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Gifted and Talented International

ISSN: 1533-2276 (Print) 2470-9565 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/ugti20

What contributes to gifted adolescent females


talent development at a high-achieving, secondary
girls school?
Charlotte Tweedale & Leonie Kronborg
To cite this article: Charlotte Tweedale & Leonie Kronborg (2015) What contributes to gifted
adolescent females talent development at a high-achieving, secondary girls school?, Gifted
and Talented International, 30:1-2, 6-18, DOI: 10.1080/15332276.2015.1137450
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/15332276.2015.1137450

Published online: 13 Apr 2016.

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Date: 21 April 2016, At: 12:11

GIFTED AND TALENTED INTERNATIONAL


2015, VOL. 30, NOS. 12, 618
http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/15332276.2015.1137450

What contributes to gifted adolescent females talent development at a


high-achieving, secondary girls school?
Charlotte Tweedale and Leonie Kronborg
Faculty of Education, Monash University, Clayton, Victoria, Australia
KEYWORDS

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ABSTRACT

The purpose of this research was to examine what contributes to gifted adolescent females talent
development at a high-achieving girls school. Using Kronborgs (2010) Talent Development
Model for Eminent Women as a theoretical framework, this research examined the conditions
that supported and those that hindered the participants talent development in the setting of
their secondary girls school. In this qualitative study, semistructured interviews were conducted
with six gifted females, 1720 years of age, who were all identified as gifted and who achieved
highly in one or more talent domains during their years at their former high-achieving secondary
girls school. The findings of this research support the theoretical framework. The themes found to
support these participants talent development were psychological qualities, individual abilities,
opportunities to achieve in talent domain(s), allies in the family, allies beyond the family,
passionate engagement in talent domain, and feelings and experiences of difference. These
findings add support to the themes Kronborg (2010) found in her Talent Development Model
of Eminent Women.

Introduction
Since feminism began to open the doors for
women to options other than traditional female
roles, researchers have sought to understand why
women are still largely underrepresented in the
top echelons of many professions, despite the
advances made by the feminist movement (Hyde,
2014). Although it must be accepted that there are
clear biological differences between men and
women, feminist researchers contend that many
issues that keep women under the proverbial
glass ceiling are rather gender issues, which they
maintain are societal concepts and can thus be
challenged (Eccles, 2011; Reis, 1995; Rimm,
2001). To understand why women are still a significant minority in many prestigious career
domains, research has been conducted on those
women who have achieved eminence to glean the
conditions that contributed to their success
(Kronborg, 2010; Noble, 1996; Reis, 1995; Rimm,
2001).

gifted adolescent females;


talent development; high
achiever

Although there has been research conducted on


eminent women and their retrospective perceptions
of their childhood and adolescent experiences
(Kronborg, 2008b, 2009, 2010; Noble, 1996; Rimm,
1999), and also gifted adolescent females who
repudiate their giftedness and underachieve (Kerr,
1997; Kerr & McKay, 2014), there has been little
research conducted about adolescent gifted females
who are successful in their talent domains and have
managed to sidestep the pitfalls of adolescence that
research shows stymies gifted girls from actualizing
their gifts and themselves. Much of the research
published about gifted adolescent females was conducted in the 1980s and early 1990s or before. Since
this time, there has been much change in womens
participation in education and in the workplace
(Eccles, 2011). There is also a paucity of research
into gifted females that has been conducted in New
Zealand.
Studies regarding contributing conditions to adult
female eminence have been conducted by Noble,
Subotnik, and Arnold (1999), Rimm (1999), and
Kronborg (2010). There are a number of themes

CONTACT Charlotte Tweedale


ctweedale@cognitioneducation.com
Education Consultant Gifted and Talented Education Facilitator, Cognition
Education, 16 Normanby Road, Mt Eden, Auckland 1024, New Zealand.
Color versions of one or more of the figures in the article can be found online at www.tandfonline.com/ugti.
2015 World Council for Gifted and Talented Children

GIFTED AND TALENTED INTERNATIONAL

that are evident in each of those studies: the salience


of psychological qualities such as resilience and
determination; opportunities to achieve in talent
domain(s); and supportive others, such as family,
teachers, friends, and spouses. Considering all these
conditions that many eminent women report contributed to their success, and the research positing
the challenges that gifted females face in adolescence
that can lead them to eschew their giftedness, it is
therefore of interest to seek to understand whether
the contributors to success reported by eminent
women are also evident in the lives of high-achieving
gifted adolescent females.

