Motivation and the Gifted Underachiever

There is nothing so frustrating as having a child who you know is very bright, yet does not perform.

Many studies have been conducted on underachieving gifted students, but it is still a little understood syndrome. There is no one reason for underachievement. It may be caused by
  • a physical, cognitive, or emotional issue such as a learning disability, attention deficit, emotional disturbance, psychological disorder, or health impairment
  • a mismatch between the student and his school environment
  • a personal characteristic such as low self-motivation, low self-regulation (the ability to monitor, evaluate, and react appropriately to one’s performance), or not believing in one’s own capabilities
So, what is a parent or teacher to do? Caution should be exercised when using the reward/punishment approach, which may encourage the constant need for tangible rewards or pressures, rather than the student learning because he wants to learn.

Intrinsic motivation (self-motivation) is by far the more desirable as it is long lasting. Many students have spent their school career (K-12) motivated mainly by the rewards or punishments that adults imposed upon them only to fall apart once they are on their own. It is always most desirable to encourage hard work and learning for the love and self-satisfaction of it rather than for a short-term reward or punishment.

Here are some helpful resources.

Articles on the Internet
A teacher’s list of 21 strategies for enhancing motivation, plus other resources on underachievement.

A treasure trove of excellent articles are available at the Davidson Institute website. Type “underachievement” in the search box at the top of the page.

Contains information on key social, familial, educational, and psychological factors that contribute to underachievement and under-representation.

This book contains three chapters on underachievement by different gifted education experts.

The author, one of the leading experts in the underachievement of gifted students, looks at the various causes of underachievement, discusses the characteristics of gifted underachievers, and provides educators with solid advice on combating underachievement in this population.

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