He pauses and then
comments that this reflects the community.
Sixth
grade
team
meeting
It is 8:35 and a team meeting held regularly every
Friday morning is in progress. Elected student
leaders, as well as the team leader, run the meeting.
Today is Hat Day and prizes are given away for the
most creative hat. Jill wins first place. All the
team teachers, including the resource teachers, are

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present, and some have on hats of their own. The
meeting ends with the singing of a team song. Jill's
picture is taken with an instamatic camera and placed
on a large bulletin board which contains both school
and community news about student members of the team.
Sixth Student monitors are dismissed a minute early from
grade class and gather at their appointed posts to oversee
lunch/ the lunch period. The observer joins Marie and Jill
reading in line. The girls explain that monitors are selected
at the beginning of the year and that it is their job
to see that team rules are followed. A table is
selected and several of the girls' friends join them.
Just before the observer, Marie, Jill, Joan, and two
other females leave the lunchroom, a monitor who is
also a close friend of Marie and Jill approaches the
table. Monitor: "Please remember to behave." Marie
looks at the observer, makes a face, and silently
forms the words, "Stuck-up." Monitor: "Just behave!
I don't feel like putting up with any of that today!"
The girls grin at each other. After lunch, the three
girls are involved in different reading classes.
The observer selects a seat which provides a good
view of all the classrooms. Though one class spends
some time going over vocabulary, there is very little
talking. For this hour students are involved in
workbook or kit activities and work individually.
Team Two teachers described their team as more student-centered
than Team One. They actively encouraged the students to consider
themselves a family, often using the term publicly to reward or punish
students in connection with their behavior or their classroom achieve
ment. Comments such as, "Monitors are supposed to set examples!" or
"Why did you do that? We work together in here!" were used to reinforce
proper behavior while pointing out student responsibilities.
The gifted girls in Team Two tended to like a wider variety of
subjects than girls in Team One, and perceived themselves as good
students in most classes. This may have resulted from the girls'
belief that teachers "care about how we do." In comparison to the

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girls in Team One, these girls rarely described the curriculum as
routine. The researcher's observations, however, revealed the format
of the curriculum in Team Two to be similar to that of Team One.
This was especially true of language arts and reading classes which
were typically conducted using structured schedules such as those used
in Team One. Perhaps because the teaching materials used for language
arts and reading included kits, workbooks, and story questions which
were mandatory, teachers found it convenient to divide the work
according to days of the week.
Data analysis indicated that, unlike the gifted girls in Team One
who tended to joke about and exaggerate their potential for failure,
girls in Team Two expressed their anxiety about good performance and
high grades in a more concrete manner. They more frequently expressed
concerns about their abilities prior to tests or major assignments,
and their comments tended to be specific to the subject itself. In
contrast, Team One girls joked about grades and failure in general
terms. While observation and interview data did not indicate that
the joking behavior of Team One girls necessarily implied a less
serious attitude, data analysis did indicate that for Team One girls,
the immediate classroom consequences of poor performance were less
frequent and less public than for girls in Team Two. Thus, Team Two
gifted girls appeared to express subject-specific concerns about
ability more frequently, and without the teasing quality which
characterized the comments of Team One girls. When the researcher asked
about the difference in joking behavior, girls and their mothers spoke
about the more public nature of evaluation and feedback in Team Two:

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Cindy: Team Two was hard. I'd be so scared to get
called on that I'd pray. Once one of my friends
begged the bus driver to go back to her house so she
could get a paper she forgot because the teacher
told everyone they'd get a zero, and she (the teacher)
really picked on everyone!
Marie's mother: I think Marie fears being labeled
. . and teased about being gifted . about maybe
not being smart. One teacher in particular this
year (Team Two) must put all the students down. I
think they (students) wrote a report or something and
she told some students, "These gifted students may
be smart, but they sure don't know how to write a
report." Marie has made some comments about this
at home. . Her friend, Katie, told her that
this teacher told Katie that Marie doesn't want
to share her knowledge (referring to Marie's
tendency not to speak out in class). Katie told
Marie.
The feelings of anxiety described by the girls who were members of
Team Two during the study, or who had been members in the past, re
sulted in large part from a system of competition used by three of the
four teachers on the team. The system was called Dynamic Dozen. Each
grading period teachers using the system averaged grades to determine
the twelve highest grade point averages in the class. Those students
were seated, in order, in a special section of the room in front of
the teacher's desk. They were also given the privilege of leaving
the team area for water or the bathroom without having to ask for
permission. In addition, the student with the highest grade point
average was called the Wizard. This student sat beside the teacher,
which meant, in some cases, the Wizard's desk faced the class rather
than pointed in the same direction. The Wizard called roll, signed
late slips, and acted as the teacher's helper. To be a Wizard was
considered a position of prestige by the majority of students not only

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because of the special privileges, but because the students who were
Wizards received frequent praise and attention from all three
teachers.
Marie's experience as the Wizard provided insight into the
anxiety described by girls in Team Two. In the following excerpt,
Marie's mother told the researcher how Marie felt:
Marie's mother: Being Wizard puts pressure or her
and she says she gets a lot of cracks (comments)
about it. She likes being Wizard so she puts up
with it. Maybe she likes the prestige, but she
doesn't like the cracks.
From the onset of data collection until the final grading period
of the year Marie had the highest grade point average in her social
studies class. She sat beside the teacher, and though she rarely
spoke in class, she enjoyed the prestige of being called by pet
nicknames and being relied upon as the teacher's helper. Marie also,
however, frequently mentioned her fear of doing poorly or getting
wrong answers in this class as opposed to any other class because
of the teasing she would have to endure. Noted Marie, "It's bad
(difficult) to be in those seats. You feel proud, but if you get
called on and you don't know the answer the teacher makes cracks.
Like 'These are supposed to be the Dynamic Dozen and they can't
answer!'" It was even more difficult for Marie who felt that her
status as gifted made other students more eager to compete for her
seat as number one. While sitting in the library before school one
morning, Marie pointed out a classmate to the observer and commented,
"He hates me because I'm Wizard."

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During the final grading period of the study Marie lost her seat,
but to another gifted student, Jill. On the day seating was changed
in the class, the teacher first had all the students stand, seated the
Dynamic Dozen in order, and then assigned seats to other students.
Students not seated with the Dynamic Dozen jokingly referred to their
seats as the ghetto. Marie was absent for the seat assignments and
did not return to school for several days. After class the researcher
asked the teacher how Jill and Marie might feel. The following excerpt
reflects the teacher's beliefs:
Teacher: Jill feels proud. She's been striving all
year. I can't tell you how Marie feels at all. I've
been trying really hard to get her to open up and
she has a little, but it's been minor. ... I don't
want to feel like I'm defending my program. I have
some conflicts about it too, but it's the only thing
that seems to motivate them. I'm not a cartoon
character and I can't do a song and dance everyday.
I do enough of that as it is.
Observer: Do you think Marie might be absent because
she's upset?
Teacher: I think the way Marie is handling this is
very healthy. If she is upset she's not letting us
know publicly. Life is very competitive and full of
upsets. We need to know how to handle them. (He
looks down at the table for a moment and then gets up
to leave for a parent conference. He talks as he
exits.) Marie's and Jill's class is so competitive
that we've gone to a point system instead of using
letter grades. They wanted to see the minute dif
ference.
The researcher encountered Marie in her gifted class when she
returned to school. She informed the researcher, Jill, and Joan that
she had been ill with an allergy. Class had not yet begun and the
girls were sitting on a table near the computer. "Well, don't be mad
at me," Jill told Marie. "It's not my fault."

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The use of a competitive system such as the Dynamic Dozen made
knowledge of student status very public in Team Two. The researcher
often.overheard students discussing other students' seat, numbers and
who was the Wizard in which class. The fact that there was a limited
number of status positions, only one way to achieve them, and public
knowledge of one's place within the system made many students anxious.
This was especially true for the gifted girls. Cindy, referring to
her experience in Team Two the preceding year, told the researcher,
"I didn't like it. We're not here to compete. We're here to learn.
. . In Team Two you're demanded to work, and you do, but that won't
help you in the end. That's not how life is."
It is important to note that Team Two teachers using the Dynamic
Dozen system to reward achievement discussed the abilities of the
gifted girls they taught in very specific terms. These teachers used
a wider range of adjectives, from adequate to excellent, to describe
the performances of present and past students and referred to the
girls' participation in team activities and their placement in the
Dynamic Dozen as evidence for their evaluations. Team One teachers
tended to differentiate among the performances of gifted girls less,
agreeing that, of all the girls, only Cindy stood out as a performer.
In summary, the girls' perceptions of team organizations focused
on student-teacher relationships. In turn, these relationships
influenced the girls' motivation to achieve. In Team Two where
teachers and students were believed to have closer relationships,
the girls tended to like a wider variety of subjects and perceived
themselves as good students in most classes. In Team One, described

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by the girls as free and by teachers as content-centered, girls tended
to state preferences for specific subjects over others.
Student-teacher relationships also affected the ways girls
described the structure of the curriculum. Though observation re
vealed curriculum format to be similar on both teams, the girls in
Team One more frequently characterized their classes as routine. For
girls in Team Two, the belief that teachers cared more about their
progress encouraged the girls to view the curriculum as more impor
tant, and therefore, less routine.
Additionally, the nature and quality of evaluation feedback were
important constructs in girls' descriptions of team experiences.
The girls in both teams expressed concern about their abilities to do
well, and to please teachers and parents. Doing well presented a
special problem in classes where the evaluation of students was more
public, and based on narrowly defined criteria such as the system used
to determine members of the Dynamic Dozen. These girls expressed fears
of being disliked if they stood out in comparison to their peers.
Additionally, the possibility of not knowing an answer and being
subjected to public criticism was a source of anxiety.
In this section gifted girls' entering views of themselves and
the school experiences they encountered as a result of participating
in a gifted program and team organizations have been described. These
school experiences can be summarized in two ways: 1) the girls were
generally passive receivers of knowledge, and rarely active investi
gators; and 2) the girls believed that more was expected of them
though participating in the gifted program meant they had less time

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to do it. Removal from classes one day per week meant being absent
from daily class activities for one-fifth of the year. For students
who were absent other days due to illness, the effect could be disaster-
ous. This was true for Jill who, having missed numerous days of school
at the beginning of the study, found herself seated in the ghetto (Team
Two) in several classes.
Being in the gifted class did provide some opportunity to par
ticipate more actively, but, just as the goals of the gifted program
were described by Mrs. Johnson as affective, the active student role
was primarily one of exploring feelings rather than constructing
knowledge. The majority of girls in this study expressed confusion
and frustration about their roles as students and concern over their
perceived lack of motivation.
The researcher assumed from the outset that self-perceptions
of ability were constructed through an interactive progress. That is,
self-perceptions of ability reflected the interaction of girls'
attitudes, perspectives, and values with variables inherent in the
school environment. In the next section factors influencing the
construction of gifted girls' self-perceptions of ability will be
discussed.
Beliefs about Ability
Many educators have noted that issues of ability, achievement,
social acceptance, and gender identity are sources of conflict for
talented and gifted female adolescents (Fox, 1978; Horner, 1972;

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Rodenstein, Pfleger, & Colangelo, 1977), and that generally, when
compared to the gifted male, the gifted female is less likely to
realize her potential (Blaubergs, 1980; Callahan, 1981). The impor
tance of this assertion is illustrated in the work of Brookover and
Erickson (1975) who referred to perception of ability as a "function
ally limiting threshold condition. It functions to set limits on what
we decide to do" (p. 275).
Perhaps the clearest finding to emerge from this study was the
cyclic relationship between gifted girls' self-perceptions of
ability and their daily school experiences. Gifted girls in this
study used school experiences to interpret and modify their beliefs
about their own ability, and, in turn, their beliefs about ability
guided their choices of behavior at school. Observations and inter
views from this study provided evidence that gifted girls' beliefs
about ability were influenced by 1) definitions of giftedness held
by significant others, 2) affiliation needs, and 3) social comparison.
Multiple Definitions of Giftedness
When asked, "What are gifted students like?" the majority of
teachers in this study responded that their conceptions of giftedness
did not always match the observable characteristics of students
identified by state criteria as gifted. To illustrate this mismatch
for the researcher, teachers often compared the behaviors of identified
gifted girls with girls they considered bright. Bright girls were
described by teachers as more motivated, more enthusiastic, and more

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verbal in the classroom than were the gifted girls. Many teachers
observed that in each of their classes there were several high
achieving girls who were more academically inclined that gifted
girls.
This discrepancy between the behaviors of girls identified as
gifted and girls who appeared bright to the teachers frequently led
teachers to question the construct of giftedness. As one teacher
explained, "My definition is that on Wednesdays and Fridays I'm missing
a certain number of students. That's the only thing I know. They have
to make up the work." Other teacher definitions of giftedness fell
into three categories: 1) references to the 130 score on an IQ test,
2) descriptions of students as productive workers achieving their
potential, and 3) descriptions of cognitive abilties which enabled
students to think deeper, perceive more, and see relationships between
things that did not normally go together. Teachers using the second
and third definitions tended to name only one or two of the gifted
girls who fit these definitions. The consensus was that teachers could
not tell if the majority of identified girls were gifted. Though
teachers expressed an awareness that gifted girls' behavior might
result from a desire to avoid standing out, the consensus was that
these girls behaved "just like all little girls growing up," with the
possible exception of the more motivated, bright girls.
When asked if their beliefs about giftedness might influence
their interactions with the students, teachers indicated that they
were not aware this ever happened, or that strict curriculum require
ments and the limitations of open space did not permit them to treat

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gifted students differently. The following excerpts from interviews
with teachers illustrate their views:
Teacher A: I talk to them the way I talk to other
students. I don't mention their giftedness. Maybe
they think I do because I expect them to work up to
their ability.
Teacher B: I talk to them like adults. If it's a
difficult job I tell them they can do it because
they're smarter than the average bear. They react
well to this.
Teacher C: Gifted doesn't correlate with production.
Not at this age. Our curriculum doesn't lend itself
to the gifted so I find it hard to provide for them.
Further insight into teachers' beliefs about giftedness was provided
by a resource teacher who was informally interviewed during a teacher
work day:
Observer: I'm curious about how the school
perceives these girls.
Teacher: We . urn . sound real negative,
and that's not good. I think something needs to
be done about teacher attitudes. I think teachers
expect more because they're gifted and it could be
because we really don't know what gifted is. I
wonder if, because they're taken out of classes
more, given special privileges, and allowed to do
more, there isn't somewhat of a grudge. Ask around
and listen to what teachers say. You'll probably
hear teachers say, "I really don't know how so and
so got in. They're really dumb."
The gifted girls themselves frequently expressed the belief that
participation in a gifted program which entailed removal from their
team areas one day per week made them targets of confusing and often
uncomfortable expectations from teachers and peers. For these girls,
being labeled gifted often produced classroom situations in which
their competency was publicly questioned. For example, when, during
group interviews, the girls were asked about abilities that related

-in
to being gifted, they used conflict-producing situations to explain
their perceptions. It appeared to the girls that teachers referred
to their giftedness in ways that made them more apt to fail in school
situations. Consequently, they felt confused and frustrated, as the
following excerpt illustrates:
Lynn: The only reason we got in there (gifted pro
gram) is because we are more capable. . .
Ellen: We were smart when we were tested.
Lynn: Because we're capable of doing more than we
are but we don't do it.
Observer: What makes you not do it?
Several girls try to speak at once, but Lynn
interrupts.
Lynn: (excitedly) It's hard! It's really hard
for us! It makes it harder for us than other
students because they (teachers) expect us to know
more!
Sally: They'll be explaining something and they'll
ask an enrichment student a question, but we don't
know how to do it. We've never seen it before, but
they expect us to!
Debbie: Especially one teacher! He'll be ex-
plaining something and then he'll ask a gifted
student a question, but they won't know it. He'll
say, "Well, you're supposed to know it. You're
in gifted."
Sally: How are we supposed to know the stuff before
we are supposed to? It makes it harder for us.
Ellen: Yeah. They think we're so. . You
know. . (Her voice trails off.)
Comments made by the sixth grade girls during these interviews
revealed their concern about not always knowing answers. "I do well,"
explained Marie, "because I know the answers on tests. Not any other
time. ... I don't always know the answers when he (teacher) asks
you questions about the reading." Seventh and eighth grade girls
discussed similar feelings with the observer, but referred more often
to their concern about appearing to be too smart around peers. For
these gifted girls, knowing the answer was, in large measure, the

-112-
definition of giftedness. The confusion they expressed was charac
terized by concern over the possible public disclosure that they did
not know the answer and a fear of peer rejection if they appeared too
bright too often.
The girls' perceptions that they should know the answer, but that
appearing to be a brain was not normal, produced a unique conflict
between their identity as gifted and their need to be accepted within
the school culture. Comments such as the following were characteristic
of the girls' feelings:
Joan: People ask you questions and if you don't
know the answers they'll say, "W-e-1-1! (She pro
nounces the word with mock indignity.) _I_ thought
you were in enrichment. _I_ thought you knew every
thing!"
Sally: Just because we're in enrichment doesn't
mean we know everything.
Ellen: In social studies this morning a guy said
to me, "I thought you were in enrichment and I'm
smarter than you." (This comment was made after
Ellen missed the answer to a question.)
Perhaps in order to cope with this conflict the girls frequently
expressed the idea that, while they might have potential, they were
no different and no smarter than other girls. The idea of potential
enabled them to credit their successes with trying and their failures
with not trying. Having potential offered a safe explanation for
not always knowing the expected answer, while, at the same time, it
created the acceptable role of someone-who-tries in place of the
unacceptable role of someone-who-knows, the brain.
Constant references to potential as an explanation for their
placement in a gifted program were made by girls during individual and

-113-
group interviews. At the same time, however, many of the girls
expressed the idea that potential was something everyone had. An
eighth grader explained, "I feel everyone has the same intelligence
level. Motivation is important. If you try hard enough and motivate
yourself, you can do anything." The idea was further clarified by
Lynn after finishing a particularly difficult test:
Lynn: Some people say, "Look at the brain! She
knows all the answers. Some of those people could
be just as smart as us if they'd study. They just
don't want to take the time.
Observer: Are you sure studying is the only
reason?
Lynn: (Pause) I don't know. I try to be nice to
everyone. I don't want to be a brain. I try to
have fun.
The day after being absent from regular classes for instruction
in the gifted program was a particularly frustrating one for many of
the girls. The policy of completing classwork missed on those days
differed with different teachers, and was often a source of problems.
Jill and Marie described their frustration this way:
Jill: She (the teacher) doesn't like the enrich
ment (gifted) kids much. She says we don't come
and get our work, and I always do. Or she says we
aren't prepared. She wishes there wasn't any
enrichment. Science is my worst subject anyhow.
We have to go after school to get our work and it's
hard! She says all the teachers say we don't get
our work.
Marie: She told me (mimicing the teacher's voice)
"You have your Ski 11 pac all done, but you ain't
going to be so lucky in science!"
Observer: She said that to you?
Marie: Yeah! (nodding her head rapidly)
In an effort to cope with the expectations they perceived others
to have, the girls often behaved in ways that would avoid conflict-
producing situations. Analysis of classroom interaction in this study

-114-
revealed that gifted girls very rarely volunteered to answer questions
or make comments during their regular classes. In addition, when
students had the option of selecting seats, tney most often sat in
the rear of the room where the possibility of interaction with the
teacher was minimized. As one sixth grader explained, "I sit here
because she (the teacher) never looks here." The fear of being
singled out and failing to know the answer was especially intense for
these girls when the class was one in which they perceived themselves
to be most able, when the teacher was one the student especially
liked, or when a situation involving direct competition was occurring.
For example, two of the girls described the following situation during
an interview:
Cindy: I get so sick of it. It happened yester
day when we were playing a game to review for the
test. When the team gets in a tight spot they say,
"Ask Cindy! Ask Cindy! She'll know." I got really
mad. Even my best friends do it.
Nancy: (looking at Cindy) Yeah, but did you see
me go up there? I knew the answer, but I wasn't
going up there. Not even for the team.
Cindy: I've asked them not to do that. It's
embarrassing to me. Now what if I got up there and
it happened to be a question I didn't know? It'd
make me look worse. I don't want to look like a
brain!
Nancy: (to the researcher) She's normal.
While data collection in this study focused on the gifted female
population, evidence suggested that gifted males were no less aware
of confusing expectations. However, males seemed to place less
significance on these expectations. For example, field notes indicated
that gifted males were less likely to mention concern with teacher or
peer approval, and less likely to modify behavior even when the behavior

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was negatively sanctioned by teachers or peers. This will be discussed
further in the following section on social comparison.
Similar perceptions among the males and fema.les about differing
expectations for gifted students, yet differing reactions to these
expectations, may have resulted from greater role variations that
teachers allowed males. Teachers believed the difference between
gifted and nongifted boys to be far greater than the difference between
gifted and nongifted girls. Teachers also believed that gifted boys'
behavior patterns deviated far more from the norm than did girls'.
The prevailing attitude was that teachers expected the gifted boys to
be greater risk takers.
Gifted girls were aware that their reactions to expectations
differed from the reactions of gifted boys. An explanation for the
difference between gifted boys' and gifted girls' reactions (according
to the girls) was the idea of perception. "I guess girls are a lot
more sensitive than boys. If people make fun of guys, they just say
you're dumb. But girls! We take it more personally than they do."
The following example illustrates the extent to which definitions
of giftedness affected the gifted girls at this middle school. The
example is representative of many instances when the gifted girls
pointed out to the researcher their conscious "bad" behavior. In this
instance the opportunity to fit in had an unexpected outcome, and, as
such, was also an illustration that definitions of giftedness did
indeed exist among peers:
Students in biology are beginning an experiment
to determine if a substance is an acid or base.
They organize themselves at lab tables in almost
exactly the order in which they had previously

-116-
been sitting in class. This makes Sally and
Lynn, two gifted girls, lab partners. The
observer drifts over and sits with Sally, Lynn,
and two other girls.
Sally: (to the observer) You should have seen
Lynn's face when you walked into history.
Observer: Why? What happened?
Sally: We were acting bad. (She grins.)
Sally and Lynn begin playfully arguing over lab
materials, pushing and laughing.
Girl 1: Yeah! Look how immature they act!
Girl 2: And you're supposed to be gifted!
Lynn: (angrily) And you're supposed to be dumb!
Sally: Yeah! (moving behind Lynn) What's your
definition of gifted anyhow?
Though the teacher overhears this and catches the
observer's eye, he makes no effort to intervene.
A brief silence is followed by preparation for
the lab.
In summary, multiple definitions of giftedness contributed to
the confusion about ability perceived by the gifted girls in this
study. In order to cope with this confusion, the girls frequently
referred to themselves as having potential rather than having ability.
The gifted girls in this study tended to underestimate their own abili
ties to do well in order to avoid conflict-producing situations. As
Cindy informed the researcher, "I'd rather have teachers who don't expect
too much. That makes it easier to please them and then their job
isn't so miserable."
Affiliation Needs
The questions which emerged during the early stages of data
collection and analysis for this study were "What things cause these
gifted girls concern or anxiety?" and "What makes them happy or gives
them a sense of accomplishment?" The answers to these questions led
the observer to focus on the importance of relationships in assessing

-117-
one's ability. The girls in this study expressed beliefs that being
liked by their teachers enabled them to do better in class. In addi
tion, they believed that being successful in their interactions with
peers, or being socially competent, was an important indicator of
future success and happiness. Thus, being socially competent was,
itself, an area of achievement.
In delineating the factors which caused gifted adolescent girls
anxiety, or which brought them a sense of accomplishment, the data
analysis indicated that the girls in this study believed that affilia
tion (being liked) was itself a means to greater achievement. That is,
on numerous occasions they expressed the belief that if a teacher liked
you, you were more apt to do well. The belief that being liked made
achievement more likely indicated that relationships with teachers had
great impact on gifted girls' self-perceptions of ability. The
following statements were taken from the domain, Ways to Know If a
Teacher Likes/Doesn't Like You:
1. If a teacher likes you your work will probably
be put up in the room.
2. You can almost feel who is high (popular) in
the team because if a teacher likes you, you
get to do a lot and you do well.
3. If a teacher doesn't like your work you feel
like they were giving you that grade because
they don't like you.
4. My grades are falling because of the teachers
. . and I guess because of me. We don't get
along.
The girls frequently spoke about getting reputations with teachers
and how a good reputation affected the way you behaved in class.
Cindy, the gifted girl most often referred to by teachers in Team One
as a producer, described for the researcher a series of steps she took

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dun* ng the first weeks of school to make a good impression. The steps
included trying hard, answering a lot of questions, being polite, and
not hanging around students who caused problems. "I make a good
impression and they'll remember it unless I do something really bad
to change it. Then I stop answering questions except once in a while
so they still know I'm trying." For Cindy, being liked by the teacher
was important not only for approval reasons, but also because, once she
gained the reputation, she believed she could "stay on the teacher's
good side" even though her participation in class became minimal.
In contrast, Nancy, a new student at the school, described getting
a reputation as having teachers "know you a long time and like your
mother." Interviews with Nancy and observations of her school
experiences provided rich descriptions of what occurred when the
teacher didn't like you. It is important to note that Nancy's class
room behavior was the most deviant of all the gifted girls. It was
difficult for her to sit still, she frequently broke rules, when she
worked during class it was on assignments related to other classes,
and she often failed to do homework assignments. The ramifications of
gaining a reputation based on this behavior were most apparent when,
sitting in the teachers' lounge, the researcher heard Nancy's teachers
discuss her behavior as very "sneaky and dishonest." A resource
teacher listening to the conversation commented, "Wait till I get her
next term. I'll whip her into shape!" During the course of the re
searcher's observations, Nancy's behavior grew steadily worse in
her teacher's eyes, despite numerous parental attempts to remedy the
situation. A comment made to the researcher by one teacher drew an

-119-
iinteresting comparison between behaviors which had gained Nancy a
reputation as dishonest, and similar behaviors among gifted boys:
Teacher: I have trouble looking at these gifted
girls as being gifted. Now, Nancy maybe. I can't
associate with her because she's new and I've only
known her awhile, but I've known the others for
years. Also because of her behavior. Her behavior
isn't antisocial like the gifted boys' behavior.
It's dishonest. When James (gifted boy) doesn't
do his homework, it's because he sees no reason.
Because he knows it. Nancy tells me she did it,
but it got lost. . The majority of the girls
are more interested in pleasing and doing well be
cause it pleases the teacher.
Beyond drawing a distinction between this teacher's perception of the
same behavior (not doing the work) acted out by a gifted boy and
Nancy, this comment illustrates two additional points. First, it
should be noted that the teacher was reaffirming the girls's beliefs
that reputations do exist and are based on long term relationships.
Second, if it is assumed that students caught in Nancy's position
would resort to excuses they viewed as most acceptable and reasonable
to teachers, then Nancy's emphasis on effort as opposed to James's use
of ability illustrated differential perceptions of teacher expecta
tions.
Nancy often described having feelings of guilt and confusion about
her ability and motivation to do schoolwork. She informed the researcher
that teachers did not really listen to her and that she believed they
were making things up about her. The researcher's observations that
Nancy's usual peer group, composed of gifted and high achieving girls,
interacted with her less and less frequently over the duration of the
study were explained by Cindy. "She (Nancy) is getting a bad reputa
tion with teachers."

