Parent, Teacher Involvement Key to Reversing Underachievement in Gifted Children

Parent, Teacher Involvement Key to Reversing Underachievement in Gifted Children


Reversing underachievement in gifted children requires the proactive collaboration of teachers and parents in providing an advanced curriculum and opportunities for creative thinking, as well as addressing the children’s social and emotional needs.

This was the core message of Dr. Sylvia Rimm during the Annual Conference on Giftedness 2015 entitled “Great Minds, Poor Achievement” organized by the Philippine Center for Gifted Education (PCGE) on November 20-21, 2015 at the Heritage Hotel in Pasay City.

Dr. Rimm is Clinical Professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and Director of the Family Achievement Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio.

Underachievement and its causes

According to Dr. Rimm, the wish to feel extremely intelligent is important in motivating children to learn. However, when self-expectations feel impossibly high, children may invent and discover many activities to avoid learning for fear that they can’t live up to those expectations. These exercises in avoidance temporarily protect them from feeling inadequate but result in many problem behaviors and adversely affect self-confidence, which lead to underachievement.

Although underachievers come in many varieties, they share some common characteristics:

  • Often disorganized, dawdle, forget homework, lose assignments, and misplace books
  • Lack focus, have poor listening skills, talk too much to other children
  • Have poor study skills or none at all
  • Have innumerable excuses and defenses (e.g. school is boring or irrelevant, teachers are to blame for their poor grades, etc.)

“Underlying these children’s poor study habits, weak skills, disorganization, and defensiveness is a feeling of a lack of personal control over their educational success. Underachievers aren’t really certain that they can achieve their goals even if they work harder. They lack self-efficacy,” Dr. Rimm said.

‘Trifocal Model’ can reverse underachievement

“Reversing underachievement is more than just about achievement. It’s really about guiding children toward leading fulfilled lives,” stressed Dr. Rimm.

Dr. Rimm recommended the Trifocal Model, which focuses on the child, the parents and the school. Through this three-pronged approach, the Family Achievement Clinic has been able to reverse underachievement in roughly four out of five children. According to Dr. Rimm, many schools have also used the Trifocal Model with excellent success. The model has been utilized effectively in regular school programs, programs at under performing schools, special education and gifted programs, and for children in kindergarten through Grade 12. It has also been used with college students.

The Trifocal Model includes six steps, of which the first five apply to all underachievers. In step six, which is divided into three types of underachieving children, the parent and teacher will select the ideas that most apply to their underachieving child or student.


Adapting the Trifocal Model for ‘disadvantaged students’

While ideally the Trifocal Model should include parent involvement, Dr. Rimm pointed out that sometimes parents either refuse to get involved or are experiencing difficult life events that prevent their becoming involved. Students whose parents cannot participate in the model for reversing underachievement are defined as disadvantaged for the purpose of reversing their underachievement.

According to Dr. Rimm, disadvantaged students will need an adaptation of the Trifocal Model in which a “child advocate” substitutes for the parent reinforcement role and meets with the student weekly to monitor progress Also, instead of the typical homework routine that parents conduct, an after-school study club can be instituted where students complete all their homework under teacher supervision. These two modifications make the Trifocal Model very effective for disadvantaged students, despite the lack of active parent involvement.

“Reversing underachievement will involve educators and parents in the challenging uphill push to enable gifted children to fulfill their potential and be what they can be,” said Dr. Rimm.


Who is a gifted child?

The US Department of Education defines gifted children as “children and youth with outstanding talent who perform or show the potential for performing at remarkably high levels of accomplishment when compared with others of their age, experience, or environment.”

Gifted students generally have unusual talent in one or occasionally two of the following six areas: (1) Creative Thinking; (2) Leadership; (3) General Intellectual Ability; (4) Psychomotor; (5) Specific Academic Ability; and (6) Visual/Performing Arts.


– Eric Michael Santos, Medical Observer




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