Observations/Interviews Conducted: September 2013
Emma is a nine year-old Caucasian student in third grade. Emma is tall for her age and her weight is on the lower end of the normal range compared to other students in her class. Emma is the youngest of four children and her siblings range in age from eleven to nineteen. Emma has always looked up to her oldest brother and they have a strong relationship. She also has a good relationship with her fourteen year-old sister. However, she struggles to get along with her eleven year-old brother. Emma recognizes that she is somewhat used to getting almost whatever she wants because she is the youngest child. However, she also realizes that in order to get what she wants, she must behave, as her parents will discipline her if her behavior is inappropriate, especially in public. Overall, Emma has a good relationship with her mother and a great relationship with her father. She is “Daddy’s little girl” and participates in many father-daughter activities. I chose Emma for this project because she is a strong example of a child with significant potential but a low sense of self-esteem. This is not a unique circumstance but is a good opportunity to evaluate peer influences and other factors in shaping self-esteem.
Emma stated that she gets good grades in school and that she does not require a lot of help with her homework at home. She recently earned the best grade in the class on her science project and noted that her subjects, especially science and math, come easy to her. She is a self-proclaimed “science geek,” as she stated in the interview. Emma is particularly interested in animals and how they behave, but she is also interested in insects, which is unusual for many females. Since Emma is more into school than into how she looks, she does not care much about her appearance and in dressing with the latest fashions and trends. Even though she is only nine, Emma realizes how important fashion, makeup, hair, and looking good are for many of her female classmates. However, in spite of her lack of enthusiasm regarding these issues, Emma remains interested in science more than looking good for the boys in her class.
Emma gets along well with her teachers and with most of the other students on a general basis, with the exception of many of the girls who have a tendency to make fun of her because of her hairstyle, clothing, height, and weight. Emma’s mother takes her shopping for school clothes on a regular basis, but Emma is not very interested in her appearance and in many of the interests that her peers have within her age group. Although she is young, Emma recognizes that many of the girls in her class are very selfish and shallow in that they only care about how they look for the boys. In spite of Emma’s bright and precocious nature, she often finds it difficult to relate to some of the other children, especially other females. Therefore, she noted that she does not have very many friends that are girls. She has a few friends that are boys, but she also seems disinterested or disengaged in social situations, where she appears to be particularly awkward in these environments.
With observing Emma in the cafeteria at lunchtime, she sat with a small group of boys who think of her as “one of the guys,” since she does not seem to care about many of the same things as the other girls. When it was time for gym class, the teacher asked two students to pick teams, and Emma was one of the last people chosen. It was evident that in spite of her intelligence, she is not very athletic and is considered to be a weak link for a team. In addition, one of the students, another female, called Emma a “beanpole” due to her height and thin frame. The gym teacher appeared to ignore the comment or did not hear it because no action was taken. Although Emma appeared not to be bothered by these comments, it was observed that the comment clearly bothered her, even though she tried not to act as such. These observations were important because they demonstrated that Emma is perhaps more concerned her looks and with what others think of her than she lets on. Emma’s physical appearance is not unique, yet her peers seem to take her for granted and make fun of her because she is not of the same height and weight as the majority of the other girls in the class. In observing these behaviors and how Emma is treated, her physical appearance seems to be more of a problem than originally believed, as it translates into social awkwardness and limited proficiency in social situations.
From a cognitive perspective, Emma’s activities and responses clearly convey her intelligence and strong ability to communicate with others. She appears to be ahead of many other students in her studies and her overall level of cognition. It appears from the observations and interview that Emma is far ahead of her peers relative to her cognitive abilities. These circumstances pose a challenge for Emma as she continues in elementary school because she sometimes appears to be bored in the classroom and is not always stimulated by the material that her teachers provide. Emma is also ahead in her linguistic capabilities, as her vocabulary and reading comprehension are above her current grade level. Emma is observed as a gifted student who is cognitively and linguistically far above her peers, with a strong ability to complete her required tasks in a timely manner. Her gifted nature is aligned with the Renzulli model of giftedness, as her teachers do not seem to realize the extent of her abilities as a third grade student (Urhahne, 2011). In addition, through various observations, Emma is able to engage in self-directed learning without appearing to realize the extent of her abilities (Van Deur, 2011). Therefore, Emma appears to be bored at times and requires additional intellectual stimulation to maintain her interest. Her teachers do not provide the most desirable type of environment for Emma because they are often focused on struggling students and those with behavioral concerns rather than those who are performing well.
In spite of her gifted nature and her level of intelligence, Emma is sorely lacking self-confidence and self-esteem in her social interactions. This is not uncommon for many children who perform at the gifted level because they often find it difficult to communicate with their peers and with their teachers without stress or difficulty (Shechtman and Silektor, 2012). Under these circumstances, it is likely that Emma has learned from prior experiences that her peers do not understand her behavior or intelligence and therefore, do not socially or emotionally relate to her. Emma appears to put on a good front, but it is suspected that being shunned by many of the kids, including those who are deemed popular, is bothersome and emotionally challenging. From an educator perspective, it is important to recognize that Emma is struggling with her social interactions and emotions because at times, she appears to be distant and withdrawn, even though does not require excessive discipline or attention. In some ways, Emma blends into the background and does not stand out to the rest of her classmates or her teachers. This is disconcerting from an observer’s point of view because it reflects a difficult challenge to recognize that Emma is disconnected and that she struggles in a social context. Although Emma has a strong relationship with most of her family members, her struggles at school go largely unnoticed. Emma did not openly express her frustrations in this area, but her inability to discuss these issues and to basically ignore the questions altogether was a sign of denial and lack of acceptance of her social status.
