Helping Children Adjust to Big Changes

By Allison Amy Wedell

Helping Children Adjust to Big ChangesIn late summer 2015, I lost a job I thought I would retire from. I had been there 11 years and was the primary breadwinner for our family—no small feat in an expensive city like Seattle. So losing our primary source of income was . . . disconcerting, to say the least.

We decided that, to increase my chances of finding a new job, I should expand my search to include not just the Seattle area but the Twin Cities area too. A 1,600-mile difference, to be sure, but also an area filled with support in the form of my brother and my closest college buddies. I promised myself that I would take whatever job was offered to me first, no matter which of the two areas it was in.

As fortune would have it, the State of Minnesota ended up offering me my dream job (write all day and get paid for it? Okay!), so suddenly we had to drop everything and move halfway across the country in about six weeks.

If this was a huge change for her dad and me, I could only imagine what it would be like for our daughter, who had been born in Seattle and had lived in the same house and gone to the same school all of her eight-year life. Neither her dad nor I had ever moved before the age of 18, so neither of us could relate from experience to her plight. Which meant we had to do some improvising to help her through it.


Some friends threw us a going-away party at a local café, which was attended by some of our daughter’s friends as well. I also took her on a sort of “farewell tour” of the city, visiting some of our favorite haunts (like the Space Needle and the International District) and eating at favorite restaurants. We hoped this would give her a sense of closure.


Part of this involved helping our daughter have a sense of control. For example, we told her that, once we bought a house in our new city, she could paint her room any color she wanted. I took her to the hardware store to choose the paint color, and we did the actual painting together. (I have a fantastic photo of her rolling lavender paint onto the ceiling.)


We also tried to balance hanging onto old friendships and making new ones. This involved a lot of Skype calls with her Seattle friends, and we still go back to visit once in a while. But I knew I would be doing her no favors if we didn’t encourage her to move forward with connections in Minnesota. So once she was enrolled in her new school, we made a point of going to as many school activities as we could, making connections with her new friends’ parents so that the kids could get to know each other outside of the school environment.


We wanted our daughter to get to know her new environment, so we did a lot of exploring in those first few months. Museums, the state fair, beaches, a corn maze, hikes, and a healthy sampling of local playgrounds all made the list (I know I’m forgetting some as well). The idea was to help her appreciate the unique things her new home had to offer and feel more like a resident than a visitor.

Accepting Help

The cool thing about being a parent is that you’re not the only person who loves your kid. In this case, love came in the form of offers to help. My sister-in-law and I would trade off caring for our girls on school breaks, which meant my daughter could be with her cousins. Her third-grade teacher in Seattle, who was originally from Minnesota, lent her a book about her new state. A dear friend with nieces similar in age would contrive ways for us all to get together so that our daughter could expand her circle of friends. Whenever someone reached out with an offer of help, we almost always accepted. This helped her understand that we already had a safety net of friends and family in our new city and that with a little effort, we could expand on it to feel safe, welcome, and accepted.

Moving isn’t easy for anyone, but her dad and I did our best to help her adjust to the huge change it threw into her life. By being intentional about closure, giving her some control, finding a balance between her old world and her new one, exploring together, and accepting help when it was offered, we managed to help her adjust to this change and grow into the happy 12-year-old she is now.

Allison Amy WedellAllison Amy Wedell is a writer, editor, and mom whose diverse work focuses on sexual abuse prevention, bullying prevention, social and emotional learning, public safety, and theater/acting. She is the author of Shaking Hands with Shakespeare: A Teenager’s Guide to Reading and Performing the Bard (Simon & Schuster, 2004), and her work has been featured here and at,, and Committee for Children. You can find her on LinkedIn.

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Helping Children Practice Empathy

By Molly Breen

Helping Children Practice EmpathyEvery day we engage in activities that require an assumed social contract or boundary: we stop (mostly) at stop signs, we wait in line at the supermarket, we allow people to walk out of the door before we walk in. You get the idea. These boundaries keep things safe, keep us feeling good, and ultimately help us regulate our expectations and behavior.

