Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)




Joyce VanTassel-Baska


The prevalence of high nonverbal reasoning strength among children from low income, culturally diverse backgrounds challenges the education community to provide effective instruction for these students (Briggs et al., 2008; Koshy & Robinson, 2006; Olszewski-Kubilius, 2007; Robinson et al., 1997; VanTassel-Baska, 2003b; VanTassel-Baska, Feng, & Evans, 2007). Research on the well-being and progress of young gifted students confirms that stimulating material resources, association with intellectual peers, and formal educational interventions designed to optimize students' strengths improves the educational outlook for these students (Bittker, 1991; Campbell et al., 2001; Clasen, 2006; Corno et al., 2002; Morelock & Morrison, 1999; Ramey & Ramey, 2004; Robinson et al., 1997; Sarouphim, 1999; VanTassel-Baska, 2006; VanTassel-Baska et al., 2002; VanTassel-Baska, 2007). In this study, a Vygotskian perspective provided the framework for an instructional intervention (Vygotsky 1978 version, 1986 version, 1994 version). Consistent with the perspective, the intervention included intellectual scaffolding to support conscious thought and formal learning in science, and encouragement of individual learning in the zone of proximal development.;The researcher undertook this study to determine if the use of instructional strategies capitalizing on nonverbal reasoning strength would improve achievement in science learning with a William and Mary life sciences curriculum unit. A six week, 24 hour program in a southeastern Virginia urban district provided the venue for the study. Second graders from Title I schools who scored above the 80th percentile on the Cognitive Abilities Test (CogAT) nonverbal battery and significantly lower on verbal and quantitative batteries qualified for the program. Twenty-three students participated, resulting in a treatment group of 13 students and a comparison group of 10 students.;The nature of the intervention was a William and Mary Life Sciences unit modified for the treatment group. Treatment group teachers used enhanced instructional activities that incorporated the use of scientific symbols, active rehearsals of new knowledge, visual mental models, and descriptive writing, as recommended by Lohman and Hagen (2003) and others (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000).;Results of unit assessments indicated that both the treatment and comparison groups showed statistically significant increases in concept attainment ( p < .001). However, the treatment group showed significantly higher mean scores than the comparison group in concept attainment (p < .05). Neither treatment nor comparison groups showed significant gains for scientific reasoning over time; however, the treatment group scored significantly higher in scientific reasoning than comparison students (p < .001). Both groups significantly increased their content knowledge (p < .05); and the treatment group made significantly greater gains from pre- to post-assessment (p < .05).;The findings suggest that students who are exposed to high-quality research-based instructional units tailored to and aligned with their cognitive strength in nonverbal reasoning may show gains in science learning. Future research should employ larger samples, randomly assigned, to strengthen results and improve the ability to generalize the findings to school districts with similar populations of students with strong nonverbal reasoning skills from culturally diverse, low income backgrounds.



© The Author