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The relationship between gifted girls' self-perceptions of
ability and their affiliation needs was illustrated by their belief
that being liked made success more likely. This idea surfaced during
individual interviews as well as during classroom interaction when
teachers were giving oral feedback on students' work. When feedback
was positive it was often equated with being liked. In addition, the
girls explained that they usually liked teachers who liked them, and
that liking the teacher also meant that you had a better chance of
doing well. When asked to give an example of this relationship the
majority of the gifted girls in this study indicated that liking the
teacher meant liking the subject, and if you liked the subject you
would listen more and try harder. Evidence that this perception was
not shared by all was found in Lynn's remark to the researcher con
cerning her report card. "Everyone has a best subject and mine is
English. I doubt I would do better in any of my classes even if I
liked the teachers." Her use of the term, "even if," however, sug
gested that Lynn saw this as a commonly held belief.
The significance of the girls' belief that liking a subject meant
that they were more apt to do well was clearly illustrated when the
majority of eighth grade gifted girls declined to register for several
honors classes which were being offered at the local high school the
following year. In addition to desiring to be with peers not taking
honors, the girls expressed the concerns that honors classes just meant
more homework, and that if they were not interested they would not be
able to keep up with the class. The decision not to take honors classes
unless they really liked the subject may have been reinforced after

-121-
a teacher made the following announcement in an eighth grade meet
ing:
Teacher: Once you write down your schedule you
can't change it. The high school has asked us to
tell you this so make your decision with your
parents carefully. What your teachers recommend
isn't set in stone, but what you write down, you
can't change. Don't decide you are going to try
something out! It doesn't work that way! (An
example of honors science or regular science is
given.)
When the researcher asked another teacher if this policy might keep a
gifted girls who did not like science now from taking further science
courses, the teacher replied, "If she didn't like the subject, why
take it? This decision came out of the team teachers' meeting. If
they don't like it, they probably won't work at it. If it's just an
ego trip they shouldn't take it."
Feelings of social competence were a second area in which the
gifted girls in this study expressed a relationship between affilia
tion needs and perceptions of ability. In a study of girls' percep
tions of schooling, Lomax (1978) concluded that,"peer relationships
were the most prominent feature" (p. 122). Data obtained from obser
vations and interviews during this study supported Lomax's assertion.
Peer group membership was an important form of achievement to the
girls. Debbie, who continuallytold the researcher throughout the study
that she was not good at anything, noted that, "The only thing I do
is I'm in the high (most popular) crowd."
The gifted girls in this study described themselves as belonging
to a variety of social groups within the school's informal peer
organization. Lynn, an eighth grader, noted, "Some of uslike Connie,

-122-
Debbie, and Ellenare real popular, and the rest of us-well, we're
in the middle. We're not popular, but we're not unpopular. . .
What's important is having your own group." Though belonging was an
important issue for all of the girls in this study, for the eighth
graders its significance was reinforced by the belief that reputa
tions, once gained, did not change. Connie explained the difficulty
of gaining entry to the most popular peer group, as well as its
importance:
Connie: Here we have real set cliques. The best
thing you can do is get into the popular crowd. It's
no fun if you're in the others. We have three girls'
cliques: the sluts, the goddy-goodies, and the main
crowd. That's ours. For the guys it's the preps and
the rougher crowd. The preps are wealthy. You can't
be in the main crowd if you're ugly. . They
(leaders of the crowd) pick their friends carefully.
You have to be pretty and do what they want . .
unless you're in the popular crowd guys won't go with
you. . Like, if you aren't friends with Carrie
(one of the most popular eighth grade girls) you
won't be asked to go with guys. Ellen's never been
kicked out. She's a lover of popularity. In order
not to be kicked out you have to follow, and I've
been kicked out. I've cried over it so many times
(being kicked out). You get talked about a lot and
you feel like a fool when you go hang around them
again.
Observer: Is everyone in a clique?
Connie: I read in a magazine that the cream-of-the-
crop doesn't hang around with a clique. They don't
follow. If I had the guts, I wouldn't hang around
with them, but if you're out, you're nowhere. . .
I'm mainly worried about popularity. I admire
people who go on their ownlike Gena. (There is a
long pause while Connie thinks about what she has
told the observer.) This is confusing. I'm talking
in opposites. Every other sentence is opposite to
what I just said. My mom says I do this a lot. I
have all these ideas that, if you told people, they'd
think you were stupid. Good grades, respect, being
a classy person, and having a good reputation are
important to me
Observer: What about the guys?

-123-
Connie: The guys are more independent. The girls
are afraid to go against each other. . Like, I
think the clique knows what they're doing when they
talk about people. You don't do something unless the
clique approves. Guys aren't as bad. Like, Kate
came running up to me to tell me Ron asked her to go
with him and she wanted to know if I approved. I
said, "Do you like him?" But she said that it didn't
matter. That's what I mean by having a recommenda
tion.
Observer: I'm glad you're explaining this. It's
taken us a long time to get together for a talk, and
this has really helped.
Connie: I thought it would be hard to talk to you
. . (She laughs and looks down at the table) because
you're older, but it's not. I was worried. I guess
the clique teaches you to watch out what you and who
you talk to. . People are totally different away
from school. I show a lot of this. What I'm telling
you now is what I can say when I'm away from school.
Then there's not pressure to be cool.
Data from observations revealed that in subtle ways teachers in
this middle school influenced the girls' perceptions of social com
petence as a form of achievement. Team teachers' classroom interaction
with gifted boys was a significant factor in the way gifted girls valued
and described their own social competence. This first became apparent
during early observations when analysis of the data revealed that
teachers using public sarcasm or ridicule often directed it at the
same boys. One sixth grade boy and three seventh grade boys, all
gifted, were primary targets of this public criticism. When asked
why these same boys were so frequently disciplined, the girls explained
that the boys were trying to show off being smarter than everyone else
and that they were just "nerds." The girls believed that the behavior
exhibited by gifted boys was behavior to be avoided. "They make it
hard for us. Outside people think you must be weird if you're in
gifted."

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When pressed to describe the behaviors that made the gifted boys
seem socially inept to other students, the majority of girls listed
arguing with the teacher, thinking you are smarter, and always knowing
the answer. Such behaviors, in addition to their perceptions of gifted
boys as being physically unattractive, made the girls even more con
cerned with avoiding the label of gifted in order to "fit in." This
was also true of eighth grade girls who frequently pointed out the lack
of social competence in the gifted boys. Though eighth grade boys were
rarely singled out as behavior problems, they were frequently ahead of
everyone else in schoolwork, and as such, exhibited the behaviors the
girls thought should be avoided. The following examples illustrate
the girls' belief that social competence was a valued skill or ability:
Jill: Some people in gifted think they are smarter
than anyone and that they can get away with anything
. . like Bobby and John and David. I know they are
smart, but they act smarter than everyone, and
people in regular classes just think everyone is
equal.
Marie: The boys act out. Miss Davis always gets
mad at Bobby.
Nancy: (running into the gifted room out of breath)
I had to run all the way here so I wouldn't be seen
walking with him (a gifted boy).
Debbie: I hate math. No one knows what he (teacher)
is talking about except the real brains.
Observer: Who are the real brains?
Debbie: Phil and Steve and Jason (two of these boys
are gifted). They'll be the only ones partici
pating. You see, they've had calculus and all that,
and they're already finished with our science book.
She lets them go ahead and just read it, and they
passed all the tests.
Observer: Why don't you do that?
Connie: (laughing) We aren't that smart!
Debbie: The gifted girls are a lot different from
the gifted guys. We don't want to be different.
They don't care if they are. We don't want to be
odd. Look at them! Do you see the way they are?

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Connie: They're like the bottom of the barrel.
They're really low. The way they dress! (She
grimaces.) They're strange.
The open-space environment of the teams made it easy for the
researcher to document the frequent occasions when gifted boys were
publicly reprimanded. It should be noted that this ease of observa
tion was also true for all students and teachers in the team area.
On one occasion, the researcher, observing in one class, overheard
a teacher at the opposite end of the team area instruct her students,
"Raise your hands, but not like Mr. Burton (gifted boy) who raises
his hand like this (she waves hers in the air) and yells, 'Miss Martin!
Miss Martin!'" When the researcher asked a student sitting nearby how
Bobby (Burton) must feel, the student indicated matter-of-factly that
Bobby was always in trouble.
In summary, the girls in this study perceived affiliation as a
means to an end. They believed that being liked by teachers was an
indication that their chances of doing well would be greater. Addi
tionally, being liked by peers was an indication of valued social
status. Since an association with specific peer groups was impor
tant, the girls' perceptions of teacher interaction with gifted boys
encouraged their desire to avoid being identified as gifted. Being
liked by teachers and being socially competent were measures the
gifted girls in this study used to assess their abilities.
Social Comparison
Other researchers have noted that girls do not recognize their
own strengths (Hoffman, 1975; Rubovits, 1975), and in particular,
bright girls generally underestimate their own abilities (Khatena, 1982).

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The findings of this study indicated that gifted adolescent girls did
underestimate their abilities in the process of determining the value
others attributed to possessing these abilities. Field notes and interview
transcripts revealed numerous examples in which girls made decisions about
their abilities in terms of 1) the potential for specific abilities to
contribute to greater social competence both at present and in the future,
and 2) the amount of effort they believed they had to expend in order to
achieve on a level commensurate with that of the gifted boys.
These decisions about the value of possessing abilities were made
through a process of social comparison. The following example illustrates
how the value of having abilities affected ability perceptions:
Observer: I hear you are an excellent singer.
El 1en: No. Not really. Not excellent.
Observer: Miss Hunt (teacher) told me you sing well.
Ellen: When I was in fifth or sixth grade I had a lot
of nerve. See, I didn't care what people thought of me
then, because ... I don't know. But when I was in
fifth grade I sang Tomorrow in front of the whole school.
And if I had any way of changing it I would, because even
if I sang OK, now people think I'm straight. . .
Observer: Because of the song?
Ellen: I guess being up there by myself, people think
it's weird. The boys think so. ... I think I'd rather
have friends and things than really be that good . .
'cause it doesn't do anything for me if I sing. I mean,
it doesn't get me a million dollars or anything.
Peer groups were important determiners of achievement. The girls in
this study frequently talked about what other people thought in terms of
the value other people attributed to certain behaviors, possessions, and
abilities. Abilities or behaviors that had questionable status with peer
groups were those to be avoided. When, during formal interviews, the
researcher mentioned talents or abilities which were not socially valued,
the girls frequently replied with comments such as Ellen's remark, "What
does it get me? Boys don't think it's important" or Sally's denial,

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"I don't care what anybody thinks." Ellen and Sally were members,
respectively, of upper and lower status cliques.
When discussing their progress in different subject areas, the gifted
girls in this study tended to compare themselves with gifted boys rather
than other peers. "I usually know in the easy classes, but in the hard
classes like algebra . a lot of the boys like Steve and Fred (two
gifted boys), the smartest boys, always know. I usually don't understand.
I don't catch on until I go home at night and look it over. Then I under
stand a little." Comments such as these were frequently made by the girls.
The girls' perceptions that the causes of their achievement stemmed
mainly from studying and trying hard resulted in a tendency to use per
ceptions of effort as a measuring device when comparing themselves to
gifted boys. As Debbie explained, "Tom and Bob don't have to try as hard.
Their whole life is brains. . Their talk is scientific notation!" The
result of comparison based on perceptions of effort was a tendency for
gifted girls to underestimate, and in fact, devalue their ability. The
majority of girls believed that they only knew the answers when they
studied, and that, therefore, they were not any smarter than anyone else.
The following excerpt from field notes illustrates the girls' tendency
to perceive gifted boys as more able. In early April the researcher accom
panied the seventh grade gifted class on a fieldtrip to the city govern
ment building as a part of their unit on Madison's history. There the
city clerk explained the importance of the computer system in use:
City Clerk: Right now we're fixin' to boom! This whole
area is growing so we need systems like this. (The boys
crowd around, asking questions and touching the computer.
Nancy and Cindy stand outside the group, next to the
observer, and listen politely.)
Nancy: (whispering to the observer) Why's he doing
this? I'm not going into computer sciences. I want
to be a dentist or a nurse . one that takes care
of babies.

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Observer: Why do you think the guys are so interested?
Nancy: (shrugs her shoulders) I don't know. I guess
because they're more skilled.
Observer: Oh, really? Why?
Nancy: I don't know. They're just better and girls aren't.
The central role of effort in girls' perceptions of ability was also
indicated in comments made by girls having difficulty in certain subjects,
and those girls least able to gain an appropriate reputation with teachers.
These girls blamed a lack of effort as the possible cause of their diffi
culties, though their ability to do anything about the situation was in
question. As Ellen explained, "I try and yeah, I know I could do better.
I try and I guess it's the best I can do." That Ellen never noticed the
contradiction in her statements was illustrative of her confusion.
In summary, the gifted girls in this study assessed their abilities
in terms of the value they perceived that others attributed to their
abilities. Secondly, they compared their abilities with those of gifted
boys in terms of effort. These girls tended to describe themselves as
hard workers and gifted boys as real brains.
The data obtained in this study indicated the importance of
social interaction in the development of gifted adolescent girls'
self-perceptions of ability. These girls placed great importance on,
and were very receptive to, the behaviors of significant others within
the school setting. Their beliefs about ability and achievement-
related issues were not only influenced by teachers and peers within
the school, but were continually reinforced by others' behaviors.
The desire expressed by the majority of girls to maintain their own
sense of value, yet avoid the negative consequences of standing out,
was illustrated in Marie's remark to the researcher:

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Marie: I feel alone and like I have a lot of
personalities ... like I might not be normal.
I act differently all the time.
The depth of this feeling of being alone was revealed in a poem
written by Ellen, an eighth grader who was well-liked and a member
of the most popular clique. The poem was handed to the researcher
onemorning during language:
One
One
This is a number of
Loneliness.
Of crying and of
Tears
Shadows of deep
Silence
Alone in wonder and
Thought
To view the miracles of
Life.
In this section factors which influenced the formation of gifted
girls' self-perceptions of ability have been discussed. Definitions
of giftedness held by significant others were perceived by the girls
as responsible for conflict-producing situations in which their
competency was publicly questioned. In an effort to avoid these
situations, girls expressed a preference for teachers who expected
less and tended to characterize themselves as having potential rather
than ability. Affiliation needs also influenced gifted girls' self
perceptions of ability in that they believed being liked by teachers
made success more likely. Additionally, being liked by peers was
perceived as a form of achievement in itself. Finally, girls formed
perceptions of their ability through social comparison. They frequently

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expressed the belief that gifted boys possessed ability, while gifted
girls put forth effort.
The self-perceptions of gifted girls in this study were found to
be the result of a cyclic process in which girls used school experiences
to interpret and modify their beliefs about ability and achievement,
and, in turn, their beliefs about ability guided their choices of
behavior at school. In the following chapter, implications of the
present study are discussed.

CHAPTER V
CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS
The purpose of this study was to describe and explain the
experiences of gifted adolescent girls in one middle school, de
lineating the social-interactional factors which influenced ability
perceptions and attitudes toward achievement. Researchers who have
focused on gifted girls have investigated personality characteristics,
career-ability conflicts, or the mathematically gifted girl, but no
studies have investigated the formation of self-perceptions of ability
within specific contexts. In this study two broad general questions
were posed as a framework: What kinds of experiences do gifted girls
have in a middle school setting in which they are members of
heterogeneous teams as well as homogeneous gifted classes? How do
they use these experiences to construct their own behavior and self
perceptions?
In order to identify the social-interactional factors which
influenced ability perceptions, the researcher observed in the inter
disciplinary teams and gifted classroom of one middle school for 200
hours. These observations were conducted during the last half of the
school year. In addition, interviews were conducted with the girls,
their teachers, and five mothers. The data collected represented
the girls' interactions with teachers, peers, and educational
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materials within and outside the classroom setting, and girls' speech
messages concerning abilities and achievement. These concrete phenomena
were used by the researcher as indicators of gifted adolescent girls'
self-perceptions of ability.
The data collected were analyzed into domains using procedures
described by Spradley (1980). Domains which were useful in revealing
girls' self-perceptions of ability included Results of Being in the
Gifted Program, Ways to Know You've Done Your Best, Kinds of Goals,
Kinds of Status, Things that Are Important, Steps in Getting a Teacher
to Like You, Attributes of Smart People, Differences Between Gifted
Boys and Girls, and Responsibilities of Students on a Team. Data were
drawn from these domains to construct taxonomies which represented the
factors influencing gifted girls' self-perceptions of ability.
In this study the kinds of experiences that gifted girls had
within their teams and the gifted program affected their achievement-
related behaviors to varying degrees. That is, the girls' attitudes
and views about themselves moderated the influence of these school
experiences. Ability formation, then, was seen as a cyclic process
in which girls' entering views, teachers' and peers' beliefs and be
haviors, and the organization of instruction within teams affected
gifted girls' self-perceptions of ability. The following conclusions
about girls' school experiences can be drawn from the findings of this
study:
1) Parental and community expectations affected the development
of gifted girls' beliefs about ability and achievement and their
attitudes toward their own future roles. In particular, community
organizations such as the church were instrumental in this process of
socialization.

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2) The majority of gifted girls attributed future success and
happiness to being liked and accepted by others, thus social competence
was perceived as an important area of achievement. To be socially
competent, the majority of girls believed it was necessary for gifted
students to fit in and not act smarter than others. Thus, the desire
to achieve social competence resulted in a tendency for girls to devalue
or underestimate their own abilities and to avoid classroom situations
which required frequent public displays of knowledge.
3) The girls assessed the importance of having abilities by com
paring themselves to gifted boys whom they did not consider socially
competent, and to peers with high social standing. If a specific
ability was perceived as having little social value, the girls did not
demonstrate achievement-related behaviors or express high evaluations
of their abilities in that area. For example, Ellen's belief that she
was not a good singer was influenced by school experiences in which
she perceived singing brought her recognition as being socially incom
petent.
4) A mismatch between gifted girls' classroom performance and
teachers' beliefs about ability caused teachers to question whether
the majority of girls were gifted students. Teachers often compared
gifted girls to high-achieving girls who volunteered more answers and
appeared more motivated in class. Though teachers did not believe
they treated gifted girls differently, the girls believed that teachers
expected more from gifted students, often calling on gifted girls to
publicly demonstrate knowledge to which they believed they had not yet
been exposed. To explain their inability to meet teacher expectations,

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gif ted girls referred to themselves as having potential rather than
ability. In addition, the girls expressed a preference for teachers
who expected less over teachers who expected perfection.
5) The guiding philosophy about instruction and curriculum com
municated to students through interdisciplinary team organizations
influenced gifted girls' achievement-related behaviors. In Team One,
where teachers advocated a content-centered approach, the gifted girls
were less likely to exhibit task-commitment in class, interact with
educational materials outside class, and express the belief that they
were competent in a variety of subjects. These behaviors were more
likely to characterize gifted girls during the year they were members
of Team Two, a team which advocated a student-centered approach to
curriculum and instruction. Different management strategies used by
the two teams and different teacher personalities were alternative
explanations for the different achievement-related behaviors exhibited
by gifted girls in two different teams.
6) The girls perceived close student-teacher relationships within
team organizations as a primary reason for achievement motivation.
That is, they believed that teachers who liked and cared about them
behaved differently, giving them increased chances to perform suc
cessfully. Additionally, girls believed that building reputations as
students who put forth effort decreased the teacher's tendency to call
on them during class, thus enabling them to avoid public performance.
7) The competitive system used in Team Two, one which based class
room seating and the distribution of rewards on grade point averages,
was described by gifted girls as a technique which motivated and

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encouraged them to achieve. At the same time, however, these girls
expressed high levels of anxiety about teachers' and peers' perceptions
of their performance, believing that competition was especially diffi
cult for gifted girls who were expected to know the answer. The girls
described the situation as one in which negative sanctions resulted both
from not knowing the answer and knowing the answer too often.
8) The girls who had the least social status perceived the gifted
program most positively, describing it as the context in which they were
most able to be themselves. For the majority of girls, the gifted
program was one in which they believed they could express themselves
/
more freely without negative sanctions.
9) The majority of gifted girls believed their successful school
experiences resulted from effort and their failures from lack of moti
vation. This belief supported their perception that gifted girls had
potential rather than ability. The one student who believed her
achievements were not related to effort was least able to do well and
most negatively perceived by teachers. In contrast, gifted boys'
achievements were described by girls as resulting from ability.
As previously stated, ability formation was seen as a cyclic
process in which girls' entering views, teachers' and peers' beliefs
and behaviors, and the organization of instruction within teams affected
girls' achievement-related behaviors and beliefs about ability. That
the girls used school experiences to interpret and modify their be
liefs about ability, and, in turn, that their beliefs about ability
guided their choices of behavior at school were illustrative of this
cyclic process. From gifted girls' perceptions of school experiences,

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three factors were identified as influential in the ability formation
process. These factors are as follows:
1) Multiple definitions of giftedness. The girls believed that
the definitions of giftedness held by significant others within the
school setting led to confusing expectations. In turn, these expecta
tions brought about conflict-producing situations in which girls per
ceived their chances for failure were increased, and thus, their
competency questioned. The multiple definitions of giftedness held
by significant others led the girls to frequently express concern over
the possible public disclosure that they did not know the answer and
a fear of peer rejection if they appeared too bright. In order to
cope with this conflict and preserve their own sense of competence,
the girls frequently referred to themselves as having potential, but
as being no different or smarter than other girls.
2) Affiliation needs. The girls believed that being liked by
teachers meant that they would be given more chances to do well and
that their work would be perceived more favorably. Thus, affiliation
was a means to greater achievement. In addition, membership in popular
peer groups was believed to be a sign of social competence, and thus,
a valued form of achievement in itself.
3) Social comparison. The girls made decisions about their
abilities by comparing themselves to peers with high social standing
and to gifted boys. These decisions about ability took into con
sideration 1) the potential for specific abilities to contribute to
greater social competence both at present and in the future, and
2) the amount of effort girls believed they expended in comparison to
gifted boys.

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In summary, the studied gifted girls experienced a conflict be
tween the high expectations others attributed to gifted girls and the
behaviors required to achieve social acceptance. In order to maintain
a sense of competence in both their academic and social worlds, the
majority of girls described themselves as having potential and their
successful achievements as resulting from effort. Thus, these gifted
girls were more likely to demonstrate achievement-related behaviors in
team situations where teacher-student relationships were characterized
as close, and girls believed their efforts would be perceived more
favorably.
Relationship of the Findings to Previous Studies
Research on perceptions of ability has focused on the feelings
of causality that accompany successful and unsuccessful achievement
(Covington & Beery, 1976; Weiner et al., 1971), and the role of context
factors in the formation of ability perceptions (Rosenholtz & Simpson,
1984; in press). Since ability perceptions are viewed as a central
component in achievement-related behavior, researchers have attempted
to understand what feelings or environmental influences might affect
an individual's desire to pursue and accomplish tasks in the future.
Studies conducted with early adolescents have investigated the
influence of significant others on adolescents' attitudes toward
achievement and ability (Schmuck, 1962; 1963; Brookover et al., 1964;
Parsons et al., 1982; Pittman, 1979). These studies found that a
significant positive relationship exists between students' perceptions

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of the evaluation of parents, teachers, and peers, and students' per
ceptions of their own ability. Pittman (1979) noted that the influence
of parents may be particularly important for early adolescent females.
Studies which have looked specifically at how classroom structure may
affect student beliefs about ability have concluded that high resolution
or unidimensional structures may provide fewer options for students to
demonstrate ability, and that, as a result, ability becomes more
narrowly defined and a greater student-teacher consensus results
(Rosenholtz & Rosenholtz, 1981; Rosenholtz & Wilson, 1980; Simpson,
1981; Weinstein et al., 1985). Factors which influence perceptions
of ability are important because, as Mason and Stipek (1985) noted,
student perceptions of ability influence students' emotional involve
ment in tasks.
Researchers who have looked specifically at females have indicated
that the need for social acceptance may hinder achievement motivation
(Crandall, 1967; Hoffman, 1975; Rubovits, 1975; Sherman, 1971), that a
possible disposition to avoid success may exist (Horner, 1972; 1975;
Lavach & Lanier, 1975), and that a fear of negative consequences
which could result from success in specific contexts may affect motiva
tion (Cook, 1976). Other researchers have concluded that studies of
achievement motivation in females have failed to consider that males
and females may have different achievement values. That is, that social
competence or affiliation should not be viewed as hindering achievement
motivation in females, but that it should be viewed as an area in
which women are motivated to achieve (Stein & Bailey, 1975). No
studies have addressed the formation of ability perceptions in gifted

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adolescent girls, but researchers have noted that obstacles to women's
achievement may affect females who have the greatest ability to the
greatest degree (Blaubergs, 1978; 1980; Callahan, 1979; 1981; Fox, 1978;
Horner, 1975).
The present study focused on the school experiences of gifted
girls and the context factors which influenced the development of their
perceptions of ability. The rich and detailed data collected provided
evidence that the formation of gifted girls' self-perceptions of ability
was influenced by social interaction, and in particular, their percep
tions of relationships with significant others. Three factors were
identified as influential: multiple definitions of ability, affilia
tion needs, and social comparison. These factors indicated the
importance of teacher and peer evaluations in the construction of
gifted girls' self-perceptions.
In this study the structure of the teams in which the girls were
members mediated the influence of these factors. Both teams resembled
the unidimensional organization described by Rosenholtz and Simpson
(1984; in press). That is, low task differentiation, low student
autonomy, and evaluation systems which reflected narrowly focused
criteria gave the gifted girls few options to demonstrate their com
petence beyond the structure offered by the teams. For girls labeled
as gifted and expected to perform as such, narrow definitions of ability
resulted in confusion and lack of motivation because their talents did
not always match teachers' and peers' definitions of ability. By
describing themselves as having potential rather than ability, it
appeared that the gifted girls in this study were able to cope with

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their own desire to fulfill teacher expectations, but their inability
to always do so. This conflict surfaced frequently in Team Two where
the Dynamic Dozen technique imposed constant competition, direct com
parison among and between students, and a system of reward for obtaining
the highest grade point average. Having ability became synonymous with
knowing the answer. For girls labeled as gifted, narrow definitions
of ability resulted in a variety of strategies to avoid public exposure
in case they did not know the answer, and, at the same time, to avoid
standing out as someone who always knew in a system of strict stratifi
cation. Such strategies included sitting in the back of the room and
not volunteering answers in class. Narrow definitions of ability also
caused discomfort for teachers who were unable to understand the
mismatch between such conceptions of ability and gifted girls'
performance.
Rosenholtz and Rosenholtz (1981) noted that ability stratification
could affect one's life chances, enhancing or limiting capacity, to
the degree that one was influenced by the perceptions of significant
others. The findings of this study indicated that perceptions of
teachers as flexible and positive instructors could also act as
buffers, modifying the effects of narrow conceptions of ability. For
the girls who perceived Team Two as a family and a climate in which
they received more chances to do well, greater effort and desire to
achieve resulted. Additionally, girls who believed they were liked
by teachers believed that they had a better chance of doing well. For
these gifted girls, obtaining a reputation as a hard worker helped them
avoid conflict-producing situations in which public performance might

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result in negative consequences. Affiliation, then, was perceived as
a means to greater achievement by the girls in this study.
Related to the findings of other researchers who noted the in
fluence of significant others (parents and teachers) on girls' notions
about ability and achievement (Pittman, 1979), and the possible influ
ences of the community on girls' specific-subject self-concepts of
ability (Brookover et al., 1964), the findings of this study indicated
that girls' perceptions of what was acceptable achievement were influ
enced by parents and the school community. The girls frequently dis
cussed parental expectations and compared themselves to peers with high
social status. In turn, their perceptions of acceptable achievement
influenced their notions about ability. Valued abilities were those
which were seen as contributing to greater social competence.
As Weinstein et al. (1982) found, the gifted girls in this study
did perceive differential teacher behaviors toward gifted and regular
students. The girls believed that gifted students were expected to
know more and produce more with less instruction and less teacher help.
In addition, the girls perceived that gifted boys and teachers inter
acted in different ways than gifted girls and teachers, but that
these differential interactions between gifted boys and teachers were
not always preferable. For example, in this study gifted boys were
often pointed out by teachers as behaving inappropriately by calling
out answers or acting loudly in class. The frequent public criticism
of gifted boys, in combination with the gifted girls' perceptions that
these boys were socially incompetent, may have contributed to the
girls' desire to avoid the label of giftedness. An appropriate way

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of accomplishing this was to insist that they were no different from
other girls. They believed gifted boys were able, but they, themselves,
simply worked hard.
To summarize, the present study indicated that gifted girls'
self-perceptions of ability were influenced by 1) the perceived evalua
tions of others, 2) the belief that being liked by teachers made achieve
ment more likely, and 3) the belief that social competence was a valued
achievement itself. The organization of curriculum and instruction
within the teams motivated girls to achieve, and promoted positive
perceptions of ability, to the extent that girls perceived the learning
environment as a place where teachers cared and where they would be
given more options and frequent chances to do well.
Use of Findings to Researchers
The present study may be of use to researchers in middle school
and in gifted education in three ways. First, the study represents
the use of a methodology not often utilized in either area. Second,
the detailed descriptions highlighted a number of variables which
could be further investigated by researchers interested in middle
school and gifted education. Third, the findings suggest questions
to be addressed in future research on gifted middle school girls.
These possible uses are discussed below.
Toepfer and Marani (1980) noted that naturalistic methods are
promising new approaches to learning more about middle schools and the
age group they serve. This study illustrates that the use of such a

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methodology can be most beneficial in its ability to yield products
which increase our understanding of adolescents, as well as illuminate
the range of teaching-learning experiences that impact on students'
behavior. That is, naturalistic methods, because they do not impose
preestablished categories of data collection upon the setting, enable
us to view school experiences through the eyes of the participants.
Additionally, rather than isolating variables for investigation,
naturalistic methods allow the examination of a cluster of inter
relating variables that, together, may have a differential impact on
students. In order to increase our understanding of factors that
influence the formation of gifted middle school girls' self-perceptions
of ability, researchers need to have access to qualitative, natural
istic investigations conducted in various contexts. The present study
provides one example of how this can be accomplished.
In qualitative data collection and analysis the broad perspec
tive employed reveals a number of variables which may have bearing on
the questions of interest. In this study, girls' self-perceptions of
ability and achievement motivation were found to be related to several
variables including home and community influences, teacher-student
relationships, team teachers' organization for instruction, competition,
the perceived evaluations of others, the desire for social competence,
and personal values. Findings of the present study indicate that these
variables form a complex pattern of forces which interact to influence
gifted girls' self-perceptions of ability and achievement-related
behavior. Future research on females' achievement motivation may
benefit from a more comprehensive approach which seeks to integrate

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these variables rather than investigate them in isolation. This
approach may produce significant contributions to our understanding
of how school contexts contribute to students' formation of ability
perceptions.
A number of research questions are suggested by the present study.
These questions relate to the variables that were found to influence
gifted girls' self-perceptions of ability. A question which surfaced
throughout the study concerned the role of the girls' personal values
in the formation of ability perceptions. When the girls perceived
school tasks as unrelated to their future roles or inappropriate for
females, did they correspondingly devalue their abilities in those
areas? For example, did Nancy's belief that computers were not
important in her future influence her perception that boys were more
skilled with computers than she? If gifted girls form ability per
ceptions in connection with their perception of a task's importance
in their future, will the formation of ability perceptions be influenced
by exercises designed to promote and clarify the future importance of
a task? That is, will gifted girls' perceptions of ability be influ
enced by curriculum designed to increase the range of tasks girls
perceive as important in their future?
Additional questions concern the effects of narrow task struc
tures and an emphasis on public and comparable performance evaluations
which characterize traditional classrooms (Rosenholtz & Simpson, in
press). If such a unidimensional organization results in narrow con
ceptions of ability shared by students and teachers within the
classroom, how does this shared definition of ability affect students

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who are labeled as gifted by an outside source? Is the effect different
for males and females? The present study suggests that girls believed
themselves to be more sensitive to teacher definitions of giftedness,
and that narrow task structures and competitive evaluation systems led
gifted girls to believe that ability was knowing the answer. Would
the less competitive environment in multidimensional classrooms, where
ability conceptions are more fluid and options for demonstrating
competence more available, encourage gifted girls to develop more
positive self-perceptions of ability?
Other questions suggested by this study concern the role teachers
play in the identification of students for testing into gifted programs.
Do teachers in unidimensional and multidimensional classrooms select
different types of students for testing? If so, what criteria do they
use? Is evidence of gifted behavior which would result in selection
of a student for testing more limited in a unidimensional classroom?
Would teachers in a unidimensional classroom more often select girls,
or as suggested by this study, would they perceive boys as more
gifted?
Still another question suggested by this study concerns the
gifted girls' belief that being liked increased their chances of doing
well. Does interdisciplinary team organization increase girls' beliefs
that they are liked by encouraging closer student-teacher relationships?
How do different teacher personalities mediate the effects of narrow
task structures and competitive evaluation? More specifically, what
kinds of students do gifted adolescent girls believe teachers like?
In what ways do teachers communicate positive acceptance of gifted
girls' contributions?

