This is a tardy entry to the Hoagies Gifted Education Page Blog Hop
because the topic is gifted underachievement and how could I possibly
not have procrastinated on it?!Things I know about gifted underachievers
- The parents do not know their kids best, the bulk of the time.
- The schools do not know the students best, the bulk of the time.
- The kids do not know themselves best, the bulk of the time.
We mostly do not know these kids and neither do they usually know themselves. Sometimes the profile is familiar to a parent, because it fit them or one of their relatives, but that doesn’t mean that anybody figured out how to help that other person and it also doesn’t mean that what the parent thinks they needed is what the child or teen needs.
The schools have been failing underachievers of all stripes for as long as we’ve had schools. See below for more on that.
And if the youngster knew what was going on for them, their lives would be so much easier! Often they can identify a piece of it or maybe two, but it isn’t as simple as just getting more challenging work – or certainly not by the time that the dreaded underachiever label has been plastered on their forehead.Things I know about not helping gifted underachievers
A. Following the teachers’ advice on how to deal with the situation seldom makes things better.
B. Following the guidance counselor’s advice on how to deal with the situation seldom makes things better.
C. Following a psychologist’s or therapist’s advice on how to deal with the situation seldom makes things better.
D. Following a book’s advice on how to deal with the situation seldom makes things better.
What research tells us about the causes of underachievement among gifted students
Why not? Because teachers, guidance counselors, therapists, and psychologists have somewhere between zero and very little training in giftedness and their training in underachievement is weaker than that. They mostly are relying on word-of-mouth and instinct, and neither of those will cut it for either population, let alone the combination.
And stupidly enough, even when confronted with a gifted underachiever, they don’t go out and do the research that might inform them! They don’t.
Merriam-Webster, Etymonline, and several other sources will tell you that “underachiever” came into the language in 1951 – 1953. They’re wrong. It was first used in 1939, as far as I can tell, in E.G. Williamson’s How to counsel students; a manual of techniques for clinical counselors. In it, he wrote:
There are so many factors which affect the correlation between test scores and marks that a prediction of individual scholastic success on the basis of test scores alone is far from perfect. The tendencies of able students to form habits of idleness and "getting by" are familiar phenomena. Other factors influencing this correlation are differences in efficiency in the use of mental ability, amount of remunerative work carried parallel to the academic load, amount of home duties, extent of indulgence in social activities, earnestness and perseverance, health disturbances, worries and emotional disturbances, early school training, degree of interest in academic work, and varying standards of scholarship in different schools.1
What research tells us about helping gifted underachievers
That’s pretty comprehensive, especially for 1939. Add to it racial and ethnic complications, poverty issues, and undiagnosed/misdiagnosed disabilities/differences of one sort of another, and you’ve just about got them all, though probably not quite.
Everything and nothing.
If you’ve read my work before, there is a good chance you have tripped across my complaints about the lack of clear definition of underachievement and this other quote from Williamson:
Since the correlation between aptitude and achievement is less than unity, we may expect to find individuals with a discrepancy between their ranks in these two variables. Just how great the discrepancy must be before it is indicative of a "problem" is a matter of conjecture at the present time. Statistics will identify students with such discrepancies but will not indicate the point at which maladjustment begins to operate. We need many more clinical observations before we can distinguish a "normal" from an "abnormal" or "problem" discrepancy.2
Eighty years later, we are no closer to an answer to that conjecture.
That means that whether you learn that there are 3, 4, of 5 types of gifted underachievers or what the six steps you must take to meet the needs of your underachiever will be, you are still almost certainly going to be behind the 8-ball, playing catch-up to a problem you wish you had seen coming.
Research tells us that sometimes it is a fit between the child and the teacher. But we also have learned that sometimes it isn’t – and we don’t know the percentages of which is which! Research tells us that sometimes a parenting style is a contributing factor. But we don’t then know why it was a problem for child X, but not Y or Z in the same family! This suggests that it is not simply the parenting style or, possibly, the parenting style at all!