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Context of the study

All the adolescent females who participated in


this study had previously attended the same allgirls (single-sex) secondary school. This school is
a state integrated, Anglican girls day and boarding school in an urban New Zealand center catering for girls from years 913. It is the topperforming academic school in its region. In
2011, 96.6% attained a Level 3 National
Certificate of Educational Achievement (New
Zealand Qualifications Authority, 2012) qualification vs. 75.7% nationwide; 57.2% gained a merit
or excellence endorsement vs. 30.5% nationwide
(New Zealand Qualifications Authority, 2012). Of
a cohort of 112 Year 13 students in 2011, four
were offered sports scholarships to U.S. universities, including three Ivy League institutions.
There is a high participation rate in extracurricular activities92% of students are involved in at
least one school-based activity; 87% participate in
team sport, compared to 53% of secondary school
students nationwide. In 2011, the school was the
top New Zealand girls school in rowing and
cycling. Also in 2011, 20 girls represented New
Zealand across 12 sporting codes, and the
schools Sportswoman of the Year went on to
represent New Zealand at the 2012 Olympic
Games. A culture of achievement is evident
throughout the school. Academic, sporting, and
cultural achievements are celebrated in weekly
assemblies; students are proud of their achievements. The 2011 Education Review Office report
stated: Teachers establish strong, supportive and
affirming bonds with students. They are

committed to helping students achieve their


goals, and provide many additional opportunities
for them through coaching, mentoring and tutorials outside of regular class times (Education
Review Office, 2011).
The model
Kronborgs Talent Development Model of
Eminent Women (Fig. 1; Kronborg, 2010) was
based on the exploration of 10 eminent
Australian womens lives, which was framed on
the Model of Adult Female Talent Development
(Noble, 1996; Noble et al., 1999). This model was
chosen as a framework because it incorporated
sociological and psychological perspectives, taking
what seemed a more holistic perspective of talent
development. Furthermore, this model was developed from a synthesis of 23 studies of gifted
females in different contexts. From the model
and the associated studies in Remarkable Women
(Noble et al., 1999), themes that were identified
formed the basis of semistructured interview questions with these women, and feminist research was
used as the methodology. Purposeful sampling was
used to select the eminent women participants
(Patton, 2002). Additionally, these women were
all listed as biographies in the Whos Who in
Australia (De Micheli & Herd, 2004). Eminent
individuals exist within each and every profession.
The definition of eminence used in this study of
Talent Development of Eminent Australian
Women (Kronborg, 2008b) was based on definitions used by Reis (1995) in her study of eminence
in older women, and eminence studies conducted
by Yewchuk and Edmunds (1991). Eminence is
considered to be the highest level of talent development. Eminent individuals are regarded as those
who are capable of high performance or transformational achievements in valued social arenas,
such as a profession or a talent field (Noble
et al., 1999). The eminent women in this study
would be described as gifted in their diverse talent
domains during their school years. Themes found
in this study included allies in family of origin;
psychological qualities; individual abilities; allies
beyond family of origin; feelings and experiences
of difference; schooling opportunities; and selfactualization.

C. TWEEDALE AND L. KRONBORG

FILTERS &
FOUNDATIONS

CATALYSTS

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Demographic
Factors

Motivated by passionate

Socio-economic status.
Religious affiliation,
Nationality & Ethnicity
Geographic location,Marital
status. Number of children,
Loss of parent when young,
Birth Order

engagement in talent

Allies in family of origin


Positive parental support
makes a difference - mother
OR father Influence of
fathers public role, mothers
strength of character &
intelligence, Family culture
with an expectation that girls
could do anything
Psychological qualities Belief in self, Perseverant
effort Resilient behavior,
Independence - striving for
autonomy, Passion,
Courage, Risk-taking
ability, Self determination
Individual Abilities High
ability in talent domain. Creative
problem solving ability. High

general intelligence. High


academic ability

SPHERES OF
INFLUENCE
domains
Allies beyond family of origin

Supportive teachers, friends,


and/or spouse/partner,
Women as role models and
supportive others, Men as
mentors, role models &
supportive others, Distance
mentors & role models in
books. Mentor to other
females

Personal
Domain

SelfActualization
Or Entelechy

Public Domain
Feelings and Experiences
of Difference

Leadership

Luck or chance factors


Taking opportunities to
accomplish or achieve in
Talent Domains -

Eminence

Schooling Opportunities
Arts, Letters/Law Science,
Psycho-social, Business
management, Politics,
Athletics

Figure 1. Kronborgs Talent Development Model of Eminent Women, 2010.

Literature review
Much previous research about high-ability adolescent
females was about those who repudiate their giftedness and underachieve (Kerr, 1997), and it was conducted in the 20th century. There has been significant
change in womens participation in education and the
workplace since then (Eccles, 2011). However, women
are still largely underrepresented in top echelons of
many professions (Hyde, 2014). Understanding shifts
in contributions to talent development of high-ability
adolescent females may shed light on the changes in
this area in future research. In the 2012 World
Economic Forums Global Gender Gap report, New
Zealand ranked 6th (World Economic Forum, 2012).
In countries where women have more schooling
than men, the frontline for change has shifted to
making marriage and motherhood compatible with

fuller economic and political participation of women


(World Economic Forum, 2012). New Zealand has
high female educational achievement. In 2011, 61.9%
females gained a Level 3 NCEA qualification vs. 55.6%
males (NZQA). Between 2005 and 2009, 62% of firstyear university students were female, and they had
lower first-year attrition rates: 23% vs. 30% for males.
Of all first-year engineering students at University of
Auckland, 25% are femalethe highest participation
rate in Australasia (University of Auckland).
However, New Zealand still has a gender gap in
high-status professions. In 2010 data, women comprised the following percentages of roles (National
Equal Opportunities Network, 2010): 18% legal partnerships; 22.5% professors and associate professors;
32% Ministers of Parliament; 9% Fellows of Royal
Society of New Zealand; and 4% NZX top 100
CEOs. At least 30% of companies senior

