Perceptions that Promote Achievement

Guest post by Del Siegle, PhD

Del Siegle is a professor in gifted education in the Neag School of Education at the University of Connecticut, where he was honored as a teaching fellow. Prior to earning his PhD, Del worked as a gifted and talented coordinator in Montana. He is past president of the National Association of Gifted Children and has served on the board of directors of The Association for the Gifted. He is also past chair of the AERA Research on Giftedness, Creativity, and Talent SIG. He has been co-editor of the Journal of Advanced Academics and  Gifted Child Quarterly. He writes a technology column for Gifted Child Today. Del’s research interests include web-based instruction, motivation of gifted students, and teacher bias in the identification of students for gifted programs. Along with Gary Davis and Sylvia Rimm, he is an author of the popular textbook, Education of the Gifted and Talented (6th and 7th ed.). He is the Director of the National Center for Research on Gifted Education (NCRGE), which replaces the former National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented (NRC/GT).

Gifted students, similar to other students, can be at risk for academic failure, and the seeming lack of motivation of many academically gifted students is an area of frustration and concern for many parents and teachers. The underachievement of some of America’s most talented students represents a loss of valuable human resources for the nation, as well as unrealized fulfillment for the individual.

We know that

•       Teachers nominate three times as many gifted boys as underachievers as they nominate gifted girls as underachievers. Are more gifted boys underachieving, or are gifted girls who are underachieving being overlooked?

•        Parents and teachers indicate higher rates of inattentive behavior at home and school for underachievers. Is inattention a cause of underachievement or a product of the underachievement?

•        Developing trusting relationships with gifted underachievers, making school meaningful, and helping students see the important of school appear to be the strongest strategies for improving gifted underachievers’ grades. How can educators make school more meaningful for gifted and talented students?

One way to understand why students are not motivated to achieve is to study what motivates individuals. Our work has demonstrated there is a relationship between and among three key perceptions (self-efficacy, goal/task value, and environmental perceptions), and a resultant behavior (self-regulation). Students must believe they have the skills to do well before they will tackle a task. This self-efficacy appears to be necessary, but not sufficient for students to achieve.

Students must also find school tasks meaningful and valuable. Even if students believe they have the skills (self-efficacy) to do well in school, if they do not see their schoolwork as meaningful, they will not complete it. Many gifted students do not see the work they are doing in school as meaningful for several reasons. They may already know much of what is being presented to them. They also often have specific passion areas they enjoy exploring, but are seldom given opportunities to pursue in school. Educators often fail to share with students why content they are teaching is significant and how it relates the world in which live.

Additionally, students’ perceptions of school and home events, the nature of teachers’ and parents’ expectations and support, and the patterns of interaction between students, teachers, and parents have an impact on their academic attitudes and behaviors. These environmental perceptions interact with students’ goal/task values, and self-efficacy to help them set realistic goals and self-regulate. If any one of these three attitudes is low, individuals can fail to engage and achieve. Self-regulation and study skills are important for academic success; however, they interact with attitudes and are a resultant behavior that enables students to be successful. Helping students recognize and appreciate the abilities they are developing, helping them see the meaningfulness of the tasks we ask them to do, and letting them know we support their efforts as they approach challenges promotes the achievement oriented attitude necessary for success.