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Still other questions relate to the effects of gifted girls' per
ceptions about effort. In this study the gifted girls believed that
liking a subject increased their chances for success because they
were more apt to put forth effort, that is, to listen and complete
assignments, in subjects they liked. The majority of girls also
attributed their successes and failures to the amount of effort they
expended. As a result of this emphasis on effort rather than ability
as a cause of success, do gifted girls concerned about doing well
prejudice their futures by prematurely limiting their curriculum choices
in middle and high school to subjects they like at present?
Finally, this study suggests several questions about gifted girls'
attitudes toward school. Do gifted girls shy away from subjects not
generally perceived as acceptable areas of achievement for girls more
than other girls because the label of giftedness has already set them
apart? Do girls in rural schools have different attitudes toward
achievement than girls in urban schools? Insight into these questions
may help explain why gifted girls are more likely to underestimate
their ability.
Use of the Findings to Practitioners
Although the specific findings from this study should not be
generalized to other populations, the detailed descriptions of
interactions within one school reveal the complexity of the interplay
between gifted students and the school context. As such, this study
has implications for teachers in both gifted and regular classrooms,
teacher educators, and curriculum specialists.

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Descriptive data from this study can serve to convey to teachers,
especially those with no background in gifted education, what it is
like to be a gifted adolescent girl. Teacher sensitivity to individual
students' perceptions of classroom events is important, for students
are clearly interpreters of classroom reality (Rosenholtz & Simpson,
1984; Weinstein, 1983), and messages sent in classrooms may affect
individual students' perceptions of ability in different ways. For
gifted adolescent girls, the focus on ability which comes with the
label of giftedness presents a conflict between achievement expecta
tions and social competence. Teacher awareness of the variables in
volved may help gifted girls who value close student-teacher relation
ships resolve this conflict. Thus, the importance of descriptive data
such as that provided by this study is in its use to increase teacher
awareness, and thus, enhance sensitivity toward the needs of this
subgroup of students. As Chodorow (1974) noted, to remain unaware of
the sense of worth that develops in girls today is to ignore a growing
set of problems.
Sex-role development of girls in modern society
is more complex. On the one hand they go to school
to prepare for life in a technologically and
socially advanced, complex society. On the other
hand, there is a sense in which this schooling is
pseudo-training. It is not meant to interfere
with the much more important training to be
"feminine" and a "wife and mother." (p. 55)
The importance of teacher definitions of giftedness was a major
finding of this study, and has implications for teachers, themselves,
as well as teacher educators. Symbolic interactionists postulate
that an individual's definition of reality affects that individual's

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choice of behaviors (Blumer, 1969; Mead, 1934). In this study, the
structure of the curriculum and an emphasis on public and comparable
performance evaluation contributed to teachers' definitions of ability.
The mismatch between these definitions and the classroom performance
of the majority of gifted girls caused teachers to question the girls'
identification as gifted. In turn, these girls believed that teachers
often put them in conflict-producing situations in which their com
petency was questioned. Failure to get the right answer in those situa
tions was perceived by girls as an indication that they had potential
rather than ability. Thus, in this study, teacher definitions of
ability influenced gifted girls' self-perceptions of ability. For
teachers, this series of events implies the need to encourage more
open, flexible definitions of ability, as well as the need to be
sensitive to students' interpretations of value systems. This is
expecially important when students' notions of ability are influenced
by the perceived evaluations of significant others, as the gifted
girls in this study illustrate.
For teacher educators, this series of events implies that some
introduction to the needs and nature of gifted students should be
included in the preparation of all preservice teachers. Additionally,
in the educational programs for teachers of the gifted, emphasis should
be placed on the needs of special groups of gifted students such as
gifted girls. Teacher educators should help teachers explore alterna
tive definitions of giftedness, and the implications of such definitions
for appropriate curriculum and effective programs.

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The influence of student-teacher relationships on gifted girls'
achievement-related behaviors was an important finding in this study
which has implications for teacher organization. The studied gifted
girls were more likely to demonstrate achievement-related behaviors
in team situations where student-teacher relationships were character
ized as close, and girls believed their efforts would be perceived more
favorably. While individual teacher personalities within the two
teams studied contributed to the ability of the team, as a whole, to
foster such closer relationships, students believed that being members
of teams made the existence of such relationships more likely. Thus,
teacher organization which promotes the sharing of a set number of
students among a core group of teachers, facilitating close student-
teacher relationships, may promote achievement motivation and positive
ability perceptions in gifted adolescent girls at a time when sex-role
identification and the tendency to conform may inhibit achievement.
Curriculum specialists have noted the need for the development
of different strategies in the education of gifted girls (Callahan,
1981). The implications of this study for curriculum development point
to the need for the following strategies:
1) Activities are needed which enable gifted girls to interact
with female role models who present the image of being successful both
professionally and socially.
2) Activities are needed which promote and clarify the value of
math and science within tasks girls perceive as appropriate and
important areas of achievement for females. Such activities may keep
girls from prejudicing their futures by limiting their present efforts
in math and science at a young age.

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3) Regular and individual interaction with adults who are talented
in areas in which girls express ability or interest should be provided.
Such mentors may fill the need gifted girls feel for affiliation,
providing support and encouraging achievement motivation.
4) Activities should be provided which allow girls to investigate
a wide range of career options in a warm and supportive environment.
Thornburg (1985) noted the importance of alerting middle school
teachers and teacher trainers to the fact that, in today's society,
"Early adolescents are growing up faster. . Their self-worth seems
more fragile" (p. 23). Gifted adolescent girls need teachers who are
sensitive to the effects of classroom context variables on the forma
tion of ability perceptions, and who examine the effects of their own
perceptions and beliefs on students' self-perceptions. To prepare such
middle school teachers, teacher trainers need to emphasize instructional
organization and curriculum strategies which encourage the development
of a positive sense of worth among gifted girls. Positive perceptions
of ability are central to achievement motivation, and, as such,
strategies which enable gifted adolescent girls to more fully under
stand their own abilities may have great bearing on their accomplish
ments in later life.

APPENDIX A
LETTER OF PERMISSION

November 1383
Dear Parents,
Your remission is reguested for your daughter to participate in a study of
gifted girls' perceptions of scnool. Participat ion in this study will not entail
any special treatment or removal of your daughter from her regular classroom routine.
In order to conduct this study, I will be observing in your daugnter's classrooms
aooroximately 10 hours per weex for 17 weeks, examining students' or*, and other
classroom materials, reviewing school and class records, ana informally questioning
the teacners and students about my observations. Finally, I .would like to talk to
you about your observations of your gifted daugnter's perceotions of school. There
is a place at the bottom of this letter for you to indicate necner you will oe
willing to participate in this part of the study.
Your daughter will be protected by an anonymous coding procedure during the
ooservation process. Information from students' records will oe Student, class, ano scnool names will not be used in connection with this study.
There are no risks and no immediate benefits to your daugnter as a result of this
study. You are free to wi thdraw your consent at any time. .So monetary comoensacion
will be awarded for participation. However, I will be naooy to answer anv duestions
you may have about the study, and to share the results once the study is comoleted.
I anticipate that this study will be beneficial to adults who are concerned with
the development of achievement, motivation, and self-conceot in gifted adolescent girls.
..I would appreciate your permission to observe in your daughter's classrooms,
ask her questions about her school experiences, examine materials, and review records.
If you have any questions concerning the study, please contact me.
Linda Kramer, Principal Investigator
General Teacher Education
332-0751
I have read and understand the procedure described above. I have received a copy of
this description and agree to allow my daugnter,
to participate in the study.
SIGNATURES:
Parent/ Guardian
Oate
Relationship to Suoject
I agree/ do not agree to be interviewed at my convenience concerning my daugnter's
derceotions or school. (Please circle one.)
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APPENDIX B
GROUP INTERVIEW WITH GIRLS
y
1. Describe a really good day at school. What kinds of things make
it good? How do you behave when you have a really good day?
2. Now tell me about a really awful day. What happened to make it so
bad? If you decided to talk to someone about this, to whom would
you go?
3. What kinds of things do you do best? Would your friends say this
about you? Your teachers?
4. How do you know when you've accomplished something really
important?
5. What makes you want to do your very best? Do you feel this way
often?
6. When you are unsure of yourself, how do you behave?
7. How would you describe yourself to someone who doesn't know you?
Do others see you this way? Would any of your teachers see you
this way?
8. What do you think students are missing if they go to a school that
doesn't have teams like yours?
9. Does coming to enrichment once a week change the way other students
see you? Teachers? Is it important for you to go?
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APPENDIX C
INTERVIEW WITH TEACHERS
1. In what ways do you think interdisciplinary teams are an important
way to meet the needs of middle school students?
2. Some students remain as members of your team for two years. How
does this affect their relationships with teachers and peers?
Their leadership abilities? Their academic progress?
3. Think about the gifted girls who have remained as members of your
team for two years. Would you say that your comments are true of
these girls also? Can you give some specific examples?
4. How do you define giftedness? How are the gifted girls on your
team alike? Different?
5. Do you notice any differences between the gifted girls and gifted
boys in terms of their achievement motivation?
6. Do you have different goals and objectives for gifted students?
Do you treat them differently in any way?
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APPENDIX D
INTERVIEW WITH MOTHERS
1. Who is (daughter) closest to in your family? Does she confide in
or model anyone's behavior?
2. Who goes to school functions like conferences for your daughter?
3. Tell me about her adjustment in school as she has moved from team
to team. For example, have you noticed any changes in her motiva
tional level, grades, participation, or friendship patterns?
4. How long has (daughter) been in the gifted program? How do her
friends and teachers react to her participation in the program?
5. How does (daughter) use her study time? Do you motivate her in
any way? Punish or reward her?
6. Does (daughter) have a lot of personal confidence? How does she
show it?
7. Does she indicate a desire to conform or "fit in" a lot? Do you
talk about this?
8. What are her future goals? Do you encourage her in these goals?
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APPENDIX E
INDIVIDUAL INTERVIEWS WITH GIRLS
Directions: This is a chance for you to think about how you feel as a
student at this school. Everyone answering these will have different
answers, so be sure your answers reflect how you feel. Listen to each
statement and then select one of the following categories as your
answer: not at all, once in a while, often, or all the time. When we
finish this, I'd like to talk about some of your answers.
1. I look forward to going to school.
2. My teachers like me.
3. Students listen when I say what I think.
4. School work is boring.
5. I have many friends at school.
6. I am learning a lot at school.
7. I always do my best work.
8. My teachers listen carefully to my ideas.
9. At school there is too much pressure to be perfect.
10.If I know the answer to a question, I always raise my hand.
Adapted from Whitmore, 1980, Appendix L.
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APPENDIX F
INTERVIEW WITH PRINCIPAL
1. Is there a need for a gifted program here?
2. What do you think about the program? How do parents react to it?
Teachers?
3. What special problems do gifted students have here? Are any of
these problems unique to gifted girls?
4. Why do you think many of the gifted eighth grade girls are not
signing up for advanced high school courses?
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Toepfer, C., & Marani, J. (1980). School-based research. In M.
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(pp. 268-281). Chicago: University of Chicago.
Vidich, A. (1969). Participant observation and the collection and
interpretation of data. In G.J. McCall & J.C. Simmons (Eds.),
Issues in participant observation: A text and reader (pp. 78-86).
Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
Walberg, H. (1969). Physics, feminity, and creativity. Developmental
Psychology, 1, 47-54.
Weiner, B. (1980). Human motivation. New York: Holt, Rinehart, &
Winston.
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(1971). Perceiving the causes of success and failure. In E.E.
Jones (Ed.), Attribution: Perceiving the causes of behavior
(pp. 192-219). Morristown, NJ: General Learning.
Weiner, B., & Kukla, A. (1970). An attributional analysis of achieve
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15, 1-20.
Weinstein, R.S. (1983). Student perceptions of schooling. El ementary
School Journal, 83, 287-312.
Weinstein, R.S., Marshall, H.H., Botkin, M., & Sharp, L. (1985, April).
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sented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research
Association, Chicago.
Weinstein, R.S., Marshall, H.H., Bratesani, K.A., & Middlestadt, S.E.
(1982). Student perceptions of differential teacher treatment in
open and traditional classrooms. Journal of Educational Psychology,
74, 678-692.
Werner, E., & Bachtold, M. (1969). Personality factors of gifted boys
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the Schools, 6(2), 177-187.
Whitmore, J.R. (1980). Giftedness, conflict, and underachievement.
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Wicox, K. (1982). Ethnography as a methodology and its application to
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-166-
Winterbottom, M. (1953). The relation of childhood training in
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cultural context (pp. 23-44). New York: David McKay.

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH
Linda R. Kramer was born in Tampa, Florida. She received the
Bachelor of Arts in secondary education with a minor in social studies
from the University of Florida in 1974. After teaching two years in
Ocala, she moved to Jacksonville where she taught middle school for
five years. During that time she received her Master of Education in
administration and supervision from the University of North Florida.
In 1981 Ms. Kramer entered the doctoral program in curriculum
and instruction, specializing in middle school and gifted education.
During her four years in the program she worked as a research assistant
and taught undergraduate classes in social studies methods. She also
taught and supervised preservice elementary education majors. She
will receive the Ph.D. from the University of Florida in 1985.
Ms. Kramer has served as assistant professor in the Curriculum
and Instruction Department at the University of Kentucky since
January, 1985.
-167-

I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it
conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly presentation and is fully
adequate, in scope and quality, as a dissertation for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy.
Paul S. Georg
Professor of
irperson
tional Leadership
I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it
conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly presentation and is fully
adequate, in scope and quality, as a dissertation for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy.
Dorene D. Ross, Cochairperson
Associate Professor of Instruction
and Curriculum
I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it
conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly presentation and is fully
adequate, in scope and quality, as a dissertation for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy.
Sandra B. Damico
Professor of Foundations of Education

I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it
conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly presentation and is fully
adequate, in scope and quality, as a dissertation for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy.
Rodman B. Webb
Associate Professor of Foundations
of Education
I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it
conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly presentation and is fully
adequate, in scope and quality, as a dissertation for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy.
Professor of Educational Leadership
This dissertation was submitted to the Graduate Faculty of the College
of Education and to the Graduate School, and was accepted as partial
fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
August 1985
Dean, College of Education
Dean, Graduate School



-42-
responded to the observer's concern about explaining the study to other
students by laughing and shrugging her shoulders. "Forget it. You
don't know people here."
The following week the researcher attended a holiday party held
after a brief faculty meeting, met the teachers of both teams, and
scheduled a time to visit team meetings to explain the goals of the
study and the nature of qualitative research. As in the first meeting
with students, the researcher appeared at both team meetings with
notebooks, pencils, and a taperecorder and wrote field notes while
discussing the study. Team One's meeting was held at lunch, was in
formal in nature, and did not produce any questions or concerns about
the research. The teachers indicated students were used to visitors
due to the school's status as an excellent middle school, and that no
one would notice the researcher's presence. In contrast, Team Two's
meeting was held after school and included an agenda of formal business
upon which the teachers kept themselves focused and on task. After a
brief discussion of the study, the team leader indicated to the
researcher that it would not take long before students and teachers
would consider her "a member of the family" (team).
While obtaining the consent of students, teachers, parents, and
administrators at the school, an application to conduct research in
the public schools was submitted to the school district office and a
description of the proposed project to the University's Committee for
the Protection of Human Subjects. By the beginning of January the
project was approved.


-96-
Observer: Oh. Do you know why names were on the
overhead?
Connie: Those are people who get too loud. See,
she tells us we can talk in class if we turn in our
work on Friday and if we-keep the noise down. I'm a
social bug. I like to talk.
Subsequent observations of this class, and algebra, revealed little
variation in the schedule Connie had outlined. As late as the middle
of April the same structure was the classroom norm, as indicated in
this excerpt from field notes:
The observer enters during algebra and sits beside
Ellen and Connie.
Observer: (to Ellen) What's going on?
Connie: (interrupting Ellen) It's like I told you
before. We have a schedule. She gives us our
homework and we can either do it here or at home.
I like to do it at home.
Observer: But why is she standing up there?
(The teacher is standing beside the overhead.)
Connie: She works things out when we ask. She
just stands there the whole period.
The researcher observed the girls use three different strategies
to cope with the routine. Frequently they used work time in class to
talk, pass notes, or study other subjects. On occasion, however,
several of the girls were observed using time in class to write un
assigned poetry or songs. On one such occasion Sally was so pleased
with her efforts that she approached the researcher during the class with
a song she had just completed. After asking if a copy could be
included in the field notes, the researcher indicated it was difficult
to imagine the tune. The following week Sally handed the researcher a
taped recording of the song in which she sang the melody and used
sticks to tap out the beat. The song was about being in love. Thus,
a second way of coping with the routine was to use time in class to


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gif ted girls referred to themselves as having potential rather than
ability. In addition, the girls expressed a preference for teachers
who expected less over teachers who expected perfection.
5) The guiding philosophy about instruction and curriculum com
municated to students through interdisciplinary team organizations
influenced gifted girls' achievement-related behaviors. In Team One,
where teachers advocated a content-centered approach, the gifted girls
were less likely to exhibit task-commitment in class, interact with
educational materials outside class, and express the belief that they
were competent in a variety of subjects. These behaviors were more
likely to characterize gifted girls during the year they were members
of Team Two, a team which advocated a student-centered approach to
curriculum and instruction. Different management strategies used by
the two teams and different teacher personalities were alternative
explanations for the different achievement-related behaviors exhibited
by gifted girls in two different teams.
6) The girls perceived close student-teacher relationships within
team organizations as a primary reason for achievement motivation.
That is, they believed that teachers who liked and cared about them
behaved differently, giving them increased chances to perform suc
cessfully. Additionally, girls believed that building reputations as
students who put forth effort decreased the teacher's tendency to call
on them during class, thus enabling them to avoid public performance.
7) The competitive system used in Team Two, one which based class
room seating and the distribution of rewards on grade point averages,
was described by gifted girls as a technique which motivated and


-163-
Rist, R. (1982). On the application of ethnographic inquiry to educa
tion: Procedures and possibilities. Journal of Research in Science
Teaching, Jj)(6), 439-450.
Rodenstein, J., Pfleger, L., & Colangelo, N. (1977). Career develop
ment needs of the gifted: Special considerations for gifted women.
Gifted Child Quarterly, 20, 340-347.
Rosenholtz, S.J., & Rosenholtz, S.H. (1981). Classroom organization
and the perception of ability. Sociology of Education, 54,
132-140.
Rosenholtz, S.J., & Simpson, C. (1984). The formation of ability con
ceptions: Developmental trend or social construction? Review
of Educational Research, 54(1), 31-63.
Rosenholtz, S.J., & Simpson, C. (in press). Elementary classroom
structure and the social construction of ability. In J. Richardson
(Ed.), Handbook of theory and research in the sociology of educa
tion. Westport, CT: Greenwich.
Rosenholtz, S.J., & Wilson, B. (1980). Effect of classroom structure
on shared perceptions of ability. American Educational Research
Journal, 17, 75-82.
Ross, D.D. (1978). Teaching beliefs and practices in three kinder
gartens (Doctoral dissertation, University of Virginia, 1978).
Dissertation Abstracts International, 40, 661A.
Ross, D.D., & Kyle, D. (1982, March). Qualitative inquiry: A review
and analysis. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the
American Educational Research Association, New York.
Rubovits, P. (1975). Early experiences and the achieving orientations
of American middle-class girls. In M. Maehr & W. Stallings (Eds.),
Culture, child, and school: Sociocultural influences on learning
(pp. 21-32. Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole.
Schaffir, W.B., Stebbins, R.A., and Turowetz, A. (1980). Fieldwork
experiences: Qualitative approaches to social research. New
York: St. Martin's Press.
Schmuck, R.A. (1962). Sociometric status and the utilization of
academic abilities. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 8, 165-172.
Schmuck, R.A. (1963). Some relationships of peer liking patterns in
the classroom to pupil attitudes and achievement. School Review,
71, 337-359.
Schwartz, H., & Jacobs, J. (1979). Qualitative sociology. New York:
Free Press.


-128-
Observer: Why do you think the guys are so interested?
Nancy: (shrugs her shoulders) I don't know. I guess
because they're more skilled.
Observer: Oh, really? Why?
Nancy: I don't know. They're just better and girls aren't.
The central role of effort in girls' perceptions of ability was also
indicated in comments made by girls having difficulty in certain subjects,
and those girls least able to gain an appropriate reputation with teachers.
These girls blamed a lack of effort as the possible cause of their diffi
culties, though their ability to do anything about the situation was in
question. As Ellen explained, "I try and yeah, I know I could do better.
I try and I guess it's the best I can do." That Ellen never noticed the
contradiction in her statements was illustrative of her confusion.
In summary, the gifted girls in this study assessed their abilities
in terms of the value they perceived that others attributed to their
abilities. Secondly, they compared their abilities with those of gifted
boys in terms of effort. These girls tended to describe themselves as
hard workers and gifted boys as real brains.
The data obtained in this study indicated the importance of
social interaction in the development of gifted adolescent girls'
self-perceptions of ability. These girls placed great importance on,
and were very receptive to, the behaviors of significant others within
the school setting. Their beliefs about ability and achievement-
related issues were not only influenced by teachers and peers within
the school, but were continually reinforced by others' behaviors.
The desire expressed by the majority of girls to maintain their own
sense of value, yet avoid the negative consequences of standing out,
was illustrated in Marie's remark to the researcher:


-14-
Studies of the influence of context factors on ability formation
may be particularly beneficial in understanding early adolescents'
self-perceptions of ability. As Blyth and Traeger (1983) noted in a
recent review of research on self-perceptions in early adolescence, at
this stage in life, young people "are changing cognitively in such a
way as to dramatically change the way they see and evaluate themselves.
There may be changes in what is of central importance to them" (p. 95).
Hill and Lynch (1983) argued that the effect of socialization and
context-related variables on the formation of role-related achievement
and ability perceptions of females may intensify during early adolescence.
In the following section a set of studies which address the role of
classroom context factors in the formation of early adolescents' ability
perceptions will be reviewed.
Ability Formation Theory and Related Studies
Rosenholtz and Simpson (1984; in press) proposed a theory of
ability formation in which context plays a primary role. The follow
ing four assumptions underlie this theory:
1. Intellectual ability is a relative concept and
will be formed comparatively.
2. Students receive feedback from teachers and from
their peers which should influence their ability
perceptions.
3. The structure of students' academic tasks
symbolically will imply conclusions about the
abilities believed to determine performance at
that level.
4. The way in which performance evaluations are
organized and interpreted will provide a language
within which students will cast their interpre
tations of ability. (Rosenholtz & Simpson, 1984,
p. 36)


-41-
All of the girls attended this informal meeting. Sitting in a
circle around the conference table they listened to the researcher
present the study.
Observer: I want to write a book about what school
is really like, but I want to describe school through
the eyes of gifted girls. This might be hard to do
because it means I'll have to hang around a lot and
ask a lot of questions. I really want to know what
things are like here, but I'll need your help to
understand them. I wanted to ask you if you were
interested in helping.
The sixth and seventh grade girls were quickest to express interest in
the idea, asking if their names would be used, if their parents would
be told, and if their teachers and classmates could know about the
research. The five eighth grade girls were stand-offish at first.
Three of these girls sat close together in a group apart from the
other two and conferred quietly while the observer pointed out that
the quality of the research would hinge on accuracy and careful atten
tion to factual detail, but that chief among the researcher's responsi
bilities was the preservation of anonymity (Kottak, 1979, p. 336). As
if making the decision for her friends, Connie, one of the three eighth
graders who had not yet joined the discussion, announced, "We are
definitely doing this! It sounds neat!"
This initial meeting, held three weeks prior to Christmas break,
culminated in the distribution of permission forms. Several of the
girls suggested the researcher collect the permission forms and
individual class schedules from the resource teacher. The researcher,
encouraging their roles as key informants, agreed with their plan, and
a date was suggested to collect the forms and make preliminary visits
to the team areas before the holidays. As they exited, one girl


-91-
the gifted girls were members of the team. This group of girls in
cluded one student who was new to the school and six who had been
members of Team Two the year preceding the study. Their comparisons
of the two teams provided insight into gifted girls' perceptions of
classroom features and the effects of these features on motivation
and ability perceptions.
The majority of Team One students who discussed their perceptions
with the researcher,including the seven gifted girls, described the
team as much freer. Observations and interview data indicated that
the girls used this term in two different ways. First, the gifted
girls believed that a wider variety of classroom behavior was tolerated
by teachers in Team One. Additionally, the girls believed that the
work they produced in Team One was evaluated by less strict criteria,
and thus, they had a greater degree of freedom when completing assign
ments. As Cindy explained it, "Team One is just freer! I like it
better because things don't always have to be perfect like the teacher
wants. In Team Two if you didn't do it exactly a certain way you lost
points."
Data indicated that these student perceptions resulted from the
consciously organized system of beliefs about students' developmental
levels and teaching that guided the team teachers' decisions and
behavior. Team One teachers believed that seventh and eighth grade
students should be able to manage themselves without teacher-imposed
restrictions, and that teachers should concentrate their efforts on
the cognitive dimension of the curriculum. The teachers' attitudes
are illustrated in the comments below:


-37-
People everywhere learn their culture by making
inferences. We observe what people do (cultural
behavior); we observe things people make and use
such as clothes and tools (cultural artifacts);
and we listen to what people say (speech messages).
Every ethnographer employs this same process of
inference to go beyond what is seen and heard to
find out what people know. (Spradley, 1980, p. 10)
This concept of culture is compatible with symbolic interactionism,
a theory which posits that to understand human behavior one must dis
cover the meanings or definitions humans assign to objects, activities,
or individuals of interest. Symbolic interactionists beginning with
G.H. Mead (1934) hypothesized that humans, because of the possession
of a self, act toward or interpret things that confront them and organize
their actions on the basis of that interpretation. This process of
self-interaction enables people to deal with the world through a
defining procedure which results in construction or generation of
action rather than a mere release of action (Blumer, 1969). Blumer
(1969) delineated three basic premises:
1) Human beings act toward things on the basis of
the meanings that the things have for them.
2) The meanings of such things are derived from, or
arise out of, the social interaction that one
has with one's fellows.
3) These meanings are handled in, and modified
through, an interpretative process, (p. 2)
The theoretical orientation of symbolic interactionism provides
a framework for the social-interactive perspective taken in this study
of gifted adolescent females' self-perceptions of ability. This
perspective is illustrated most clearly by Mead's Triadic matrix
(Mead, 1934, p. 76) which emphasizes that individuals construct and
share meanings through interpretation and interaction. Ethnography


-106-
by the girls as free and by teachers as content-centered, girls tended
to state preferences for specific subjects over others.
Student-teacher relationships also affected the ways girls
described the structure of the curriculum. Though observation re
vealed curriculum format to be similar on both teams, the girls in
Team One more frequently characterized their classes as routine. For
girls in Team Two, the belief that teachers cared more about their
progress encouraged the girls to view the curriculum as more impor
tant, and therefore, less routine.
Additionally, the nature and quality of evaluation feedback were
important constructs in girls' descriptions of team experiences.
The girls in both teams expressed concern about their abilities to do
well, and to please teachers and parents. Doing well presented a
special problem in classes where the evaluation of students was more
public, and based on narrowly defined criteria such as the system used
to determine members of the Dynamic Dozen. These girls expressed fears
of being disliked if they stood out in comparison to their peers.
Additionally, the possibility of not knowing an answer and being
subjected to public criticism was a source of anxiety.
In this section gifted girls' entering views of themselves and
the school experiences they encountered as a result of participating
in a gifted program and team organizations have been described. These
school experiences can be summarized in two ways: 1) the girls were
generally passive receivers of knowledge, and rarely active investi
gators; and 2) the girls believed that more was expected of them
though participating in the gifted program meant they had less time


-145-
who are labeled as gifted by an outside source? Is the effect different
for males and females? The present study suggests that girls believed
themselves to be more sensitive to teacher definitions of giftedness,
and that narrow task structures and competitive evaluation systems led
gifted girls to believe that ability was knowing the answer. Would
the less competitive environment in multidimensional classrooms, where
ability conceptions are more fluid and options for demonstrating
competence more available, encourage gifted girls to develop more
positive self-perceptions of ability?
Other questions suggested by this study concern the role teachers
play in the identification of students for testing into gifted programs.
Do teachers in unidimensional and multidimensional classrooms select
different types of students for testing? If so, what criteria do they
use? Is evidence of gifted behavior which would result in selection
of a student for testing more limited in a unidimensional classroom?
Would teachers in a unidimensional classroom more often select girls,
or as suggested by this study, would they perceive boys as more
gifted?
Still another question suggested by this study concerns the
gifted girls' belief that being liked increased their chances of doing
well. Does interdisciplinary team organization increase girls' beliefs
that they are liked by encouraging closer student-teacher relationships?
How do different teacher personalities mediate the effects of narrow
task structures and competitive evaluation? More specifically, what
kinds of students do gifted adolescent girls believe teachers like?
In what ways do teachers communicate positive acceptance of gifted
girls' contributions?