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GIFTED AND TALENTED INTERNATIONAL

management teams have no female members. New


Zealand, like Australia, is a former British colony that
has developed as a nation with values of egalitarianism, ingenuity, and resilience. We also suffer from
Tall Poppy Syndrome (Moltzen, 2011b). In relation
to gifted education, New Zealanders are wary of giving any group special treatment: We teach our students to strive for adequacy, not excellence (Riley,
2000).
Much of the literature to date posits that although
there are as many gifted females as gifted males,
gifted girls are less able to fulfill their potential without specific interventions (Macleod, 2011). Gifted
girls can experience a self-esteem plunge in adolescence that directly affects their conception of their
giftedness and subsequently leads them to subvert or
camouflage their gifts (Kerr & McKay, 2014). This
self-esteem plunge can affect their academic selfconcept, which in turn influences their academic
success, career choices, and test performance (Klein
& Zehms, 1996). Gifted adolescent females can find
themselves so fearful of failure that they make academic and career choices that are less than commensurate with their abilities (Luscome & Riley, 2001).
As gifted females move from preadolescence to adolescence, their focus can shift from the pursuit of
achievement and self-esteem to the desire for love
and belonging; they prioritize relationships above all
else (Kerr, 2000; Kline & Short, 1991; Lea-Wood &
Clunies-Ross, 1995). Although this is true for adolescent females as a whole, it has been posited that it
is more pernicious in the gifted population due to
gifted females tendency toward perfectionism,
higher levels of self-criticism, and compliance to
gender roles (Luscome & Riley, 2001). Females
silence themselves through adolescence (Schlosser
& Yewchuk, 1998) as they concern themselves with
appropriate female behavior (Reis, 1995). Loss of
female talent has been believed to be a result of
socialization practices (Silverman, 1995), with
females pulling back on their academic and vocational goals in high school and early university years
(Arnold, 1993). This has been attributed to both sex
role threat (Hollinger, 1991; Hollinger & Fleming,
1985; Silverman, 1995) and the anticipation of later
family roles and spousal support (Arnold, 1993;
Eccles, 1987; Grant, Battle, & Heggoy, 2000).
However, there has been a shift in some of the
literature suggesting that the womens movement

has had a positive effect on gifted girls achievements


and aspirations (Roeper, 2003). In her 1993 followup of Project CHOICE, Hollinger found that her
2629-year-old gifted female participants were no
longer seeing career and marriage as an either/or
decision, and they were delaying starting families.
Reis (2002) posited that later marriage leads to
greater self-concept in gifted females. Education
and employment statistics in the OECD tells us the
gender gap is closing (Dai, 2002; Kerr & Foley
Nicpon, 2003). Eccles (2011) also acknowledged the
positive shifts for gifted girls since her studies in the
1980s and 1990s. Most recently, Kerr & McKay
(2014) posited what it means to be a smart girl
today. Although the achievement gaps between
males and females (including in science, technology,
engineering, maths [STEM] fields) are closing, gifted
girls are more overstressed and overworked than
previous generations. Gifted girls aspirations are
higher than ever before, but so is the pressure on
them to achieve. Such onerous expectations can lead
to greater levels of anxiety, sometimes leading to
eating disorders, depression, and other psychopathy
(Kerr & McKay, 2014).
There are some key attributes of gifted adolescent
girls that enable their achievement: They are: smart,
hardworking, independent, active, and interested
(Rimm, 1999). They have an innate desire to win;
they like competition and enjoy being in environments where competition is available and encouraged
(Dai, 2002). When they win, they build confidence;
when they lose, they build resilience (Rimm, 2006).
They have high achievement motivation in their talent
domain(s). This leads to high performance, validating
self-concept (Reis, 2002). Their drive to be the best
causes perseverance (Reis, 1995). They make sacrifices
to achieve their goals. However, they still attribute
failure to lack of ability rather than effort (as opposed
to boys) (Dai, 2002). Perfectionism is present
though this can be a healthy level useful for high
achievement (Perrone, 2007). They have high general
ability/intelligence (Kronborg, 2010; Rimm, 2006)
and high ability in talent domain(s) (Kronborg,
2010). In Kerr & McKays (2014) expansion of
Noble, Subotnik, and Arnolds (1999) Model of
Female Talent Development, she considers how gifted
girls abilities, personalities and values must overlap
for optimal talent development; engagement is also
necessary. Psychological characteristics of gifted

