Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department

Curriculum and Instruction

Major Professor

Stephen J. Thornton, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Bárbara Cruz, Ed.D.

Committee Member

Elizabeth Shaunessy-Dedrick, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Cheryl Ellerbrock, Ph.D.


Curricular-Instructional Gatekeeping, Differentiation, Gifted Education, Middle Level Education, Social Studies Education


This is a multiple case study of the ways middle grades social studies teachers, as curricular-instructional gatekeepers, may make decisions to provide their gifted students with purposeful differentiated instruction. More specifically, this study explores what teachers believe they should do to instruct gifted students, in what ways teachers prepare and adapt curriculum and instruction for gifted students, and how instruction for gifted learners can take place in a middle school social studies classroom. Through semi-structured interviews, classroom observations, and supportive visual evidence, six middle grades (6-8) social studies teachers disclosed in what ways they differentiate their middle grades social studies curriculum and instruction for their gifted adolescent learners. Through Hatch’s (2002) Inductive Analysis model, findings were recorded and presented in the form of individual teacher observation and thematic cross-case analysis.

Findings suggest that middle grades social studies teachers take into consideration factors that influence their curricular-instructional beliefs, directly affecting the decisions they make in terms of curriculum selection, instructional delivery, and the methods of differentiation employed to meet the needs of their gifted students. Much of what teachers planned, prepared, and adapted was often influenced by the needs of their students, but also addressed mandates of their school and district agendas. This conflict between meeting the needs of both students and administration resulted in gatekeeping that often favored administration, while reducing the frequency of best practices for middle level gifted students in social studies classrooms.

Implications for the study include how teacher confidence, or the lack there of, effects instructional practices. Time constraints in middle level curriculum pacing and increased assessment also limited opportunities for rigorous, relevant, and differentiated social studies instruction for gifted students. Middle level social studies teachers of gifted call for clearer and more illustrative descriptions of what the academic ceiling for gifted social studies might look like in general. There are distinctive contrasts between models of differentiation and neighboring concepts of individualized and personalized learning. While in theory differentiation is meaningful, middle level social studies teachers find it difficult to implement methods of differentiation in their classroom with desired frequency. There is a distinctive bond between the fields of social studies, English Language Arts, and research skills. Middle level social studies teachers of gifted seek greater opportunities for meaningful professional development options. Lastly, there is a call among middle level social studies teachers for the inclusion of gifted initiatives in teacher education programs.

Topics that could be explored for future research include a continued effort to expound applicable gatekeeping practices, the provision of purposeful professional development and learning for teacher populations, continued application and practice of differentiation in the field of social studies education, increased inclusion of social studies in the elementary classroom, the awareness and servicing of gifted learners in the middle school social studies classroom, and the increased inclusion of gifted populations with undergraduate and graduate social studies education programs.