Wholehearted Teaching of Gifted Young Women: Cultivating Courage, Connection, and Self-Care in Schools
reviewed by Shoshana D. Kerewsky - May 24, 2019
Title: Wholehearted Teaching of Gifted Young Women: Cultivating Courage, Connection, and Self-Care in Schools
Author(s): Kathryn Fishman-Weaver
Publisher: Prufrock Press, Austin
ISBN: B07PP8R78Q, Pages: 220, Year: 2018
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Fishman-Weavers feminist participatory action research (PAR) with gifted young women gives voice and context to the emotional stressors they identify, and suggests a framework for incorporating school-based interventions that derive from the womens lived experiences. Her account is highly engaging and provides an accessible tool for educators and students.
The impetus for this study was educators concern about the social-emotional challenges faced by a group of talented and engaged young women in the high school program where Fishman-Weaver works (p. 6). She refers to this construct as masked affective crisis (p. 6), with educators dismissing the affective needs of academically successful young women (p. 12) due to an assumption, based on their high academic achievement, that their emotional needs were also being met. While her administration and teachers enacted supportive measures, Fishman-Weaver identified difficulties described in the literature and experienced by a cohort of academically gifted female students. Over time, a support and empowerment group intervention transitioned into a youth participatory action research group that included 20 student participant-researchers over several years, including their transition from high school to college.
As principal investigator, using a feminist/PAR approach, Fishman-Weaver is careful to contextualize her own participation and to note that a different group could generate unique outcomes. The book is structured with an emphasis on the students personal narratives, through excerpts from their journals, self-reflections, case studies, descriptions of their investigative processes and discussions, poetry, and visual art. Fishman-Weavers incorporation of multiple student-generated samples makes this a profoundly personal research account, even within the genre of PAR and other qualitative reports. The readers direct access to students remarks and artwork prioritizes their role in developing this project and its conclusions, and also increases the books potential audience through the womens vivid and illustrative contributions. The use of multiple media increases the likelihood that readers will identify with one or more of the participants, and recognize their strengths and vulnerabilities. Thus, although the literature review and research findings are incorporated throughout, parts of the book read like an ethnography. This approach to writing encompasses not only the projects feminist/participatory action values, but also in some ways enacts the research process for the reader by including a sample of the student-generated material. It illustrates the power of story-telling in research that prioritizes participant-observers voices and gives them the opportunity to provide thick description of their experiences.
With help from outside consultants, Fishman-Weaver and the students identify interrelated themes of courage, connection, and self-care as salient areas for discussion and the development of a framework for ameliorating concerns associated with masked affective crisis, though she characterizes both the themes and implementation as messy, which she understands to be inherent to PAR (p. 122). The overarching themes are described and articulated in relation to more specific codes and their interaction (for example, Strength + Vulnerability = Courage (pp. 132133). These thematic chapters are especially engaging in that they illustrate the methods used, including discussion, diagramming, reflective journaling, art-making, and other means through which the young women developed and clarified their findings.
The last text section provides a framework grounded in the concept of wholehearted living, extended to focus on students (Brown, 2010, 2012, 2015, in Fishman-Weaver, p. 124). Wholehearted Teaching is defined as helping young people (1) recognize these interactions [identified in the elaboration of the major themes] and (2) recalibrate, when needed, back to courage, connection, and self-care (p. 127). This simple yet elegant construct, captured in an easy-to-understand Venn diagram, provides useful grounding and a good reference point for teachers and administrators to consider in adopting and adapting this model. The chapter devoted to implementation includes common commitments on the part of instructors, some abstract (such as practice courage, connection, and self-care) and others concrete (such as a suggestion to schedule peer-group meetings) (p. 147). Overall, the conclusions and suggestions emphasize the potential positive role of educators and educational structures in supporting and meeting the social-emotional needs of all students.
Aspects of methodology are included in the main text at times, but the emphasis is on the student-researchers content and process, as well as the potential applications of this work.
The more technical aspects of methodology appear in an appendix. Here, Fishman-Weaver describes her ongoing engagement with student discussions, writing, messages, her own notes, and other materials. She has provided weekly analytic memos, part of a process of cyclical critique and co-interpretation, and has conducted focus groups on the transition from high school to college. The appendix also includes useful documents such as a brief discussion of research ethics, IRB and district approval, and student well-being.
Of note is the availability in Fishman-Weavers school of an open door resource room, which could be utilized by all students without testing or entry into a gifted program, as well as other school characteristics that may foster more involved educators and higher student self-efficacy. In addition, although a range of student participant identity characteristics are identified in the methodology, most students in the program were White or Asian (p. 6). The school was 71% Caucasian in a community where [c]ommunity support for schools is strong, the majority of students go on to attend college, and a model gifted program was in place (p. 5). These variables may affect the schools attitude toward the students and study, and may not adequately represent the barriers other students, researchers, or educators potentially face in conducting similar projects and implementing them.
A more extensive appendix would be welcome; the interesting sections on students as researchers, data analysts, and member and peer checks could be expanded or incorporated into the main text in more depth. However, the books most important deficit is the lack of an index.
The take-away messages of this study are, first, the importance of active and extensive student input in identifying and exploring resources relevant to their school experiences and, second, the need for more targeted and extensive resources for high school and college success for all students, and particularly for academically successful young women. Recent studies (e.g., Auerbach et al., 2018; Scheffler, 2019) demonstrate an increase in anxiety and other mental health disorders among college students. It would behoove college and university educators to consider Fishman-Weaver and her students outcomes and modify them, with student input, to match student needs in particular higher education settings.
Another potential use for the book is as part of a college orientation structure, with first term students or those entering honors programs reading and responding to the content of the study, articulating the needs that resonate with them, learning about campus resources while helping to develop those that do not yet exist, and conducting their own study with faculty/staff mentorship. Such studies would not only build students research interest and skills, but also expand the generalizability of Fishman-Weaver and her students work.
Auerbach, R. P., Mortier, P., Bruffaerts, R., Alonso, J., Benjet, C., Cuijpers, P., Demyttenaere, K., Ebert, D. D., Green, J. G., Hasking, P., Murray, E., Nock, M. K., Pinder-Amaker, S., Sampson, N. A., Stein, D. J., Vilagut, G., Zaslavsky, A. M., Kessler, R. C., & WHO WMH-ICS Collaborators (September 13, 2018). WHO world mental health surveys international college student project: Prevalence and distribution of mental disorders. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, Advance online publication
Fishman-Weaver, K. (2018). Wholehearted teaching of gifted young women: Cultivating courage, connection, and self-care in schools. Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.
Scheffler, R. M. (April, 2019). Anxiety disorder on college campuses: The new epidemic. Retrieved from https://gspp.berkeley.edu/assets/uploads/page/Anxiety_Disorder_on_College_Campuses_UCB_Study_FINAL.pdf