10

C. TWEEDALE AND L. KRONBORG

females who became eminent women include belief in


self, perseverant effort, resilience, independence
striving for autonomy, passion, courage, risk-taking
ability, and self-determination (Kronborg, 2008b,
2010). They also report multipotentialitya sense of
responsibility to use their gifts to the full (Reis, 2002).
Methodology

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Research approach

A qualitative research design was chosen as it


allowed for depth of exploration into participants
perceptions and experiences. Qualitative design is
best for understanding the relation of a context to
the research problem (Creswell, 2007). This
research sits within an interpretivist paradigm.
This approach aims to understand the human
experience and tends to use the perceptions of
the participants being studied and recognizes
how background and experience can affect the
research (Mackenzie & Knipe, 2006). This research
was also approached from a feminist perspective
one that intends to represent gender diversity and
address issues of balance of power (Lichtman,
2010).
Methods of data collection and analysis

A collective case study approach was selected


because this focuses on an issue and uses multiple
cases to illustrate this (Creswell, 2007). Case studies provide rich description of a persons experience to help us gain a multidimensional
understanding of a persons motivations and
experiences. The primary method of data collection was semistructured interviews. These were
based on themes in Kronborgs (2010) Model of
Talent Development for Eminent Women.
Semistructured interviews enable the research to
gain comparable data across subjects (Bogdan &
Biklen, 1998, p. 95). As opposed to other interview
techniques, semistructured interviews provide a
scaffold of questions that remains the same for
each participant, but also allows for individual
divergence from the script (Lichtman, 2010).
Good interviews produce rich data filled with
words that reveal the respondents perspectives
(Bogdan & Biklen, 1998, p. 95). Because the

purpose of this study was to elicit participants


perspectives of their experiences, the semistructured interview was the best choice to acquire
rich data.
Data collection took place over 6 weeks.
Interviews were transcribed during this time
and sent for confirmation as soon as transcription of each was complete. All participants confirmed their transcripts, and at this point, as per
the consent form, all data could no longer be
withdrawn. An abductive research process was
applied to allow for critical and reflective thinking throughout the research process via a reflexive journal and ongoing review of the literature.
The abductive research process is an iterative
one, with periods of immersion in the data
and periods of reflection and analysis (Blaikie,
2009). This allowed for the refining of the
research process while it was happening.
Although the interview protocol did not change,
different emphases were considered for each
interview.
Analysis of each interview began directly after
transcription. Key statements were pulled from
each interview, producing a summary of key statements for each case. All transcript summaries were
then compared, and categorical aggregation was
used to establish themes and subthemes, drawing
meaning across multiple instances of data.
Kronborg (2010) drew meaning and created
themes and subthemes in her Talent
Development Model of Eminent Women, thus
recreated here. All steps were retaken iteratively
over time to ensure replication of themes and
subthemes with each iteration.
Participants

Six adolescent females (Table 1) were purposefully


selected using criterion sampling. Selection criteria
were:
(1) Attended the research site school for at least
3 years;
(2) Identified as academically gifted at the
research site school using the schools 2012
criteria;
(3) Achieved one of the following awards while
attending the research site school as evidence
of accomplishment in talent domain(s):

GIFTED AND TALENTED INTERNATIONAL

11

Table 1. Details of participants (2012).


Name*
(pseudonyms)
Talent Domain(s)
Kelly
Music, Social
Sciences, Visual Arts
Anna
Athletics,
Mathematics, Social
Sciences
Jessica
Mathematics, Social
Sciences, Languages
Rose
Science, Languages

Isabel

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Michelle

Music, Social
Sciences, Languages
Science

Age
Occupation
20 Law and media student
(2nd year)
19 Economics student
(1st year)

Achievements
Top Australian university scholarship; School dux; Arts Laureate

19

Top university scholarship; proxime accessit

20

20
17

Law and business


student (3rd year)
Engineering student
(3rd year)
Law and Languages
student (3rd year)
Pre-medicine, health
sciences student
(1st year)

Dux
Proxime Accessit
Sportswoman of the Year
Arts Laureate
OR achieved a major university scholarship, of
at least NZD$30,000 value

Findings
The findings of this research support the findings
in Kronborgs (2010) study of 10 adult gifted
females across a range of talent domains, which
resulted in the Talent Development Model of
Eminent Women. Most of the themes and subthemes from Kronborgs (2010) study are evidenced in this study. There are some differences,
which may be due to the participants ages and life
stages in this research.
Theme: Individual characteristicspsychological
qualities
High achievement motivation
All participants were highly motivated to achieve
both at school and at university. They are driven
to achieve both their best and be the best. For
these young women, extracurricular participation
was seen as another opportunity to excel. They felt
validated by their achievements, and this made all
their efforts worthwhile. These achievements were
integral to their sense of self: Im aiming to be a
surgeon and Im . . . studying a lot to get the grades