November 1383
Dear Parents,
Your remission is reguested for your daughter to participate in a study of
gifted girls' perceptions of scnool. Participat ion in this study will not entail
any special treatment or removal of your daughter from her regular classroom routine.
In order to conduct this study, I will be observing in your daugnter's classrooms
aooroximately 10 hours per weex for 17 weeks, examining students' or*, and other
classroom materials, reviewing school and class records, ana informally questioning
the teacners and students about my observations. Finally, I .would like to talk to
you about your observations of your gifted daugnter's perceotions of school. There
is a place at the bottom of this letter for you to indicate necner you will oe
willing to participate in this part of the study.
Your daughter will be protected by an anonymous coding procedure during the
ooservation process. Information from students' records will oe Student, class, ano scnool names will not be used in connection with this study.
There are no risks and no immediate benefits to your daugnter as a result of this
study. You are free to wi thdraw your consent at any time. .So monetary comoensacion
will be awarded for participation. However, I will be naooy to answer anv duestions
you may have about the study, and to share the results once the study is comoleted.
I anticipate that this study will be beneficial to adults who are concerned with
the development of achievement, motivation, and self-conceot in gifted adolescent girls.
..I would appreciate your permission to observe in your daughter's classrooms,
ask her questions about her school experiences, examine materials, and review records.
If you have any questions concerning the study, please contact me.
Linda Kramer, Principal Investigator
General Teacher Education
332-0751
I have read and understand the procedure described above. I have received a copy of
this description and agree to allow my daugnter,
to participate in the study.
SIGNATURES:
Parent/ Guardian
Oate
Relationship to Suoject
I agree/ do not agree to be interviewed at my convenience concerning my daugnter's
derceotions or school. (Please circle one.)
-152-


-82-
these girls want to develop their potential? I'm not sure there's
a pat answer. I guess the school's role is to expose the student to
as much information as possible to make a wise decision."
The Gifted Program
As previously described, the gifted program at the school was a
one day a week pull-out program which aimed to improve higher level
thinking skills, creativity, and leadership potential. The fact that
there was no set curriculum to accomplish these goals was seen as a
hardship by Mrs. Johnson, the gifted resource teacher. As a result,
she developed several major themes during the year and built lessons
around them for all three grade levels. The lack of appropriate
materials and resource guides, however, apparently made the development
of higher level thinking skills difficult.
Over the duration of this study, Mrs. Johnson taught units related
to space, the arts, and the history of the community. While these
units were in progress she continued weekly journal writing assignments
designed to promote creativity and affective development. In addition,
several weeks before the end of school, she required the students to
plan and organize field trips to areas of local interest "in order to
stress organization skills and to encourage leadership and responsi
bility."
The level of interest expressed by the gifted girls in the topics
covered by Mrs. Johnson varied. Journal writing was considered an
important and enjoyable activity, as were the informal conversations


CHAPTER I
BACKGROUND FOR THE STUDY
The unique characteristics of gifted girls have recently received
increased attention in light of the literature which illustrates that
more adult males than females are identified as gifted (Goertzel &
Goertzel, 1962; Goertzel, Goertzel, & Goertzel, 1978; Terman & Oden,
1959). "Even though gifted girls tend to earn higher grades in school
and the prevailing stereotype of females includes superior performance
in English, foreign languages, and the arts, the adult productivity of
males is superior in all areas" (Callahan, 1981, p. 499).
Experts in the area of gifted education are concerned about the
loss of contributions of gifted and talented women to society, but
research has failed to account for what appears to be a lack of
achievement motivation in bright women. Gifted adolescent girls'
beliefs about ability, a central component in achievement motivation,
may have great bearing on their accomplishments in later life.
Statement of the Problem
The purpose of this study was to investigate and describe gifted
adolescent girls' self-perceptions of ability within one middle
school. Studies which have focused on gifted girls or women have
-1-


-100-
present, and some have on hats of their own. The
meeting ends with the singing of a team song. Jill's
picture is taken with an instamatic camera and placed
on a large bulletin board which contains both school
and community news about student members of the team.
Sixth Student monitors are dismissed a minute early from
grade class and gather at their appointed posts to oversee
lunch/ the lunch period. The observer joins Marie and Jill
reading in line. The girls explain that monitors are selected
at the beginning of the year and that it is their job
to see that team rules are followed. A table is
selected and several of the girls' friends join them.
Just before the observer, Marie, Jill, Joan, and two
other females leave the lunchroom, a monitor who is
also a close friend of Marie and Jill approaches the
table. Monitor: "Please remember to behave." Marie
looks at the observer, makes a face, and silently
forms the words, "Stuck-up." Monitor: "Just behave!
I don't feel like putting up with any of that today!"
The girls grin at each other. After lunch, the three
girls are involved in different reading classes.
The observer selects a seat which provides a good
view of all the classrooms. Though one class spends
some time going over vocabulary, there is very little
talking. For this hour students are involved in
workbook or kit activities and work individually.
Team Two teachers described their team as more student-centered
than Team One. They actively encouraged the students to consider
themselves a family, often using the term publicly to reward or punish
students in connection with their behavior or their classroom achieve
ment. Comments such as, "Monitors are supposed to set examples!" or
"Why did you do that? We work together in here!" were used to reinforce
proper behavior while pointing out student responsibilities.
The gifted girls in Team Two tended to like a wider variety of
subjects than girls in Team One, and perceived themselves as good
students in most classes. This may have resulted from the girls'
belief that teachers "care about how we do." In comparison to the


-115-
was negatively sanctioned by teachers or peers. This will be discussed
further in the following section on social comparison.
Similar perceptions among the males and fema.les about differing
expectations for gifted students, yet differing reactions to these
expectations, may have resulted from greater role variations that
teachers allowed males. Teachers believed the difference between
gifted and nongifted boys to be far greater than the difference between
gifted and nongifted girls. Teachers also believed that gifted boys'
behavior patterns deviated far more from the norm than did girls'.
The prevailing attitude was that teachers expected the gifted boys to
be greater risk takers.
Gifted girls were aware that their reactions to expectations
differed from the reactions of gifted boys. An explanation for the
difference between gifted boys' and gifted girls' reactions (according
to the girls) was the idea of perception. "I guess girls are a lot
more sensitive than boys. If people make fun of guys, they just say
you're dumb. But girls! We take it more personally than they do."
The following example illustrates the extent to which definitions
of giftedness affected the gifted girls at this middle school. The
example is representative of many instances when the gifted girls
pointed out to the researcher their conscious "bad" behavior. In this
instance the opportunity to fit in had an unexpected outcome, and, as
such, was also an illustration that definitions of giftedness did
indeed exist among peers:
Students in biology are beginning an experiment
to determine if a substance is an acid or base.
They organize themselves at lab tables in almost
exactly the order in which they had previously


-110-
gifted students differently. The following excerpts from interviews
with teachers illustrate their views:
Teacher A: I talk to them the way I talk to other
students. I don't mention their giftedness. Maybe
they think I do because I expect them to work up to
their ability.
Teacher B: I talk to them like adults. If it's a
difficult job I tell them they can do it because
they're smarter than the average bear. They react
well to this.
Teacher C: Gifted doesn't correlate with production.
Not at this age. Our curriculum doesn't lend itself
to the gifted so I find it hard to provide for them.
Further insight into teachers' beliefs about giftedness was provided
by a resource teacher who was informally interviewed during a teacher
work day:
Observer: I'm curious about how the school
perceives these girls.
Teacher: We . urn . sound real negative,
and that's not good. I think something needs to
be done about teacher attitudes. I think teachers
expect more because they're gifted and it could be
because we really don't know what gifted is. I
wonder if, because they're taken out of classes
more, given special privileges, and allowed to do
more, there isn't somewhat of a grudge. Ask around
and listen to what teachers say. You'll probably
hear teachers say, "I really don't know how so and
so got in. They're really dumb."
The gifted girls themselves frequently expressed the belief that
participation in a gifted program which entailed removal from their
team areas one day per week made them targets of confusing and often
uncomfortable expectations from teachers and peers. For these girls,
being labeled gifted often produced classroom situations in which
their competency was publicly questioned. For example, when, during
group interviews, the girls were asked about abilities that related


I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it
conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly presentation and is fully
adequate, in scope and quality, as a dissertation for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy.
Paul S. Georg
Professor of
irperson
tional Leadership
I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it
conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly presentation and is fully
adequate, in scope and quality, as a dissertation for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy.
Dorene D. Ross, Cochairperson
Associate Professor of Instruction
and Curriculum
I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it
conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly presentation and is fully
adequate, in scope and quality, as a dissertation for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy.
Sandra B. Damico
Professor of Foundations of Education


-77-
every teacher, with the exception of one, referred to the influence
of the community and home values on girls' attitudes and behaviors in
school. Specifically, community values were believed to affect girls
in that they (1) provided a well-defined set of behavioral norms and
(2) restricted girls' awareness of achievement opportunities.
The set of behavioral norms to which teachers referred became
obvious to the observer when documenting seating patterns in the
classrooms and in the gifted resource room. Unless a teacher-made
seating organization was in effect, girls and boys tended to select
seats beside peers of the same sex. In the gifted room where desks
were arranged in a semi-circle and the number of students in the group
was small, the separation of sexes was most obvious. The girls ex
plained this to the observer by commenting that boys and girls usually
did not sit by each other "unless they were going together." The
resource teacher, listening to the conversation between the gifted
students and the observer, interjected the belief that this seating
pattern reflected a community norm:
Teacher: (standing beside the group of students) I
call it Madison-itus. (Madison refers to the com
munity. )
Observer: What? What's that?
Teacher: When you go to a party around here the men
are all in one room and the women are in another.
Several of the gifted students laugh.
Gifted male: We just always sit that way. We were
sitting on the other side (of the semi-circle), but
they (the girls) pushed us around the table.
Norms of behavior which existed in Madison and the influence of
individual parents were frequently cited by teachers in explaining
the difference in behaviors they perceived to be characteristic of


-46-
Each team area was a large open space housing heterogeneously
grouped students in two grade levels: team one, seventh and eighth
graders; team two, sixth and seventh graders; and team three, fifth and
sixth graders. While originally this organization of students had
reflected developmental grouping based on social-emotional as well as
academic factors, the majority of teachers indicated that this was no
longer true. Now students were placed in teams depending on their
curriculum needs. For example, Team One offered pre-algebra to its
seventh graders whereas Team Two did not. For this reason Mr. Lakeman,
team leader for Team Two, had described his team as being a "dumping
ground" in the past because the more academically able seventh graders
were placed on Team One. To counteract this problem, he had recently
begun to make yearly lists of sixth graders who voluntarily signed up
to remain in Team Two a second year. All students would spend two years
on one team if they entered the school as fifth graders and stayed
through the completion of eighth grade.
Observations conducted at the school centered on Teams One and Two
because none of the studied population were members of Team Three.
Although both of these teams were divided into four equal classrooms,
one for each of the four core teachers, the physical use of space
within the teams was distinctly different. Team Two organized large
book shelves, moveable chalkboards, and tables to separate the class
rooms into separate spaces, thereby reducing the noise level and forcing
the students to walk in narrow pathways when exiting and entering the
individual classrooms. Team One did not use furniture to create an
atmosphere of separate classrooms, and the noise level and random


-109-
verbal in the classroom than were the gifted girls. Many teachers
observed that in each of their classes there were several high
achieving girls who were more academically inclined that gifted
girls.
This discrepancy between the behaviors of girls identified as
gifted and girls who appeared bright to the teachers frequently led
teachers to question the construct of giftedness. As one teacher
explained, "My definition is that on Wednesdays and Fridays I'm missing
a certain number of students. That's the only thing I know. They have
to make up the work." Other teacher definitions of giftedness fell
into three categories: 1) references to the 130 score on an IQ test,
2) descriptions of students as productive workers achieving their
potential, and 3) descriptions of cognitive abilties which enabled
students to think deeper, perceive more, and see relationships between
things that did not normally go together. Teachers using the second
and third definitions tended to name only one or two of the gifted
girls who fit these definitions. The consensus was that teachers could
not tell if the majority of identified girls were gifted. Though
teachers expressed an awareness that gifted girls' behavior might
result from a desire to avoid standing out, the consensus was that
these girls behaved "just like all little girls growing up," with the
possible exception of the more motivated, bright girls.
When asked if their beliefs about giftedness might influence
their interactions with the students, teachers indicated that they
were not aware this ever happened, or that strict curriculum require
ments and the limitations of open space did not permit them to treat


APPENDIX A
LETTER OF PERMISSION


-39-
Wolcott (1976), "Ethnography is best served when the researcher feels
free to 'muddle about' in the field setting and to pursue hunches or
to address himself to problems that he deems interesting and worthy of
sustained attention" (p. 25). The selection of this site met this
criterion.
Gaining Entry to the Site
Lofland (1971) noted that it is easier to gain access to informa
tion when the researcher has established grounds for a trusting
relationship before the project is initiated. Prior to the selection
of the site, the researcher had met informally and discussed the aims
of the study with the team leaders while attending a professional
conference on middle schools. Sharing a common status as educators
interested in adolescents defused potential concern about the study.
The team leaders' interest encouraged the researcher to take the next
step. Project goals were explained to the county supervisor for gifted
students, and, subsequently, a meeting was arranged in late November
to include the school's gifted resource teacher, the supervisor, and
the researcher. Believing that the majority of the gifted girls were
not achieving in accordance with their potential, the resource teacher,
Mrs. Johnson,1 noted that the study might increase classroom teachers'
understanding of gifted students' particular problems. Establishing
the team leaders' and Mrs. Johnson's interest in the study provided
1
Thi
s name and all names used in this
study are pseudonyms.


-74-
student-teacher relationships, and peer group influences) on their
perceptions.
The student perspective which emerged from the data was based on
evidence from all ten girls in the school's gifted female population,
though individual aspects of the perspective were shared by the girls
in varying degrees. As previously discussed, the majority of the ten
girls in the study group had grown up in the school's rural community,
attended the local elementary school, and participated in a pull-out
gifted program since third grade. Comparison of their perceptions
with those of girls who were new to the school community provided what
initially appeared to be negative examples. Componential analysis,
however, revealed these data to be supportive of the interactional
nature of ability formation.
The purpose of this analysis was to describe gifted adolescent
girls' self-perceptions of ability, and, more specifically, their
perceptions of the relationship between ability and achievement. As
gifted girls' perceptions are described, data from the taxonomies will
be used to illustrate and support their perspective. The excerpts
from field notes and interview transcripts used as illustrations were
selected from among numerous examples as being representative of the
experiences, statements, and shared beliefs of the group of gifted
adolescent girls studied. To protect the anonymity of the partici
pants, ficticious names were used for students and teachers, and
details about the subject being taught were changed whenever it was
possible to do so without changing the data.


-17-
Perceptions of ability measured in this study were limited to
dimensions of reading instruction and were obtained through student-
teacher questionnaires. Students were asked to rank order classmates
by their ability to read. Peer rankings of individual students were
then averaged, and a student's self-perception of ability was determined
by the student's placement of self in the rank order. Teachers were
asked to rate students' reading abilities as above average, average,
or below average. The degrees of concurrence among classmates, between
classmates and self, between classmates and teacher, and between teacher
and self were obtained through these rank orders.
Rosenholtz and Wilson concluded that students in high resolution
classrooms had fewer options to demonstrate competence and that, as a
result, ability was more narrowly defined and a greater student-teacher
consensus resulted. "The importance of classroom resolution may be
in its power to shape students' subjective identities" (p. 81), but how
this mediates the individual's self-perception of ability was not
answered by this study.
Using the data obtained in the Rosenholtz and Wilson (1980) study,
Rosenholtz and Rosenholtz (1981) investigated the ways classroom
organization might affect individual self-perceptions of ability.
They tested the following hypotheses: 1) self-evaluations of reading
ability will be more dispersed in unidimensional as opposed to multi
dimensional classes, and 2) classmates' and teachers' evaluations will
be more dispersed in unidimensional classes. Unidimensional classes
were defined as high resolution classes.


-69-
in public school settings and their tendency toward underachievement
as revealed by previous research.
3. The researcher holds a social-interactionist perspective; that
is, that human perceptions are influenced by contextual settings and
that those settings, in turn, are influenced by human perceptions.
4. The researcher assumes that gifted adolescent girls' perceptions
of school experiences and their own abilities and achievements may not
be congruent with the perceptions of others within the school.
Validity and Ethical Issues
The degree to which scientific observations record or measure that
which they purport to measure determines the validity of the study
(Pel to & Pel to, 1978). This is a central issue in ethnography where
the match between the research model and the world under study is its
major strength (Lecompte & Goetz, 1982). In their discussion of criteria
which can be used to appraise the validity of qualitative studies, Ross
and Kyle (1982) have suggested the following questions as guides for
both researchers and consumers of research.
1. Is the problem studied significant, and is there
sufficient depth to the study?
2. Does the author refer to appropriate theory and
research?
3. Does the researcher provide a comprehensive
description of the methodology?
4. Does the researcher explore alternative explana
tions?
5. Does the researcher support interpretations and
explanations with multiple evidence?
6. Is the study well-written and organized?
(pp. 9-10)
In asking these questions the researcher acknowledges their importance
in determining the quality of the study.


-18-
The findings of this study indicated that in forming one's self
perception of reading ability, the relative influence of the teacher
on the classmates and the teacher and classmates on the self was
affected, in part, by the organization for instruction. In classrooms
where fewer options were provided for students to demonstrate compe
tence, definitions of ability became more narrowly defined. Grouping
practices and task structures restricted students' options. Rosenholtz
and Rosenholtz (1981) concluded that the effect was greater in situa
tions where the classroom organization was unidimensional.
While the researchers stressed that the findings of this study
were preliminary because they did not examine the criteria by which
teachers and students made judgments and, therefore, could not assert
causal relationships, the implications are important. Classrooms with
narrow opportunity structures stratify students as compared to
instructional climates which offer students more alternatives in
terms of curriculum and evaluation. Rosenholtz and Rosenholtz (1981)
concluded:
To the degree that teacher, peer, and self
perceptions influence future performance, ability
stratification as affected by classroom organiza
tion could have profound consequences for the
individual's life chances. Instructional organi
zation, then, may not only provide a framework by
which classroom actors define ability, it may also
enhance or limit capacity, (p. 140)
In a similar study of classroom structure and perceptions of
ability, Simpson (1981) drew conclusions which supported the Rosenholtz
and Rosenholtz (1981) study. Of the 16 classrooms included in his
study, Simpson found that in unidimensional classes teacher ratings


-7-
would be spent in the school areas in which gifted girls regularly
interacted. Observations began in January, 1984, and were conducted
until the final day of school in early June. The researcher observed
200 hours of classroom activity primarily representing Mondays,
Wednesdays, and Fridays, and all times of the school day. Observations
centered on gifted girls' speech messages concerning schoolwork, peers,
teachers, and self-perceptions; achievement-related behaviors in school
contexts; and interactions with teachers and peers before, during, and
after school. Formal and informal interviews were conducted throughout
the study. Those interviewed included the girls, their teachers, the
school principal, and five mothers. In addition, examples of the
girls' schoolwork, their personal journals kept in advisor-advisee
and the gifted classroom, report cards, and cumulative records were
examined.
Data collection and analysis were conducted as specified by
Spradley (1980). This process required that data be organized into
categories based on similarities. Taxonomies were then constructed
to represent gifted girls' self-perceptions of ability by drawing data
from across domains.
Scope of the Study
This study was conducted in one middle school and focused on
the self-perceptions of ability held by the school's ten gifted
females. These students included three sixth graders, two seventh
graders, and five eighth graders. Observations and interviews were


-84-
first day of presentations in those classes consisted of work com
pleted by the gifted boys. The following two incidents are illustrative
of the level of student involvement in the projects and, in particular,
the behavior of gifted girls in the resource room:
Sixth Bobby moves to the front of the class, sets up a
grade poster and places a written report in front of him.
The other students sit in a semi-circle around
Bobby. Mrs. Johnson stands in the back with a tape
recorder and camera ready to document the report.
Jill and Marie have open encyclopedias on the table
in front of them and proceed to copy information and
a diagram while Bobby talks. Bobby has most of his
report memorized so that he does not refer to his
notes. He concludes by explaining his poster and
asks for questions. Eight males and Joan, one of
the three female sixth graders, ask questions. Jill
and Marie continue working.
Eighth Phil and Steve, two eighth grade boys continually
grade pointed out by the majority of girls as extremely
smart, are the only ones ready to present today. Mrs.
Johnson calls on Phil and explains that she will
record him as well as take pictures. In response,
Sally calls out: "Oh! My hair!" She then reaches
up and pretends to smooth it. Phil ignores the
laughter and begins his report on Saturn. Perhaps
because he is nervous, he reads his report a a pace
which becomes more and more rapid. As he speaks,
Lynn puts her foot on the table and deliberately
ties her shoe. Beside her Debbie sits quietly,
staring under the table. Ellen begins to make sound
effects which include the music to Twilight Zone.
Rushing through his final page, Phil concludes by
asking the class if they would like further informa
tion. In a loud voice Sally responds: "I'm not
really interested." Mrs. Johnson looks at Sally, turns
off the tape, and begins discussing the good and bad
points of the audience and the report. When she
pauses, Ellen chimes in: "I liked the organization
and the visuals, but where's the beef?" The class
bursts into laughter and Ellen blushes slightly.
Mrs. Johnson rewinds the tape, plays back the first
few minutes, and becomes distressed with the giggling
and sound effects that were picked up on the tape.
Looking at the class she exclaims: "This is
ridiculous!"


-130-
expressed the belief that gifted boys possessed ability, while gifted
girls put forth effort.
The self-perceptions of gifted girls in this study were found to
be the result of a cyclic process in which girls used school experiences
to interpret and modify their beliefs about ability and achievement,
and, in turn, their beliefs about ability guided their choices of
behavior at school. In the following chapter, implications of the
present study are discussed.