Now what about those times when someone doesn’t stop at the stop sign or slips in front of you in line as you are clearly making your way to the checkout? What about that person who barged through the door as you were going out with a hot coffee?

These aren’t simply infractions of rules; they are examples of folks losing track of their boundaries—our shared social expectations. Like most things developmental, social boundaries and their underlying regulating emotions are best served up in early life so they can develop over time, with practice and through direct experience.

In preschool, children have ample opportunities to learn about their boundaries and those of others, all as an outgrowth of the same emotional seed: empathy.

Without empathy, the whole concept of boundaries is underpinned by rules alone, and as the saying goes, rules are made to be broken. By developing children’s empathic understanding in preschool, we can create an emotional literacy that helps them transcend simple rule-following.

We know from scientific research that empathy is a capacity that can be built through teaching and modeling. In preschool, there are hundreds of opportunities each day for children to build empathy, especially when it comes to consent and rough-and-tumble play.

At around three years old, most children are capable of relating to a range of emotions and having an empathic response. This capacity can be built through experiences with other children, by observing adult behavior, and by reading social stories or books that have emotional content. Here are some things you can do to help this process.

5 Ways to Help Children Practice Empathy

1. Narrate emotional responses.

For example: “I see that you are feeling sad that we have to leave the library right now. I can tell because of your tears and your sad voice. Should we make a plan to come back again another day?”

2. Practice facial recognition and perspective-taking.

For example: “Look at [name’s] face. How do you think [name] is feeling?” Help children develop an emotional vocabulary that extends beyond the big three (happy, sad, mad). Here is a great resource for developing emotional vocabulary from Vanderbilt University that incorporates games and songs that are preschool-perfect!

3. Read for empathy.

In any picture book or chapter book you read aloud with children, pause and occasionally ask: “How do you think the characters are feeling right now? How do you know that? Have you ever felt that way?”

4. Use reflection in action.

When opportunities arise within the school day or during play, instead of using corrective language like, “She doesn’t like that, please stop,” guide children’s behavior through reflection. For example: “Can you see how [name’s] body is turning away from you? What do you think that means?” Likewise, build self-advocacy for the child who may need encouragement to express personal boundaries: “What do you want [name] to know when you turn your body away?”

5. Use reflection on action.

Sometimes coaching empathy in a heightened moment can be difficult, but we can always build in time for reflection in a calm later moment. For example: “Remember when you were feeling sad before? How are you feeling now? Do you notice how those feelings come and go?” Closing the emotional feedback loop is important most times, and building empathy is no exception.

Ask questions like, “How do you think [name] felt?” or “How did you feel?” or “Did you ever feel that way before?” Couple those questions with an open-ended question like, “What should we do next time?” to build empathic capacity. And don’t underestimate the power of an affirming phrase: “I believe in you!” “I knew you could do it!” “We will try again, and next time will be different!”

The Power of Shared Expectations

Building empathy takes a lot of practice and time. So in the immediate space of shared experience in the classroom or school, we rely upon shared expectations that come both from above (school rules) and from below (group developed).

In our setting, we have our “Big 3.” These are overarching, broad-concept agreements:

  1. Listen to teachers. We take time to develop why this is important and why we agree upon it.
  2. Take care of ourselves, our classmates, and our school. This is more general than a rule like “No touching other kids” or “Hands on your own body” and allows for application in many scenarios.
  3. You know best about you. By far and away my favorite of the Big 3! This agreement encourages self-reflection and self-reliance and empowers children to see themselves as capable of making good choices.

Once agreements are in place, revisited, and visually represented in your shared spaces, you can refer to the expectations so redirection doesn’t feel arbitrary but instead is always connected to the framework of shared boundaries.

With your student group, you can also develop a subset of group expectations that are 100 percent child-initiated. These can get very extensive and specific (“No putting garbage on someone’s head!”), but it’s the process of creating the shared expectations that is most important.