Ivy League Athletics scholarship; School dux; Sportswoman of the Year

Accelerated entry into Engineering; Institute of Professional Engineers


New Zealand and Engineering faculty scholarship scholarships; proxime
accessit
Top university and law firm scholarships; School dux; Arts Laureate
Top university scholarship

I need . . . not let my academics drop . . . I want to


be really successful (Michelle); I like being a high
achiever. I like achieving . . . my goals, so I put the
hard work in. Im very goal oriented (Anna); I
like to do well. I like the success of it (Jessica).
Self-discipline
All participants made a number of sacrifices, often
around social lives and personal time, to achieve
their goals: So Id wake up at 5:30 a.m., study,
then go to school and come home and study until
10:30 p.m. Then the weekends it was just the
whole day studying. I never spent time with
friends (Jessica).
Ability to be alone
All participants reported times when they felt they
had to go it alone to reach their goals. Despite the
high-achieving school environment, these students
perceived that others were not as committed as
them. So even among friends, they reported
being apart from them and their choices: To
have a goal like that was hard because not everyone else had those goals and it can be a bit lonely
up there (Rose).
High self-perceptions and expectations
All participants reported setting high standards for
themselves and being disappointed with themselves
if they were not met. They all perceived themselves
as capable and had expectations of performance

12

C. TWEEDALE AND L. KRONBORG

commensurate to their capabilities. They set their


own standards, not parents or teachers.
When I get an A+ . . . well, thats what I should have
gotI dont see it as a reason to celebrate. And
anything less than what I should have got; I know
that no one else thinks its bad. But Ill still beat
myself up about an average mark. (Isabel)

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I set standards for myself a lot higher than other people


and when I dont meet them I get pretty disappointed.
Because if I dont achieve something, its usually my
own fault. Its not that Im not smart enough, its that I
havent done enough work for it. (Michelle)

Building resilience through failure


These young women were all quick to process
perceived limitations or failure situations and
move on to either improve or learn a lesson for
next time. They reported attributing their perceived failure to lack of effort, not ability. This
contrasts with findings on failure attribution of
gifted females reported previously (Dai, 2002;
Davis, Rimm, & Siegle, 2011; Monaco & Gaier,
1992; Reis, 2002).
In physics, you didnt . . . get excellences every single
time, and in the beginning youd think, Oh my god,
what am I gonna do, Ive failed, but that didnt really
help. I wasnt one for a mental breakdown . . . clearly I
just needed to do more work. And you do more work
. . . I think it was fairly effective to be honest. (Kelly)

Perfectionism
All the young women reported having perfectionistic tendencies to some extent. Mostly, this
pushed them to higher levels of achievement.
Sometimes, though, it led to self-limitations.
If I was willing to try it for the sake of trying it I would
have been ok. But for me it was alwaysyou have to
be really good before you carry on . . . and not have
everyone see youre making mistakes. (Jessica)

Competitiveness
Five of the participants reported being competitive
in the school environmentthey stated this was
common in other high-achieving girls at school.
They posted this competitiveness first as an inherent quality, but also a result of being in a highachieving school: Im just ridiculously competitive in everything . . . probably too competitive at
times (Isabel); Im a competitive person by

nature . . . I know what Im capable of . . . because


I considered myself to have at least equal capacity
to achieve what my peers were achieving, thats
where the competitiveness came in (Anna).
Perseverant effort
These young women pushed themselves to achieve
excellence (A) grades, especially when they had
not achieved a high result at a previous attempt.
This also applied to extracurricular activities.
I kept working, and I got so frustrated because I kept
writing essays and all I wanted was for her (my teacher) to say, yes, this is an excellence (grade) essay,
and my teacher kept saying, youre so close. So I kept
trying and it paid off because in the end Id done
enough work to get excellences in my exams. It made
me keep working, getting those merits. (Michelle)

Theme: Individual characteristicsindividual


abilities

All the participants in this study have high academic


ability and general intelligence, as evidenced in the
criteria for participant selection. They also have high
ability in specific talent domain(s). Additionally,
these participants reported multipotentiality and a
sense of responsibility to use their talents purposefully for good: I know I have a lot of talents which
is kind of scary because when you want to do the
best with what you have and you have a lot youre,
like, what do I do? (Rose); (Its important to me
to) do something worthwhile for the worldmake a
difference . . . to live a life of purpose . . . something I
find to have meaning for me (Anna).

Theme: Opportunities to achieve in talent


domain(s) within a high-achieving, girls school
context
Culture of achievement
All the participants were positive about the school
environment and how their talents were developed. They felt the schools culture of achievement
encouraged and celebrated excellence across a
range of domains. This was coupled with a culture
of girls can do anything: There was definitely a
culture of achievementit was OK to get an excellence and it was kind of revered (Rose).

