Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format

Integrated Article


Doctor of Philosophy




Hibbert, Kathryn M.


In spite of significant scholarly attention paid to the needs of intellectually Gifted students, programming and placement practices in publicly funded educational institutions in North America have remained stagnant in the 21st Century (Gallagher, 2015; see also Borders, Woodley, & Moore, 2014; Brown & Stambaugh, 2014; Gallagher, 2000). Critical disability theorists have made significant advancements toward more socially just systems of education for individuals with exceptionalities who have been stigmatized for their impairments by investigating the attitudinal, structural, and political barriers that create the disability of one’s impairment. This research was poised to address the same social injustice of inaccessibility for a group of marginalized pupils with a bona fide exceptionality—Intellectual-Giftedness—in pursuit of intellectual accessibility. This social constructionist and interpretivist, Critical Narrative Inquiry (CNI) focused on the construction, deconstruction, and reconceptualisation of pedagogical responses to the needs of secondary Gifted learners in public education in Ontario, Canada.

This dissertation is comprised of four chapters and four integrated articles that offer scholarly, methodological, and data discoveries at various phases along my learning journey toward identifying precisely what is preventing the intellectual accessibility in our classrooms and schools for our high-ability pupils. Together, these chapters and manuscripts embody my learning as both participant and researcher, from taking issue with the robust stagnation of the field of Gifted education to problematizing our varied approaches to meeting the needs of these pupils, as well as employing a novel methodological approach using complementary “show and tell” methods that drew upon material-semiotics and autoethnography, which gave rise to a more complex, more three-dimensional way of understanding the topography (Hamilton & Pinnegar, 2013) of this status quo phenomenon. A close and meticulous examination of the features, the different terrain, and the contours show exactly what and how this phenomenon is existing so we may engage in informed debate as to why we might be subscribing to a recycling of what Sayer (1992) calls “practically adequate” practices and discourses.

This research contributes meaningfully to this renewed conversation around re-taking responsibility for our high-ability pupils in public education. I offer four calls to action for educational stakeholders and policymakers that must be implemented in order to disrupt the established status quo of programming and placement practices based on replicated policy that do not serve the contemporary needs of high-ability pupils today. This work has implications for the classroom and school levels, at system and governance levels, as well as for the fields of Gifted education and Disability Studies.

Summary for Lay Audience

This research focuses on a group of pupils with the exceptionality of Intellectual—Giftedness in the province of Ontario, Canada. This research has made visible that we largely understand this label to mean high ability, which is only partially accurate, as it does not represent a singular, superior ability or aptitude across all domains of learning that rise to the level of genius, but rather for learners who have a high capacity for learning, inquiry, and curiosity. This research has also uncovered a systemic and fundamental misunderstanding of high-ability learners as possessing only “assets” or “gifts,” implying that they have capabilities beyond those same-aged classmates and thus their needs are not considered to be a deficit or impairment perhaps like other exceptionalities and disabilities based on the language used to frame these different abilities. The aim of this critical narrative study was to gather stories of experience about Gifted programs, services, and placements for high-ability learners in public education so we could re-think how we respond to their needs within the current system. To better understand why education systems continue to subscribe to a status quo, taken-for-granted practice of providing a singular, predictable placement (regular classroom) with programming that continues to be primarily withdrawal-based rather than offering support within the regular classroom, this study used multiple qualitative methods to understand how and what was happening in order to address why we might be continuing to follow this status quo practice. Phase 1 of the study used a material-semiotic lens to understand the various actors involved within the current system and how, when combined, they enact such power in policy and practice. Essentially, this phase separated the narrative data into material entities (human and non-human) and used those entities to design several, visual mindmaps that could physically show how things were happening in an education system and what exactly was involved. Phase 2 of the study used an autoethnographic lens by way of sharing personal narratives that responded to the significant issues that were identified in Phase 1 by providing greater content and context given my own experiences as an educator that has also held system-level positions within an education system.