To expand upon Emma’s social issues further, she appears to demonstrate a clear denial of her sadness and frustration regarding her lack of acceptance. In addition, the school environment does not seem to take much notice of this behavior and does not provide a social support system that enhances student interactions and communication, which is a less than favorable approach to social integration (Eddles-Hirsch et.al, 2012). From this perspective, Emma is alone in her struggles to a significant degree because her peers and teachers are less than understanding of her situation and do not provide any real sense of support or guidance with these matters (Eddles-Hirsch et.al, 2012). In spite of Emma’s lack of confidence and self-esteem in social systems, the problem does not appear to be of primary concern to others because she is very good at masking her fears by using her intelligence and vocabulary to play down these fears in a variety of situations. Emma’s struggles to obtain social acceptance will only continue to worsen if she does not obtain adequate support as she grows older.
Finally, from a perceptual-motor perspective, in spite of her obvious social awkwardness, Emma has not been tested for any type of disability or disorder with similar symptoms and behaviors. This is due to Emma’s ability to excel in her studies, to communicate effectively in front of the class, and to perform well on her tests and homework assignments. Emma does not possess any type of motor deficiency or other perceptual problems in her day to day activities. Her motor skills are strong and she does not possess any physical limitations or other challenges, which would be evident during the observation process. Therefore, Emma’s motor skills and perceptual abilities are aligned with those of other children within her age group.
Based upon the observations made regarding Emma and her behavior in the classroom and in other school-based settings, her social awkwardness and other related challenges are perhaps most problematic and require further discussion and evaluation between her parents and her teachers. These circumstances are difficult because she is unable to socially interact with others in a positive and relatable manner, due in large part to her physical appearance and intelligence, both of which seem to intimidate other students and even her teachers. Under these circumstances, Emma has not been provided with the level of emotional support and guidance that is required to overcome her social awkwardness at school. Although she has an overall positive relationship with her family, she struggles at school to participate in social activities and situations where she could make friends and work with others more effectively. These challenges are daunting for Emma and require a greater level of deeper discussion regarding these concerns. It is necessary for her teachers and parents to discuss her circumstances more closely in order to identify possible solutions that could address these problems. Although her intelligence, cognitive abilities, motor and perceptual skills, and linguistic competency are not a problem, Emma nonetheless struggles behind many of her peers in her social skills. Therefore, it is necessary to address these struggles in a manner that will identify the root of these problems so that Emma is able to better communicate with her peers and to develop friendships more effectively, particularly with her female classmates. These efforts are likely to go a long way in supporting Emma’s growth and level of social acceptance gradually over time. Emma’s intellectual capabilities are not in question; however, her ability to socially interact with others and to be effective in these situations is of critical concern. It is important to discuss these challenges with Emma directly and to allow her to express herself freely in an environment that is non-threatening and where she is most comfortable. Emma’s struggles with her physical appearance perhaps have more to do with her social nature than originally expected, and as a result, these problems must be addressed as early as possible to prevent future issues, particularly since peer pressure and judgments become even harsher and more critical after the elementary school years. By evaluating these circumstances as quickly as possible, strategies may be developed that could provide Emma with a greater level of confidence and self-esteem, particularly in social settings where she struggles the most to express herself and to be an individual.
Timeline and Plan for Data Collection
It is expected that in order to collect the data that is appropriate for this study, the following timeline is proposed:
- Week 1: The initial evaluation and observations will take place, including a visit to Emma’s home. The interview will require approximately 90 minutes. The interview will be video recorded in order to evaluate behavior, responses to the questions, mood, and the surrounding environment.
- Weeks 2-3: Emma will be observed in her classroom once per week for 90 minute intervals. In addition, Emma’s teacher will be interviewed in week 3 for 60 minutes. These observations will be collected by taking notes using a journal.
- Week 4: Emma will be observed in the cafeteria and at recess for 60 minutes. These observations will also be collected using a journal.
- Week 5: Emma and her parents will be interviewed again for 90 minutes, and the interview will be video recorded for evaluation at a later date.
Eddles-Hirsch, K., Vialle, W., McCormick, J., and Rogers, K. (2012). Insiders or outsiders: the role of social context in the peer relations of gifted students. Roeper Review, 34(1), 53-62.
Shechtman, Z., and Silektor, A. (2012). Social competencies and difficulties of gifted children compared to nongifted peers. Roeper Review, 34(1), 63-72.
Urhahne, D. (2011). Teachers’ judgments of elementary students’ ability, creativity and task commitment. Talent Development & Excellence, 3(2), 229-237.
Van Deur, P. (2011). Views of gifted elementary students about self-directed learning. Gifted and Talented International, 26(1), 111-120.