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Teaching Tips & Strategies



January Strategy: The Mystery of the Gifted Underachiever


It can be difficult to understand how children with high intelligence can get into a situation in school where they are not doing their work. The fact is that we rarely meet gifted kids who won’t do their work, but often meet kids that won’t do their teacher’s work. This is the basis of the majority of power struggles between gifted students, parents, and teachers. It is imperative that you do not take this personally. When gifted kids are forced to do work they are either uninterested in, or work they have already mastered, they resist. Underachievement is a discrepancy between capability and achievement and can be caused/affected by a variety of factors including:

  • Perfectionism

  • Work that is too easy or too difficult

  • The lack of opportunity for students to demonstrate what they know in ways that are compatible with their learning modality or preference

  • Students’ perception that what they are learning does not have any meaningful, relevant, and/or useful real-life application

  • The lack of opportunity to learn about areas of interest

  • Fear of being rejected for being different

  • The lack of dreams or goals, or the sense that dreams or goals are unattainable

  • Family interaction patterns that may interfere with achievement.

There are many strategies that will help you as a teacher avoid and remedy the school-related factors that inhibit achievement while motivating your highly capable students to demonstrate their advanced abilities in productive ways. Three easy techniques are student choice in books, assignments, and projects, flexible seating and grouping choices, and self-study after content is mastered. For more information, as well as other ideas, check out There are also several great differentiation books available online that align with specific ages and content areas. 

5 Myths Concerning G/T Students

  1. Gifted Students Don’t Need Help; They Do Well On Their Own!
    • In order to develop their abilities, gifted students need guidance from well-trained teachers who challenge and support them. Don’t let boredom and frustration lead to low achievement, despondency, and poor work ethic in your classes. As a teacher, your role is to identify possible gifted children and nurture the talents of all G/T students in your classroom.
  2. Gifted Students Do Well In A Regular Classroom!
    • Academically gifted children often feel out of place with age peers and gravitate towards students/teachers that they believe are intellectual peers. It is important that all G/T students have a time to collaborate with one another. As a teacher, you should look for opportunities to group G/T students together, as well as support your G/T facilitators and the pull-out program.
  3. Gifted Students Are Great Role Models And Peer Tutors!
    • Students that perform on an average to below-average level do not look to the gifted students in the class as role models. Watching or relying on someone who is expected to succeed does little to increase a struggling student’s sense of self-confidence. Similarly, gifted students benefit most from classroom interactions with peers at similar performance levels and can become bored, frustrated, and unmotivated when placed in classes and tutoring sessions with underperforming students. Allowing gifted students to tutor or teach others assumes that being gifted means knowing how to explain concepts. Often, these students are unable to verbalize how they know something and when they do explain their understanding of a concept, it is a bit off-the-wall and thus, just confuses the other students. As a teacher, allow your gifted students to work on more advanced work when finished with their daily assignments.
  4. All Children Are Gifted!
    • ​​All children have strengths, talents, and positive attributes, but not all are gifted in the educational sense of the word. The label “Gifted and Talented” just means that in a school setting, when compared to others in his or her age group or grade level, this student has an advanced capacity to learn and apply what is learned in one or more subject areas. As a teacher, you should nurture all of your students. You must also be aware that G/T students have this advanced capacity and will require modifications to the regular curriculum to ensure they are challenged and learn new material. Gifted does not connote good or better; it is just a term that allows students to be identified for services that meet their unique learning needs.
  5. All Gifted Students Are High Achievers!
    • ​​Underachievement describes a discrepancy between a student’s performance and his actual ability. Why do children underperform? There are many reasons and often are based on each child’s unique experiences. G/T students may become bored and lose interest, others may never learn good study habits, and still some may just distrust the school environment. Some gifted students will act out and some will encourage others to act out for them. Other gifted students may try to fit-in socially with their peers and begin completing school work from a place of fear, where missing a questions results in the student questioning her own intelligence. This results in a student afraid to take educational risks. Gifted students may also have learning disabilities, or English may be their second language, so they are experiencing difficulties in the classroom, but the intellectual capacity is still there. No matter the cause, it is imperative that teachers help break the cycle of underachievement and encourage students to perform at an appropriate intelligence level.