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This paper addresses the issue of how a negative self concept can effect achievement of gifted students. It specifically focuses on the effect of academic achievement, discusses what it means to be both an underachiever and have a negative self concept, how to identify these students and what family and teachers can do about this. Many academically gifted children underachieve in school classrooms as a result of the fact that they do not know how to achieve higher at or they feel they cannot achieve a task that they are expected to be able to but find it too difficult.
Underachievement is a pervasive problem which results in a tremendous waste of human potential among our most able students. In fact, in 1972 the U.S. Commissioner of Education estimated that 17.6% of gifted (both academically and non-academically) students drop out of high school, and that percentage is probably even higher today (Schnieder, 1997). These students hold a negative self concept of themselves as they have not received the support necessary to be able to work and achieve at their own level. There are many different contributing factors to the establishing of self concepts and how they affect gifted children.
This paper addresses how gifted children form negative self concepts of themselves and how can affect their achievement in an academic school setting. First it is necessary to provide the background knowledge and the definitions on areas that are to be discussed. For the purpose of this paper the definition of self concept is a person's view of self, in relation to their perception of feedback from others. This view occurs in both academic and non-academic areas. To specifically focus on the academic area of self concepts which is being addressed in this paper, an academic self concept is a relatively stable set of attitudes and feelings reflecting self evaluation of one's ability to successfully perform basic school related tasks such as reading, writing, spelling and math. Self concepts tend to be domain specific, meaning that pupils have different self concepts towards different areas of the curriculum.
The definition of underachievement is not as straight forward as that of self concept as many people have different ideas on what it means to underachieve. Wellington and Wellington suggest that underachievers have a low level of aspiration. In its simplest form it can be defined as an unfulfilled potential but neither of these definitions provide much capture the essence of underachievement in gifted children as they do not provide enough detail as to the difference between what they are achieving and what they could achieve. The definition of the purpose of this assignment is provided by Davis and Rimm and Moltzen who define underachievement as a discrepancy between the Childs school performance and some index of his or her actual ability such as intelligence, achievement, or creativity score or observational data. Because a gifted student underachieves it does not mean that they are failing in the school system. Gifted students are generally capable of performing at least two levels ahead of their age peers. If they are not identified as being gifted, they are seldom challenged to perform in accord with their potential. In fact, these capable students may be considered underachievers even when they get "good" grades ( Schneider, 1997). All children are natural learners and begin life with a drive to acquire knowledge, understand it and make use of it according to their abilities. Children do not begin school with the intention of seeking failure or frustrating their teachers (Schnieder, 1997). And gifted children definitely do not go out to seek failure. How pupils use this newly found information that they have learned and how teachers react to how they use this information or how well they achieve, contributes to the forming of self concepts. An individual's self concept is formed as a result of interactions and experiences with others and is learned and acquired over time.
In reinforcement to the idea that self concepts are learned, Scheirer & Kraut suggest with specific reference to academia that a self concept is a product of interactive outcomes with ones academic environment with an emphasis on accumulated pattern of competence in conceptualization of self and on social environment for changing behavior. It is important to acknowledge that as self concept is learned it can be changed. School children receive many opportunities to evaluate their skills and abilities and this evaluative information contributes to the formation and modification of their self concepts (Schnuck, 1990). Gifted children can obtain a negative self concept by being exposed to people who either is not informed about their abilities therefore the child does not know what they are capable of or people who are not supportive in fostering their abilities. But despite the fact that they may not be totally aware of their gifts they are still gifted and the intensity with which many gifted children approach life increases their vulnerability to criticism and consequently enhances fearfulness. Dismissive or, judgmental responses from adults simply confirm their belief in their own inadequacy while achievement based teacher and parent expectations determine a child's worth as conditional. As the formation of self concept is learned through the child's environment, both at home and at school, the people who have the biggest effect on the children are teachers and parents.
Causes of underachievement due to negative self concept that has come from the home are parents who have not acknowledged their children's abilities or are unsupportive of their talents. If they have acknowledged their abilities, they can have unrealistic, unobtainable expectations of their children. The classroom is one of the major challenges in pupil's lives so the feedback that teachers give them will shape their whole perception of themselves. Within the school environment the classroom can provided a gifted child lack of respect, a strongly competitive environment and inflexibility and rigidity, exaggerated attention to errors and failures, and unrewarding curriculum. It can also be simply the lack of knowledge that the teacher has about the identification of gifted children therefore the teacher does not expect that the child can do better (Moltzen in McAlpine & Moltzen, 1996). A teacher always from expectations about their students and it always involves aspects of intellectual achievement. Teachers mainly form expectations from the students past performance which is usually less biased and the most appropriate information available (Stipek, 1993). But if these children have not been identified as gifted previously then the expectations that are formed at the beginning of the school year may not be as high as what they should be. Teachers can communicate these expectations through various kinds of interaction with the pupils such as verbal and written comments on work (Good and Brophy, 1987). This reinforces to the gifted child where their abilities lie so they know that they only have to achieve to the level that the teacher expects of them. As to avoid this occurring it is necessary to discuss how teachers can identify underachievement in an academic situation.
Identification of the underachieving child is going to be very much up to the classroom teacher but parents should also be considered an important source of information. Identification of underachieving gifted children can be very difficult McAlpine and Moltzen, suggest that testing is the most effective means of obtaining an accurate picture of the ability of an underachieving gifted child as if a child scores higher in a test than what is expected is quite significant. Providing students with access to programs, activities and experiences that they would not normally be considered for can sometimes demonstrate a previously unnoticed ability. Also, self concept is often shown in their attitudes toward teaching pupils who are confident of their learning abilities and feel a sense of self worth display greater interest and motivation in school which enhances achievement. Higher achievement, in turn, validates one's self confidence for learning and maintains a high sense of self esteem (Schnuck, 1990). All children like to feel success; it makes them feel good about themselves especially when they achieve a challenge which is really what gifted children need. They also need to be taught the strategies so that they can achieve a challenge at their level also.
Problem behaviors of gifted underachievers are often efforts to cope with an environment which isn't meeting their needs (Schnieder, 1997). Ideally all human beings need enough success so that they see themselves and their possibilities as within the successful range (Wellington & Wellington, 1965). Teachers need to not only know how to identify an underachieving child with difficulties in their own self concept but what can be done about it. As a negative self concept is learned it is then important to acknowledge that it can be changed. There are many strategies that can be use inside and outside the classroom to help gifted children achieve academically in the classroom and overcome negative self concepts. Much research shows that pupils benefit from instruction on strategies. Strategies enhance achievement and provide pupils with a higher self concept (Schnuck, 1990).
Gifted children benefit mostly from metacognitive strategies which are strategies that reflect on cognitive processes (Flavell, 1989). These strategies include such instructions as goal setting, planning and evaluation of their work. In independent work this is so student gets a chance to plan what they want to achieve or what they think they can achieve and reflect on the process of doing the task. This helps with gifted students who have either difficulty achieving to what they can achieve and those who are expected to achieve but do not know how to get there. It is important for both parents and teachers to change their expectations of the students as the student makes process. This can help with students changing their own self concepts. And the reinforcing behaviors of their underachievement should be changed also. McAlpine and Moltzen, also suggests that it could be helpful to provide a role model for the particular students. Davis and Rimm suggest that all other treatments for underachievement dim in importance with strong identification with an achieving model.
The most important point to conclude from this paper is that children need the support from both home and school so that they can build a healthy self concept and achieve at their own level. Teachers need to develop skills to identify when a gifted child is underachieving but acknowledge that this is not always easy.