GIFTED AND TALENTED INTERNATIONAL

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Opportunities for achievement in talent domain(s)


The participants stated that the school provided
many opportunities for extended learning and
achievement. For them, three participated in
school sports, five in the arts, two were prefects,
and two undertook other significant leadership
roles. All participants spoke of ability-grouped
classes in the junior school and the scholars
group in the senior school as being of importance
to their talent development.
Perceived challenges
Limitations of the national assessment system
(NCEA) provided the core challenge reported by
participants. From their analysis of the education
examination system, they were aware that they
might show great depth of knowledge in their
examinations but yet one minor mistake could
lower their grade. They reported that they found
the university grading systems more holistic.
Participants also reported frustration with mixed
ability groupings in their senior high school years.
They dealt with this by self-extension or by working with a small group of like-minded others.
As soon as we moved into NCEA the groups changed . . . and youre in these very diverse classes of
abilities . . . that got annoying at times . . . I didnt
(want) to be with all these disinterested people . . .
Because of the way classes were with a huge range of
ability, teachers would be likeyouve done really
well, but Ive got to concentrate on the people who
arent passing. (Isabel)

Theme: Allies within the family


Positive parental support
These female participants acknowledged their parents provided both personal and financial support.
All the participants perceived that their parents
had made sacrifices to send them to this school,
and they felt responsible for making the most of
their education.
When I used to get up at 5:30 a.m. mum would
get up at 5 a.m. and turn the heater on for me and
make me breakfast . . . that kind of support is really
nice. (Jessica)
My parents have sacrificed quite a lot for my education . . . its hard for them to send us to that school

13

and seeing that has kind of motivated me to do well,


to justify them spending that money on me. (Anna)

Parents as role models


Two participants discussed their mothers as
being role models for them as high-achieving
women. Parents of these participants were highly
educated11 of the 12 were university educated,
and three had PhDs.
Positive parental expectations
Participants reported that parents expected them
to do their best, but they were not unreasonable.
They stated that high expectations were set by
themselves, not their parents, nor were their career
choices stymied by parental expectations: (My
parents) just always expected the best that I can
do, which is not do ten hours of study a night but
just the marks you know youre capable of
(Anna).
Theme: Allies beyond the family
Teachers support and commitment
All the young women in this study felt that their
teachers dedication contributed to their achievements. They posited that teachers were supportive
and cared for them. Participants felt that their
teachers were willing to go above and beyond
their professional expectations to assist achievement (e.g., extra tutorials). They also felt that
teachers offered more opportunities to them as
high-ability students. They reported their teachers
high expectations of them were a positive motivator, and this was connected to their emotional
support. Thus confidence was built through
acknowledging and supporting their differences:
Lots of teachers want to see you achieve and
help you achieve and if you ask for extra help
theyll always give it (Michelle); Mrs. [named
teacher] was really good at supporting how different I was . . . she was always encouraging me and
helped me believe in myself. She did things which
gave me confidence (Rose).
Friends and like-minded peers
All the young women in this study spoke of the
importance of people who got them, though
these were in short supply at school; they found

14

C. TWEEDALE AND L. KRONBORG

more like-minded friends at university. The


schools Scholars group provided them with
allies via group seminars and mentoring from the
teacher-in-charge. Only two of the participants
had boyfriends while at school, and neither
described these relationships as serious. When
asked about future aspirations, four were ambivalent about marriage and children, and one was
definite she did not want either.

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Having other people that were intelligent around


mepeople to talk technical stuff with, do a
science fair project with, hang out on the weekend
and tell intelligent jokes, not just go shopping. We
could do things . . . that were less socially fun but
we enjoyed itit was good to have peers that were
like-minded. (Rose)
I dont know. I might get married, I might have
children . . . I dont really know how I will cross
that bridge if I come to it . . . Id like to have a family
but I dont really know where that fits in. (Isobel)

Theme: Passionate engagement in talent domain

All participants spoke of having a universal love of


learning, motivated by complexity and challenge.
They found it hard to choose subjects because
there were many they were interested in.
I enjoy most subjects for learning . . . cause I
just love learning. (Anna)
With the human body . . . I find it absolutely fascinating how the heart works, and what has to happen
for our muscles to contract . . . I find understanding
how the human body works so interesting. I cant
even explain why because to so many people it
doesnt appeal but to me its so interesting.
(Michelle)

Theme: Feelings and experiences of difference

Being identified as gifted and consequential feelings and experiences of difference were felt to be
mostly beneficial to these young women. They felt
they had more opportunities offered to them; teachers put greater trust in them; and they liked
outward acknowledgment of their achievements.
However, they did not like being singled out by
teachers in the classroom. They felt pressure to
always be gifted and did not want to be so
visible. They also found other girls could be catty

about their achievements, and always expected


them to get high grades. Sometimes they felt
alone in their classesthey did not always fit in
with peers. Despite these feelings and experiences
of difference, these young women liked being who
they were and did not feel pressured to conform to
peers: You get people who are pointedly like, so
that was an excellence was it? Which is fine when
it is, but not so fine when its not (Kelly).