Rough-and-Tumble Play

What about those nuanced moments that will undoubtedly develop in the course of the preschool day that the Big 3 have not accounted for? Certainly we know that preschool children are the most creative people in the world and will absolutely find ways to stump us!

When play gets rough in my preschool, we first ask, “Are you having fun?” of everyone involved. If the answer is yes, we work together to make sure there is 1) supervision for the rough play and 2) shared expectations and safe words to stop the play or express a boundary.

Why do we let kids go the rough-and-tumble route? In our experience and according to research, this is a great pathway for some children toward increased self-regulation and the ability to self-advocate and express boundaries.

Figuring out as an institution what your policy is on rough-and-tumble play and creating some internal guidelines, along with transparency for parents, will help you keep expectations consistent for kids, families, and teachers.

We all have internal risk boundaries—our thresholds for risk vary based upon our life experiences and our natural dispositions. This is true for everyone, including children! Teachers have the important job of guiding children to recognize their own boundaries and those of their friends and playmates.

This also requires evaluating our own implicit biases and investigating whether these are influencing our ideas about or boundaries for rough play—especially if rough play is exactly what a child needs for healthy development. As with so many experiences in the dynamic exchange of teaching and learning, deliberate reflection can help us evolve in our understanding of empathy and boundaries. The good news is that our capacity for empathy doesn’t have an expiration date, so adults and children can learn and grow in this way together.

The next time you bear witness to someone eschewing the social boundaries that most of us adhere to, you can practice your own empathetic response and think, “Maybe they didn’t have enough time to practice developing boundaries in preschool.”

Molly BreenMolly Breen, M.A., ECE, has worked with kids and families for nearly two decades as an educator. A believer in lifelong learning, her heart is in early childhood, where the seeds of curiosity, character, and community are planted. Through her work with children as a practitioner in the classroom, Molly has developed broad expertise in curriculum development and instruction, behavior guidance, and social and emotional learning. In her role as a program director, she has created innovative approaches to professional and program development, family engagement, and community outreach. She lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, with her husband and three kids.

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Help Kids Develop a Growth Mindset with the Theory of Multiple Intelligences

By Thomas Armstrong, Ph.D., author of Smarts! Everybody’s Got Them

Help Kids Develop a Growth Mindset with the Theory of Multiple IntelligencesThere’s a lot of emphasis in contemporary culture on children’s achievement levels, starting in preschool, where studies contend that teaching math at that level will give kids a leg up in kindergarten and later schooling. What doesn’t usually get discussed, however, is children’s own perceptions of this increased stress on achievement, and in particular, their ideas of what it means to be intelligent (and thus in a position to achieve).

Instead, kids pick up notions of being smart on the fly, as it were, through comments heard at home (“Joey isn’t as smart as his sister Joan”), on the playground (“Stevie’s a dummy! Stevie’s a dummy!”), and even in school (“Now, kids, let’s be smart and do really well on today’s test”).

The result is that too many kids end up thinking about themselves as less than smart—and even as stupid. Such beliefs about themselves can seep into their sense of self and serve as formidable obstacles to their ability to both enjoy and succeed at learning.

One important development in counteracting these messages is the work being done at Stanford University around “mindset.” Studies suggest that students who have a “fixed mindset, believing that a person is born either smart or not smart and can’t do much about it, don’t do as well academically as children who have a “growth mindset,” believing that if a person works hard they can succeed.

An important supplement to this work on mindset is the research of Dr. Howard Gardner, who suggests that one can be intelligent in a variety of ways. Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences suggests that there are at least eight different intelligences:

  • word smart
  • number/logic smart
  • picture smart
  • body smart
  • music smart
  • people smart
  • self smart
  • nature smart

In tune with the research on mindset, Gardner further suggests that one can develop each of these different kinds of smart through appropriate teaching and personal effort.

What makes this theory important for children is that it redefines the notion of what it means to be smart. Too often, informal use of the term smart (as noted above) can cause children to associate being smart with being good at schoolwork. This “schoolhouse smart” is really a limited version of only two of the intelligences in Gardner’s model: word smart and number/logic smart.

