Gifted? Really?

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


One response to “Gifted? Really?

  1. Susan, I think you make an excellent point in this post. Underachievement for anyone, regardless of the nature of their specific abilities, is something that will definitely benefit from being addressed through taking the time to develop a solid relationship with the student.

    To truly understand the broad abilities of someone, you have to know them well. We need to know their likes, and dislikes, so that we may help engage and motivate them. Every student (person!) has their likes and dislikes. If we can use our relationship with them to tailor our instruction and assessment to align with their likes, and to attend to their dislikes, then we are on our way. Why does every student have to do the same assignment? What if we gave over some of the choice and the power to the student? Might it benefit both teacher and student?

    I’ve struggled alongside some underachieving students in JH over the years, and I’ve seen them many years later as adults. As neighbors, and now peers, who are successful in life, I can agree with you. It was definitely worth the wait. And as teacher, I’m better off than I was before thanks to the relationships I was able to share with them.


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