-15-
Ability formation theory has proposed that students come to accept
institutional definitions of ability through the process of socializa
tion. The more singular the picture students see and the more informa
tion which contributes to this picture, the less likely it is that
students will develop alternative definitions of ability. From this
perspective, what students believe to be real is, at least in part,
socially structured (Berger & Luckmann, 1966). In addition, students,
themselves, are considered active participants in their own socializa
tion.
Rosenholtz and Simpson (1984) noted that certain characteristics
of classroom organization are more likely to bring about shared defini
tions of ability, that is, a consensus among students and the teacher
about who is most and least able. These characteristics include undif
ferentiated task structure, low student autonomy, student grouping
patterns, and formal performance evaluations which are frequent and
visible. Classrooms which can be characterized by these criteria are
called unidimensional. Few student choices about activities and
learning goals which would enhance alternative definitions of ability,
and increasing stratification of students along a single dimension,
facilitate the formation of shared perceptions of ability in these
classrooms (Rosenholtz & Simpson, in press).
An important implication of ability formation theory noted by
Rosenholtz and Rosenholtz (1981) was that studies of the effects of
classroom organization on perceptions of ability should not be based
on static models which characterize students as passive entities. Such
a "perspective omits from consideration a variable likely to mediate


-52-
field notes and interviews and to conduct additional observations to
find the differences.
Collecting Ethnographic Data
The researcher's objective was to discover and describe the experi
ences that adolescent girls labeled as gifted have within a middle school
setting and to construct, from those experiences and the students'
perceptions of them, ways the girls defined their own abilities and
achievements. Since these definitions were aspects of the girls'
cultural knowledge that could not be directly observed, the researcher
used three types of information to make cultural inferences. The types
of information used were the girls' behavior in class as well as before
and after school, the things they produced in school including the tools
they used to do so, and their speech messages (Spradley, 1980).
Gathering evidence of this nature enabled the researcher to uncover
the fundamental assumptions about personal abilities and achievements
that were taken for granted by the girls.
Three main methods were used to collect data. Spindler (1982)
observed the need for a variety of methods to uncover the participants'
view of reality, noting that whenever possible technical devices should
be used to collect live data. Other qualitative researchers such as
Wolcott (1976), Pelto and Pelto (1978), and Denzen (1978) have asserted
that using multiple methods to gather data increases the credibility
of the study. They note that data obtained using different methods
can be compared through triangulation, thus allowing the researcher


-31-
standards for achievement become more sex-stereotyped and girls become
more concerned with interpersonal areas of competence than boys.
Other reviews of research on sex differences in achievement motiva
tion suggest that females may be motivated to achieve by a desire for
approval and affiliation, rather than a desire to attain a standard of
excellence (Crandall, 1967; Hoffman, 1975; Rubovits, 1975; Sherman,
1975). However, using a different interpretation of many of the same
studies reviewed by the above researchers, Stein and Bailey (1975)
argued that "the social context of females' achievement has been mis
interpreted as evidence for affiliation as opposed to achievement
motives" (p. 152). They proposed that social acceptance, itself, is
a central area of achievement for females; thus females are motivated
to achieve a standard of excellence in this area.
In her investigation of sex differences in achievement motivation,
Horner (1972; 1975) posited that women have "a disposition to become
anxious about achieving success because they expect negative conse
quences as a result of succeeding" (1975, p. 207). In a study she
conducted with Rhoem in 1968 (Horner, 1975) to observe the incidence
of fear of success imagery in female subjects at different ages,
Horner found that seventh grade girls, when given the clue, "Sue has
just found out she has been made valedictorian of her class," exhibited
a 47% incidence of fear of success.
Other studies conducted to test Horner's concept have provided
conflicting results. In a dissertation study conducted to find
evidence of the motive to avoid success in ten to fourteen year old
females, Cook (1976) found that support for the existence of a motive


I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it
conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly presentation and is fully
adequate, in scope and quality, as a dissertation for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy.
Rodman B. Webb
Associate Professor of Foundations
of Education
I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it
conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly presentation and is fully
adequate, in scope and quality, as a dissertation for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy.
Professor of Educational Leadership
This dissertation was submitted to the Graduate Faculty of the College
of Education and to the Graduate School, and was accepted as partial
fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
August 1985
Dean, College of Education
Dean, Graduate School


-105-
The use of a competitive system such as the Dynamic Dozen made
knowledge of student status very public in Team Two. The researcher
often.overheard students discussing other students' seat, numbers and
who was the Wizard in which class. The fact that there was a limited
number of status positions, only one way to achieve them, and public
knowledge of one's place within the system made many students anxious.
This was especially true for the gifted girls. Cindy, referring to
her experience in Team Two the preceding year, told the researcher,
"I didn't like it. We're not here to compete. We're here to learn.
. . In Team Two you're demanded to work, and you do, but that won't
help you in the end. That's not how life is."
It is important to note that Team Two teachers using the Dynamic
Dozen system to reward achievement discussed the abilities of the
gifted girls they taught in very specific terms. These teachers used
a wider range of adjectives, from adequate to excellent, to describe
the performances of present and past students and referred to the
girls' participation in team activities and their placement in the
Dynamic Dozen as evidence for their evaluations. Team One teachers
tended to differentiate among the performances of gifted girls less,
agreeing that, of all the girls, only Cindy stood out as a performer.
In summary, the girls' perceptions of team organizations focused
on student-teacher relationships. In turn, these relationships
influenced the girls' motivation to achieve. In Team Two where
teachers and students were believed to have closer relationships,
the girls tended to like a wider variety of subjects and perceived
themselves as good students in most classes. In Team One, described


-159-
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Brookover, W.G., & Erikson, E. (1975). Sociology of education.
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Brophy, J. (1983). Research on the self-fulfilling prophecy and
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Brophy, J., & Good, T. (1974). Teacher-student relationships: Causes
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(Ed.), The gifted and talented: Their development and education.
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(pp. 498-509). New York: Irving.
Cassell, J. (1978). A fieldwork manual for studying desegregated
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Chodorow, N. (1974). Family structure and feminine personality. In
M. Rosaldo & L. Lamphere (Eds.), Women, culture, and society
(pp. 43-66). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Cook, E. (1976). Latent vs. aroused motivation to avoid success and
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2013A.
Cooper, H. (1979). Pygmalion grows up: A model for teacher expec
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-35-
"the ethnographer's unique contribution is this commitment to understand
and convey how it is to 'walk in someone else's shoes' and to 'tell it
like it is'" (p. 25). It is a methodology particularly suited to the
study of student perceptions of achievement and ability as they relate
to experiences within school settings. Ethnography is an appropriate
methodology for examining relationships which are not explicit or when
the problem under study is in the exploratory stage, because it allows
the researcher to proceed, initially, in an unstructured or flexible
manner (Dean, Eichhorn, & Dean, 1969). "In other words, there are few,
if any preestablished categories into which original data are cast. . .
Researchers approach reality with a perspective which will enable them
to observe relevant data" (Schaffir, Stebbins, & Turowetz, 1980, p. 6).
Ethnographic techniques encourage a process of discovery, that is, a
process of learning what is fundamental to the people under study.
Such a methodology enables the researcher to better understand the
complex meaning systems participants use to organize their behavior,
to understand themselves and others, and to make sense out of the world
in which they live (Spradley, 1980). The ethnographic perspective
stresses a commitment to holism and the accurate portrayal of events
from the point of view of the actors involved in the events (Erickson,
1984). Lutz (1981) described ethnography as
a holistic, thick description of the interactive
processes involving the discovery of important and
recurring variables in the society as they relate
to one another, under specified conditions, and
as they affect or produce certain results and
outcomes in the society, (p. 52)
As a methodology developed to uncover meanings, ethnography differs
from other research approaches in a number of ways. First, the


-65-
the section on asking ethnographic questions. In summary, after examin
ing initial data, the researcher asked descriptive, structural, and
contrast questions. These questions served to guide subsequent data
collection sessions. This cycle of questioning, collecting, and
analyzing was repeated throughout the duration of the study.
Data collected from participant observation, interviews, and
unobtrusive measures were analyzed using Spradley's (1980) four-step
method. The stages of data analysis are described below:
1. Domain analysis was begun with the first set of protocols.
In this phase of analysis the researcher looked for patterns or cate
gories of meaning, what Spradley called domains. These categories were
discovered through continuous reading of protocols with specific
questions in mind. Spradley described nine semantic relationships
that could be used to question the data and uncover relevant domains.
The most helpful semantic relationships were strict inclusion (X is a
kind of Y), cause-effect (X is a result of Y), rationale (X is a reason
for doing Y), means-end (X is a way to do Y), and attribution (X is a
characteristic of Y). This task of "delineating forms, kinds, and
types of social phenomena; of documenting in loving detail the things
that exist" (Lofland, 1971, p. 13), continued throughout the study.
The linguistics used by the participants themselves were utilized as
included terms within domains as often as possible.
2. Taxonomic analysis, uncovering the organization of domains
themselves, was the second phase of analysis. A taxonomy reveals
relationships among the terms inside the domain, uncovering subsets
and the ways individual terms are related to the whole. Taxonomic


TABLE OF CONTENTS
Page
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS vi
ABSTRACT viii
CHAPTER
IBACKGROUND FOR THE STUDY 1
Statement of the Problem 1
Significance of the Study 2
Definition of Terms 5
Design of the Study 6
Scope of the Study 7
IIREVIEW OF THE LITERATURE 9
Theoretical Framework: Attribution and Self-Worth
Theories 10
Ability Formation Theory and Related Studies 14
Gifted Adolescent Girls: Studies Related to Ability
Perceptions 29
IIIMETHODOLOGY 34
The Research Perspective 34
The Setting 38
Selection of the Research Site 38
Gaining Entry to the Site 39
Description of the Site 43
Research Methods and Procedures 49
Asking Ethnographic Questions 49
Collecting Ethnographic Data 52
Participant observation 53
Interviewing 58
Unobtrusive measures 60
Making an Ethnographic Record 62
Analyzing Ethnographic Data 64
Researcher Qualifications and Biases 67
Validity and Ethical Issues 69
vi


-123-
Connie: The guys are more independent. The girls
are afraid to go against each other. . Like, I
think the clique knows what they're doing when they
talk about people. You don't do something unless the
clique approves. Guys aren't as bad. Like, Kate
came running up to me to tell me Ron asked her to go
with him and she wanted to know if I approved. I
said, "Do you like him?" But she said that it didn't
matter. That's what I mean by having a recommenda
tion.
Observer: I'm glad you're explaining this. It's
taken us a long time to get together for a talk, and
this has really helped.
Connie: I thought it would be hard to talk to you
. . (She laughs and looks down at the table) because
you're older, but it's not. I was worried. I guess
the clique teaches you to watch out what you and who
you talk to. . People are totally different away
from school. I show a lot of this. What I'm telling
you now is what I can say when I'm away from school.
Then there's not pressure to be cool.
Data from observations revealed that in subtle ways teachers in
this middle school influenced the girls' perceptions of social com
petence as a form of achievement. Team teachers' classroom interaction
with gifted boys was a significant factor in the way gifted girls valued
and described their own social competence. This first became apparent
during early observations when analysis of the data revealed that
teachers using public sarcasm or ridicule often directed it at the
same boys. One sixth grade boy and three seventh grade boys, all
gifted, were primary targets of this public criticism. When asked
why these same boys were so frequently disciplined, the girls explained
that the boys were trying to show off being smarter than everyone else
and that they were just "nerds." The girls believed that the behavior
exhibited by gifted boys was behavior to be avoided. "They make it
hard for us. Outside people think you must be weird if you're in
gifted."


-62-
school, are indications that they did. The lengthy period spent
collecting data, the researcher's journal, and the variety of methods
used to collect data helped the researcher overcome distorting effects
of selective perceptions. Finally, using unobtrusive sources of data
helped the researcher overcome her inability to witness all relevant
aspects of an event.
Making an Ethnographic Record
Data collected in this study were recorded in the form of field
notes, interviews, and a research journal. The major portion of the
data was recorded in written form while activities were actually
occurring. All formal interviews and several gifted classes were
recorded on tape as well and transcribed by the researcher.
Field notes written during observations were recorded in as much
detail as possible. These field notes, written at the site, represented
what Spradley (1980) called a condensed account of what had occurred.
Typically the researcher's notes reflected phrases, partial drawings,
or unconnected sentences. As soon as possible after observation
periods, for instance, when classes changed or activities within the
same class changed, the researcher expanded these notes by filling in
details. Frequently the researcher left the classroom scene and created
an expanded account while sitting in the library pit. The researcher
did not leave the school site without rereading and filling in the
day's observations. Expanded accounts were typed into formal protocols
by the researcher.


-147-
Descriptive data from this study can serve to convey to teachers,
especially those with no background in gifted education, what it is
like to be a gifted adolescent girl. Teacher sensitivity to individual
students' perceptions of classroom events is important, for students
are clearly interpreters of classroom reality (Rosenholtz & Simpson,
1984; Weinstein, 1983), and messages sent in classrooms may affect
individual students' perceptions of ability in different ways. For
gifted adolescent girls, the focus on ability which comes with the
label of giftedness presents a conflict between achievement expecta
tions and social competence. Teacher awareness of the variables in
volved may help gifted girls who value close student-teacher relation
ships resolve this conflict. Thus, the importance of descriptive data
such as that provided by this study is in its use to increase teacher
awareness, and thus, enhance sensitivity toward the needs of this
subgroup of students. As Chodorow (1974) noted, to remain unaware of
the sense of worth that develops in girls today is to ignore a growing
set of problems.
Sex-role development of girls in modern society
is more complex. On the one hand they go to school
to prepare for life in a technologically and
socially advanced, complex society. On the other
hand, there is a sense in which this schooling is
pseudo-training. It is not meant to interfere
with the much more important training to be
"feminine" and a "wife and mother." (p. 55)
The importance of teacher definitions of giftedness was a major
finding of this study, and has implications for teachers, themselves,
as well as teacher educators. Symbolic interactionists postulate
that an individual's definition of reality affects that individual's


-165-
Toepfer, C., & Marani, J. (1980). School-based research. In M.
Johnson (Ed.), Toward adolescence: The middle school years. The
79th yearbook of the national society for the study of education
(pp. 268-281). Chicago: University of Chicago.
Vidich, A. (1969). Participant observation and the collection and
interpretation of data. In G.J. McCall & J.C. Simmons (Eds.),
Issues in participant observation: A text and reader (pp. 78-86).
Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
Walberg, H. (1969). Physics, feminity, and creativity. Developmental
Psychology, 1, 47-54.
Weiner, B. (1980). Human motivation. New York: Holt, Rinehart, &
Winston.
Weiner, B., Frieze, I., Kukla, A., Reed, L., Rest, S., & Rosenbaum, R.
(1971). Perceiving the causes of success and failure. In E.E.
Jones (Ed.), Attribution: Perceiving the causes of behavior
(pp. 192-219). Morristown, NJ: General Learning.
Weiner, B., & Kukla, A. (1970). An attributional analysis of achieve
ment motivation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,
15, 1-20.
Weinstein, R.S. (1983). Student perceptions of schooling. El ementary
School Journal, 83, 287-312.
Weinstein, R.S., Marshall, H.H., Botkin, M., & Sharp, L. (1985, April).
The development of student performance expectations. Paper pre
sented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research
Association, Chicago.
Weinstein, R.S., Marshall, H.H., Bratesani, K.A., & Middlestadt, S.E.
(1982). Student perceptions of differential teacher treatment in
open and traditional classrooms. Journal of Educational Psychology,
74, 678-692.
Werner, E., & Bachtold, M. (1969). Personality factors of gifted boys
and girls in middle childhood and adolescence. Psychology in
the Schools, 6(2), 177-187.
Whitmore, J.R. (1980). Giftedness, conflict, and underachievement.
Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
Wicox, K. (1982). Ethnography as a methodology and its application to
the study of schooling: A review. In G. Spindler (Ed.), Doing
the ethnography of schooling (pp. 456-488). New York: Holt,
Rinehart & Winston.


APPENDIX E
INDIVIDUAL INTERVIEWS WITH GIRLS
Directions: This is a chance for you to think about how you feel as a
student at this school. Everyone answering these will have different
answers, so be sure your answers reflect how you feel. Listen to each
statement and then select one of the following categories as your
answer: not at all, once in a while, often, or all the time. When we
finish this, I'd like to talk about some of your answers.
1. I look forward to going to school.
2. My teachers like me.
3. Students listen when I say what I think.
4. School work is boring.
5. I have many friends at school.
6. I am learning a lot at school.
7. I always do my best work.
8. My teachers listen carefully to my ideas.
9. At school there is too much pressure to be perfect.
10.If I know the answer to a question, I always raise my hand.
Adapted from Whitmore, 1980, Appendix L.
-156-


-22-
or the cultural belief that math and science are considered inappro
priate areas for female achievement. This, however, did not explain
the inability of specific self-concept of ability to predict performance
in English, an area generally considered appropriate for female achieve
ment. Lastly, Brookover et al. found that the student's self-concept
of ability is significantly and positively correlated with the perceived
evaluations that significant others hold of the student. However, an
individual's self-concept of ability is "more closely related to his
estimate of general attitudes toward him than it is to the perceived
responses of a particular group" (p. 277).
The findings of Brookover et al. indicated that student perceptions
of peer ratings are strongly correlated to self-concept of ability.
Additionally, in finding that students' ability perceptions are more
closely related to estimates of general attitudes, this study suggests
that student self-concepts of ability are influenced by a variety of
sources which may extend beyond the school. This implication may be
important in understanding the sex differences found in this study.
Are the general attitudes which influence males' and females' ability
perceptions made up of different subgroups? In finding that a specific
self-concept of ability was not a better predictor of achievement for
females in science and math than the general self-concept of ability,
this study raises the additional possibility that perceptions of others'
evaluations may be more powerful for adolescent females.
Pittman (1979) addressed some of these issues in a study conducted
to explore the importance of parents, teachers, peers, tests, and self-
evaluation on the development of students' self-perceptions of


-85-
The levels of motivation exhibited by both gifted males and
females in the resource room varied over time and across subject
matter. This was of considerable concern to the mothers of the girls
interviewed during this study. One mother, after being notified that
her daughter's space project had not been completed on time, told the
observer, "When she got home we put her on restriction. She said she
didn't get it done because the girl who worked on it with her hadn't
come to school. I told her maybe I'd have her taken out of gifted
because it was too much pressure on her. She says the teachers don't
understand." Several other mothers expressed the concern that their
daughters did not seem to be getting very much out of enrichment this
year. One mother remarked, "For a while I thought she was learning
a lot, but now, not so much. She thinks so too. She's at the point
where she'll be glad when she gets to high school and she's not in
it anymore."
Data analysis revealed that the girls who had the least social
status in the regular classroom tended to describe the gifted classroom
in the most positive terms. This was true even for girls like Sally
whose behavior in the gifted room frequently indicated that she had
no interest in the curriculum. As Sally explained, "The only time I
feel part of the school is when I'm in gifted."
Field notes indicated that the verbal behavior of many of the
gifted girls in the resource room was significantly different from
their behavior in regular class. For example, Marie, who rarely spoke
above a whisper in her regular classes, interacted more frequently and
with vigor in the gifted classroom. When the researcher commented on


-19-
of students in different academic subjects were more widely dispersed
with a higher proportion of students in the below average range. In
multidimensional classes there was less agreement between teachers and
pupils on perceptions of ability.
The implications of the studies conducted by Rosenholtz and
Rosenholtz (1981) and Simpson (1981) point to the importance of class
room structures which encourage more fluid, changing perceptions of
ability to exist. Such classroom would allow more divergent student-
teacher opinions and thus yield less restriction in performance
interpretation.
A group of studies related to ability formation theory have
investigated the active role students play in interpreting classroom
reality. The following studies are unique because they investigate
the effects of student perceptions of teacher and peer feedback on
student beliefs about ability. The studies reviewed focus on the early
adolescent age group.
Schmuck (1962; 1963) conducted a series of studies in which he
investigated the relationships between students' perceptions of social
status within a classroom, their actual social status as measured by
sociometric devices, and the degree to which students' performances
matched their academic abilities (utilization of abilities). His
sample included 727 students from elementary, junior, and senior high
schools in rural, urban, industrial, and university communities. Data
included the following: results from questionnaires and interviews
with students and teachers, intelligence scores obtained from student
records, and brief observations in the classrooms of students in grades


Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements
for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
GIFTED ADOLESCENT GIRLS: SELF-PERCEPTIONS OF ABILITY
WITHIN ONE MIDDLE SCHOOL SETTING
by
Linda R. Kramer
August 1985
Chairperson: Dr. Paul George
Cochairperson: Dr. Dorene Ross
Major Department: Educational Leadership
The purpose of this study was to investigate in detail the
experiences of gifted adolescent girls in one middle school, de
lineating the social-interactional factors which influenced ability
perceptions and attitudes toward achievement. The researcher assumed
a social-interactionist perspective by which self-perceptions of
ability were viewed as the interaction of gifted girls' attitudes,
perspectives, and values with variables inherent in the school environ
ment. The study focused on two guiding questions:
(1) What kinds of experiences do gifted girls have as members of
heterogeneous teams and homogeneous gifted classes?
(2) How do they use these experiences to construct behavior and
beliefs about ability?
Qualitative research methods were used to collect and analyze data.
Observations were conducted on the gifted classroom and interdisci
plinary teams for 200 hours the last five months of the school year.
These observations focused on gifted girls' achievement-related behavior
v i i i


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
The writing of a dissertation is necessarily a solitary process.
Numerous long hours must be spent alone in contemplation and writing.
Yet, without the assistance, guidance, and support of a number of
people, this dissertation might not have reached fruition.
I would like to thank the members of my committee for their con
tributions. My chairperson, Dr. Paul George, has a special insight
into the nature and needs of early adolescents, and his expertise in
this area has guided my own thinking and question-asking. Throughout
this study Dr. George has given his time and support, encouraging me
to persevere when my own spirits were lagging. My cochairperson, Dr.
Dorene Ross, has been an inspiration to me throughout my doctoral pro
gram. I have appreciated her unfailing interest in this study, her
astute editorial comments, her confidence, and friendship. Dr. Rod
Webb has helped me develop sound research skills, as well as a broader
perspective on schooling. His dedication and enthusiasm have been
powerful sources of motivation. Dr. Sandra Damico has offered a willing
ear and numerous suggestions throughout my graduate studies. I am
grateful for her confidence in me and her ability to find the humor
in almost any situation. Dr. Gordon Lawrence has taught me how complex
the human personality is, and in so doing, has helped me come to better
understand myself. His knowledge of instruction and learning has enabled
iv


-64-
A research journal was kept which reflected the researcher's
experiences from the initial stages of gaining entry through the final
day of observation. As a record of the ethnographer's experiences in
the field, the journal provided a tool for reflection on concerns,
insights, and problems which occurred (Spradley, 1980). Entries in
the journal were typically written after the researcher had mused over
several sets of protocols. The journal was most valuable in that it
enabled the researcher to monitor her changing role in the social
scene, providing a record of her attitudes and biases that were later
examined during data analysis. These issues are discussed in the final
sections of this chapter.
Analyzing Ethnographic Data
Ethnography is "a naturalistic, observational, descriptive, con
textual, open-ended, and in-depth approach to doing research" (Wilcox,
1982, p. 462). As such, researchers use a variety of methods and
techniques to gather and analyze data. In qualitative research, the
analyst's aim is to provide an explicit account of the structure,
order, and patterns found among participants in the social setting under
study (Lofland, 1971).
In doing ethnography, a certain amount of analysis is required
while the researcher remains in the field. This stage of analysis is
extremely important in that it serves to guide the study, continually
narrowing the focus to fundamental issues heuristic to the setting.
Analysis as an ongoing part of this study was previously discussed in


CHAPTER III
METHODOLOGY
The Research Perspective
The purpose of this study was to explore and describe gifted
adolescent girls' self-perceptions of ability and achievement within the
context of one middle school setting. The students studied were members
of heterogeneously organized interdisciplinary teams four days a week
and attended homogeneously grouped gifted classes one day a week. The
study focused on the girls' definitions of achievement and ability,
their perceptions of the relationship between the two constructs, and
the effects of the school culture (i.e., organizational features,
student-teacher relationships, and peer group influences) on these
perceptions. Ethnographic techniques, methods of data collection and
analysis which enabled the researcher to investigate participants'
perspectives, were used.
Though the roots of ethnography have been in anthropology, an
increased interest in using this approach to do research in schools
has resulted in extensive observations of the school environment. This
growing body of literature illustrates the interactive nature of learning
in schools, suggesting ways students and teachers come to understand
each other (McDermott, 1977), and concentrating on perspectives not
often considered in educational research. As Wolcott (1976) noted,
-34-


me to become a better teacher. It is difficult to adequately thank
these individuals for their support and guidance during the last several
years.
To the girls, teachers, and mothers who opened their lives to me
I am most grateful. I have appreciated their trust, friendship, and
warm welcome, without which this study could not have been completed.
In addition, I would like to thank the many other middle school students
who offered their opinions and humorous anecdotes for inclusion in my
field notes.
I am also indebted to the many friends who spent hours listening
to my experiences and helping me clarify my thoughts. Debbie Hathaway,
Robert Hunt, Deborah Marshall, and Thomas Palumbo have been especially
supportive in this endeavor, and for their friendship I will always be
grateful.
My mother, sisters, and brother have offered their love, encourage
ment, and support. Their faith in me has given me the strength and
desire to complete this difficult task.
v


-166-
Winterbottom, M. (1953). The relation of childhood training in
independence to achievement motivation. In D. McCelland, J.
Atkinson, R. Clark, & E. Lowell (Eds.), The achievement motive
(pp. 297-305). New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.
Wolcott, H. (1976). Criteria for an ethnographic approach to research
in schools. In J. Roberts & S. Akinsanya (Eds.), Schooling in the
cultural context (pp. 23-44). New York: David McKay.


-97-
pursue topics of individual interest. In Sally's case, the researcher's
expression of interest in her work may have increased Sally's task
motivation.
A third method of coping with routine assignments was used
exclusively by Cindy and her two best friends, both high achieving
girls, but not identified as gifted. These girls sat together in the
back of their classes and were always observed to be busily involved
with tasks. On some occasions at the beginning of the study Nancy
would join the group, but her involvement was infrequent and decreased
with time. Observing this group of girls at work in social studies
one morning, the researcher asked Nancy to describe what was going on:
Nancy: Cindy's group passes papers around with the
answers on it so you really don't have to talk. This
is a better system. Everyone works on one question
and everyone shares answers. It's not cheating. The
homework (classwork) doesn't count as much.
While the majority of gifted girls in Team One described feelings
of frustration concerning their levels of motivation, it was none
theless important to do well. However, because doing well was a
concern, the girls frequently expressed a desire to avoid taking risks
which might result in failure. This became most obvious toward the
end of the year when five of the Team One girls were preparing to
register for high school. The following incident occurred late in
March when the algebra teacher distributed a test designed to help
place students in math courses the following year:
Prior to the beginning of class, the observer,
sitting beside three of the gifted girls, asks
the girls if they have studied for the test.
Debbie informs the group that she will repeat
Algebra I even if the test shows she should be


-10-
stratification, and, therefore, make it less likely that students will
develop alternative interpretations of ability.
The focus of the present study was on the school contexts in which
gifted adolescent girls' self-perceptions of ability develop. For this
reason the review of the literature will be organized in the following
manner: 1) the contributions of the major proponents of attribution
and self-worth theories to our understanding of ability perceptions
will be summarized, 2) ability formation theory and studies related to
early adolescents will be discussed, and 3) research related to gifted
girls' ability perceptions and achievement behavior will be described.
Theoretical Framework: Attribution and Self-Worth
Theories
Both the attribution and self-worth theories of achievement
motivation have their roots in earlier "learned drive" theories which
stressed the fundamental conflict between attempting success and
avoiding failure (Covington, 1984). The most well-known of these
theories, one which is still influential today, was developed by John
Atkinson (1964) and David McCelland (1965). Atkinson found that the
way individuals resolved the conflict between seeking success and
avoiding failure depended upon differences in early childhood experi
ences. For this reason, much of the research stemming from this model
has focused on the importance of childrearing practices in promoting
or hindering the development of a positive orientation necessary to
the pursuit of success (Winterbottom, 1953).


REFERENCES
Alexander, W.M., & George, P.S. (1981). The exemplary middle school.
New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.
Atkinson, J. (1964). An introduction to motivation. Princeton, NJ:
Van Nostrand.
Becker, H. (1969). Problems of inference and proof in participant
observation. In G.J. McCall & J.C. Simmons (Eds.), Issues in
participant observation: A text and reader (pp. 245-257).
Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
Berger, P., & Luckmann, T. (1966). The social construction of reality.
Garden City, NY: DoubTeday.
Blaubergs, M. (1978). Overcoming the sexist barriers to gifted
women's achievement. In B. Johnson (Ed.), Advantage: Disad
vantaged gifted (pp. 7-46). Ventura, CA: National State Leader
ship Training Institute for the Gifted.
Blaubergs, M. (1980). The gifted female: Sex-role stereotyping and
gifted girls' experience and education. Roeper Review, ^(3),
13-15.
Bluemenfeld, P., Pintrich, P., Meece, J., & Wessels, K. (1982). The
formation and role of self-perceptions of ability in elementary
classrooms. In W. Doyle & T. Good (Eds.), Focus on teaching
(pp. 182-201). Chicago: University of Chicago.
Blumer, H. (1969). Symbolic interactionism. Englewood Cliffs, NJ:
Prentice-Hall.
Blyth, D., & Traeger, C. (1983). The self-concept and self-esteem
of early adolescents. Theory into Practice, 22(2), 91-97.
Bogdan, R., and Biklen, S. (1982). Qualitative research for educa
tion: An introduction to theory and methods. Boston: A1lyn&
Bacon.
Bogdan, R., and Taylor, S. (1975). Introduction to qualitative
research methods: A phenomenological approach to the school
scienees. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
-158-


-124-
When pressed to describe the behaviors that made the gifted boys
seem socially inept to other students, the majority of girls listed
arguing with the teacher, thinking you are smarter, and always knowing
the answer. Such behaviors, in addition to their perceptions of gifted
boys as being physically unattractive, made the girls even more con
cerned with avoiding the label of gifted in order to "fit in." This
was also true of eighth grade girls who frequently pointed out the lack
of social competence in the gifted boys. Though eighth grade boys were
rarely singled out as behavior problems, they were frequently ahead of
everyone else in schoolwork, and as such, exhibited the behaviors the
girls thought should be avoided. The following examples illustrate
the girls' belief that social competence was a valued skill or ability:
Jill: Some people in gifted think they are smarter
than anyone and that they can get away with anything
. . like Bobby and John and David. I know they are
smart, but they act smarter than everyone, and
people in regular classes just think everyone is
equal.
Marie: The boys act out. Miss Davis always gets
mad at Bobby.
Nancy: (running into the gifted room out of breath)
I had to run all the way here so I wouldn't be seen
walking with him (a gifted boy).
Debbie: I hate math. No one knows what he (teacher)
is talking about except the real brains.
Observer: Who are the real brains?
Debbie: Phil and Steve and Jason (two of these boys
are gifted). They'll be the only ones partici
pating. You see, they've had calculus and all that,
and they're already finished with our science book.
She lets them go ahead and just read it, and they
passed all the tests.
Observer: Why don't you do that?
Connie: (laughing) We aren't that smart!
Debbie: The gifted girls are a lot different from
the gifted guys. We don't want to be different.
They don't care if they are. We don't want to be
odd. Look at them! Do you see the way they are?


