Underachieving is a serious problem today, especially in gifted children – and, the solutions are often elusive. It is often reported that underachievement begins during the late elementary grades, and is obvious as the child enters middle school, as students refuse to complete homework, or do it very carelessly and with little pride. These students become easily identifiable at this time and safeguards should be put into effect, but often aren’t.
If you have a child who lacks self-regulation skills, or has hidden disabilities like a problem with lack of focus due to poor diet or stress, you may have an underachiever on your hands. Sometimes, your child’s response may even be due to inappropriate educational conditions, such as too large classes, or a teacher who doesn’t know how to motivate students and help raise the bar for them. Sometimes it can even be an inappropriate curriculum for the level of ability, compounded by a school that has rigid policies. These are all possible causes, and we need to look more deeply into finding ways of defining and reducing the occurrence of academic underachievement.
Obviously, there are many reasons such as the ones stated above for underachievement. Add to this list, excessive absences from school, disruptive behavior, low self-esteem, family problems, and poverty, and the drop-out rate from underachievers is staggering. It is my experience at the high school level, that absences can rocket to 40-50% on a daily basis. There are estimates that between 2 and 20% of high school students with high-ability are under-achievers. Schools clearly face this issue of great importance for our youth, their families, and society.
“The very fact that underachievers do not learn as much in school as would be expected, will mean that their mental ability may decline to match their grades, at which point they will no longer be underachieving.” McCall, Evahn, and Kratzer, High School Underachievers.
There’s a bit of irony here, because one can see that a bright underachiever’s light can gradually fade. What is known is that “Under achievement masks more serious physical, cognitive or emotional issues and that underachievement indicates a mismatch between the student and the school environment.” Del Siegle, Parenting Achievement-Oriented Children.
So what can be done about this problem? There are interventions suggested by the experts. Some interventions include counseling, and some are instructional. Counseling includes changes in the personal and family dynamics that contribute to underachieving. They may involve individual, group or family counseling, with the counselor’s goal to help the student decide whether success is a desirable outcome, and then to help reverse counterproductive habits for both the student and / or the family.
Instructional intervention may include part-time or full-time classes, in which educators create an environment which is more holistic, with smaller amounts of students, more one-on-one time, less conventional types of learning activities, and where students are encouraged to utilize different learning strategies with technology available to them.
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