Perception: Underachiever or Lazy?


I have been reading a great book by Jim Delisle called Dumbing Down America. I was reading a section that caught my eye, and really stuck with me.

Will gifted kids who underachieve be noticed as anything but lazy? (page 94)

I really thought about this for a while. Then I thought there are many districts whose students are not identified / not screened for gifted services for at least two reasons:

  • A student didn’t test well, or didn’t take the screening test seriously.
  • A student’s grades are low, and they are perceived as lazy.

There are many different reasons that a student doesn’t do well on a screener test or to be nominated for gifted services. Some of those reasons can be obvious such as language limitations, like limited english skills, or not having a translator / not having a copy of a screener test in the student’s native language.

Another aspect to not scoring well can be culture. Students from a foreign cultures where the school and teacher don’t completely understand or value those cultures those students may score low. It could be from the perceived view of the teacher that the student isn’t expected to score well. Many gifted children of minority can be overlooked because of the lack of knowledge of their culture and cultural practices. For example, in Sonia White‘s book Designing Defensible Programs for Gifted Secondary School Learners she points out some cultures teach that children should not question the authority of a teacher. Those students will not ask provocative questions or share their opinions. They may not be identified because of that reason (page 24).

Sometimes students from low socio-economic levels don’t score well on tests, and may miss the opportunity to be identified as gifted. Many students from low socio-economic levels see education not as important as upper  socio-economic levels. So some students won’t see the screener test as important as others. Along that same route is the fact many students from low socio-economic levels also are more likely to question authority of teachers and be seen as problem children. This type of behavior will keep a student from being nominated for gifted services. (Check out Ruby Payne’s Frame Work for Understanding Poverty).

Sometimes a student has a disability along with their giftedness. They are labeled as twice exceptional (2E). Before they are labeled gifted a student who has a disability is labeled with that disability. To get them tested or screened for gifted services teachers need to see their area of giftedness. It gets clouded over. Many teachers may not believe that a student can have a learning disability and be gifted at the same time. This view may keep many students from being nominated for gifted services.

Finally, we come to the student who just underachieves. Some students underachieve because:

  • they don’t see the point of the work
  • they already know the material so they feel they don’t need to do the work
  • they are trying not to stand out as a “nerd” or “geek”.
  • they see themselves as failures, and therefore see no need to apply themselves.

This post doesn’t cover every reason why a student would not be identified for gifted services. It all lends itself to one common aspect: perception.

Underachievers see themselves as one way, and teachers see them as another.

Underachievement is a behavior. Behaviors can be changed. Many gifted students who are underachievers see themselves as letting down those who are important to them. By seeing themselves in this manner they gain a negative view of themself. They look at what they haven’t done as compared to their abilities.

Underachievement by many gifted students occurs because they don’t see any challenges in the classroom. Gifted children need to be challenged, and challenged often. When they are sitting in a classroom where bordrum rules, and the curriculum isn’t challenging gifted students often shut down. When they do teachers then label them lazy. They are only a product of their environment.

Teachers should look out at their classes and see engagement of all students. If you know a student who is gifted, and is underachieving in your class what are you doing to change that? You may not like this statement, but I think it is true: your gifted students are your barometer in that if they are bored out of their minds and are shutting down you are not challenging all your students enough. Gifted students love to learn, and be intellectually stimulated. If you can’t intellectually stimulate the most able, then how do you think the regular education students are feeling?

What do you do to help those gifted students who are underachieving feel success and achievement? How are you advocating for all gifted students who aren’t yet identified?

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3 thoughts on “Perception: Underachiever or Lazy?

  1. Pingback: OAGCTDchat has some awesome things happening! | Ramblings of a Gifted Teacher

  2. Pingback: Noticing Untapped Gifted Potential | Ramblings of a Gifted Teacher

  3. Pingback: Importance of Teaching Self Advocacy | Ramblings of a Gifted Teacher

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