Construals of giftedness in Modern Foreign Languages in the English secondary school context

  • Katherine Raithby

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


Interest in the outcomes of a society’s most able learners is a recurrent feature in educational discourse. ‘Giftedness’ however is a ‘contested construct’ which is heavily context-dependent and where meanings are individually shaped rather than collectively understood. This research examines the complexity of construals of giftedness for secondary school Modern Language teachers in the light of pedagogic and linguistic theorists and English government policymakers. These four perspectives play a role in understanding ‘giftedness’ within the subject domain, yet have not been previously considered in combination. The context of school-based second language learning in England is significant as the subject has undergone changes of curriculum status and purpose, possibly failing to meet the needs of gifted pupils. The context for MFL teachers in this research is further shaped by the ambient professional framework, which is influenced by instable and internally inconsistent policy construals of ‘giftedness’ and a tension between excellence and equity. Questionnaires and interviews are used to examine MFL teachers’ beliefs surrounding ‘giftedness’ both generally and within their subject specialism, and the reported impact of working within the framework of externally imposed construals. Teachers’ reactions to being asked to make public judgements about giftedness reveal uncertainties about identifying gifted linguists and their underlying views about the enactment of ‘giftedness’ policy.The findings are used to propose a more detailed model of the characteristics of gifted linguists, which distinguishes between ‘enabling’ features (which support the development of linguistic potential) and those which are ‘core’, and which lie at the heart of ‘giftedness’ within MFL. Findings also indicate the importance of agreeing terminology and listening to teachers, when seeking to impose external constructs in this contested arena. By understanding the complexity and instability of the construal, it is argued that MFL teachers may be better equipped to recognise and support gifted learners.
Date of Award19 Jun 2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorCarol Morgan (Supervisor), Andrew Stables (Supervisor) & Steve Gough (Supervisor)

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