-149-
The influence of student-teacher relationships on gifted girls'
achievement-related behaviors was an important finding in this study
which has implications for teacher organization. The studied gifted
girls were more likely to demonstrate achievement-related behaviors
in team situations where student-teacher relationships were character
ized as close, and girls believed their efforts would be perceived more
favorably. While individual teacher personalities within the two
teams studied contributed to the ability of the team, as a whole, to
foster such closer relationships, students believed that being members
of teams made the existence of such relationships more likely. Thus,
teacher organization which promotes the sharing of a set number of
students among a core group of teachers, facilitating close student-
teacher relationships, may promote achievement motivation and positive
ability perceptions in gifted adolescent girls at a time when sex-role
identification and the tendency to conform may inhibit achievement.
Curriculum specialists have noted the need for the development
of different strategies in the education of gifted girls (Callahan,
1981). The implications of this study for curriculum development point
to the need for the following strategies:
1) Activities are needed which enable gifted girls to interact
with female role models who present the image of being successful both
professionally and socially.
2) Activities are needed which promote and clarify the value of
math and science within tasks girls perceive as appropriate and
important areas of achievement for females. Such activities may keep
girls from prejudicing their futures by limiting their present efforts
in math and science at a young age.


-28-
commitment more than actual feedback. Additionally, Mason and Stipek
found that student behavior and perceptions were relatively stable
across two years, thus suggesting that students enter new classrooms
not only with varied skill levels the teacher must consider, but also
with a set of achievement-related beliefs and perceptions.
Important questions are raised by the implication that students'
perceptions about their ability on tasks may influence task commitment
more than actual feedback. What criteria do students use in forming
task-specific perceptions of ability? Do personal values or values
attributed to the task itself affect perceptions of ability? Do per
ceived consequences of success or failure on specific tasks affect
perceptions of ability before a student begins a task?
In a related study, Weinstein, Marshall, Botkin, and Sharp (1985)
investigated the development of student performance expectations in
high differential and low differential classrooms over one school year.
While this study focused on 579 students in 30 first, third, and fifth
grade classrooms rather than early adolescents, the findings suggested
that "student awareness of specific teacher expectations is only ap
parent at the fifth grade level and only here influenced by the class
room context" (pp. 2-3). Thus, this implies the importance of student
perspectives and classroom context for the development of older
students' self-perceptions of ability. Based on their findings,
Weinstein, Marshall, Botkin, and Sharp (1985) concluded, "perceived
teacher expectations may prove more critical than actual teacher
expectations in predicting student expectation and achievement out
comes" (p. 30).


-86-
this observation, several girls explained their more active participa
tion by describing the gifted class as a smaller, more intimate
environment:
Sally: It's a lot different. You talk about
feelings. ... In there (gifted room), you put it
(express yourself) different.
Lynn: In here (gifted room) we're all friends.
There aren't any cliques and no one is more popular
unless maybe something (a status-giving event) is
happening.
Nancy: Gifted is my favorite class. We agree on
the same things, like the same things, and enjoy
being together. They understand how I feel.
Joan: I had to throw away my I-hate-Monday-Garfield-
tee- shirt this year! (Monday is the day Joan goes to
the gifted class.)
A comparison of the journals kept by several eighth grade girls
in their advisor-advisee class with those kept in the gifted room pro
vided insight into the different levels of intimacy the girls attributed
to the two environments. During a group interview these girls informed
the observer that nothing of importance was ever written in the
journals kept in advisor-advisee, and that reading them would not
produce information for this study. Sally explained, "We never write
anything in there! Mrs. Myers reads them." It is important to note
that Mrs. Johnson also read the gifted journals, though students in
the gifted class had the option of requesting that Mrs. Johnson (and
the researcher) not read a particular entry. It should also be noted
that girls were given no directions when writing in their advisor-
advisee journals, while Mrs. Johnson usually led a discussion based on
a selected topic as a pre-writing activity. The result was that entries


-140-
their own desire to fulfill teacher expectations, but their inability
to always do so. This conflict surfaced frequently in Team Two where
the Dynamic Dozen technique imposed constant competition, direct com
parison among and between students, and a system of reward for obtaining
the highest grade point average. Having ability became synonymous with
knowing the answer. For girls labeled as gifted, narrow definitions
of ability resulted in a variety of strategies to avoid public exposure
in case they did not know the answer, and, at the same time, to avoid
standing out as someone who always knew in a system of strict stratifi
cation. Such strategies included sitting in the back of the room and
not volunteering answers in class. Narrow definitions of ability also
caused discomfort for teachers who were unable to understand the
mismatch between such conceptions of ability and gifted girls'
performance.
Rosenholtz and Rosenholtz (1981) noted that ability stratification
could affect one's life chances, enhancing or limiting capacity, to
the degree that one was influenced by the perceptions of significant
others. The findings of this study indicated that perceptions of
teachers as flexible and positive instructors could also act as
buffers, modifying the effects of narrow conceptions of ability. For
the girls who perceived Team Two as a family and a climate in which
they received more chances to do well, greater effort and desire to
achieve resulted. Additionally, girls who believed they were liked
by teachers believed that they had a better chance of doing well. For
these gifted girls, obtaining a reputation as a hard worker helped them
avoid conflict-producing situations in which public performance might


Page
IV GIFTED ADOLESCENT GIRLS' SELF-PERCEPTIONS OF ABILITY ... 72
Ability and Motivation: School and Community Contexts . 75
Gifted Girls' Views About Themselves 76
The Gifted Program 82
Members of a Team 90
Gifted girls' perceptions of Team One 90
Gifted girls' perceptions of Team Two 98
Beliefs about Ability 107
Multiple Definitions of Giftedness 108
Affiliation Needs 116
Social Comparison 125
V CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS 131
Relationship of Findings to Previous Studies 137
Use of Findings to Research Community 142
Use of Findings to Practitioners 146
APPENDIX
A LETTER OF PERMISSION 152
B GROUP INTERVIEW WITH GIRLS 153
C INTERVIEW WITH TEACHERS 154
D INTERVIEW WITH MOTHERS 155
E INDIVIDUAL INTERVIEWS WITH GIRLS 156
F INTERVIEW WITH PRINCIPAL 157
REFERENCES 158
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH 167
vi i


CHAPTER IV
GIFTED ADOLESCENT GIRLS' SELF-PERCEPTIONS OF ABILITY
The goal of this study was to uncover the self-perceptions of
ability held by gifted females attending a middle school in which they
were members of interdisciplinary teams and a pull-out gifted program.
As previously discussed, this research was based on a social-
interactionist perspective, and thus on the assumption that indi
viduals' self-perceptions of ability are constructed through their
interactions in social settings.
In this study the researcher focused on interactions which took
place in the gifted classroom, two of the school's three team areas,
and in the library, cafeteria, and other areas of the school environ
ment which were regularly inhabited by the girls. Observations
centered on the girls' interactions with teachers, peers, and educa
tional materials within and outside the classroom setting. Additionally,
both formal and informal interviews were conducted with each girl
individually and in groups throughout the study. Teachers on both
teams and five of the girls' mothers were formally interviewed.
Artifacts such as cumulative folders, personal journals kept by the
girls, report cards, and work completed for classes were examined.
These kinds of concrete phenomena were used by the researcher as indi
cators of gifted adolescent girls' self-perceptions of ability.
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In summary, the studied gifted girls experienced a conflict be
tween the high expectations others attributed to gifted girls and the
behaviors required to achieve social acceptance. In order to maintain
a sense of competence in both their academic and social worlds, the
majority of girls described themselves as having potential and their
successful achievements as resulting from effort. Thus, these gifted
girls were more likely to demonstrate achievement-related behaviors in
team situations where teacher-student relationships were characterized
as close, and girls believed their efforts would be perceived more
favorably.
Relationship of the Findings to Previous Studies
Research on perceptions of ability has focused on the feelings
of causality that accompany successful and unsuccessful achievement
(Covington & Beery, 1976; Weiner et al., 1971), and the role of context
factors in the formation of ability perceptions (Rosenholtz & Simpson,
1984; in press). Since ability perceptions are viewed as a central
component in achievement-related behavior, researchers have attempted
to understand what feelings or environmental influences might affect
an individual's desire to pursue and accomplish tasks in the future.
Studies conducted with early adolescents have investigated the
influence of significant others on adolescents' attitudes toward
achievement and ability (Schmuck, 1962; 1963; Brookover et al., 1964;
Parsons et al., 1982; Pittman, 1979). These studies found that a
significant positive relationship exists between students' perceptions


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Cindy: Team Two was hard. I'd be so scared to get
called on that I'd pray. Once one of my friends
begged the bus driver to go back to her house so she
could get a paper she forgot because the teacher
told everyone they'd get a zero, and she (the teacher)
really picked on everyone!
Marie's mother: I think Marie fears being labeled
. . and teased about being gifted . about maybe
not being smart. One teacher in particular this
year (Team Two) must put all the students down. I
think they (students) wrote a report or something and
she told some students, "These gifted students may
be smart, but they sure don't know how to write a
report." Marie has made some comments about this
at home. . Her friend, Katie, told her that
this teacher told Katie that Marie doesn't want
to share her knowledge (referring to Marie's
tendency not to speak out in class). Katie told
Marie.
The feelings of anxiety described by the girls who were members of
Team Two during the study, or who had been members in the past, re
sulted in large part from a system of competition used by three of the
four teachers on the team. The system was called Dynamic Dozen. Each
grading period teachers using the system averaged grades to determine
the twelve highest grade point averages in the class. Those students
were seated, in order, in a special section of the room in front of
the teacher's desk. They were also given the privilege of leaving
the team area for water or the bathroom without having to ask for
permission. In addition, the student with the highest grade point
average was called the Wizard. This student sat beside the teacher,
which meant, in some cases, the Wizard's desk faced the class rather
than pointed in the same direction. The Wizard called roll, signed
late slips, and acted as the teacher's helper. To be a Wizard was
considered a position of prestige by the majority of students not only


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which frequently followed the voluntary sharing of journal entries.
As Ellen explained, "A lot goes on then. We have times when we talk
or just write about things and everything comes out."
No opportunities were provided for the gifted students to make
choices about topics studied other than the selection of an individual
project which followed the unit on space. The unit, which took place
during the early stages of this study, proved particularly difficult
to teach because Mrs. Johnson was able to obtain only materials and
films which were considerably below the level of the students and, in
some cases, were noticeably outdated. The end result was that few
students were excited by the unit or by the prospect of an independent
project. The project Mrs. Johnson assigned was posted on the black
board early in January as follows:
Space Reports
1. Choose an area of study.
2. Begin research.
a. School library
b. Public library
c. University library
d. University Science Department
e. National Geographic (and other publications)
f. Materials available in enrichment room
3. Write an outline. (Due Jan. 18)
4. Develop a report.
During the month of January and the first week of February,
students in the gifted room worked alternately on creative and per
sonal writing in their journals, thinking techniques such as brain
storming, and activities related to the unit on space. When the
February deadline arrived for presentation of reports, however, none
of the sixth or eighth grade girls were ready to present. Thus, the


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Schwartz, M., & Schwartz, C. (1969). Problems in participant observa
tion. In G.J. McCall & J.C. Simmons (Eds.), Issues in participant
observation: A text and reader (pp. 89-104). Reading, MA:
Addison-Wesley.
Shakeshaft, C., & Palmieri, P. (1978). A divine discontent: Per
spectives on gifted women. The Gifted Child Quarterly, 22(4),
468-477.
Sherman, J. (1975). A summary of psychological sex differences. In
M. Mednick, S. Tangri, & L. Hoffman (Eds.), Women and achievement:
Social and motivational analysis (pp. 292-30TT Washington, DC:
Hemisphere.
Simpson, C. (1981). Classroom structure and the organization of
ability. Sociology of Education, 54, 120-132.
Speakers Task Force on Middle Childhood Education. (1983). The for
gotten years. Tallahassee, FL: FL House of Representatives.
Spindler, G. (1982). Doing the ethnography of schooling. New York:
Holt, Rinehart, & Winston.
Spradley, J.P. (1979). The ethnographic interview. New York: Holt,
Rinehart, & Winston.
Spradley, J.P. (1980). Participant observation. New York: Holt,
Rinehart, & Winston.
Stainback, S., and Stainback, W. (1984). Broadening the research
perspective in special education. Exceptional Children, 50(3),
400-408.
Stein, A., & Bailey, M. (1975). The socialization of achievement
motivation in females. In M. Mednick, S. Tangri, & L. Hoffman
(Eds.), Women and achievement: Social and motivational analysis
(pp. 151-157). Washington, DC: Hemisphere.
Strauss, A., Schatzmann, L., Bucher, R., Echrlich, D., & Sabshin, M.
(1969). Field tactics. In G.J. McCall & J.C. Simmons (Eds.),
Issues in participant observation: A text and reader (pp. 70-76).
Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
Terman, L., & Oden, M. (1959). Genetic studies of genius: The gifted
group at midlife. Stanford, CA: Stanford University.
Thornburg, H. (1985, February). Implications of research for middle
level teacher education. Paper presented at the annual conference
of the Association of Teacher Educators, Las Vegas.


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When journal writing occurred, males tended to finish writing sooner
and spend the remainder of the time talking to each other or to Mrs.
Johnson. In addition, equipment such as the record player and computer
were controlled almost exclusively by the males with the exception of
the sixth grade class. These students did not use the record player,
and both males and females were equally interested in obtaining time
on the computer.
For the majority of girls, particularly the eighth graders, the
significance of being in the gifted program had gradually decreased
since their entry into middle school. Even Ellen, who described the
gifted class as a place "where everything comes out," told the
researcher that, "It used to be important to be in it (during elementary
school). I used to love to come." On several occasions, and on at
least one occasion when the observer was present, one girl skipped
class and was later found by Mrs. Johnson in her regular class.
Data analysis revealed two reasons many of the girls felt parti
cipation in the gifted class was no longer important. First, the
girls frequently expressed feelings of wanting to be exposed to more
and different topics than were covered in the class. Human nature,
relationships, physical growth, astrology, and animals were mentioned
by the girls as topics they would like to investigate. Second, nine
of the ten girls made spontaneous comments to the observer about very
popular girls who had taken the test for entry into the program, but
had missed the cut-off score by "a few points." The girls believed
that including popular students in the gifted program would increase
its status among students, thus making it a more appealing program.


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Data were analyzed into domains according to Spradley's
Developmental Research Sequence (Spradley, 1980). This process re
quired that data be analyzed continuously to isolate relevant categories
of language, behavior, objects, people, etc. Domains which proved to be
particularly significant in uncovering gifted girls' self-perceptions
of ability included Results of Being in the Gifted Program, Ways to
Know You've Done Your Best, Kinds of Goals, Kinds of Status, Things
That Are Important, Steps in Getting a Teacher to Like You, Attributes
of Smart People, Differences Between Gifted Boys and Girls, and
Responsibilities of Students on a Team. Domains were then organized
into taxonomies. That is, data which indicated ways gifted girls
thought about their abilities were drawn from across many domains
and organized into new domains which represented factors influencing
self-perceptions of ability. Taxonomies were also constructed to
represent achievement-related behaviors within different contexts such
as the different teams and the gifted classroom.
This analysis reflected the social-interactionist perspective
which served as a theoretical framework for the findings of this
study. From this perspective, individuals create meanings for people,
things, and events in their world through their interactions in social
contexts. The meanings, or perceptions, are not inherent in the
people or events themselves, but instead are products of social
interaction. These premises of symbolic interaction (Blumer, 1969;
Mead, 1934) were found to be useful in understanding and describing
the self-perceptions of ability held by the gifted girls studied, and
the effects of the school culture (i.e., organizational features,


-38-
holds that humans are interpreting, defining creatures "whose behavior
can only be understood by having the researcher enter into the defining
process through such methods as participant-observation" (Bodgan &
Biklen, 1982, p. 76). Spradley (1980) suggested that we think of these
shared meanings, or culture, as a cognitive map and ethnography as the
methodology designed for its investigation.
The Setting
Selection of the Research Site
The study was conducted in one middle school located in a rural
area in the Southeast. The population under study, ten identified
gifted girls in grades six through eight, belonged to two of the
school's three interdisci pi inary teams. Observations were therefore
conducted predominantly in two team areas, the gifted resource room,
and other areas of the school environment in which the girls interacted.
The criteria for school selection were as follows: (a) the
recognition of its exemplary status by experts in the field of middle
school education; (b) a population of ten gifted girls in grades six
through eight which was within reasonable bounds for regular and pro
longed observation of the total population; (c) an open-space environ
ment which enabled the researcher to move about and interact freely
without disturbing the scene, maximizing the amount of classroom
observation time; (d) the enthusiastic acceptance of the study by
teachers, parents, and the students involved; and (e) the researcher's
expertise in the area of middle school education. According to


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the participants made this impossible. In particular, the eighth grade
girls did not wish to meet with the sixth or seventh graders. These
group interviews gave the girls time to reflect, to remember specific
incidents, and to verify or contradict each other's statements. Group
interviews were held during the first four weeks of the study.
As a part of the formal interview conducted with individual students
the researcher asked several structured questions requiring students to
select an answer on a scale from "not at all" to "all the time"
(Whitmore, 1980, Appendix L). In most cases, the researcher found
students' responses to these items to be very confusing and probed for
explanations. For example, when given the item, "I look forward to
going to school," the girls, without exception, selected "all the time."
Because the researcher's observations revealed the girls to be inatten
tive frequently during class, the researcher expressed her confusion.
In clarifying their answers, the girls explained that school was
exciting because it was a place to meet friends. An additional example
which proved insightful to the researcher was the item, "My teachers
listen carefully to my ideas." Sally, an eighth grader who was observed
to rarely volunteer ideas, selected "all the time." When probed to
explain her choice, she informed the researcher that teachers listened
to her precisely because she never spoke out. The use of such forced-
choice items proved insightful only when additional questioning was
used to reveal the girls' perceptions of the statements themselves.
The differences between the girls' definitions of the statements and
the researcher's definitionswere considered valuable data.


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adolescent girls, but researchers have noted that obstacles to women's
achievement may affect females who have the greatest ability to the
greatest degree (Blaubergs, 1978; 1980; Callahan, 1979; 1981; Fox, 1978;
Horner, 1975).
The present study focused on the school experiences of gifted
girls and the context factors which influenced the development of their
perceptions of ability. The rich and detailed data collected provided
evidence that the formation of gifted girls' self-perceptions of ability
was influenced by social interaction, and in particular, their percep
tions of relationships with significant others. Three factors were
identified as influential: multiple definitions of ability, affilia
tion needs, and social comparison. These factors indicated the
importance of teacher and peer evaluations in the construction of
gifted girls' self-perceptions.
In this study the structure of the teams in which the girls were
members mediated the influence of these factors. Both teams resembled
the unidimensional organization described by Rosenholtz and Simpson
(1984; in press). That is, low task differentiation, low student
autonomy, and evaluation systems which reflected narrowly focused
criteria gave the gifted girls few options to demonstrate their com
petence beyond the structure offered by the teams. For girls labeled
as gifted and expected to perform as such, narrow definitions of ability
resulted in confusion and lack of motivation because their talents did
not always match teachers' and peers' definitions of ability. By
describing themselves as having potential rather than ability, it
appeared that the gifted girls in this study were able to cope with


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Debbie, and Ellenare real popular, and the rest of us-well, we're
in the middle. We're not popular, but we're not unpopular. . .
What's important is having your own group." Though belonging was an
important issue for all of the girls in this study, for the eighth
graders its significance was reinforced by the belief that reputa
tions, once gained, did not change. Connie explained the difficulty
of gaining entry to the most popular peer group, as well as its
importance:
Connie: Here we have real set cliques. The best
thing you can do is get into the popular crowd. It's
no fun if you're in the others. We have three girls'
cliques: the sluts, the goddy-goodies, and the main
crowd. That's ours. For the guys it's the preps and
the rougher crowd. The preps are wealthy. You can't
be in the main crowd if you're ugly. . They
(leaders of the crowd) pick their friends carefully.
You have to be pretty and do what they want . .
unless you're in the popular crowd guys won't go with
you. . Like, if you aren't friends with Carrie
(one of the most popular eighth grade girls) you
won't be asked to go with guys. Ellen's never been
kicked out. She's a lover of popularity. In order
not to be kicked out you have to follow, and I've
been kicked out. I've cried over it so many times
(being kicked out). You get talked about a lot and
you feel like a fool when you go hang around them
again.
Observer: Is everyone in a clique?
Connie: I read in a magazine that the cream-of-the-
crop doesn't hang around with a clique. They don't
follow. If I had the guts, I wouldn't hang around
with them, but if you're out, you're nowhere. . .
I'm mainly worried about popularity. I admire
people who go on their ownlike Gena. (There is a
long pause while Connie thinks about what she has
told the observer.) This is confusing. I'm talking
in opposites. Every other sentence is opposite to
what I just said. My mom says I do this a lot. I
have all these ideas that, if you told people, they'd
think you were stupid. Good grades, respect, being
a classy person, and having a good reputation are
important to me
Observer: What about the guys?


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Additional scheduling problems had also discouraged the use of multi-
age grouping in exploratory classes, physical education, and resource
classes such as gifted. The decreased emphasis at the school level
on multiage grouping and advisor-advisee programs was mirrored in
comments made by the girls throughout the study.
Cindy: This year 15 minutes for AA (advisor-
advisee) is not long enough to do a project, and
it's too long to get your pencils and paper so
unless you want to be a social butterfly, it's
wasted. Usually I don't have anything to do.
Some teachers will plan something but most don't.
. . But even if we could have a longer AA, I'd
rather have a longer lunch.
Sal1y: The seventh and eighth graders on our team
are separated all the time. Last year we had some
classes together. . Well . it's like we
don't even hang around together. We (eighth
graders) have our own feelings and all, and they
don't understand yet.
The gifted program in operation had also changed greatly during
the school's history due to a shifting emphasis at the county level.
No set county curriculum existed for middle school gifted programs
other than the adoption of five major goals including the development
of (a) higher levels of thinking, (b) self-directed learning, (c) posi
tive attitudes of self-worth, (d) interpersonal relationship skills
and leadership techniques, and (e) creative thinking. Mrs. Johnson
informed the researcher that the major difference between her program
and those found at other county middle schools was that students were
staffed into the gifted room one entire day per week rather than one
period per day.
The population under study consisted of three sixth, two seventh,
and five eighth graders, including one black student. The girls were


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4. The researcher has completed an ethnographic study of gifted
adolescent females involved in a career awareness seminar. Based on
this study two articles have been accepted for publication and one
regional research presentation was made.
5. The researcher has presented workshops and in-service presen
tations for classroom teachers working with gifted students, has worked
as a consultant for district middle schools, and has made a presentation
at the National Association for Gifted Children.
In addition to examining the researcher's qualifications, both in
regards to her ability to conduct qualitative research and in terms of
the researcher's frame of reference, it is important for the researcher
to make clear any underlying assumptions or biases which may have
resulted in a selective perception of data. "The researcher can and
does know what his biases are, and . knowing what they are, he can,
by specifying them, prevent distortion of his observations" (Schwartz &
Schwartz, 1969, p. 103). The researcher's journal enabled her to
actively look for personal biases and explore their consequences. The
following list demonstrates the researcher's awareness and provides
the reader with a framework for evaluating the study (Ross, 1978).
1. The researcher believes that gifted students require an
enriched curriculum through special programs which stress critical
thinking, problem solving, leadership, and creativity. Related to this
is the researcher's concern that practice in these skills is not being
adequately provided for all students in regular classroom settings.
2. The researcher is especially concerned about the kinds of
social and academic experiences encountered by gifted adolescent girls


CHAPTER II
REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE
Research on perceptions of ability has attempted to answer two
different sets of questions. One set of questions has focused on the
feelings about ability that are produced when an individual success
fully or unsuccessfully completes a task. The purpose of this research
has been to determine the types of feelings that lead to increased
achievement motivation on similar tasks. Researchers concerned with
these questions have been guided by attribution theory (Weiner, Frieze,
Kukla, Reed, Rest, & Rosenbaum, 1971), which proposes that an indi
vidual's belief about the causes of success and failure affects future
achievement-related behavior, and self-worth theory (Covington & Beery,
1976), which proposes that achievement behavior can be explained in
terms of an individual's attempts to maintain a positive self-image.
Research stemming from these theories has generally been conducted
with adult subjects in laboratory settings. A second body of questions
has focused on possible environmental factors that may influence
feelings about ability. The purpose of this research has been to
determine how ability perceptions are formed. This body of research
has contributed to the recent development of ability formation theory
(Rosenholtz & Simpson, 1984; in press), which proposes that classroom
processes which contribute to a singular definition of ability lead to
-9-


-26-
interaction was public and monitored by the class or a private teacher-
student interaction.
The results of the study indicated that girls, as a whole, received
less criticism than 1ow-teacher-expectancy boys, and that high-teacher-
expectancy girls received less praise than the other groups. Though
differences were small, low-expectancy boys received the most criticism
and low-expectancy girls the most praise, especially in response to
teacher controlled questioning. In general, boys had the most inter
actions of all kinds with their teachers. These variations in
teacher-student interactions were found to affect male and female
self-perceptions of ability differently.
In this study, praise was found to have a positive relationship
with boys' self-perceptions of ability but it was not so for girls.
Rather, for girls, praise was predictive of their belief that math was
easy. Parsons, Kaczala, and Meece (1982) concluded that this may have
resulted from teachers' differential use of praise, that is, that praise
given to boys conveyed teacher expectations while praise given girls
was more random and focused on low-expectancy girls. Noted the
researchers, "it is the informative value of praise with regard to
teachers' expectations which is critical" (p. 336).
This study raises several important questions. Does more criticism
for low-expectancy boys imply to students that math is more critical
for males? Does more praise for low-expectancy girls imply to high-
expectancy girls that praise is related to task ease, thereby resulting
in inaccurate estimates of ability?


-144-
these variables rather than investigate them in isolation. This
approach may produce significant contributions to our understanding
of how school contexts contribute to students' formation of ability
perceptions.
A number of research questions are suggested by the present study.
These questions relate to the variables that were found to influence
gifted girls' self-perceptions of ability. A question which surfaced
throughout the study concerned the role of the girls' personal values
in the formation of ability perceptions. When the girls perceived
school tasks as unrelated to their future roles or inappropriate for
females, did they correspondingly devalue their abilities in those
areas? For example, did Nancy's belief that computers were not
important in her future influence her perception that boys were more
skilled with computers than she? If gifted girls form ability per
ceptions in connection with their perception of a task's importance
in their future, will the formation of ability perceptions be influenced
by exercises designed to promote and clarify the future importance of
a task? That is, will gifted girls' perceptions of ability be influ
enced by curriculum designed to increase the range of tasks girls
perceive as important in their future?
Additional questions concern the effects of narrow task struc
tures and an emphasis on public and comparable performance evaluations
which characterize traditional classrooms (Rosenholtz & Simpson, in
press). If such a unidimensional organization results in narrow con
ceptions of ability shared by students and teachers within the
classroom, how does this shared definition of ability affect students


-103-
because of the special privileges, but because the students who were
Wizards received frequent praise and attention from all three
teachers.
Marie's experience as the Wizard provided insight into the
anxiety described by girls in Team Two. In the following excerpt,
Marie's mother told the researcher how Marie felt:
Marie's mother: Being Wizard puts pressure or her
and she says she gets a lot of cracks (comments)
about it. She likes being Wizard so she puts up
with it. Maybe she likes the prestige, but she
doesn't like the cracks.
From the onset of data collection until the final grading period
of the year Marie had the highest grade point average in her social
studies class. She sat beside the teacher, and though she rarely
spoke in class, she enjoyed the prestige of being called by pet
nicknames and being relied upon as the teacher's helper. Marie also,
however, frequently mentioned her fear of doing poorly or getting
wrong answers in this class as opposed to any other class because
of the teasing she would have to endure. Noted Marie, "It's bad
(difficult) to be in those seats. You feel proud, but if you get
called on and you don't know the answer the teacher makes cracks.
Like 'These are supposed to be the Dynamic Dozen and they can't
answer!'" It was even more difficult for Marie who felt that her
status as gifted made other students more eager to compete for her
seat as number one. While sitting in the library before school one
morning, Marie pointed out a classmate to the observer and commented,
"He hates me because I'm Wizard."


