Noticing Untapped Gifted Potential


The other day I was having a conversation with a colleague about underachieving gifted students. He asked me how I could tell a gifted student is underperforming, and what can he do to spot those students in his class to keep them from falling through the cracks. I began to think about that, because I have been writing about this topic for the past few weeks with this post: Perception: Underachiever or Lazy?

What strategies can regular education teachers use to spot those gifted students who are not performing to their potential? First you need to identify if the student is an underachiever or a selective consumer. What is underachievement? According to Susan Winebrenner, underachievement is “a discrepancy between capability and achievement” (pg21. Teaching Gifted Kids in the Regular Classroom.) According to Dr. Jim Delisle in When Gifted Kids Don’t Have All The Answers a selective consumer is a student who takes “the best of what school and teachers have to offer and leaving the rest behind”. So the issue isn’t ability, but performance.

Here are a few differences from Dr. Delisle’s book:

Underachievers                                                                Selective Consumers

**are independent /reactive                                         **are independent and proactive
**tend to withdraw                                                         **tend to rebel
**respect / fear authority figures                                **see teachers as adversaries
**need both structure / imposed limits                     **require little structure
**uniformly weak performance                                  **performances vary teacher/content
**require family intervention                                      **can be usually dealt with within school
**have a poor academic self-image                             **see themselves as academically able

I have come to the conclusion that there are a few things teachers can do when they believe a gifted student is not working to their potential.

First off begin my looking at their academic history. Look for patterns in their grades. By finding patterns you may see a change in their history at a certain grade or in certain subjects. There may have been an incident in the child’s life that set them on a path toward being an underachiever.

Talk to past teachers about a particular student. Keep things to the facts, not opinions. Sometimes underperforming students can have a reputation that isn’t very good. I would suggest you look past that. Look for similarities in what you are seeing to what happened in the past.

Talk to parents about their child. You may be surprised to hear that a child you see in school is very different outside of school. Parents know their children. See if the parents can name some of the ways their child learns, or some of their interests. Try to incorporate their learning style into your class activities.

Talk to the student, and find out what is going on. See if they know the material already. If they can accurately discuss the topics you are teaching about, give them something else to work at. Encourage the student, as much as possible.

One aspect of underachievers is the fact they don’t have confidence academically. Find ways to give underachievers some success.  Start with small successes, and build from there.

This is just a few ideas to try help underachievers. As a teacher you see a lot of students everyday. As you get to know to students, you start to get an idea of where their talents and abilities lie. When you start to suspect a student isn’t working to their potential investigate. Every child has a right to be educated in the best way that fits their needs, and abilities. Help them.

What do you do to help find students who aren’t working to their potential? How to help those students succeed?

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One thought on “Noticing Untapped Gifted Potential

  1. Gail Post, Ph.D.

    Really appreciate your exploratory approach involving finding out more about WHY the child is not achieving. This attitude of respect and exploration is a great tool in terms of not only gathering important information, but showing the child that you want to understand him or her. Great ideas.

    Reply

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