Help Kids Develop a Growth Mindset with the Theory of Multiple IntelligencesChildren who show smarts in the other intelligences—as musicians, athletes, naturalists, and/or artists, for example—often don’t receive the same level of validation from their peers, parents, or teachers for these attainments or proclivities. At best, these smarts are relegated to the status of “talents.”

Thus, many kids go through school thinking of themselves as “not smart” because they don’t do as well as their peers in filling out worksheets or taking standardized tests, even though these children may sing really well, know everything there is to know about lizards and snakes, paint beautiful pictures, or run really fast.

We need to change this state of affairs by letting kids know from an early age that they are smart, and in not just one way, but many.

Parents and teachers need to become conscious of how they use the words intelligent and smart when speaking to children, and these adults need to make sure that they are inclusive in their definitions of these words, so that children can be seen in terms of things they do really well and know that such attainments rise to the level of “being smart.”

One of the best things about the theory of multiple intelligences (or MI theory) is how easy it is to explain to young children, using the terms I’ve employed above. Gardner’s terms are a little more academic (e.g., “bodily-kinesthetic intelligence” for “body smart”). Sometimes, to teach kids the idea of “having smarts,” I’ve used a visual model of a circle divided into eight segments with each segment representing a different way of being smart.

Kids usually recognize themselves immediately in the descriptions of the multiple intelligences, and they also understand that there are smarts that don’t come as easily to them. But knowing that you’re “body smart” and “picture smart” more than you are “word smart” or “number/logic smart,” for example, is much better than thinking of yourself as either “smart” or “dumb.” There isn’t a lot of room for growth in an all-or-nothing characterization of intelligence.

And with the addition of a growth mindset ( “I can develop all the intelligences if I work hard”), MI theory provides a way of unpacking these simplistic notions of being smart or dumb and replacing them with a cutting-edge perspective that can give kids not just enhanced self-confidence but (if we believe the research on having a growth mindset) also better levels of achievement both inside and outside of school.

All children deserve to feel smart as they are growing up, and not simply as a “feel good” but as a way of better understanding the broad spectrum of their learning abilities and challenges.

Thomas ArmstrongThomas Armstrong, Ph.D., is an award-winning author and speaker with 40 years of teaching experience and over one million copies of his books in print. He has authored 15 books, including Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom; written numerous articles for Parenting, Ladies’ Home Journal, Family Circle, and other periodicals; and appeared on several national and international television and radio programs, from NBC’s Today show to the BBC.

Smarts Everybodys Got ThemThomas is the author of Smarts! Everybody’s Got Them

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

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Banning Suspensions for Disruptive Behaviors Will Make Us Better Teachers

By Beth Baker, M.S.Ed., and Char Ryan, Ph.D., coauthors of The PBIS Team Handbook: Setting Expectations and Building Positive Behavior

Banning Suspensions for Disruptive Behaviors Will Make Us Better TeachersAcross the United States, 16 states and the District of Columbia have laws prohibiting or expressly limiting the suspension of students in preschool through grade 3. These laws are often deemed necessary to create learning environments that are inclusive of all students. According to a National Conference of State Legislatures report from April 2019, private child care providers expel kids at a rate four times greater than public preschools or Head Start programs do. The report also cites that while African American students make up only 18 percent of children enrolled in preschool programs, they represent more than 48 percent of all preschool students with more than one suspension. Children with disabilities also are suspended at a higher rate than their nondisabled peers are.

California recently became the first state to amend their education code to ban suspending students in grades 4–8 for “disrupting school activities or otherwise willfully defying the valid authority of those school personnel engaged in the performance of their duties.”

The move away from suspending students for disobedience or disruptive behavior is a smart one. Leaving teachers to decide what behaviors fall under this category was believed to give them a sense of power in their classroom. However, disruptive behavior is a subjective behavioral category and often results in greater suspensions for students of color, students with disabilities and/or IEPs, and students who identify as LGBTQ+.