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Marie: I feel alone and like I have a lot of
personalities ... like I might not be normal.
I act differently all the time.
The depth of this feeling of being alone was revealed in a poem
written by Ellen, an eighth grader who was well-liked and a member
of the most popular clique. The poem was handed to the researcher
onemorning during language:
One
One
This is a number of
Loneliness.
Of crying and of
Tears
Shadows of deep
Silence
Alone in wonder and
Thought
To view the miracles of
Life.
In this section factors which influenced the formation of gifted
girls' self-perceptions of ability have been discussed. Definitions
of giftedness held by significant others were perceived by the girls
as responsible for conflict-producing situations in which their
competency was publicly questioned. In an effort to avoid these
situations, girls expressed a preference for teachers who expected
less and tended to characterize themselves as having potential rather
than ability. Affiliation needs also influenced gifted girls' self
perceptions of ability in that they believed being liked by teachers
made success more likely. Additionally, being liked by peers was
perceived as a form of achievement in itself. Finally, girls formed
perceptions of their ability through social comparison. They frequently


-76-
(Meighan, 1978) in order to provide descriptive data (Weinstein,
1983), little is known about the role of the school and community in
the development of gifted adolescent girls' self-perceptions of ability.
As Lipsitz (1980) pointed out:
What we can say at this point is that young
adolescents, at a critical stage of self-defini
tion, take their signals from society at large
and from the subculture. They are dependent upon
social institutions, like the schools, for the
limitations or the boundlessness of their aspira
tions. (p. 29)
In the present study, the interaction between community and
family values and the school experiences of gifted girls contributed
to their beliefs about ability and their motivation to achieve. Before
the girls' experiences in the gifted program and their team organiza
tions are described, some background will be provided on the girls'
entering views about themselves. As Brim (1976) proposed, the set
of ideas, beliefs, and attitudes that individuals hold with regard
to the world and their place within it constitutes their conception
of self. For the girls in this study, community and family values
provided the background from which beliefs and attitudes about them
selves were constructed, and therefore influenced their ideas about
who they were as well as who they might become.
Gifted Girls' Views About Themselves
Teachers believed that the nature of the rural community affected
the school's student population, and, in particular, the gifted girls
in several ways. When describing their perceptions of the girls,


-49-
identified for the program using the state criteria of a 130 I.Q. score
and represented a range of I.Q. scores from 131-140. Eight of the girls
had spent the majority of their school experience at the elementary and
now the middle school in the same rural community, and seven of these
had entered the gifted program during or before the third grade. At
the time the study took place, the state policy did not require periodic
retesting to remain in the program. Two of the girls, including one
who was new to the school, had spent the majority of their past school
experiences in private settings. With the exception of one student,
all came from two parent homes in which the majority of mothers had
equal or more formal education than the fathers, though in traditional
fields such as teaching, nursing, or library science. The majority of
mothers did not work full time.
Research Methods and Procedures
Asking Ethnographic Questions A
Spradley's (1980) Developmental Research Model is cyclic in nature,
in contrast to quantitative research models which proceed in a linear
fashion from the statement of a hypothesis to the collection and
analysis of data, to the research conclusion. In doing ethnography,
"the fieldworker generates a situation-based inquiry process, learning,
through time, to ask questions of the field setting in such a way that
the setting, by its answers, teaches the next situationally appropriate
questions to ask" (Erickson, 1984, p. 51). This questioning process
is a critical aspect of the research cycle because the questions asked


-126-
The findings of this study indicated that gifted adolescent girls did
underestimate their abilities in the process of determining the value
others attributed to possessing these abilities. Field notes and interview
transcripts revealed numerous examples in which girls made decisions about
their abilities in terms of 1) the potential for specific abilities to
contribute to greater social competence both at present and in the future,
and 2) the amount of effort they believed they had to expend in order to
achieve on a level commensurate with that of the gifted boys.
These decisions about the value of possessing abilities were made
through a process of social comparison. The following example illustrates
how the value of having abilities affected ability perceptions:
Observer: I hear you are an excellent singer.
El 1en: No. Not really. Not excellent.
Observer: Miss Hunt (teacher) told me you sing well.
Ellen: When I was in fifth or sixth grade I had a lot
of nerve. See, I didn't care what people thought of me
then, because ... I don't know. But when I was in
fifth grade I sang Tomorrow in front of the whole school.
And if I had any way of changing it I would, because even
if I sang OK, now people think I'm straight. . .
Observer: Because of the song?
Ellen: I guess being up there by myself, people think
it's weird. The boys think so. ... I think I'd rather
have friends and things than really be that good . .
'cause it doesn't do anything for me if I sing. I mean,
it doesn't get me a million dollars or anything.
Peer groups were important determiners of achievement. The girls in
this study frequently talked about what other people thought in terms of
the value other people attributed to certain behaviors, possessions, and
abilities. Abilities or behaviors that had questionable status with peer
groups were those to be avoided. When, during formal interviews, the
researcher mentioned talents or abilities which were not socially valued,
the girls frequently replied with comments such as Ellen's remark, "What
does it get me? Boys don't think it's important" or Sally's denial,


-141-
result in negative consequences. Affiliation, then, was perceived as
a means to greater achievement by the girls in this study.
Related to the findings of other researchers who noted the in
fluence of significant others (parents and teachers) on girls' notions
about ability and achievement (Pittman, 1979), and the possible influ
ences of the community on girls' specific-subject self-concepts of
ability (Brookover et al., 1964), the findings of this study indicated
that girls' perceptions of what was acceptable achievement were influ
enced by parents and the school community. The girls frequently dis
cussed parental expectations and compared themselves to peers with high
social status. In turn, their perceptions of acceptable achievement
influenced their notions about ability. Valued abilities were those
which were seen as contributing to greater social competence.
As Weinstein et al. (1982) found, the gifted girls in this study
did perceive differential teacher behaviors toward gifted and regular
students. The girls believed that gifted students were expected to
know more and produce more with less instruction and less teacher help.
In addition, the girls perceived that gifted boys and teachers inter
acted in different ways than gifted girls and teachers, but that
these differential interactions between gifted boys and teachers were
not always preferable. For example, in this study gifted boys were
often pointed out by teachers as behaving inappropriately by calling
out answers or acting loudly in class. The frequent public criticism
of gifted boys, in combination with the gifted girls' perceptions that
these boys were socially incompetent, may have contributed to the
girls' desire to avoid the label of giftedness. An appropriate way


-23-
achievement. The Intellectual Achievement Responsibility Questionnaire
(IAR) was administered to 1,192 sixth and seventh grade students in
six school systems in North Carolina. The IAR was used to measure
students' perceptions of internal control in achievement situations in
which one influence, either parents, teachers, peers, or self-evaluation
was prominent. Student responses were analyzed separately by sex using
factor-analytic procedures.
The findings of this study indicated that, for both male and
female early adolescents, parents and teachers played more significant
roles in the development of students' perceptions of internal control
in achievement situations than peers, tests, or self-evaluation. How
ever, in analyzing student responses by sex, Pittman noted that the
relationship of the home environment with achievement was stronger for
females than males. Thus, Pittman concluded that parents and teachers
are significant, possibly critical influences, on the development of
early adolescents' perceptions of achievement. The results of the study
also indicated that the significance of peers was second to the parent/
teacher factor in its influence on achievement perceptions.
In concluding that the home environment had a stronger influence
on females' beliefs about their achievement, this study raises the
question that community influences may also be more significant on
females' achievement perceptions. Is the influence of parents on
females' beliefs about ability different or more significant in a
rural or urban community?
A growing body of research has investigated the influence of
teacher expectations on student performance (see Braun, 1976; Brophy,


-81-
One of the social institutions within the community which
affected the majority of gifted girls in this study was the church.
Eight of the ten girls listed God as one of the two most important
things they believed in when completing a values exercise in journals
kept in the gifted class. Family and friends were listed as second.
The following excerpt is representative of the influence of religious
values on the way girls thought about themselves and the importance of
achievement:
Cindy: A lot of ladies think . well, a lot of
ladies are ... as good as men and some are better,
but I just believe God put men on earth first and
they should take care of ladies. She should do as
well as she can.
Nancy: Man provides for women. That's what the
Bible says.
Cindy: If I apply for a job when I'm older and a
man gets it, I'm not going to think he did just be
cause he's a man.
Observer: What would happen if you knew you were
the better person for the job?
Cindy: Well, I guess I would just have to try
somewhere else.
While teachers were consciously aware of the influence of the
community on gifted girls' views about themselves, they were less
clear about the school's ability to expand the opportunities available
to these girls. Comments such as, "Kids come in with established
patterns and all we can do is work with them!" and "The school can't
do everything. The parent's emphasis makes a difference in the child's
emphasis" were characteristic of teachers' feelings about the school's
role. A teacher who informed the observer that she had made several
attempts to encourage one of the gifted girls to sign up for an
advanced math class, but had been unsuccessful, remarked, "Why don't


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inside and outside classrooms, their interactions with teachers and
peers, and their speech messages about achievement and ability. Formal
and informal interviews were conducted with the gifted girls, their
teachers, and five mothers. In addition, work samples, journals written
by the girls, and cumulative school records were examined.
Data analysis revealed three factors which influenced the formation
of gifted girls self-perceptions of ability. These factors included
the following: multiple definitions of giftedness held by significant
others, affiliation needs, and social comparison.
The majority of gifted girls described themselves as having poten
tial rather than ability. They believed their achievements resulted
from effort, and their failures from lack of motivation. These per
ceptions were found to be the result of a cyclic process in which
gifted girls used school experiences to interpret and modify their
beliefs and attitudes about achievement, and, in turn, these beliefs
and attitudes guided their choices of behavior at school. Specifically,
the variables which seemed to be related to gifted girls' self
perceptions of ability were the nature of student-teacher relationships
within teams, the belief that social competence was an important area
in which to achieve, and the girls' entering views about themselves.
IX


-162-
Lutz, F. (1981). EthnographyThe holistic approach to understanding
schooling. In J.L. Green & C. Wallat (Eds.), Ethnography and
language in educational settings (pp. 51-63). Norwood, NJ: Ablex.
Maccoby, E., & Jacklin, C. (1974). The psychology of sex differences.
Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press.
Maehr, M. (1974). Sociocultural origins of achievement. Monterey,
CA: Brooks/Cole.
Malinowski, B. (1922). The argonauts of the western Pacific. London:
Rout!edge & Kegan PaT
Mason, T., & Stipek, D. (1985, April). Achievement-related coqnitions,
affects, and task behavior. Paper presented at the annual meeting
of the American Educational Research Association, Chicago.
McCall, G.J., & Simmons, J.L. (1969). Issues in participant observa
tion: A text and reader. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
McCelland, D. (1965). Toward a theory of motive acguisition. American
Psychologist, 20, 321-333.
McDermott, R.P. (1977). Social relations as contexts for learning in
school. Harvard Educational Review, 47(2), 198-213.
Mead, G.H. (1934). Mind, self, and society. Chicago: University of
Chicago Press.
Meighan, R. (1978). The learner's point of view: Explorations of
the pupil perspective on schooling. Educational Review, 30(2),
91.
Mishler, E. (1979). Meaning in context: Is there any other kind?
Harvard Educational Review, 49(1), 2-19.
Morse, J., & Bruch, C. (1970). Gifted women: More issues than
answers. Educational Horizons, 49, 25-32.
Parsons, E.P., Kaczala, C.M., & Meece, J.L. (1982). Socialization of
achievement attitudes and beliefs: Classroom influences. Child
Development, 53, 322-339.
Pelto, P., and Pelto, G. (1978). Anthropological research: The
structure of inguiry (2nd ed.). New York: Cambridge University
Press.
Pittman, R.B. (1979). Situational referents of an academic setting
and locus of control. Journal of Experimental Education, 47,
290-296. ~~


-148-
choice of behaviors (Blumer, 1969; Mead, 1934). In this study, the
structure of the curriculum and an emphasis on public and comparable
performance evaluation contributed to teachers' definitions of ability.
The mismatch between these definitions and the classroom performance
of the majority of gifted girls caused teachers to question the girls'
identification as gifted. In turn, these girls believed that teachers
often put them in conflict-producing situations in which their com
petency was questioned. Failure to get the right answer in those situa
tions was perceived by girls as an indication that they had potential
rather than ability. Thus, in this study, teacher definitions of
ability influenced gifted girls' self-perceptions of ability. For
teachers, this series of events implies the need to encourage more
open, flexible definitions of ability, as well as the need to be
sensitive to students' interpretations of value systems. This is
expecially important when students' notions of ability are influenced
by the perceived evaluations of significant others, as the gifted
girls in this study illustrate.
For teacher educators, this series of events implies that some
introduction to the needs and nature of gifted students should be
included in the preparation of all preservice teachers. Additionally,
in the educational programs for teachers of the gifted, emphasis should
be placed on the needs of special groups of gifted students such as
gifted girls. Teacher educators should help teachers explore alterna
tive definitions of giftedness, and the implications of such definitions
for appropriate curriculum and effective programs.


-95-
Lynn: (in response to the gifted teacher's comments
about the need to sign up for advanced classes) Just
because they are gifted doesn't mean gifted students
have to take all honors! I don't feel like I'm
missing anything by not taking honors.
These girls frequently informed the researcher that the curriculum was
a routine which rarely changed.
Data from the researcher's field notes which were gathered during
early observations in Team One illustrated the routine format of the
curriculum. At the conclusion of several entries the researcher had
written the following question: What is happening in this class? On
these occasions the researcher had been unable to document the point at
which the teacher began the lesson and ceased clerical work, the
assignment given the students, or how the teacher determined who was
and who was not working. Students in the classroom, however, seemed
to have prior knowledge of what was expected. After observing one
such class in which the teacher spent the majority of the class period
standing beside the overhead projector, answering questions, and
occasionally writing a student's name on the screen, the following
conversation took place:
Observer: I don't understand what everyone was
doing in literature today. I never heard the
assignment.
Connie: Oh! (She looks surprised.) We have a
tight structure (schedule). On Monday we do
vocabulary and on Tuesday and Wednesday we read
the stories. We have two days because they are so
boring. I looked at the copyright on the book.
Would you believe it's 1956? (She grins.) On
Thursday we do questions and on Friday we turn in
our stuff and take a test. It's the same every
week.
Observer: Do you know the reason?
Connie: Well, literature is right after algebra
so she just gives us assignments (in literature).
It's the teacher's planning time. She grades and
reorganizes her afternoon.


-6-
3. Middle school: "A school of some three to five years between the
elementary and high school focused on the educational needs of
students in these in-between years and designed to promote con
tinuous educational progress for all concerned" (Alexander &
George, 1981, p. 3).
4. Context: The physical settings in which an event occurs. It is
"the constellation of norms, mutual rights, and obligations that
shape social relationships, determine participants' perceptions
about what goes on, and influence learning" (Gumperz, 1981, p. 5).
5. Interdisciplinary teams: Teachers from different subject areas
who are organized into groups, assigned a common area of the school
building, a common schedule, and the responsibility for a common
group of students.
6. Advisor-Advisee (AA): A component of the middle school program
created to meet the affective needs of early adolescents. Students
meet regularly with an advisor for academic counseling and affec
tive education.
7. Multiage grouping: The placement of students at various grade
levels together for instruction.
Design of the Study
Upon receiving approval from the University Committee for the
Protection of Human Subjects, the county school board, the parents of
the participants, and the girls themselves, the researcher established
an observation schedule which would assure that equal amounts of time


-114-
revealed that gifted girls very rarely volunteered to answer questions
or make comments during their regular classes. In addition, when
students had the option of selecting seats, tney most often sat in
the rear of the room where the possibility of interaction with the
teacher was minimized. As one sixth grader explained, "I sit here
because she (the teacher) never looks here." The fear of being
singled out and failing to know the answer was especially intense for
these girls when the class was one in which they perceived themselves
to be most able, when the teacher was one the student especially
liked, or when a situation involving direct competition was occurring.
For example, two of the girls described the following situation during
an interview:
Cindy: I get so sick of it. It happened yester
day when we were playing a game to review for the
test. When the team gets in a tight spot they say,
"Ask Cindy! Ask Cindy! She'll know." I got really
mad. Even my best friends do it.
Nancy: (looking at Cindy) Yeah, but did you see
me go up there? I knew the answer, but I wasn't
going up there. Not even for the team.
Cindy: I've asked them not to do that. It's
embarrassing to me. Now what if I got up there and
it happened to be a question I didn't know? It'd
make me look worse. I don't want to look like a
brain!
Nancy: (to the researcher) She's normal.
While data collection in this study focused on the gifted female
population, evidence suggested that gifted males were no less aware
of confusing expectations. However, males seemed to place less
significance on these expectations. For example, field notes indicated
that gifted males were less likely to mention concern with teacher or
peer approval, and less likely to modify behavior even when the behavior


-16-
the impact of structure on self-evaluation of ability, the evaluative
responses of others" (Rosenholtz & Rosenholtz, 1981, p. 133). Thus,
the analysis of classroom effects should take into account conditions
which affect actors' perceptions and the effects of those perceptions
on individuals' self-perceptions of ability.
Several studies were conducted to test the assumptions which became
the basis of ability formation theory. Rosenholtz and Wilson (1980)
conducted a study to investigate whether different classroom organiza
tions resulted in different interpretations of ability among students.
Their sample consisted of 15 fifth and sixth grade classrooms in
suburban and urban areas serving a working-class population.
Classrooms were selected based on interviews with principals con
cerning the degree of curricular complexity within the school.
Specifically, the intent of the study was to determine if classrooms
with low task differentiation, low student autonomy, and comparisons
based on uniform criteria produce a climate in which the range of
alternative definitions of ability narrows and consensus about a
student's ability among classroom participants increases. Such class
rooms were designated as high resolution classrooms, that is, "the
structure offers a clear picture of student performance" (p. 76).
To measure the degree of resolution, questionnaires were adminis
tered to teachers who were asked to describe curricular methods and
instructional practices through Likert fixed-choice responses. Ques
tions asked related to the number of different materials a teacher
used, how teachers organized student groups for instruction, how
frequently students made choices about activities, and how frequently
teachers compared one student's work with another.


- 61-
report cards, and random assignments completed in class. It was thought
that these data would be helpful in characterizing teachers' expecta
tions and in clarifying the girls' perceptions of their achievement.
Personal journals kept by each girl as a part of the gifted curriculum
were examined along with journals kept by three of the eighth grade
girls for their advisor-advisee class. Written materials provided by
the school for its five year review were also examined. Lightfoot
(1983) stated these documents can give the researcher a sense of how
the school wished to be perceived.
While using a variety of methods to collect data increases the
credibility of a study, there are problems inherent in participant
observation which must be addressed in assessing the quality of the
study. McCall and Simmons (1969) described three categories of problems
"(1) reactive effects of the phenomena being studied; (2) distorting
effects of selective perception and interpretation on the observer's
part; and (3) limitations on the observer's ability to witness all
relevant aspects of the phenomena in question" (p. 78). The following
steps were taken by the researcher to minimize these problems. The
researcher selected a site in which teachers and students were used
to and comfortable with a variety of visitors. The physical openness
of the school made it easy for the observer to move about without
attracting attention. The policy of the researcher to associate her
self with the students and to allow the girls to look at field notes
written in classrooms encouraged the girls to behave as they normally
would if no researcher were present. The girls' tendency to pass notes
in front of the researcher and, on one occasion to bring alcohol to


-2-
concentrated on personality characteristies or career-ability conflicts,
but no studies have investigated self-perceptions of ability within
specific settings.
The way students come to think about their abilities is a function
of social experience (Maehr, 1974). This is particularly true for
adolescents who, at this developmental stage, use group standards
generated by social comparison to assess their achievements (Covington,
1984). For the adolescent girl, the impact of social experience on
ability perceptions may be even more pronounced. Research has indi
cated that females are more sensitive to negative teacher or peer
feedback and that, as they grow older, females rate their abilities
lower than males (Brophy & Good, 1974; Maccoby & Jacklin, 1974).
Theorists postulate that females, to a greater degree than males,
define themselves in relation and connection to other people
(Chodorow, 1974). Therefore, when teachers and peers accept, reject,
encourage, or restrain, they may be affecting not only the present
achievement-related behavior and ability perceptions of girls, but they
may also be creating images that affect girls' future motivations and
aspirations. The goal of this study was to describe and explain the
experiences of gifted adolescent girls in one school, delineating
social-interactional factors which influence ability perceptions and
attitudes toward achievement.
Significance of the Study
While much of the theory and research on ability perceptions has
resulted from studies which have been conducted with adult subjects


- 60-
Informa 1 interviewing occurred frequently and was a method of
verifying observations. Ample opportunities for informal interviews
were provided by hanging around before or after school, eating lunch
with students, or during class itself. While the researcher refrained
from talking to students during class, in moments before or after
instruction students often initiated conversation with the researcher.
The researcher also informally interviewed several gifted boys and
several of the girls' female friends.
Constant comparison of observations and interviews enabled the
researcher to assess the validity of comments made by participants
(Becker, 1969). The researcher found, for example, that the girls'
positions in the school's social hierarchy affected their perceptions
and descriptions of events. The girls who were able to describe the
school's cliques most vividly, including clique membership, were those
girls occupying a middle status. Gifted girls who were members of the
upper clique were least likely to talk about this membership, while
gifted girls who were social isolates verbally denied the existence
of cliques or misrepresented their position in them.
Unobtrusive measures
Unobtrusive measures are those measures which do not require
interaction between the researcher and the setting under study, thus
minimizing the possibility that the observer's presence "may change
the very world being examined" (Schwartz & Jacobs, 1979, p. 75). In
this study the researcher reviewed the girls' cumulative records,


-98-
in Algebra II because she doesn't understand
Algebra I. The teacher enters the room and Ellen
calls out, "What if we don't want to take the
test? What if we want to stay in Algebra I?"
The teacher ignores her comment and distributes
the test. The observer notes that Ellen is one of
the first students to finish the test, and, after
class, asks Ellen if the test was easy. Ellen
replies, "No. I just quit. I want to go into
Algebra I next year because my grades have gone
downhill this year from an A in the beginning to
C's the last two times. I'm afraid to go into
Algebra II. My dad wants me to take it (Algebra
II), but he also doesn't want me to get C's. I
don't want to flunk."
Gifted girls' perceptions of Team Two
Team Two contained half of the sixth and half of the seventh
graders in the school. At the time of this study, three of the gifted
girls were members of this team. The comparison of these girls'
perceptions with the perceptions of the six gifted girls who had been
members of the team the previous year provided additional insight into
gifted girls' experiences in Team Two.
Gifted girls in Team Two described the team in terms of
student-teacher relationships. As Jill told the observer, "It's
funner on this team because you're closer to your teachers. You're
like a big family, but if you're in the whole school you don't feel
that way. It makes you feel like doing your work more." The girls
in Team Two perceived that the teachers cared more about them, and
therefore, gave them more chances to prepare for tests.
When asked how they would describe Team Two to a new student,
the gifted girls most frequently mentioned the activities that were


-4-
evidence because these conditions are "perhaps untestable in the
experimental traditions" (p. 502).
This study may also yield a number of contributions to both prac
tice and research as they relate to the psychosocial development of
gifted adolescent girls. The need for such research has been illustrated
by the recent formation, in Florida, of a task force to examine middle
childhood education, and to make recommendations concerning program
structure, organization, curriculum, and student services. This task
force has found that students in grades four through eight "must
accomplish a number of developmental tasks, and middle childhood
programs must recognize the developmental diversity and needs of
students" (Speakers Task Force on Middle Childhood Education, 1983,
p. V-2). Based on the task force's work, a bill entitled Progress in
Middle Childhood Education (HB830) has called for new course require
ments in math, science, and social studies for middle grade students.
This study will add to practitioners' knowledge about the develop
mental diversity of gifted middle school females and illustrate
curricular needs for this group. In addition, by providing detailed
descriptions of the school experiences of gifted girls, this study
will enable educators to come to know the world of school from the
gifted girl's perspective.
Educators today (should) evaluate their attitudes
and behavior toward the gifted girls in the school
system. In providing special education programs
for the gifted we might unwittingly increase the
conflict between sex-role expectations (and the en
suing pressure to conform) and the push toward
independent thinking (and competition) for gifted
girls without giving them the opportunity to be
aware of and emotionally prepared for the ambiguous
attitudes of the society in which they are growing
up. (Werner & Bachtold, 1969, p. 1818)


-40-
the basis for a trusting relationship with the researcher and paved the
way for the formal attempt to gain entry to the site.
Next, a meeting was.held with the school principal to discuss the
project and obtain his permission to propose the study- to the ten girls.
On that same morning the researcher met with the students in a con
ference area located near the gifted resource room to explain the study
and distribute permission slips. The letter of permission is included
in Appendix A.
According to Cassell (1978), a skilled ethnographer once informed
her that casting oneself in the role of learner was the secret of
successful fieldwork. If the goal is to understand students' perceptions
of school experiences it is important for the students to perceive the
researcher as an eager learner in search of good teaching. With this
rationale in mind, the researcher used the occasion of the first
meeting to immediately begin taking field notes of the girls' reactions
to the study. In addition to establishing her position as a learner,
the researcher believed this behavior would serve to illustrate the
type of methodology which would be used and to establish the stance
that, during this study, "nothing is off the record" (Cassell, 1978,
p. 37). The researcher also believed this initial behavior with the
girls was essential (a) to indicate to the students that she cared
about what they were saying and was therefore writing it down; (b) to
establish the pattern of continuous documentation; and (c) to allow
the girls to express curiosity, question, and become comfortable with
this method of data gathering prior to its use in a classroom
situation.


APPENDIX F
INTERVIEW WITH PRINCIPAL
1. Is there a need for a gifted program here?
2. What do you think about the program? How do parents react to it?
Teachers?
3. What special problems do gifted students have here? Are any of
these problems unique to gifted girls?
4. Why do you think many of the gifted eighth grade girls are not
signing up for advanced high school courses?
-157-


-13-
(Covington & Omelich, 1979). According to self-worth theory, an
increased capacity for abstract thought among early adolescents and
increased competition in the classroom has contributed to this emphasis
on ability over effort (Covington, 1984).
The major difference between self-worth theory and attribution
theory is the motivational component. Specifically, self-worth theory
holds that students employ a variety of strategies to maintain a sense
of worthiness, and that the need to maintain this perception of worth
is the basic motivation for achievement behavior (Covington, 1984).
While there is much research to support both cognitive attribu
tion and self-worth theory (see Weiner, 1980; Covington, 1984, for
reviews), the majority of this research results from studies conducted
with adult learners and in laboratory settings. Recently researchers
have pointed out that these theories fail to give adequate attention
to classroom context factors that may influence the formation of
ability perceptions (Blumenfeld, Pintrich, Meece, & Wessels, 1982;
Rosenholtz & Simpson, 1984; Weinstein, 1983). Other factors like
personal values and perceived consequences of success and failure may
be important in determining achievement-related behavior in the class
room (Blumenfeld et al.. 1982). Thus, little is actually known about
factors influencing early adolescents' self-perceptions of effort and
ability within the classroom setting. By considering the classroom
context, a more satisfactory theoretical perspective can be constructed,
for context variables may "alter the ways students learn to interpret
their own ability" (Rosenholtz & Simpson, 1984, p. 32).


- 20-
three through twelve. In Schmuck's (1963) analysis, which centered on
grades three through six, he found that students' perceptions of their
status within peer groups were related to their utilization of abilities.
Further, Schmuck (1962; 1963) identified two types of classroom
power structures. Centralized classrooms were those in which there was
a high consensus among peers in the choice of the most and least power
ful individuals, as shown by the smaller proportion of different
students nominated in each category. Diffused classrooms were those
in which there was less consensus about the most and least powerful
individuals in the class. Schmuck found that students estimated their
own status more accurately in centralized classrooms, and that high
power students who correctly perceived their positions outperformed
lower power individuals who correctly perceived their positions.
While the results of Schmuck's (1962; 1963) research showed that
student perceptions of social status were related positively and sig
nificantly to their attitudes toward self and school, actual liking
status showed no such significant relationship to attitudes toward
self and school. Thus, Schmuck's results stressed the importance of
student perceptions of self within the classroom. Further, this study
supports the idea that high peer consensus may influence ability
formations.
Schmuck's work left two questions unanswered. Would the results
have been different if measures other than interviews with teachers
had been utilized to divide students into high and low achieving groups
(high and low utilizers of ability)? Would the results have been
different if the analysis had concentrated on the upper grades?


-44-
local Chamber of Commerce. Because of the school's close location the
trip was conducted on foot. The students used this opportunity to
provide the researcher with unsolicited data about the neighborhood
and its residents, and their own family histories. The extent of their
knowledge about the community and its citizens was considerable,
especially when contrasted with the comments of Nancy, a gifted seventh
grade girl who had just moved into the rural community from a city, and
was having difficulty being accepted. In addition, while walking
through the downtown area, the close-knit feeling of the community
was made apparent when several local merchants and passers-by waved
greetings to the students. Thirdly, once inside the Chamber building,
the students and Mrs. Johnson pointed out a pictorial display of the
community's past mayors, indicating their current roles in the community.
The researcher noted that the principal of the middle school who had
served since its opening had also recently served as the town's mayor.
The school's student body was 47% male and 53% female, including
a black population of 22%. Slightly less than half of the students
were bussed to and from the school. The percentage of students in
various Exceptional Student Education programs was 17, of which
approximately 7% were classified as gifted. Of the 29
gifted students in grades six through eight, ten were female.
The physical layout of the school was very modern. In the center
a large open-pit area served as the library and media-center and
included several enclosed conference rooms. Located nearby were the
central office, teacher's lounge, the home economics room, and a science
lab. To the right of the library pit were three large instructional
areas which comprised the school's three teams.


