Academic self-concept of gifted and nongifted biology students

indications for domain-specific gifted education




Background: It has been commonly accepted that gifted students show a high academic self-concept due to their high academic performance in school without considering the exact kind or domain of giftedness. Most existing studies in this field focus on global conceptions of intellectual giftedness, which disregard the variability of different gifts and talents. Furthermore, it is questionable to what extend we can adopt existing findings on the self-concept development in science subjects (Jansen et al., 2014) on gifted students and use it for their fostering.

Purpose: The aim of this study was to investigate the academic and subject-related self-concept of gifted students in the subject biology to fill the gaps in self-concept research on domain-specific gifted students and draw conclusions regarding their education and preparation for their professional life. Enrichment programmes could benefit from this study and design their teaching concepts according to the results.

Sample/Setting: A total of N = 418 students from German elementary and secondary schools participated (4th to 7th grade; mean age = 10.68 years; 40.0% female). The selection process of the experimental group was part of an enrich-ment program to foster gifted students in biology and was based on two phases. At first, teachers from 83 cooperating schools nominated potential gifted biology students to participate in the program. In the second step, the nominated students completed a numeric and figurative thinking skills test (KFT-12-R; Heller & Perleth, 2000). The final experi-mental group consisted of n1 = 209 students. The control group was composed from the remaining, not-nominated students from the selection process (n2 = 209).
Design and Methods: In a quantitative cross-sectional study, the academic self-concepts referring to different refer-ence norms (ASC) and school subjects (SRSC) were investigated to compare gifted and non-gifted students in biology using the Academic Self-Concept-Scales (SESSKO; Schöne et al, 2012) and the German Differential Scholastic Self-Concept Grid (DISK-Grid; Rost et al., 2007). Both of these instruments showed good to excellent reliability estimates across all subscales. The data was analyzed using a multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) in the first step, followed by a descriptive discriminant analysis (DDA).

Results: Results showed gifted students to score significantly higher values for ASC and SRSC in every measured subscale. The social reference norm and school subject mathematics contributed highest to given group differences, followed by biology and german. Significant grade level effects on gifted students’ ASC were observed. The 4th grade scored significantly higher values in every ASC reference norm and the individual norm contributed most to given group differences.

Conclusions: Gifted education in biology, both inside and outside school, should use appropriate methods regarding the important reference norms for gifted students in biology. Social comparisons are most important to gifted students in this study, so teachers must be aware of that and adapt their style of teaching to offer situations and chances for gifted students to develop a high but realistic self-concept, get in touch with equally performing peers early, and build up coping strategies in these situations to prevent negative effects of a possible big-fish-little-pond effect (BFLPE; Marsh et al., 1986) in their school / professional career. We need further investigation on how important subject-related self-concepts and actual performances in math are for the expression of giftedness in biology. Possible impacts of the transition from primary to secondary schools and changing the curricula for gifted students in biology, should be considered, as well as possible impacts of the attendance to enrichment programs on students’ ASC. Subsequent studies should aim to use matched samples and more objective diagnostical test measures, beyond self-assessments, to compare and identify gifted students in biology from different age groups. Applicable instruments and educational methods for teachers, should be developed to improve and objectify nomination processes in gifted education.

Keywords: gifted education, subject-specific giftedness, giftedness in biology, STEM, academic self-concept, subject-related self-concept.