A colleague working with me not long ago commented that the group of students who were in for a Challenge Session were not the gifted kids she expected. Their energy, their focus and their behaviour was different than what one might expect from a room full of children with exceptional potential. In the past year there have been numerous times where people have been surprised to hear that a student was tested and found to be gifted, especially when the student has not been performing to potential. These moments sometimes remind me of “Brooklyn Roads” a favorite Neil Diamond song of mine that goes:
Mother would come to school
And as I’d sit there softly crying
Teacher’d say he’s just not trying
Got a good head if he’d apply it
But you know yourself…he’s always somewhere else.
I don’t think there’s anything that is more frustrating or heartbreaking when you have a student in your class and you know they’re not performing to potential.
As I try to support teachers in finding ways to reach these students it’s been important to remember that gifted underachievement is something that can happen for a variety of reasons that are not always apparent. One of the first strategies we try to incorporate is providing a variety of learning opportunities to engage the interest of the student. But it can get complicated very quickly by other issues: reluctance to take a risk or not seeing the value in taking a risk, having other priorities, and a myriad of potential issues that may not be situated in the classroom.
So what’s the solution? Gifted Underachievement is a topic that is explored at many conferences that I have attended and at this point in time I believe that the secret lies within the relationship. In our busy, sometimes overflowing classrooms, it sometimes seems like an impossible task, but I believe finding a way to establish a respectful relationship is the place to start. I remember waiting until April before one of my gifted students handed anything in. While I waited, I spent time each day trying to build a relationship with her. When she finally handed in an assignment, it was worth the wait