Saturday, April 7, 2012

Motivating Gifted Students

 Through the years I have known several students who were "scary smart," but they dropped out of high school or barely finished with terrible grades. In their adult lives they worked menial jobs and really struggled. What causes highly gifted and talented students to throw their gift away? Is there a way to stop this? Are there proven strategies to help students that fall into this category?

I didn't have to look very far, to find an expert on the topic...Del Siegle has researched and written on this subject, for years. Del is from the University of Connecticut, and just happened to be the professor in charge of my master's program!
Del Siegle
Del's article, Making a Difference: Motivating Gifted Students Who Are Not Achieving, can be found in its entirety here, on the UConn site.

We all know that many factors affect success in school, motivation being one of them. Del suggests:

"Motivated students appear to exhibit three main perceptions. First and foremost, motivated students find value in their school experience. They enjoy what they are doing or believe what they are doing will produce beneficial outcomes. Second, they believe they have the skills to be successful. Third, they trust their  environment and expect they can succeed in it."

When students exhibit these perceptions," they are more likely to exhibit the following resultant
behaviors: (a) implementing self-regulation behaviors, (b) setting realistic expectations, and (c) applying appropriate strategies for academic success."

"Gifted students are one group of exceptional learners who are not normally considered at risk for academic
failure. We often expect the brightest students to also be the most motivated. Unfortunately, many gifted students seem to lack motivation in school...Why do some gifted students demonstrate low levels of achievement?

Underachievement has at least four potential underlying causes.
First, an apparent underachievement problem may be masking more serious physical, cognitive, or emotional issues, such as a learning disability (Moon & Hall, 1998; Reis & McCoach, 2002).
Second, underachievement may be symptomatic of a mismatch between students and their school environment.
Third, underachievement may result from students’attitudes about themselves and their schooling.
Fourth, lack of self-regulation and study skills may hinder some students from achieving academic success.
Each of these reasons requires different intervention strategies. Therefore, educators should attempt to isolate the origin of the underachievement. We also recommend that gifted students who are having difficulty with school should be screened for a wide variety of physical, mental, or emotional issues before focusing on motivation problems (Reis & McCoach; Siegle & McCoach, 2002)."

"What motivates a person to put forth effort to accomplish a given task? Students engage in a task for two basic reasons: either they enjoy the activity or they value the outcome or byproduct of the activity in some way. Some students are unmotivated to achieve in school because they do not value the outcomes of school nor do they enjoy completing schoolwork; therefore, they see little value in completing their schoolwork.
To reverse underachievement that stems from an apparent lack of motivation, we must first determine how to build value into a student’s scholastic experiences...Students see utility in tasks that are integral to their vision of the future or are instrumental to their pursuit of other goals. Because goals can play an essential role in attaining later outcomes, we should help students see beyond the immediate activity to the long-term benefits it produces. Teachers need to be able to answer the common query 'Why do we have to study this?'"

Del gives the following suggestions:
1. Explain the value of the activity.
2. Use extrinsic motivation carefully, if needed.
3. Invite someone from the community who can tie the activity to real world work.
4. Help students to see beyond the assignment to the long-term benefits. (ie. learning to do algebra will help you to graduate from high school and go on to college where you can study art. The student may still hate algebra, but at least he understands why he needs to study it.)

Learning Disabilities and Other Disorders...
"Students with learning disabilities often exhibit poor academic self-confidence (Baum, 2004; Stone & May, 2002) Further, they benefit from explicit teaching of self-regulation and study strategies (Reis & Ruban, 2004). Therefore, we believe that strategies related to two of the four factors discussed—self-efficacy and self-regulation—are particularly well suited for use with high-ability students having learning disabilities." I might just add parenthetically, that in students who are gifted and learning disabled, the gift masks the disability and the disability masks the gift, so students may be seen as average or low average, even though those closest to them can see their brilliance.

Mismatch Between Students and School.. 
"Intrinsic value often results from the enjoyment an activity produces for the participant (Wigfield, 1994). When students enjoy scholastic tasks, they are intrinsically motivated to do well. Both their interests and personal relevance produce intrinsic value for a student. Generally, students are intrinsically motivated to pursue activities that are moderately novel, interesting, enjoyable, exciting, and optimally challenging. Material that is either too hard or too easy is antimotivational. When schoolwork is too easy, students
become bored. When tasks are too difficult, students become frustrated and anxious (Deci & Ryan, 1985).

Del's suggestions:
1.Learn your student's/child's interests and incorporate them into instruction. (As a parent, this can be done by suggesting topics for papers that the kids are interested in. My son wrote a paper and gave an oral presentation on Australian Shepherd dogs, he also wrote about braiding leather, and survival skills, all topics that he is passionate about.)
2. Let students choose how to show mastery of the subject--it doesn't always have to be a test or a written paper!
3. "Classroom activities should be appropriate to students’ current knowledge and skill levels. Ideally, a lesson’s content should be just above the skill range of the students. The activity should be
something that the students can master, but not without effort and the use of appropriate strategies (Morrone & Schutz, 2000). Ideally, students should be challenged, but not frustrated, by classroom activities."
4. "One reason for the popularity of computer games is that immediate feedback enhances the psychological
impact of the activity. When possible,strive to build opportunities for immediate feedback into classroom
activities." (One Skittle for each time a piano song is played, a sticker for each day the piano is played, etc.)
5. Be enthusiastic! Treat the subject as if it is exciting and interesting.
6. Encourage students to think seriously about how their performance in present classes can affect their future goals, as well as to explicitly articulate their reasons for choosing or failing to put forth effort in a class.
You can use students’ responses to the following statements:

1. When I try hard in this class, it’s
because _____________________.
2. I would spend more time on my schoolwork if ________________.
3. If I do poorly in this class, then _____________________________.
4. When I don’t try hard in this class, it’s because _____________.
5. I would rather do _____________ than do my work for this class.
6. Doing well in this class will help me to _______________________.
7. Doing poorly in this class will keep me from ________________.
8. This class is important because _____________________________.
9. The thing that I am most interested in learning more about is ________________.
10. The most interesting thing that Ilearned in ____________ class is _________________.