Also, removing students from school denies them access to instruction and learning. Suspension is only one strategy, and it doesn’t teach students appropriate social and academic behavior. There are many more choices for educators.

When one strategy from a teacher’s tool kit is removed, it should be replaced with a different one. In this case, suspension has been replaced with tools to keep students in school. These tools include (and vary from state to state) PBIS, restorative justice practices, and curricula that focus on social and emotional learning.

These practices all emphasize getting to the function or the cause of the behavior and creating school environments that focus on preventing behavior, teaching new behavior, counseling programs for students, and training teachers and school administrators in being more culturally responsive to students.

PBIS is a proactive approach to increasing appropriate behavior. Proper and complete implementation of the PBIS framework encourages teachers to use strategies and interventions that might be new to them. The PBIS team should be training teachers to use these new tools in Tier 1. Tier 1 PBIS includes:

  • A supportive administration that gathers the PBIS leadership team and guides school faculty to consistent implementation across the school.
  • Data collection to show what, where, by whom, when, and why behaviors are happening in school. Efficient and effective data collection shows the big picture about what is happening across all areas of the school.
  • Three to five positively worded schoolwide expectations that are used across the school by all teachers and support staff, including office staff, lunchroom staff, and custodians.
  • A behavioral matrix based on the schoolwide expectations that provides students and staff with a guide for how the school should be. For example, if one of your expectations is “Be Respectful,” show what that looks like in the classroom, the hallways, the lunchroom, and all other areas of the building, and provide staff guidelines for teaching those expectations so all staff and students are on the same page.
  • Relationship-building with students (and other staff members) to make sure everyone is looked after and cared for. It is through these relationships that teachers may change their ideas about students and behaviors. Knowing the backstory of a student and having a desire to help a student be successful in school are the first steps in reducing school disruptions that lead to suspensions.
  • An acknowledgment system to reinforce the new learning. Many schools spend a lot of time and energy developing tickets, rewards, stores, and the like, but while extrinsic rewards are fun, ultimately students should have intrinsic motivation because they have learned the right thing to do.

After all this is started at your school, know that implementing the PBIS framework is a fluid, ever-changing process. What worked last week might not work next week. You might decide to have schoolwide celebrations every other Friday, only to have your data show that it isn’t affecting or reducing behaviors as the team hoped it would. Take your time.

Eliminating suspensions for common disruptive behaviors is like taking the crutch away and hoping the patient will walk. There will be some stumbling, of course, but what a great achievement when the patient finally figures out how to move muscles together and learns a new way to walk and run.

Schools are charged with creating safe and effective learning environments. PBIS, as a multi-tiered approach, offers a range of practices for educators to reduce the number of students with more severe behaviors. This allows schools to focus on teaching and learning and reserve precious resources for those students who need the most assistance.

Beth Baker, M.S.Ed., is a teacher and an advocate for students with special needs. During her twenty-plus years in education, Beth has taught in self-contained special education classrooms, implemented and coached PBIS teams, and worked as a behavior specialist. She was also a district program facilitator assisting staff with professional development around social-emotional learning and coaching them in supporting students with emotional-behavioral needs. Recently she has been teaching abroad and implementing PBIS at international schools. Beth loves creating positive paths to behavior change whenever and wherever she can. She presents frequently on social-emotional learning and PBIS in the US and internationally. She lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Char RyanChar Ryan, Ph.D., is a PBIS coach, evaluation specialist, and Minnesota State SWIS (Schoolwide Information Systems) trainer. She is also a licensed psychologist and consultant with the Minnesota Association for Children’s Mental Health. She is a frequent conference presenter and has been published in numerous journals, including Psychology in the Schools. She lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The PBIS Team HandbookBeth and Char are the coauthors of The PBIS Team Handbook

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

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Is It Underachievement or Underlearning?