There is very little replication of research with regard to gifted underachievers or underachievers at all, for that matter. This has been a constant complaint since at least 1965, but it isn’t as if Williamson wasn’t aware of the problem: “Additional studies must be made for each school and college to determine the amount of discrepancy for each school.” You and I both know that was never going to happen, but he couldn’t see how an individual school would otherwise know what kind of gap was indicative of a problem.Thanks a bunch, Josh. Now what should be do?
- Don’t blame your kid. There is a pretty good chance that if succeeding academically were a matter of volition, you would have a child who was succeeding academically.
- Don’t blame the school or yourselves at this point, either. You lack data – and when you get the data, if you get the data, still don’t blame them or yourselves! Blame will not help make things better.
- Talk to your child and the teacher(s) to see what kind of gap you are discussing. See what the teacher’s perception of the problem is. See what your child’s perception of the problem is. Listen.
- Look at what else is going on in your child’s life. Is it full or overfull? Is your child still doing the stuff they love? Have the dropped anything else that is/was important to them? Is there a new thing (or person or activity) that is absorbing all the time and energy? Is there enough sleep happening and how are eating habits? Was there a building change? (yes, that is a documented disruption for some kids’ educations and lives!) Were they coasting and suddenly hit a topic they could not learn intuitively, but had no skills for learning something that required actual effort? (No, do not talk to me about Growth Mindset!)
- Ask questions. Don’t assume you know any of the answers. Don’t assume that finding the answers will be quick, either. Be patient! Nothing happening around this at this point in time is going to ruin your child’s life. (I know. This is a nonstandard response, but you’re talking to somebody who had to go through his own life to learn that lesson, several times over. Feel free to ask me about it.)
- There are books that have half a clue on the topic, depending on whether there is a learning disability (or some such) or not. The last books I liked a lot on gifted underachievers (sans LD issues) are from 1980 (Rand Whitmore) and 1991 (Supplee). The last book I liked (okay, the only book so far) on physically disabled gifted was 1983 (Maker and Rand Whitmore), though I am working on one almost as we speak. Other than that, I wouldn’t bother. They talk about the importance of having teachers whom the underachieving students feel respect them, among other things. Dr. Donna Ford has some books out for you to consider if it seems to be related to racial, ethnic, or multi-cultural issues in or out of the school.
- Don’t just put the kid in harder courses unless you are ready for floundering. If they have not learned to work, then things that are challenging are almost certain to just make for frustration and an even greater disbelief in self.
- Don’t conclude that because your child has a disability that therefore your child is not underachieving. That may be true, but one can also underachieve while also struggling with disability or health issues. (This is one of the things that is especially misunderstood by the vast bulk of therapy providers.)
Beyond that, I am not going to give you advice. Because of that long list of potential causes, you are going to need to figure it out or get help to figure it out – but pick your help carefully, please!
Below are some links to other pieces I have written (or gathered) on the topic:https://philobiblius.dreamwidth.org/9270.html
- from The High School Failures (1919).https://philobiblius.dreamwidth.org/13416.html
- A quote from H.H. Goddard in 1924.https://philobiblius.dreamwidth.org/1152.html
- from The Need for Special Education of Gifted Children in White House Conference on Child Health and Protection (1930).https://philobiblius.dreamwidth.org/2394.html
- 1940 research showing that “The fewer American (born) grandparents a pupil has, the higher his achievement ratio is likely to be."https://philobiblius.dreamwidth.org/1357.html
- A Note on the Definition of Underachievement, Milton Kornrich, in Underachievement by Milton Kornrich (ed), 1965.http://www.joshshaine.com/insideout.html
- Underachievement from the Inside Out, Josh Shaine (1999).http://www.joshshaine.com/charlie.html
- Patterns for Charlie, Frances Shaine (1999). (My mother, written at my behest.)http://www.joshshaine.com/Interests/potential.html
- From Overt Behavior to Developing Potential: The Gifted Underachiever, Josh Shaine (1999).http://www.academia.edu/3769738/Underachieving_Gifted_and_Talented_Students_-_A_Narrative_Overview
- Josh Shaine (2010). This is an academic paper, for all that it is written in a narrative format.
1. Williamson, E. G. 1900-1979. (1939). How to counsel students: a manual of techniques for clinical counselors. New York: McGraw-Hill book company, inc..
This is a tardy entry to the Hoagies Gifted Pages Blog Hop