Underachievement is defined as a student achieving less than their
potential would indicate they should be capable of attaining. The big
question of underachievement isn't what, but WHY. Since gifted
students are considered capable of extremely high academic
performance, there are very high expectations set upon them. Some of them
will simply not perform at 100% all the time. One thing to keep in
mind is that gifted usually doesn't mean one is outstanding at ALL
things, and certainly not at all times. There may be a subject or two
that one is weak in or more commonly, one or two that simply don't
appeal to the student. "Why Bother?!" is the most common thing I've
heard from gifted underachievers. Honestly although the gifted
underachiever is a nonconformist, they are more healthy than the
perfectionist who neurotically strives to achieve 100% all the time.
They're capable of selecting that which interests them and is
deserving of their time and effort. It's also quite possible that the
environment is hostile to those who do achieve - either the teacher may
be making it unappealing by heaping more difficult and possibly similarly
uninteresting work on those who do well or the other students may be
harrassive of the high achievers. For some reason the student has
decided it is not SAFE or SMART or WORTHY of him to do the work.
Possible Reasons for Underachievement:
- Fear of being judged negatively by other classmates. It's not cool
to be a straight A student.
- Fear of being judged by teachers and perhaps given more work and
- Fear of being judged by one's parents.
- Fear of failing to meet one's own expectations so not even trying.
- The activity is too easy for them and it can NOT meet their
- Distraction by other issues - friends, tv, other stuff
- Higher focus on other topics of interest
- May require teamwork with a team the individual doesn't resonate with.
- Or a task that requires that they do it alone when they want to work with others.
- They don't like feeling different.
- They feel it is unfair to have to do more than the others. They
feel punished by it.
- They may feel it is totally unnecessary for them to do homework
or take tests to "PROVE" their knowledge.
- If refusal to do enrichment projects, perhaps they don't feel rewarded for doing the extra work.
- It may not be something they LIKE To study.
- The activity may require a different learning style or
type of product than the student likes to do.
- The activity may violate the student's belief systems or values (I
skipped my biology class one day to avoid the frog dissection
activity. I had never skipped a class before in my life.)
- The desire to topple the pedestal so there is no longer the
expectation that they will always perform at this superhuman level.
- They may be truly weak in the area being judged negatively. Not everyone is
good at everything, even gifted kids.
- Appropriate self-discernment of what they should/shouldn't put
time and effort
- For girls - cultural fear that the boys won't like them if they're too
smart. Stigmata that women should be inferior to men academically.
- Preference by some cultures (such as Japanese) to be a part of the
pack and not stick out.
- Not recognizing a purpose for doing the work besides pleasing
So what do we do about this? We can make it safer with less punishment
from the home and school environments for achieving and not always
expecting this high level of performance. We can eliminate the extra
unnecessary, repetitive work such as homework doing practice problems
for a unit the student already knows. We can give pretests to verify
this mastery and have accountability of it. We can make it more
rewarding by allowing students to study what they want once the
content mastery is demonstrated. We can give honor for meaningful high
© 1998-2021 Wendy Chapman