7. Gifted underachievers often view school negatively (McCoach & Siegle,2003). They may believe that they do not fit into the system, and in some cases, giftedness can actually represent a stigma in school. Instead of appreciating the special gifts and talents these students exhibit, some teachers are threatened by the presence of gifted students in their classroom. Therefore, in some situations, low motivation may
represent a coping strategy, whereby students strive to adapt to an anti-intellectual school environment (Cross,1997).
Student's Attitudes...
"Students must also believe they have the skills to perform a task before they will attempt it...Success breeds success. Students’beliefs about how well they can perform are first, and foremost, influenced by
how well they have performed in the past. Significant adults in children’s lives can increase students’ confidence by helping them recognize past accomplishments. In this way, success breeds success. Helping students acknowledge past growth is an important contributor toward their future growth."

Del's suggestions:
1. Videotape students doing activities such as playing the piano, dancing, etc so that they can see their progress.(Home videos are great!)
2. Keep samples of academic work and review them periodically.(I throw work in a drawer throughout the year and then we sort the work for scrapbooks periodically. It is fun to see how they have grown throughout the year.)
3. Encourage students to compete with themselves. (set goals)

Dweck (1999) demonstrated that students who believe abilities can be developed and are not fixed are more likely to attempt challenging tasks and persevere through difficulties than students who believe abilities are innate. Students who have a performance orientation approach new situations as opportunities to show what they know. These students tend to believe that abilities are fixed. Therefore, they view any mistakes
as evidence they lack ability. In contrast, students who have a mastery orientation view new situations as opportunities to acquire new skills or improve their existing skills. Students with a mastery orientation tend to believe that abilities are malleable, and they are more likely to tackle difficult tasks...Gifted students also need to understand that just because they find something difficult does not mean they are not smart. For some students, not trying preserves their self-image."

4. "The way we compliment students also has an impact on how successful students perceive themselves...The essential component in complimenting students is helping them realize that skills are
developed and that they have acquired the skills necessary to succeed. The feedback must contain (a) recognition of the talent and (b) attribution of its development to the student.
5. "Compliment students on the specific skills they have developed by drawing attention to the skill and to its development. This tactic acknowledges the effort without drawing undue attention to it."
6."Use specific rather than general compliments. A general compliment, such as “Good work,” does not carry the weight of something more specific, such as “You have learned to provide very good supporting sentences for the topic sentence in your paragraphs.” Specific feedback allows students to better appraise their progress by letting them know two things: (a) what specific skill they possess and (b) that they developed it. Both components are necessary."
7. "Teachers and parents can discuss with students the obstacles they believe are keeping them from doing well and what options exist for them. This approach includes a discussion of what is within the students’ control as well as what is beyond their control. Teaching students to appreciate multiple viewpoints should be part of the discussion. Teachers and parents can help students understand when “standing their ground” is important, when compromise might better serve their interests, and when ignoring the situation is the best course of action."
8." Avoid letting students use their environment as an excuse. At times, young people may attribute their failures to their environment rather than to themselves."

Lack of Self-Regulation and Study Skills... 

Many gifted students lack self-management strategies, such as time management and study skills. Because gifted students often progress through the early years of school without being challenged, they sometimes fail to develop the self-management skills that other students master. In the early grades, good memory and fast processing skills can compensate for note taking and other study skills."

Del's suggestions:
1. "If students are not being academically challenged, encourage them to explore opportunities to interact with more challenging and interesting material." (Parents can find sources for reports and or presentations that are geared toward the student's level and interests.)
2. "Evaluate what study skills your students need to be successful. A word of caution: teaching study skills to
gifted and talented students before they really need them can be counterproductive. Some common study
skills include note taking, outlining, and using memory mnemonics."
3. "Teachers and parents can help students organize their work and study time."
4. "Some gifted students lack self-monitoring skills. These skills include monitoring distractibility, practicing
delayed gratification, and being aware of performance avoidance. The Premack principle, also known as
“Grandma’s rule,” suggests using a more preferred activity as a reward for a less preferred activity."
5. "Help students plan schoolwork tasks, and encourage parents to do so also. This approach serves two functions. First, it develops a mindset that the task is doable. Young people are often reluctant to begin a task because they are unsure how to begin. Second, it minimizes the unknown. Through planning, students can visualize a task’s coming to fruition."
6. "Educators and parents can teach students to set short-term attainable goals and to reward themselves once those goals are completed. This skill includes learning to withhold the reward if the task is not completed." (For example, a treat if all piano songs are passed off, but none if even one is missed.)
7. "When working with performance avoidant students, provide detailed assignment instructions and include
an evaluation rubric when appropriate. Divide larger tasks into smaller tasks, and recognize the student’s
performance at each step"
8. "Help students set realistic expectations. This skill involves setting goals that are difficult enough to be challenging, yet not so difficult as to be unachievable and discouraging."

Final Thoughts
"Educators and parents should support students and encourage them to pursue their interests and passions. In addition, adults can help students (a) see that what they are doing serves a purpose, (b) believe they have the skills to perform well, (c) trust that their environment will encourage their productivity, and (d) set realistic expectations for themselves. Early encouragement of these behaviors will help young people lead productive and fulfilling lives."

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