There is a misperception that bright and gifted students should be met with academic success with very little effort and that exceptional results should be well within their grasp if they try hard enough. Parents often perceive that giftedness programming is a place for accelerated and enriched learning and that keeping their children in a “normal” stream will stunt their potential. In reality, giftedness programming often exists to prevent bright students from floundering or underachieving in a more traditional stream, where their logical talents may be both a blessing and a curse.
During the early elementary years, being “smart” can lead to a great deal of success. Bright students see the big picture or the end goal quicker than many of their peers and they may very well be able to get to a solution in one single brilliant step. Rightfully so, these successes are praised, but could this have a negative impact on one’s learning style?
When you reward a child for their successes the brain does not necessarily associate that reward with the fact that they produced a high quality result. Instead, you may unintentionally be encouraging a manner of responding that favours how quickly and seamlessly they can resolve the problems they are facing. Unfortunately, this may promote a manner of responding to test questions and projects that promotes rushing towards task completion and keeping track of all aspects of a task in one’s head.
"The most strategic students I have met are those who have faced the greatest challenges"
The most strategic students I have met are those who have faced the greatest challenges. They had to develop countless alternative strategies to simply keep up with the pace of their peers or to show all that they are capable of. I have observed some remarkable techniques and outcomes from students with the most severe physical or learning disabilities imaginable. Many of these strategies I now teach to each student I work with.
In contrast, the least strategic students I have worked with are the bright and gifted population. It’s not laziness. It’s not disinterest. Instead, it typically a consequence of having been met with great success for many years by rushing into problems and completing tasks in one step or at the very last minute.
This approach can work quite well in the early and middle grades. The first signs of difficulty may emerge in the senior elementary years or during the transition to high school. Teachers begin to expect students to coordinate each stage of their approach more and projects begin to require work that spans many nights or a weekend of homework. Even the most talented thinkers can’t keep track of all of these steps in their heads. They may, however, be able to envision the end result, which can reinforce old strategies that promote an attempt to get there in one fell swoop.
High school begins and the tendency to perceive work as being completable in a single step or with low efforts may continue. They may also begin to underestimate the amount of time necessary to complete work, which then leads to procrastination. Eventually marks start to take a hit and a student may: begin to believe they are less capable, lose interest in school, or begin to experience academic anxiety.
The anxious student may show a sudden increase in effort. Unfortunately, working hard and working smart are two different things. We have also learned that working smart and being smart are also not always related.
"... working hard and working smart are two different things"
A little over a half-decade ago I began looking for programming for these students. School based learning strategy courses did not always meet their needs, tutor centres focused on content more than the process, and I had yet to meet more than a handful of adolescents who were willing to work with their parents to develop these skills. So I created a learning therapy program targeting these exact needs.
I learned that bright students are more likely to connect with strategies if they make logical sense to them. My focus is to help them understand how the brain works and how they can “hack” their brains to meet its full potential. We then demonstrate practical ways to take advantage of this knowledge during note-taking, reading, project and time management, studying, and test-taking. Not every student will jump on board with every strategy, but everyone tends to find a few things that really work for them.
In the end, my goal is to teach bright and gifted students to think strategically. To pause and reflect on “what” they are being asked to do and “how” they should respond to that expectation. It can be quite remarkable how much can change by simply thinking about how to work smart rather than just being smart.
At FLEX Psychology we offer an ever expanding slate of workshops and group trainings. We are also available to support our students as they implement these strategies into their workflow. Keep an eye on our websites www.flexpsychology.ca and www.studentstrats.ca for more information or contact us to talk about how we can help your bright or gifted teen be met with increased success.
The information provided on the Think FLEXibly Blog is for educational purposes only. These documents are not intended to be considered therapeutic guidance, nor should they be followed as a substitution to a well established therapeutic relationship.