Discussion
Most of the themes of Kronborgs (2008b, 2009,
2010) Talent Development Model of Eminent
Women are evident in this study. Thus conditions
that eminent women report as being salient to
their talent development are also reported in
these young women who exhibit outstanding
talent(s) that contribute to their high achievement
in talent domains. Participants in both studies
share psychological and intellectual characteristics
that drive them to achieve. They all shared environmental and social supports that enabled them to
develop their talents. These findings are distinctive
because much research into gifted girls from the
1990s and earlier suggested that they face barriers
that hinder them from achieving success, yet the
findings of this research suggest that some of those
barriers have been overcome in this schools context. These adolescent women are highly able
(gifted), hard-working, and independent as the
eminent women were in Kronborgs Talent
Development Model of Eminent Women
(Kronborg, 2008b, 2010). These females, at this
stage of their development, in this study, demonstrated high achievement motivation, rather than
relationship motivation; Lovecky (1995) posited
this was a marker of gifted girls who were successful at actualizing their talents.
Friends would say were going to the beach and
dad would say lets go training and Id want to go
to the beach. But . . . I dont regret it now . . . and Im
keeping doing it because I can see what I can get out
of it . . . and its something I can be successful at.
(Anna)

All participants had to make personal sacrifices


to achieve their goals, supporting Kitano and
Perkinss (1996) assertion that talented young

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GIFTED AND TALENTED INTERNATIONAL

women have an indomitable will that allows


them to make difficult choices to achieve their
goals. Participants enjoyed the more competitive
environment of the high-ability grouped classroom, which is supported in the literature positing
talented females enjoy environments where competition is available and encouraged (Dai, 2002).
All participants had high achievement motivation
in all their endeavors and performed highly. This
is consistent with the literature that talented girls
have high achievement motivation (Hollinger &
Fleming, 1984), which drives them to high performance (Reis, 2002).
Previous studies have found that a difference
between gifted girls and boys is that girls are
more likely to attribute failure to a lack of ability
and boys to a lack of effort (Dai, 2002; Reis, 2002).
This failure attribution has been linked to gifted
girls feeling they are not good enough and, subsequently, not developing their gifts (Kerr, 1997).
None of the participants reported that their perceived failure made them feel they were not able.
Rather, they felt they needed to try harder. Perhaps
this is because they engender more traditionally
perceived masculine qualities such as assertiveness
and competitiveness, which enabled them to foster
greater levels of self-belief, and they were encouraged to aim for excellence. They were thus able to
build resilience through perseverant effort
(Kronborg, 2008b, 2010): If I dont achieve something, its usually my own fault. Its not that Im
not smart enough, its that I havent done enough
work for it (Michelle).
Perfectionism seems to have pushed the participants to be perseverant in their efforts to achieve
at high levels. This is consistent with findings that
a healthy level of perfectionism can be useful to
achieve ones personal best (Perrone, 2007; Reis,
2002). The salience of psychological qualities to
participants talent development supported
Kronborgs findings in her model (2010). Both
studies participants held strong self-belief that
enabled
them
to
consistently
achieve.
Independence and resilience to overcome adversity
were evident in both groups of female participants.
Explicit competitiveness and perfectionism were
not factors expressed by the eminent women in
Kronborgs study. This is perhaps due to the age of
this studys participantsadolescent females may

15

feel more of a need to prove themselves, and this


may be related to the need for these students to
achieve high results to attain the goals to which
they aspire. Consistent with the literature, the participants all had high general ability, as reflected in
their high class rankings across a range of subjects
(Kronborg, 2010; Reis, 1995; Rimm, 2006). They
learned quickly and found they outpaced many of
their peers. Five participants discussed issues of
multipotentiality, and four also spoke about the
burden of the sense of responsibility of using
their gifts to better the world. The difficulty of
multipotentiality is also supported by the literature
(Maxwell, 2007; Reis, 2002).
A schools culture of achievement fosters both
high achievement motivation and high achievement (Davis et al., 2011; Monaco & Gaier, 1992).
The context of this all-girl high school provided
these young women with academic challenge and
healthy competition. In the literature, ability
grouping and acceleration is shown to be salient
to talent development (Kronborg, 2010; Kronborg
& Plunkett, 2012; Reis, 2001). All participants were
involved in a range of extracurricular activities,
and all these experiences provided opportunities
for these young women to build greater selfesteem (Hollinger & Fleming, 1985; Kronborg,
2010). Most of Kronborgs (2010) participants discussed opportune schooling experiences as being
of importance to their talent development. They
spoke of opportunities to participate in curricular
and extra-curricular experiences appropriate for
developing their talents (Kronborg, 2010, p. 19).
These included opportunities for extension and
acceleration.
All participants had parents who believed in
girls education. Their parents values were
reflected in their choice of a high-achieving, single-sex school for their daughters education
(Hollinger & Fleming, 1993; Watson, Quatman,
& Edler, 2002). Salience of active parental support
is reflected in the literature (Kronborg, 2010; Reis,
2002; Rimm, 1999). Kronborg (2008a, 2010) found
that parents were the most frequent role models of
the women in her study and that their positive
high expectations of their daughters was significant to their daughters achievements. In
Kronborgs study, all participants reported that
either or both of their parents were highly