-36-
nondirective, open-ended nature of this methodology "enables the
researcher to understand and capture the points of view of other people,
without predetermining those points of view through prior selection of
questionnaire categories or rating scale forms" (Stainback & Stainback,
1984, p. 405). Secondly, because the goal is to describe the native or
insider's point of view, the nature of the relationship between the
researcher and the population under study is interactive. Rather than
being passive, reactive subjects, the participants become the expert
informants from whom the ethnographer gathers data. "The essential
core of ethnography is this concern with the meaning of actions and
events to the people we seek to understand" (Spradley, 1980, p. 5).
Some of these meanings are derived from explicit, verbalized cultural
knowledge while others are tacit, or taken for granted by participants
who may not realize the full extent of their knowledge. In this study,
a cyclic process of asking questions, collecting data, and analyzing
data again and again was used throughout a prolonged period of observa
tion. This cyclic process attempts to reveal both the explicit and the
tacit cultural knowledge of the participants.
The ethnographer acquires an emic understanding, that is, an
understanding of the participants' points of view, through watching,
talking, listening, and participating with people in their own environ
ments (Rist, 1982). The researcher observes behavior and constructs
meaning from that which is observed through the discovery of patterns
or trends which emerge through prolonged exposure to the environment.
These patterns form an interpretation that is a way of explaining the
participants' culture, or the norms, values, and knowledge they use to
understand their experiences and from which they generate behavior.


-121-
a teacher made the following announcement in an eighth grade meet
ing:
Teacher: Once you write down your schedule you
can't change it. The high school has asked us to
tell you this so make your decision with your
parents carefully. What your teachers recommend
isn't set in stone, but what you write down, you
can't change. Don't decide you are going to try
something out! It doesn't work that way! (An
example of honors science or regular science is
given.)
When the researcher asked another teacher if this policy might keep a
gifted girls who did not like science now from taking further science
courses, the teacher replied, "If she didn't like the subject, why
take it? This decision came out of the team teachers' meeting. If
they don't like it, they probably won't work at it. If it's just an
ego trip they shouldn't take it."
Feelings of social competence were a second area in which the
gifted girls in this study expressed a relationship between affilia
tion needs and perceptions of ability. In a study of girls' percep
tions of schooling, Lomax (1978) concluded that,"peer relationships
were the most prominent feature" (p. 122). Data obtained from obser
vations and interviews during this study supported Lomax's assertion.
Peer group membership was an important form of achievement to the
girls. Debbie, who continuallytold the researcher throughout the study
that she was not good at anything, noted that, "The only thing I do
is I'm in the high (most popular) crowd."
The gifted girls in this study described themselves as belonging
to a variety of social groups within the school's informal peer
organization. Lynn, an eighth grader, noted, "Some of uslike Connie,


-67-
Implied in her discussion are two important issues which will be dis
cussed in the final sections of this chapter: (a) researcher qualifi
cations and biases and (b) validity of the findings.
Researcher Qualifications and Biases
The ethnographer is the key research instrument. For this reason
a discussion of the researcher's qualifications and biases is essential
in judging the quality of the research effort. "One's frame of
reference, in part a product of one's professional training, influences
the selections one makes from the phenomenon and determines how and
what is observed" (Schwartz & Schwartz, 1969, p. 102).
The researcher's qualifications and professional training are
listed below:
1. The researcher had eight years of professional teaching
experience, including extensive work with gifted children in a regular
classroom setting and one year as a teacher of the gifted in a university
laboratory school. Five of the eight years of experience were at the
middle level.
2. The researcher has completed coursework for a Ph.D. in curriculum
and instruction, specializing in middle school and gifted education.
The researcher is certified by the state of Florida as a teacher in
both areas.
3. The researcher has taken four courses which provided a
theoretical and practical background in qualitative research and has
read extensively in this area.


-53-
to strengthen the validity of constructs and rise above any weakness
that might result from using only one method. In this study, participant
observation, interviewing, and unobtrusive measures were used to collect
data. A tape recorder was used to record interviews and some gifted
classes. These methods will be described, and problems inherent in
their use discussed.
Participant observation
Participant observation is the primary tool used in gathering data
for a qualitative study (Spradley, 1980). As Blumer (1969) described
the researcher's role within a given setting, this method requires
getting close to the people involved in it, seeing
it in a variety of situations they meet, noting
their problems and observing how they handle them,
being party to their conversations and watching
their way of life as it flows along, (p. 37)
In this study, the researcher observed 200 hours of classroom
activity over a five-month period from January to early June of 1984.
Observations were conducted three days a week, usually on Mondays,
Wednesdays, and Fridays. The first and third weeks of observations
were conducted only in the gifted room so that a smaller student
population (classes usually did not exceed ten) would enable the
researcher to develop rapport with the participants at a faster pace.
The second and fourth weeks consisted of descriptive observations in
both teams. From the fifth week on the researcher spent three weeks
following the girls in each grade level, one week in the gifted room,
an additional week at each grade level, and a final week in general


-75-
In the present study, gifted girls' beliefs about ability were
influenced by (1) definitions of giftedness held by significant
others, (2) affiliation needs, and (3) social comparison. Before
these influences on the development of self-perceptions of ability
are discussed, the community and school contexts which contributed
to the girls' self-perceptions will be described. In this section
the girls' views about themselves, as well as their perceptions of
the gifted program and interdisciplinary team membership,will be
presented. It is important to note that neither the girls' views about
themselves, nor teachers' or peers' behaviors and beliefs alone, can
sufficiently explain the perceptions of ability which emerged from the
data in this study. Rather, self-perceptions of ability must be viewed
as products of social interaction.
Ability and Motivation: School and
Community Contexts
Callahan's (1979) observation that "girls earn higher grades in
school, yet men write more books, earn more degrees, produce more
works of art, and make more contributions in all professional fields"
(p. 402), led her to note that our present understanding of gifted
girls' abilities and motivations is inadequate. Research has failed
to account for the factors which might explain the discrepant numbers
of gifted men and women, or to delineate the unique characteristics
of gifted females which might guide educators in the creation of
effective programs for these learners. Though educators have noted
the need for studies conducted from the learners' point of view


-71-
In considering the ethical issues involved in fieldwork, Schaffir,
Stebbins, and Turowetz (1980) noted that, "the oft discussed questions
of what to write about the group one has studied, how to protect con
fidentiality against legal proceedings, and the like are of greatest
concern after leaving the field" (p. 15). The researcher has, during
the writing of this study, attended to the facts and reported the
findings while making every effort to protect the identity of the
school, the teachers, and the girls themselves. For this reason,
descriptive facts which did not affect the findings of this study have
been changed or omitted. The researcher further notes that, during the
data collection period, participants were continually reminded of the
researcher's interests and were not misled or recorded without their
knowledge. Upon completion, a final copy of this research will be made
available to county personnel, as well as the school's administration,
teachers, and gifted girls.
In the next chapter the researcher's findings are described and
discussed. In the final chapter, implications of the present study
are discussed.


-99-
continually occurring in the team. The team's newspaper, student
council, and student monitor system were a source of pride, and on
occasion, discomfort for the girls. The following excerpts from field
notes are illustrative of student experiences in Team Two:
Sixth
grade
social
studies
The class begins with a discussion of women's roles
in early American history, but quickly moves to a
discussion of American aggression. Noting that no
girls contribute to the initial discussion, the
observer begins to count the number of male-female
responses. At the end of 20 minutes one girl has
offered an opinion as compared to 15 boys. The two
gifted girls in this class sit quietly at opposite
ends of the room. Marie sits beside the teacher and
Jill sits in the last row. During the discussion
Marie smiles at the teacher's jokes and reacts
facially to students' comments but does not speak
out. The discussion, a controlled lesson in which
each student's contribution is reacted to by the
teacher, shifts to last night's reading assignment
and almost immediately the female participation in
creases. During the remainder of the class the ratio
of male to female interactions is 18 to 12. Though
Marie sits in the section of the classroom in which
most of the interaction occurs, she speaks out once,
in a whisper, and only because she is directly
questioned. Students sitting around the edges of
the room, including Jill, interact less though they
all appear alert and attentive. The teacher seems
to be very interested in the students' ideas. He
keeps the discussion moving at a fast pace and on
occasion interjects humor. Two minutes before class
ends the team area becomes noisy. The teacher walks
to the center of the area, cups his hands around his
mouth, and calls out to all four classes in session,
"Quiet! I have two minutes left!" Several students
in the room grin. After class the observer shows the
teacher the tally of male-female interactions. The
teacher is initially surprised. He pauses and then
comments that this reflects the community.
Sixth
grade
team
meeting
It is 8:35 and a team meeting held regularly every
Friday morning is in progress. Elected student
leaders, as well as the team leader, run the meeting.
Today is Hat Day and prizes are given away for the
most creative hat. Jill wins first place. All the
team teachers, including the resource teachers, are


-56-
searched, the researcher lined up to be searched. The librarian laughed
and refused to do so.
The extent to which the researcher came to be identified with the
girls was considerable. On numerous occasions, teachers would comment
to the researcher that they had not noticed her presence in class until
the end of the period. Several times the researcher was stopped from
entering the building before school by the janitor who assumed she was
a student. On one occasion, after telling her class that she wanted
"All eyes up front," a sixth grade teacher turned to the researcher and
laughed, "No! No! Not you!"
Other student members in both teams under observation showed some
curiosity about the researcher, but as Cassell (1978) noted, participant
observers who hang around more and interact with students find their
visibility decreases with time. Many students, both boys and girls,
sought out the researcher to talk about school. This was especially
true of the different peer groups that each girl associated with.
During the course of the study, several girls who were friends of the
participants came to confide in the researcher, invite her to after
school clubs, and sit with her at lunch. Several informal interviews
were conducted with these girls, many of whom had previously been
tested for admission into the gifted program.
Strauss et al. (1969) commented that the "fieldworker1s identity
shifts when he spends an expanded period of time interacting with the
same people" (p. 70). During the early stages of data collection
several girls quite naturally became "key informants" (Spradley, 1980),
seeking out the researcher during free time, sitting with her in class


-116-
been sitting in class. This makes Sally and
Lynn, two gifted girls, lab partners. The
observer drifts over and sits with Sally, Lynn,
and two other girls.
Sally: (to the observer) You should have seen
Lynn's face when you walked into history.
Observer: Why? What happened?
Sally: We were acting bad. (She grins.)
Sally and Lynn begin playfully arguing over lab
materials, pushing and laughing.
Girl 1: Yeah! Look how immature they act!
Girl 2: And you're supposed to be gifted!
Lynn: (angrily) And you're supposed to be dumb!
Sally: Yeah! (moving behind Lynn) What's your
definition of gifted anyhow?
Though the teacher overhears this and catches the
observer's eye, he makes no effort to intervene.
A brief silence is followed by preparation for
the lab.
In summary, multiple definitions of giftedness contributed to
the confusion about ability perceived by the gifted girls in this
study. In order to cope with this confusion, the girls frequently
referred to themselves as having potential rather than having ability.
The gifted girls in this study tended to underestimate their own abili
ties to do well in order to avoid conflict-producing situations. As
Cindy informed the researcher, "I'd rather have teachers who don't expect
too much. That makes it easier to please them and then their job
isn't so miserable."
Affiliation Needs
The questions which emerged during the early stages of data
collection and analysis for this study were "What things cause these
gifted girls concern or anxiety?" and "What makes them happy or gives
them a sense of accomplishment?" The answers to these questions led
the observer to focus on the importance of relationships in assessing


-132-
materials within and outside the classroom setting, and girls' speech
messages concerning abilities and achievement. These concrete phenomena
were used by the researcher as indicators of gifted adolescent girls'
self-perceptions of ability.
The data collected were analyzed into domains using procedures
described by Spradley (1980). Domains which were useful in revealing
girls' self-perceptions of ability included Results of Being in the
Gifted Program, Ways to Know You've Done Your Best, Kinds of Goals,
Kinds of Status, Things that Are Important, Steps in Getting a Teacher
to Like You, Attributes of Smart People, Differences Between Gifted
Boys and Girls, and Responsibilities of Students on a Team. Data were
drawn from these domains to construct taxonomies which represented the
factors influencing gifted girls' self-perceptions of ability.
In this study the kinds of experiences that gifted girls had
within their teams and the gifted program affected their achievement-
related behaviors to varying degrees. That is, the girls' attitudes
and views about themselves moderated the influence of these school
experiences. Ability formation, then, was seen as a cyclic process
in which girls' entering views, teachers' and peers' beliefs and be
haviors, and the organization of instruction within teams affected
gifted girls' self-perceptions of ability. The following conclusions
about girls' school experiences can be drawn from the findings of this
study:
1) Parental and community expectations affected the development
of gifted girls' beliefs about ability and achievement and their
attitudes toward their own future roles. In particular, community
organizations such as the church were instrumental in this process of
socialization.


-143-
methodology can be most beneficial in its ability to yield products
which increase our understanding of adolescents, as well as illuminate
the range of teaching-learning experiences that impact on students'
behavior. That is, naturalistic methods, because they do not impose
preestablished categories of data collection upon the setting, enable
us to view school experiences through the eyes of the participants.
Additionally, rather than isolating variables for investigation,
naturalistic methods allow the examination of a cluster of inter
relating variables that, together, may have a differential impact on
students. In order to increase our understanding of factors that
influence the formation of gifted middle school girls' self-perceptions
of ability, researchers need to have access to qualitative, natural
istic investigations conducted in various contexts. The present study
provides one example of how this can be accomplished.
In qualitative data collection and analysis the broad perspec
tive employed reveals a number of variables which may have bearing on
the questions of interest. In this study, girls' self-perceptions of
ability and achievement motivation were found to be related to several
variables including home and community influences, teacher-student
relationships, team teachers' organization for instruction, competition,
the perceived evaluations of others, the desire for social competence,
and personal values. Findings of the present study indicate that these
variables form a complex pattern of forces which interact to influence
gifted girls' self-perceptions of ability and achievement-related
behavior. Future research on females' achievement motivation may
benefit from a more comprehensive approach which seeks to integrate


-in
to being gifted, they used conflict-producing situations to explain
their perceptions. It appeared to the girls that teachers referred
to their giftedness in ways that made them more apt to fail in school
situations. Consequently, they felt confused and frustrated, as the
following excerpt illustrates:
Lynn: The only reason we got in there (gifted pro
gram) is because we are more capable. . .
Ellen: We were smart when we were tested.
Lynn: Because we're capable of doing more than we
are but we don't do it.
Observer: What makes you not do it?
Several girls try to speak at once, but Lynn
interrupts.
Lynn: (excitedly) It's hard! It's really hard
for us! It makes it harder for us than other
students because they (teachers) expect us to know
more!
Sally: They'll be explaining something and they'll
ask an enrichment student a question, but we don't
know how to do it. We've never seen it before, but
they expect us to!
Debbie: Especially one teacher! He'll be ex-
plaining something and then he'll ask a gifted
student a question, but they won't know it. He'll
say, "Well, you're supposed to know it. You're
in gifted."
Sally: How are we supposed to know the stuff before
we are supposed to? It makes it harder for us.
Ellen: Yeah. They think we're so. . You
know. . (Her voice trails off.)
Comments made by the sixth grade girls during these interviews
revealed their concern about not always knowing answers. "I do well,"
explained Marie, "because I know the answers on tests. Not any other
time. ... I don't always know the answers when he (teacher) asks
you questions about the reading." Seventh and eighth grade girls
discussed similar feelings with the observer, but referred more often
to their concern about appearing to be too smart around peers. For
these gifted girls, knowing the answer was, in large measure, the


-138-
of the evaluation of parents, teachers, and peers, and students' per
ceptions of their own ability. Pittman (1979) noted that the influence
of parents may be particularly important for early adolescent females.
Studies which have looked specifically at how classroom structure may
affect student beliefs about ability have concluded that high resolution
or unidimensional structures may provide fewer options for students to
demonstrate ability, and that, as a result, ability becomes more
narrowly defined and a greater student-teacher consensus results
(Rosenholtz & Rosenholtz, 1981; Rosenholtz & Wilson, 1980; Simpson,
1981; Weinstein et al., 1985). Factors which influence perceptions
of ability are important because, as Mason and Stipek (1985) noted,
student perceptions of ability influence students' emotional involve
ment in tasks.
Researchers who have looked specifically at females have indicated
that the need for social acceptance may hinder achievement motivation
(Crandall, 1967; Hoffman, 1975; Rubovits, 1975; Sherman, 1971), that a
possible disposition to avoid success may exist (Horner, 1972; 1975;
Lavach & Lanier, 1975), and that a fear of negative consequences
which could result from success in specific contexts may affect motiva
tion (Cook, 1976). Other researchers have concluded that studies of
achievement motivation in females have failed to consider that males
and females may have different achievement values. That is, that social
competence or affiliation should not be viewed as hindering achievement
motivation in females, but that it should be viewed as an area in
which women are motivated to achieve (Stein & Bailey, 1975). No
studies have addressed the formation of ability perceptions in gifted


-146-
Still other questions relate to the effects of gifted girls' per
ceptions about effort. In this study the gifted girls believed that
liking a subject increased their chances for success because they
were more apt to put forth effort, that is, to listen and complete
assignments, in subjects they liked. The majority of girls also
attributed their successes and failures to the amount of effort they
expended. As a result of this emphasis on effort rather than ability
as a cause of success, do gifted girls concerned about doing well
prejudice their futures by prematurely limiting their curriculum choices
in middle and high school to subjects they like at present?
Finally, this study suggests several questions about gifted girls'
attitudes toward school. Do gifted girls shy away from subjects not
generally perceived as acceptable areas of achievement for girls more
than other girls because the label of giftedness has already set them
apart? Do girls in rural schools have different attitudes toward
achievement than girls in urban schools? Insight into these questions
may help explain why gifted girls are more likely to underestimate
their ability.
Use of the Findings to Practitioners
Although the specific findings from this study should not be
generalized to other populations, the detailed descriptions of
interactions within one school reveal the complexity of the interplay
between gifted students and the school context. As such, this study
has implications for teachers in both gifted and regular classrooms,
teacher educators, and curriculum specialists.


APPENDIX C
INTERVIEW WITH TEACHERS
1. In what ways do you think interdisciplinary teams are an important
way to meet the needs of middle school students?
2. Some students remain as members of your team for two years. How
does this affect their relationships with teachers and peers?
Their leadership abilities? Their academic progress?
3. Think about the gifted girls who have remained as members of your
team for two years. Would you say that your comments are true of
these girls also? Can you give some specific examples?
4. How do you define giftedness? How are the gifted girls on your
team alike? Different?
5. Do you notice any differences between the gifted girls and gifted
boys in terms of their achievement motivation?
6. Do you have different goals and objectives for gifted students?
Do you treat them differently in any way?
-154-


Every person is, in part, "his own project" and
makes himself. Growth forward . requires
courage and strength in the individual as well
as protection, permission, and encouragement from
the environment.
-- Abraham Maslow


-104-
During the final grading period of the study Marie lost her seat,
but to another gifted student, Jill. On the day seating was changed
in the class, the teacher first had all the students stand, seated the
Dynamic Dozen in order, and then assigned seats to other students.
Students not seated with the Dynamic Dozen jokingly referred to their
seats as the ghetto. Marie was absent for the seat assignments and
did not return to school for several days. After class the researcher
asked the teacher how Jill and Marie might feel. The following excerpt
reflects the teacher's beliefs:
Teacher: Jill feels proud. She's been striving all
year. I can't tell you how Marie feels at all. I've
been trying really hard to get her to open up and
she has a little, but it's been minor. ... I don't
want to feel like I'm defending my program. I have
some conflicts about it too, but it's the only thing
that seems to motivate them. I'm not a cartoon
character and I can't do a song and dance everyday.
I do enough of that as it is.
Observer: Do you think Marie might be absent because
she's upset?
Teacher: I think the way Marie is handling this is
very healthy. If she is upset she's not letting us
know publicly. Life is very competitive and full of
upsets. We need to know how to handle them. (He
looks down at the table for a moment and then gets up
to leave for a parent conference. He talks as he
exits.) Marie's and Jill's class is so competitive
that we've gone to a point system instead of using
letter grades. They wanted to see the minute dif
ference.
The researcher encountered Marie in her gifted class when she
returned to school. She informed the researcher, Jill, and Joan that
she had been ill with an allergy. Class had not yet begun and the
girls were sitting on a table near the computer. "Well, don't be mad
at me," Jill told Marie. "It's not my fault."


-21-
Following Schmuck's research, Brookover, Thomas, and Patterson
(1964) conducted a study of 1,050 urban seventh graders in which they
tested the following hypotheses: 1) self-concept of ability is sig
nificantly and positively related to academic performance; 2) students
have specific self-concepts of ability which correspond to specific
subjects, and which are better predictors of performance within those
subjects than the general self-concept of ability; and 3) students'
perceptions of the evaluations significant others make of their abilities
affect their self-concept of ability. A Self-Concept of Ability scale
was administered in two parallel forms to measure a general self-
concept of ability and subject-specific self-concepts of ability in
each of the four major subjects. Intelligence scores obtained in the
fourth and sixth grades were averaged and controlled. A measure of
academic performance was obtained from grade point averages.
The results of the study conducted by Brookover et al. (1964)
indicated that self-concept of ability and grade point average were
significantly and positively correlated, despite the fact that ability
was controlled. Interestingly, the specific self-concept of ability
was found to be a better predictor of performance in mathematics,
science, and social studies for males, though the same was not found
to be true for females except in social studies. Correlation between
the specific self-concept of ability and performance in English was
slightly, but not significantly, lower than the correlation between
the general self-concept of ability and performance in English.
Brookover et al. suggested that the sex differences obtained in this
study might reflect factors in the specific community and school system


-12-
In attribution theory the perception of effort has been seen as
central to achievement motivation. If individuals fail after putting
forth little effort, they are more likely to maintain a positive out
look on future attempts than if the degree of effort expended had been
greater. Additionally, individuals who put forth high effort will show
greater pride in success (Covington & Omelich, 1979; Weiner et al.,
1971).
The self-worth theory (Covington & Beery, 1976) was a second spin
off from Atkinson's work. Like attribution theory, self-worth theory
has characterized ability perceptions in terms of causality (Covington,
1984). Unlike attribution theory, students' beliefs about the causes
of success have not been considered sufficient explanations for
achievement behavior. Rather, self-worth theorists have postulated
that students' achievement behavior can be explained by the motivation
to maintain a positive self-image of ability and competence, especially
when some risk is involved (Covington & Omelich, 1979).
In self-worth theory, "the basic assumption is that several
factors influence one's sense of worth and adequacy, including per
formance level, self-estimates of ability, and degree of effort
expenditure" (Covington, 1984, p. 8). While accomplishments are
considered salient clues about ability, perceptions of high ability
alone can imply worthiness. Like attribution theorists, self-worth
theorists have viewed effort as a mediator, for without significant
effort expenditure one's self-perception of ability will be unaffected
by failure. Great expenditures of effort which result in failure,
however, can lead to perceptions of incompetency that result in shame


-161-
Hoffman, L. (1975). Early childhood experiences and women's achievement
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Horner, M. (1972). The motive to avoid success and changing aspira
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psychology of women (pp. 62-67). New York: Harper & Row.
Horner, M. (1975). Toward an understanding of achievement related
conflicts in women. In M. Medina, S. Tangri, & L. Hoffman (Eds.),
Women and achievement: Social and motivational analysis (pp.
206-231). Washington, DC: Hemisphere.
Joesting, J., & Joesting, R. (1970). Future problems of gifted girls.
The Gifted Child Quarterly, 14, 89-90.
Khatena, J. (1982). Educational psychology of the gifted. New York:
Wiley.
Kottak, C.P. (1979). Cultural anthropology (2nd ed.). New York:
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Kurtzman, K. (1967). A study of school attitudes, peer acceptance,
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34, 157-162.
Lavach, L., & Lanier, L. (1975). The motive to avoid success in
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Lecompte, M.D., & Goetz, J.P. (1982). Problems of reliability and
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-108-
Rodenstein, Pfleger, & Colangelo, 1977), and that generally, when
compared to the gifted male, the gifted female is less likely to
realize her potential (Blaubergs, 1980; Callahan, 1981). The impor
tance of this assertion is illustrated in the work of Brookover and
Erickson (1975) who referred to perception of ability as a "function
ally limiting threshold condition. It functions to set limits on what
we decide to do" (p. 275).
Perhaps the clearest finding to emerge from this study was the
cyclic relationship between gifted girls' self-perceptions of
ability and their daily school experiences. Gifted girls in this
study used school experiences to interpret and modify their beliefs
about their own ability, and, in turn, their beliefs about ability
guided their choices of behavior at school. Observations and inter
views from this study provided evidence that gifted girls' beliefs
about ability were influenced by 1) definitions of giftedness held
by significant others, 2) affiliation needs, and 3) social comparison.
Multiple Definitions of Giftedness
When asked, "What are gifted students like?" the majority of
teachers in this study responded that their conceptions of giftedness
did not always match the observable characteristics of students
identified by state criteria as gifted. To illustrate this mismatch
for the researcher, teachers often compared the behaviors of identified
gifted girls with girls they considered bright. Bright girls were
described by teachers as more motivated, more enthusiastic, and more


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say that one day. (pause) A lot of people would
never say they felt differently about boy-girl
achievements, but I guess we do behave that way.
We separate ourselves at social gatherings without
even knowing it. (pause) I never thought about it.
Teachers frequently described the community as a closed one which
did not value academics, and, as such, restricted students' awareness
of educational opportunities. One teacher, noting that he lived in a
neighboring city and was not well accepted by the school's community,
told the observer, "This community doesn't give kids a chance to
expand their lifestyles. . Gifted kids here probably just have
more open parents."
The teacher who taught the most classes to seven of the ten
gifted girls was concerned about what she perceived to be a lack of
community emphasis on female achievement. Explaining to the observer
that she was the only regular classroom teacher at the school who had
some background in gifted education, she voiced the opinion that
gifted girls' awareness of educational opportunities might be re
stricted because there was a general lack of awareness that girls
could be smart:
Teacher: There's a difference between the gifted
girls here and the ones I taught in the South. I
don't see the aspirations for individual achievement
here. I think it's because they don't see females
in leadership roles and aren't brought up to see
women as achievers. They may tell you they want to
be doctors and lawyers, but I think their innermost
drive is to find a husband and get married and have
children.
The influence of parents and the community on the girls' percep
tions of themselves frequently surfaced during formal interviews.
Comments made by the girls in answer to the question "What kinds of


BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH
Linda R. Kramer was born in Tampa, Florida. She received the
Bachelor of Arts in secondary education with a minor in social studies
from the University of Florida in 1974. After teaching two years in
Ocala, she moved to Jacksonville where she taught middle school for
five years. During that time she received her Master of Education in
administration and supervision from the University of North Florida.
In 1981 Ms. Kramer entered the doctoral program in curriculum
and instruction, specializing in middle school and gifted education.
During her four years in the program she worked as a research assistant
and taught undergraduate classes in social studies methods. She also
taught and supervised preservice elementary education majors. She
will receive the Ph.D. from the University of Florida in 1985.
Ms. Kramer has served as assistant professor in the Curriculum
and Instruction Department at the University of Kentucky since
January, 1985.
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analysis also helps the researcher to relate domains to one another.
One taxonomy, Kinds of Ability Perceptions, became the framework for
the findings of the study.
3. Componential analysis is a search for attributes of domains
and their included terms. For example, in conducting a componential
analysis the researcher looks for characteristics of the acts, activi
ties, relationships, setting, and participation, and the variations they
display. The goal is to determine if the domains and terms within them
are distinct elements in the social setting.
4. Theme analysis, the final stage of the four step model, involved
looking for meanings which were recurrent in domains and which illus
trated a relationship within taxonomies. Although a theme may not unite
all domains, it should make sense of the whole and thereby have a high
degree of generality. In this study the theme was revealed through a
recurrent set of questions which clarified the organization within
domains and across taxonomies. These questions were "What is problematic
to the participants?" "What things cause them concern, irritation, or
happiness?" "When they think about their roles in school, what appears
to them as stressful, important, or difficult?"
In a discussion on gathering and analyzing ethnographic data,
Lightfoot (1983) characterized the doing of ethnography as similar to
the painting of a portrait:
Portraiture is a genre whose methods are shaped
by empirical and aesthetic dimensions, whose
descriptions are often penetrating and personal,
whose goals include generous and tough scrutiny.
It is a sensitive kind of work that requires the
perceptivity and skill of a practiced observer
and the empathy and care of a clinician, (p. 369)