By Diane Heacox, Ed.D., coauthor of Differentiation for Gifted Learners: Going Beyond the Basics (Revised & Updated Edition)

Is It Underachievement or Underlearning?Underachievement amongst gifted learners has long been a concern for educators. Underachievement is defined as a severe and persistent discrepancy between potential (innate ability, gifts, aptitudes) and performance (achievement, grades, classroom performance). Recent conversations and collaborations with Eleonoor van Gerven of the Slim! Educational Institute brought underlearning to my attention.

Consider: Which gifted students are underachieving by basis of their differences in readiness, interest, or learning preference? Which students are underlearning based on the curriculum offered to them?

Underlearning happens when restrictions are placed on gifted students’ learning. These restrictions might include:

  • Limiting, inflexible curriculum that fails to provide the pace, depth, complexity, and rigor essential for gifted learners
  • Lack of purposeful interventions by classroom teachers
  • Inability or unwillingness to make instructional decisions based on preassessment and formative data either because these are not available or are underutilized
  • A physical learning environment that lacks support, collaboration, and active engagement and does not share responsibility for managing learning tasks
  • Age peers who may not understand learning differences and engage in competitive practices with classmates
  • Families who do not help their child set realistic goals, who compare their child to others, or who do not support learning in positive ways

Drs. Eleonoor van Gerven’s research, writing, and work in Holland has resulted in greater teacher understanding of underlearning. Her insightful ecological system of student achievement factors asks us to consider the interactions between the teacher, the curriculum, the physical environment, peers, and family. One or more of these factors may result in underlearning. This blog post will focus specifically on interactions between the student, the teacher, and the curriculum.

Underachievement or Underlearning?

In underachievement, we consider what the student is not demonstrating: their motivation for learning or tasks that are missing, slow to come in, or not attempted, as well as those lacking quality. We are often puzzled when gifted learners do not do exceptional work. Underachievers are gifted learners who exhibit promise for extraordinary performance but fall short.

In contrast, underlearning can be invisible. How do we know the knowledge, skills, and processes a student could achieve if they were offered? How far and deep could the student reach? What innovations or accomplishments are going unpursued? How do teachers know what they may not know about a student’s learning capacity?

Consider the four stages of development as students learn (Maslow, 1954):

  1. Unconscious incompetence (I do not know what I do not know.)
  2. Conscious incompetence (I am aware of what I do not know.)
  3. Conscious competence (I am aware that I can do this.)
  4. Unconscious competence (I just do this. Why don’t other students get what is so obvious to me?)

For most students, learning takes place in the transition from conscious incompetence to conscious competence. When gifted learners succeed in a task because their knowledge or skill set is already at the unconscious competence level, they are not learning.

Underlearning occurs when gifted learners are not offered learning in their zone of proximal development (Vygotsky, 1978), when the curriculum primarily offers tasks in their comfort zone.

Many students are already demonstrating conscious or even unconscious competence and are not stimulated to develop new knowledge and skills. We simply accept their high achievements without considering whether the child has really learned something by taking on the tasks.

The Teacher and Learner Connection

It is expected that during the learning process, students make mistakes, ask questions, and experience uncertainty. A teacher expects this to be the case for most students. When those moments of mistakes or uncertainty happen, the teacher willfully intervenes in a way that changes students’ knowledge, skills, or behaviors. The educator provides additional instruction to these students and supports and directly encourages them to try, cope with failure and disappointment, persevere, and celebrate success (van Gerven, 2015).

With gifted learners, this is not always the case. Drs. van Gerven cautions educators that if students are able to show 100 percent mastery immediately without putting forth any effort, then students are not being challenged at a level commensurate with their personal potential. When learning becomes challenging for gifted students, they make mistakes and feel uncertain as other students do.

A teacher’s reaction to an academically gifted student not being there immediately may be to excuse the student from the challenge or offer a less challenging task so the student will not make mistakes and can complete work independently. This reaction to struggling gifted learners is unlike the response provided to other students, who receive additional instruction or support when they struggle.

