Case Study of a Highly Gifted Boy, Joshuaby: Doris Santarone

This is a case of a highly gifted 9-year-old boy, named Joshua. Joshua came from an upper middle class home, where he lived with his father, mother, and two younger siblings. He moved to his school district only two years before this study was conducted. In this school, Joshua was grade advanced, so he was two years younger than his 5th grade classmates. He was in a self-contained classroom, taught by Mr. Thompson. Mr. Thompson had no specific training in gifted education, but he was concerned about Joshua’s future and tried to individualize the curriculum for him as much as possible.

The purpose of the research was to discover existing social structures and meanings of interactions in the classroom. The research was conducted over a 3 month period. The main source of information was gathered in a set of field notes collected during 40.5 hours of observation. In addition, interviews were conducted with Mr. Thompson, the pull-out enrichment teacher, the principal, and some of Joshua’s classmates.

The findings were categorized in the following way: Joshua’s abilities, Individualized Program Design, Social Interactions, and Classroom Impact. First, the research looked at Joshua’s abilities. Joshua demonstrated a pure intellect in both quantitative and verbal skills. He also had a high level of creativity, shown sometimes in his interest in puns and word games. One day, he tried to compose a sentence starting with a one-letter word followed by a two-letter word, a three-letter word, and so on. He quickly came up with, “I do not like short people because…” Later, he produced a 12-word sentence with this criteria. Joshua also had a knack for art. He once created “pop-up” pictures, while the other students did two-dimensional work. Joshua’s abilities don’t stop there; during health class one day, Joshua offered a “new way to teach health.” He suggested that they create a huge statue of a human and letting other fifth graders work on the organs and nerves and veins and arteries.

When looking at Joshua’s individualized program design, you realize that there were considerable efforts being made to meet his needs. Most of the modifications involved pulling Joshua out of his regular classes. Joshua met with a university graduate student for individualized mathematics instruction for a few weeks. He participated in a sixth grade interdisciplinary enrichment class several times a week. He was excused from reading or grammar instruction to go to the computer lab and work on his stories. After all of this out of class work, Joshua was only in the classroom for approximately 8 hours per week. Even when Joshua was in class, Mr. Thompson estimated that he did “no more than 20 minutes a day of real work.”

Joshua’s social interactions were not great. He was intellectually very different than all of his classmates, even the gifted ones. He did not have one single friend in his class. Joshua even struggled to get along with his teachers. Mr. Thompson stated:

“He loves to show off. Right now he’s reading thick books—he doesn’t care about the content as long as they look impressive to other people. And he rarely misses
a chance to put other people down. Nobody wants to look like a fool, especially at this age, and very often he sets them up to look bad. When he knows somebody
has done their best, he’ll put down a product of their efforts.”

An example of this behavior was given in the field notes:
Mark had just finished giving an oral book report that was quite well done. The other students seemed to enjoy his presentation, and there is a comfortable murmur of
approval as he starts to return to his seat. Then Joshua says, “Yeah, I really liked that book when I was about six!”

Joshua’s classmates also commented on this sort of behavior from him, saying, “Whenever we’re doing something, he just blabs it out. Whenever anyone else…when it’s time to think, he just blabs it out.”

So, what kind of impact does this have on the classroom? Because Joshua’s classmates knew he had a higher ability than they did, they didn’t speak up a lot. Class leaders never emerged because they were subdued by him. Even in his pull-out classes, students deferred to him because they knew that he could answer every question (and that he would blurt it out most of the time). Joshua also demanded a lot of time from the teacher, which took the teacher’s focus away from other students.

From the research findings, you can see the profound impact that a highly gifted student can have on a classroom situation. His classmates felt intimidated by him; his teachers were not able to give him the individualized instruction that he needed; Joshua was a social outcast. His mental functioning was more advanced that his classmates, but his social development was behind. After all, he was only 9 years old.

Kennedy, Dorothy M. "Glimpses of a Highly Gifted Child in a Heterogeneous Classroom." Roeper Review 24.3 (2002): 120-24. Print