Here is a statement I often receive from classroom teachers, “He is failing my class! How is he gifted?” I often tell them that he is just suffering from under achievement. What is under achievement? Basically is it when a gifted learner isn’t meeting their academic potential.
When I talk to teachers in my district who are concerned about gifted children as I am, we worry about under achievement in gifted and average learning students. I feel that under achievement is a product of these factors:
- Teacher preparedness
- Student motivation
- Classroom Climate
When we have a classroom that is full of students of various academic skill levels you have to be prepared for students to finish at different times. I have mentioned the book Teaching Gifted Kids in the Regular Classroom by Susan Winebrenner as a great resource for students who need to be challenged a little more. I tell teachers this little fact: gifted education is good education. Whatever can work in my classroom with gifted learners it will work with average learners. We just need to be prepared to meet the needs of all students. Just because a student is gifted doesn’t mean he or she needs extra work. They need challenging work. That’s where you need to be prepared. Teaching Gifted Kids in the Regular Classroom has so many ideas that you can use to be adapted in different ways to give some variety to gifted and average learners to battle under achievement.
One of the jobs a teacher has is cheerleader. We know that children learn differently and in different ways. We need to find what that is. Gifted learners can be some of the most fickle people. At one moment that have it, the next they are falling apart. We need to motivate students. We also need to teach students what motivation is and how to motivate themselves. If teachers can make the topic as interesting as possible, then they will be motivated to work harder. Also, teachers need to make the goals clear. Some students are motivated by goals. If so, use it. This kind of thinking goes back to teacher preparedness with meaningful lessons and a knowing of your students strengths and weaknesses. Remember every child is motivated differently. Find what it is, and use it that will help your students fight under achievement.
One of the things that I think makes or breaks a classroom is climate. I always start out my year with some expectations, and I set the mood of the classroom. One thing that I constantly work on is the climate. I have expectations for my students, their behavior, the products to turn in, and working with each other. I try to make these are clear as possible and easy to understand. When the climate for the room is to strive for success, students will follow it. Teachers have to get students to buy into it. You do that by being authentic. Teachers have to show they are serious about their success on the project they are working on and the ones they will work on it future in your class and in others. My wife, Tina, is so good at this. My wife teaches Early Childhood Education (ECE) to junior and senior high school students. She gets them to buy into the fact they are a family and they represent not only their school, but their profession as ECE students and future teachers, their program, their teacher, their classmates, and themselves and family. Once they have mindset, her students change and really have a love of what they are doing in school and in the community. My wife has over 80% of her seniors every year go into college to receive degrees in ECE. That’s how under achievement is fought.
I know there are other conditions that may lead to a student to suffer from under achievement. There are a wide variety of tests that can be taken and analyzed. Gifted children are complicated. I feel that when we talk to educators, advocates, and parents who have a love for gifted children we will can and share what we see, what we hear, and what we know and collaborate with each other gifted children will be better off.