The purpose of this research was to investigate the phenomenon of underachievement in gifted students. This research was viewed through the lens of lived experience and underpinned by Bronfenbrenner’s (1979) Ecological Systems Theory which recognises the importance of linked systems in society.
The research literature showed that underachievement was a prevalent issue for gifted students (Figg et al., 2012; Siegle, 2013) and that appropriate interventions needed to be in place to mitigate the disadvantage caused by underachievement. Factors that contributed to underachievement included inappropriate curriculum (Olenchak, 2001; Rimm & Lovance, 1992b), poor self-regulation (Baum et al., 1995a), and boredom (Bennett-Rappell & Northcote, 2016; Kanevsky & Keighley, 2003). Factors that reversed underachievement included appropriate curriculum (Baum et al., 1995a; Bennett-Rappell & Northcote, 2016), peer influence (Davis & Rimm, 1994; Gross, 2006; Hébert, 1998b) and a positive teacher connection (Coleman et al., 2015; Emerick, 1992; Grantham, 2004).
To address the issue of underachievement in gifted students, the research comprised six qualitative case studies of students in NSW who were gifted and had experienced underachievement. These students were interviewed twice and were observed in the classroom (or equivalent). Their parents were interviewed and completed a questionnaire. In the classroom observations, the teachers were interviewed regarding what was observed.
The second phase of data collection involved a qualitative survey that was sent to schools for teaching staff to complete. The survey was online and anonymous and sought to investigate teacher knowledge of giftedness, underachievement and the reversal of underachievement.
Whilst parents and a number of teachers had a good understanding of the needs of gifted students, the findings from the data reflected that in order to reverse underachievement there was a need for a differentiated curriculum, and positive teacher-student relationships. It is also recommended that teachers – both pre-service and in-service – have access to ongoing quality training in gifted education. This training should encompass the academic, social and emotional needs of gifted students, and provide strategies on how to prevent and reverse underachievement. Through this training, teachers are more likely to effectively differentiate lessons within the classroom through academic acceleration, curriculum compacting, and student-led learning.