Exploring successful learning with talented female adolescents

Date of Completion

January 1997


Education, Educational Psychology|Education, Secondary




Research on girls' experience in classrooms has recently increased and has focused on their classroom experiences and the environmental issues affecting their achievement and attitude. To this end, however, little progress seems to have been made in changing the classroom climate encountered by talented female students. Some research indicates that girls continue to be underrepresented in higher level math and science courses, receive less attention from teachers, and continue to show downward trends in self-esteem and general academic achievement as they progress through adolescence. Studies on learning and attributional patterns generally report gender differences without discussing the situations that create these differences. In fact, some feminist researchers believe that research which address gender differences may actually promote the unequal treatment of women by implying inferiority.^ The purpose of this study was to examine the factors associated with learning as perceived by talented female adolescents. Qualitative methodology using interviews and observations were used to collect data on 20 female students in two high school settings, a single-sex Catholic high school and a public coeducational high school.^ Results from this study support existing theories of attribution and goal orientation. Participants engaged in active forms of learning and attributed their success to hard work and dedication. Contrary to the literature indicating the benefits of cooperative learning for female students, participants revealed preferences for solitary learning activities, choosing to study individually rather than in cooperative groups. In addition, academic competition was related to participants' definition of self and others, and was a difficult concept to understand because of the negative stigma associated with it. Participants chose, instead, to discuss comparisons among peers and were negative about those who engaged in academic competition. As stated in other research on gifted adolescents, family and peer support was essential to foster success in these students. Recommendations for future research include a closer examination of single-sex institutions to determine the inherent cultural differences which foster academic success. ^