Sunday, June 10, 2012

Why isn’t my gifted learner a good student?

One of the myths perpetuated about gifted learners is that they are all straight-A, high-achieving students. In fact, many gifted learners have school and achievement records that do not match their potential. Here are a few of the reasons that educators and parents have found for this discrepancy while working with their gifted learners.

One common pattern with gifted learners is that they show little motivation in traditional school before college. Usually, the early elementary years are a time of great promise for gifted learners, with the emphasis on experiential learning.

But as school curriculum turns more toward learning skills that gifted learners have often mastered, they become bored and irritated by the repetition and lack of creativity in their everyday schooling. By the time new material is introduced in the teen years, these students may have checked out of the learning process entirely.

Poor match between learner and environment
What gifted learners have in common is the speed at which they learn. After that, not all gifted learners thrive in the same learning environment. Some gifted learners thrive in a competitive, high-stress environment.

 They blossom when having others to compete against for honors. Other gifted learners thrive in a creative environment, where learning is paired with hands-on projects. These gifted learners are best matched with an educational approach that is fluid and adaptive to their needs.

Some gifted learners work best set off in a program with others like them. They need the stimulation of other gifted learners to stimulate their own thirst for learning. Other gifted learners do not want to be set off, and prefer being in a mainstream classroom.

Still others thrive doing their own thing through independent study or homeschooling. A poor match between learner and environment can result in students not reaching their potential.

Unidentified twice-exceptionalities
Students can both be gifted and have learning disabilities. These disabilities are often masked by high performance in the early elementary years.

A gifted learner with dyslexia, for example, may be able to keep up and even excel when reading requirements are light, but then suffer difficulties in middle school.

Other disabilities such as dysgraphia are not as important in the early years, but start to affect a student’s performance once skills like fast note-taking becomes more important.

Gifted learners who show resistance to increased learning demands should be evaluated by a gifted-friendly professional for masked disabilities.

Different priorities
Not all gifted learners want to be class valedictorian. Some gifted learners, in fact, may not care about school much at all. Typically, gifted learners have areas of intense passion in which they shine.

Some gifted learners focus on that passion to the exclusion of academic areas where they have less interest. Without motivation to study in areas of less interest, they may neglect their studies and refuse to do homework.

Sometimes a gifted learner’s personal priorities make high achievement in school unlikely. Other times, gifted learners can improve performance by matching school achievement with eventual goals, such as needing good overall grades in order to get into the university which is strongest in their area of interest.

Non-academic concerns
Sometimes a gifted learner’s loss of interest in academics accompanies other life events such as family disruption, social problems, or health concerns.

Gifted children’s emotions are often deeply tied into their learning. Family meetings to find the root of the problem may help, and consultation with a mental health professional familiar with the needs of gifted children may also be advised.

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