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16

C. TWEEDALE AND L. KRONBORG

supportive, believed in their potential and encouraged talent development (Kronborg, 2010, p. 16).
Both the women in Kronborgs study and the
young women in this study were encouraged by
their parents to make the most of their potential
(Kronborg, 2008a). Also, some of the women and
young women in both studies considered their
mothers to be role models, commenting on being
influenced by their mothers intelligence
(Kronborg, 2010, p. 17).
The participants prominent career goals and
ambivalent views on future marriage and children
are a departure from earlier findings and reflect a
significant shift in talented young womens life
expectations (Arnold, 1993; Eccles, 1987; Grant
et al., 2000). All participants reported the salience
of access to like-minded others, which is evident in
literature regarding socialemotional needs of
gifted youth (Davis et al., 2011; Fisher, Stafford,
Maynard-Reid, & Parkinson, 2005). Having the
Scholars program enabled them to feel part of
a valued, inclusive academic group and allowed
them to express themselves freely without concern
for being misunderstood (Fisher et al., 2005).
Many of the teachers who the participants
encountered were highly supportive of their talent
development (Kronborg, 2008b, 2010). Positive
teacher attitudes toward girls achievement are
crucial to gifted girls talent development (Buser,
Stuck, & Casey, 1974; Robinson, 2008). The sense
that teachers are supportive is particularly important to gifted adolescent girls (Davis et al., 2011;
Rimm, 1999). They also appreciated teachers having high expectations of them (Croft, 2003).
Importance of supportive teacher relationships
was found in Kronborgs (2010) study. Eight of
the 10 participants in her study identified certain
teachers as being positively supportive, encouraging, influential or inspirational to the realisation
of their talents (Kronborg, 2010, p. 18). Even in
this high-achieving environment, these young
women reported feelings and experiences of difference. They all spoke of independencealoneness at schooland resilience was evident in their
statements about what it took to achieve their
goals (Kronborg, 2010). The ability to deal with
aloneness and to be independent is posited in the
literature as necessary for gifted women to build
resilience (Noble et al., 1999; Reis, 1995, 2002).

These young women were all passionate in at


least one of their talent domains (Kronborg, 2009).
Kronborg (2009, 2010) found that passionate
engagement in a talent domain was evident in
the women in her study. The adolescent females
in this study were motivated to work hard both by
an intrinsic love of learning as well as the extrinsic
thrill of high achievement. Most participants in
Kronborgs (2009, 2010) study reported feeling a
love or passion for the talent domain that led
them to pursue their talent to high levels. They
were all able to pinpoint a specific time when their
participation in and choice of talent domain crystallized for them and they felt they had found the
direction they wished to take in life (Kronborg,
2009). With the adolescent females in this study,
academic, athletic, and career goals were spoken
about first and with great emphasis when asked
about the future. When reflecting back on their
secondary school experiences, their achievements
were what they most identified with.
Conclusion and limitations
The themes and subthemes found in this study
support Kronborgs (2010) Talent Development
Model of Eminent Women and provide a depth
of understanding when considering gifted adolescent females talent development. Like other case
study research, this research is limited by its lack
of generalizability. Although it provides a picture
of the lived experiences of these participants in a
particular context, the findings cannot be generalized to other settings. The context of this case is
very specific, and this affects the participants
talent development experiences.
The alignment of these findings of this research
with Kronborgs (2010) Talent Development
Model of Eminent Women suggests that the conditions that were present for the talent development process in the eminent women were also
present in these successful gifted adolescent
females lives. Thus we may be able to predict
our eminent women of the future while they are
at secondary school and to take measures to support them in their endeavors. An implication of
this research is that the feminist movement has
gained traction so that gifted adolescent females in
contexts similar to this school are no longer as

GIFTED AND TALENTED INTERNATIONAL

concerned by the culture of romance in adolescence and thus are not confronted by the same
gendered implications to their life choices.
Although it is impossible to generalize with such
a small research sample, such a shift needs to be
considered when counseling gifted adolescent
females about their post-school study and career
choices.

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Author bios
Charlotte Tweedale spent 11 years teaching and leading
learning in New Zealand secondary schools before joining
the GATE consultancy team at Cognition Education in 2015
as a Gifted and Talented Education Facilitator. She was previously the Head of Advanced Learning at an all-girls high
school where she created and imbedded a holistic GATE
program, working to meet gifted and talented students learning and social and emotional needs. Charlotte graduated with
a Masters of Education, specializing in Gifted Education,
from Monash University in 2013.
Dr. Leonie Kronborg is senior lecturer and coordinator of
postgraduate and undergraduate studies in gifted education
in the Faculty of Education, Monash University, Victoria,
Australia. Her research interests and supervision of higher
degree research students have focused on education of gifted
students, teacher education, talent development, gender, and
twice-exceptionality.