Unintentionally, the teacher may be offering tasks that are below the personal learning potential of gifted learners. On a consistent basis, this “dumbing down” engages gifted learners in tasks much like those their less-talented classmates complete. This may reinforce student attitudes toward underlearning. (When I do not achieve, I get an easier task. That task might let me feel good about myself because I score within the top rank of my class. However, it did not take any effort to do it, and I was not stimulated to develop new knowledge and skills.)

An educator who does this, even unconsciously, stimulates underlearning. Gifted students need to make mistakes, experience uncertainty, and be allowed time to develop their academic talents. Otherwise, the result is underlearning. Drs. van Gerven suggests teachers ask, “If the student does not achieve and meet my expectations, who is the underachiever? Have I done the right thing to ensure the development of the student’s potential and talents?”

Raising the Curriculum Ceilings for Gifted Learners

In considering whether our curriculum and instructional practices may result in underlearning for gifted students, ask the following questions about your existing curriculum:

  1. Is the curriculum content related to broad-based issues, themes, or problems?
  2. Does the curriculum extend beyond enrichment to curriculum extensions and enhancements?
  3. Does the curriculum allow for an accelerated pace?
  4. Does the curriculum provide access to content, ideas, perspectives, and viewpoints not bound by grade/age level?
  5. Does the curriculum represent the depth (digging deeper) and complexity (breadth of thinking and doing) essential for gifted/talented learners but inappropriate for other students?
  6. Does the curriculum engage students in more sophisticated instructional strategies (e.g., Socratic dialogue, case studies)?
  7. Does the curriculum actively engage and nurture creative thinking?
  8. Are experts in a field of study or mentors (face-to-face or online) used to provide authentic and meaningful connections to real-world applications?
  9. Does the curriculum offer personalized learning opportunities that include self-selection and an ability to act on interests and passions?
  10. Is technology used in ways that encourage analytical thinking and innovation?
  11. Do products, performances, and presentations focus on innovation and represent new ideas, perspectives, thoughts, and insights?
  12. Does the curriculum engage students in experiences that help them develop self-understanding, such as recognizing and using one’s talents, becoming self-directed and self-regulated, and appreciating one’s uniqueness?

There is no single way to address underachievement or underlearning, since gifted students differ from one another, and thus individualized interventions must be designed and implemented. Referring to the student’s ecological system may give us some clues as to who or what is contributing to underachievement or underlearning.

It may also mean that teachers must change their typical teaching/learning methods or remove established curriculum ceilings. As teachers, we must also choose to consciously support gifted and talented learners as they take on new challenges and stretch their competencies.

Maslow, A. H. Motivation and Personality. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1954.
van Gerven, E. “Preventing and Overcoming Underachievement in Gifted Primary School Students.” Tempo 38(3) (2017).
van Gerven, E. Knapzak Praktijkgidsen: De cirkel van zorg voor intern begel. Nieuwolda: the Netherlands, 2015.
Vygotsky, L. S. Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978.

Want to know more about underachievement and underlearning? Attend the NAGC Annual Conference in November 2019 or the ASCD Annual Conference in March 2020 for presentations by Dr. Heacox and Drs. van Gerven.

Diane WeacoxDiane Heacox, Ed.D., is a consultant and professional development trainer focusing on strategies to increase learning success for all students. She is professor emerita at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minnesota. She is a national and international consultant and professional development trainer to both public and private schools on a variety of topics related to teaching and learning. Dr. Heacox has taught at both elementary and secondary school levels and has served as a gifted education teacher and administrator, as well as an instructional specialist in public education.

Dr. Heacox was recognized by the Minnesota Educators of Gifted and Talented as a Friend of the Gifted for service to gifted education. She is also in the University of St. Thomas Educators Hall of Fame for her contributions to the field of education.

Follow Diane on Twitter: @dgheacox

Free Spirit books by Diane Heacox:

Differentiation For Gifted LearnersDifferentiating Instruction in the Regular ClassroomMaking Differentiation A Habit


We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2019 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved. The view expressed in this post represent the opinion of the author and not necessarily Free Spirit Publishing.

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