A sociocultural interpretation of gifted secondary students' transition-related experiences within university communities

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High school
Sociocultural theory

Students’ transitions from high school into university are a major concern in education literature, as post-secondary institutions seek to enhance students’ adjustment so as to improve retention, and secondary systems aim to prepare students for challenges they may face as new undergraduates. Much of this literature compartmentalizes transition into these pre- and post-matriculation phases, with most theoretical analyses, practical applications, and empirical studies focusing on post-matriculation experiences and emphasizing institutional over student perspectives. Literature on gifted learners in transition reflects this pattern; pre-matriculated gifted students’ voices are especially scarce, particularly when they are not following accelerated paths to college entry, despite this group being both sought-after and potentially at-risk during transition. This study addressed this gap by exploring the meanings that a group of gifted Grade 11 students made of on-campus transition-related experiences, to build understanding of effective ways to support similar students as they enter university communities. Sociocultural theory invites viewing transition between educational communities as a process of identity shift, as newcomers participate in boundary activities with more expert community members. It allows for students to be seen as beginning to negotiate membership in university communities while still in high school. In this qualitative action research, nine gifted learners participated in transition-related experiences including: interactions with staff and students within a university campus community; partnerships with professors within Faculty of Science communities; and opportunities to share their own learning and support others’ within the participant peer group. Interviews, personal reflection pieces, observations, online discussions, and researcher notes were used to generate data, with both students and professors involved in interpretive processes. Theoretically derived and inductively generated categories were combined to construct key themes of the students: negotiating the peripheries of the campus community; working at belonging within science communities, together with faculty partners; developing a sense of affinity with university students; interacting with the researcher in her role as a boundary spanner; and experiencing changes in academic, intellectual, and social identity through these processes. These interpretations offer insight into ways to engage pre-matriculated gifted learners in transition processes appropriately to their own perceived needs, within university communities.

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Lannie Kanevsky
Education: Faculty of Education
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) Ph.D.