A great deal of attention in schools these days has been given to students with learning challenges, and lesser talked about is what do schools and teachers do with Gifted Students...? Today's Blog seeks to explore the question of Why do Gifted Kids (K-8) decide to underperform at school? In order to answer the above question I will need to focus on three items of interest in this short discussion:
- Definitions of gifted students
- 3 reasons for gifted students to underperform
- Strategies to reengage disengaged gifted students
Its important to acknowledge that every individual is different and no guideline or taxonomy is going to capture exactly what is or what is not a gifted student. Rather, we use some general descriptions provided by Huchinson (2014: 72) to show strong indications of what skills & traits a gifted students may have. Huchinson writes that there are 4 indicators to look out for to identify gifted learners (K-8):
(1) the rate at which they learn new knowledge or skills,
(2) the depth of their comprehension,
(3) the range of their interests, and
(4) their enhanced meta cognition (rate of processing new concepts) or ability to decide when and where to use their knowledge and skills
Why would a Gifted student want to underperform?
As soon as a gifted child attends school he or she would begin to notice that his classmates are not similarly gifted in the above skills. But the causes for underachievement in gifted students vary widely and can range from the quality of home life to school life.
Academically the gifted student can do the work at school easily and may decide NOT to put themselves forward in order not to show off or show up less gifted classmates. Why would they do that? It’s not an academic world that we live in but an emotional one and these gifted children must be aware of the social vs academic pros and cons to make a choice NOT to perform academically.
Berube & Del Siegle (2014: 1) write that peer pressure can be a main reason for gifted kids NOT to perform well at school as they do not want to be labelled as a nerd and its easier for the gifted kid to avoid criticism and be accepted by their social group by performing below grade level.
Socially it would be much easier to make friends if the gifted child flies under the radar in order to have a socially rewarding but academically uneventful school life. There are also different motivations for gifted underachievers according to gender that teachers need to be aware of but I cannot go into great detail here.
Second, the gifted child has learned from attending school that the reward for answering questions and completing the assignments quickly and efficiently is MORE busy work. This quickly becomes a turn off and since your teacher knows your gifted and knows you can do the work easily they over prepare enrichment busy work just for the gifted child.
Robbins website (2014) points out that BOREDOM is a huge problem for gifted kids and that they have “given up on school as a place of learning”. Gifted students have several reasons for not performing at school namely:
- socially its more important to have friends then be the Gifted Student.
- Academically gifted students are bored with the curriculum content which does not meet individual needs.
- Underachieving is a learned habit that gets more difficult to break as time goes on.
The remedy to these situations first and foremost is to stop giving busy work to the students and allow them time and creativity to engage with the course material. Something that we all learn as elementary school teachers is not to RUSH through our lessons in order to allow concepts to sink in --- otherwise nothing is learnt.
In the gifted students case, the teacher needs to allow for creativity and self-direction to be built into their assignments, suggestion like curriculum compacting or using problem/project based approaches to learning can be an excellent way to create the much needed gifted student to participate. Further suggestions from Berube & Del Siegle (2014: 3) include:
- Ensure that opportunities are provided for academic challenge within your classroom.
- High ability students need to be given assignments that challenge them intellectually and enable them to use higher order processes and skills.
- Gifted students often find the most difficult classes are also the most enjoyable.
- Provide opportunities for these students to pursue topics of interest through independent projects.
- Instead of providing "busy work" for students who complete assignments before everyone else, allow them to investigate topics outside the curriculum that they find stimulating.
Please feel free to share your experience, thoughts, opinions, feedback, editorials, websites, resources and comments about Gifted kids at school with us :).
Hutchinson, Nancy L. Inclusion of Exceptional Learners in Canadian Schools: A Practical Handbook for Teachers, Fourth Edition. Pearson Education Canada, 2014.
Bruce N. Berube & Del Siegle, (2014) What Educators Need to Know About Underachievement and Gifted Students. The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented 2131 Hillside Road, Unit 3007 Storrs, CT 06269 Web: http://www.gifted.uconn.edu/nrcg
Sarah Robbins (2014): Website http://www.parentinggiftedkids.com/2009/05/gifted-kids-in-regular-classroom-part-2.html.