Illinois Association for Gifted Children
Why Do Advanced Learners Grapple With Underachievement and What Can We Do About It?
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Often we think of gifted and advanced learners as those who are successful in school, embrace learning opportunities, and are highly motivated. However, this is not always the case. Some highly capable students do not excel in school and may even resist learning. For parents and educators of children with exceptional abilities and potential, it can be heartbreaking and frustrating when a child's performance in school does not match his or her capabilities.
Because of the diversity of talents and strengths exhibited by individuals, there is no set definition for underachieving gifted and talented learners. However, it is generally understood that underachievement refers to a difference between expected achievement and ability (Reis, 2000).It is also difficult to characterize underachievers because individuals may underachieve in certain areas and not others.
Underachievement can manifest itself in a lack of motivation, which may be reflected in a variety of behaviors such as apparent laziness, defiance, disengagement, procrastination, and/or passive aggressiveness (Whitney & Hirsch, 2007, pp. 37-38).
There are also different types of underachievers. Richard Cash, Ed. D. identifies two types of underachievers, “nonproducers” who perform well on tests, but do not complete daily assignments and homework, and “selective producers” who know that they are capable, but only complete work that they are interested in doing (Cash 2017).
As a teacher, I observed that underachievement on the part of advanced learners was sometimes driven by a lack of appropriate challenge or interest in the class work. This is not surprising because advanced learners may begin the school year having mastered 40-50 percent of the material (Heacox & Cash, p. 139). Also, many gifted and advanced learners have intense interests that they do not have the opportunity to explore in school due to inflexibility in the curriculum and/or lack of differentiation.
In addition to the lack of appropriate challenge and/or engaging learning experiences, other potential factors that may contribute to underachievement include the following:
As human beings, all of us underachieve at times. But what can parents do when they observe a pattern or consistent underachievement? Here are a few suggestions:
Check in with the child’s teacher and extracurricular coaches/instructors.
Check in with your child's physician to rule out potential health concerns.
Talk with your child. Some helpful questions to start a conversation may be:
Encourage or support your child’s passions and interests if these interests are physically and emotionally healthy and align with your values.
Your child’s sense of excitement and curiosity can positively impact a sense of joy in learning, a positive self-concept, a sense of control, and self-efficacy.
Participating in activities with peers and/or mentors that have similar interests may inspire and/or motivate your child.
Accept that your child may have unique strengths and talents in some areas but not others.
Help your child to set realistic and measurable short term and long term goals.
Always let your child know that they are loved and valued for who they are, not what they achieve.
As engaged, informed, and positive advocates, parents can provide invaluable support for reversing underachievement among advanced learners. Although the road may be challenging, we can help our children overcome this struggle through respectful listening, creativity, understanding and love.
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All events are nonrefundable unless otherwise noted in the event registration.
Registrations may be paid via check or credit card.
Purchase Orders are not accepted for invoices under $1000, unless otherwise noted or arranged.
Event registrations must be paid before the event date/time, unless otherwise noted.
Paid membership dues are also nonrefundable.
Illinois Association for Gifted Children
1500 Sullivan Road
Aurora, IL 60506
Ph: 630-907-5047Fax: 630-907-5976
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