Academic journal article Journal of Secondary Gifted Education

Gifted Achievers and Gifted Underachievers: The Impact of Learning Style Preferences in the Classroom

Academic journal article Journal of Secondary Gifted Education

Gifted Achievers and Gifted Underachievers: The Impact of Learning Style Preferences in the Classroom

Article excerpt

This article focuses on the learning style preferences of achieving and underachieving gifted middle school students. Learning style was determined through administration of the Learning Style Inventory (LSI). Both groups of participants revealed several learning style preferences that were quite similar. However, examination of LSI profiles revealed some differences between achievers and underachievers in preferences for quiet or sound, flexibility or structure in assignments, and level of need for mobility. Many low achievers showed a strong need for tactile and kinesthetic modalities; intake of food, drinks, or both; sound in the learning environment; informal seating design; and dim lighting. The low achievers did nor perceive themselves to be persistent, and scores revealed that they needed structure in assignments. Persistence seemed to be a key to success for the achieving learners in this study since they were able to maintain high academic performance in all content areas. Over half of the low achiev ers, on the other hand, did not judge themselves to be successful at task completion.


Underachievement by America's children is a frustrating phenomenon for both educators and parents. However, underachievement seems especially troubling when it is manifested by our brightest students--the gifted. Underachievement by this group has been described as one of the greatest social wastes of our culture" (Gowan, 1955, p. 247). While there is no clear picture of the magnitude of the problem, some experts estimate that 15-40% of gifted students are not living up to their potential or are "at risk" of school failure (Seeley, 1993).

There is no universally accepted definition for underachievement. When attempting to discuss the phenomenon, some researchers focus on standardized instruments alone to define it (Supplee, 1990), whereas others place more emphasis on student actions in the classroom (Baum, Renzulli, & Hebert, 1995). However, most researchers agree that underachievement is a discrepancy between expected performance based on some standardized measure of ability and actual performance (Emerick, 1992; Peterson & Colangelo, 1996; Whitmore, 1980).

When does underachievement begin? Some studies (e.g., Lupart & Pyrut, 1996; Peterson & Colangelo, 1996) have found that academic vulnerability is most prevalent in grades 7-9, with seventh grade showing the greatest number of underachievers. For some underachievers, this unproductive behavior begins in late elementary school (Baker, Bridges, & Evans, 1998) and continues into the middle grades.

What causes these bright students to fall short of reaching their potential? Baker, Bridges, and Evans (1998) found that contributing factors included family, environment, school, and the individual. Fehrenbach (1993) concluded that, due to inflexible curricula and lack of acceleration opportunities, gifted learners are not being involved in meaningful school experiences that would stimulate achievement. Lack of teacher training in gifted education is also a major factor contributing to underachievement since awareness of the needs and characteristics of the gifted is essential if teachers are to provide appropriate curricular accommodations (Davis & Rimm, 1998; Ford, 1996). Other researchers have noted that underachievement is linked to a mismatch between the learning styles of high-ability students and the instructional approaches used in the classroom (Baum, Renzulli, & Hebert, 1995; Redding, 1990; Whitmore, 1986).

One's learning style was defined by Dunn and Dunn (1993) as "the way in which each learner begins to concentrate on, process, and retain new and difficult information" (p. 2). They hypothesized that the interaction of various environmental factors affects each person differently as he or she learns. Several studies have suggested that underachieving students make significant gains in classroom performance when their learning style preferences are accommodated (Andrews, 1990; Gadwa & Griggs, 1985; Klavas, 1993). …

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