Reversing and Preventing Underachievement in Gifted Students: Viewed Through the Lens of Lived Experience.

Year: 2019

Author: Lamanna, Jodi, Wormald, Catherine, Vialle, Wilma

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Giftedness does not have a single, universal definition, instead, there are a variety of definitions that cover aspects of motivation, talent development and creativity and the definitions generally equate high ability and potential as giftedness. The lack of a singular definition of giftedness, along with the absence of pre-service and in-service teacher training in the area of gifted education makes it problematic for teachers to identify gifted behaviours and implement strategies.

In a similar manner, underachievement does not have a singular, universal definition, yet the most supported definition outlines underachievement as a significant discrepancy between potential and performance. Gifted underachievers can be unrecognised because the underachievement masks the potential.

Accordingly, the reversal of underachievement, for the purpose of this study, is the realignment of potential and performance.

Significance and aims of research

It is estimated that up to 40% of students identified as gifted underachieve and long-term it has been shown that without intervention underachieving gifted students are likely to continue to underachieve in adult life. The effects of underachievement impact the students’ self-esteem and academic progress.

The aim of this research was to utilise student voice to highlight the causes of underachievement and reversal of underachievement to ensure educational equity and to facilitate learning for gifted students so that they can achieve their full-potential.

Research design

The research was conducted with case studies to investigate giftedness, academic underachievement and reversal of underachievement. Case studies involved qualitative questionnaires, semi-structured interviews, classroom observations, and member checking.

The inclusion criteria for selection as a case study participant involved providing evidence of giftedness, academic underachievement, and the reversal of underachievement.

Construct validity was demonstrated by using multiple sources of evidence, external validity was confirmed through the use of standard forms and cross-case referencing, and reliability was shown through the rigorous methods to document the process which enables replication (Yin, 1994).


The findings showed that gifted students underachieved because of an unchallenging curriculum, lack of motivation, and a lack of self-regulation. These results aligned with the literature.

The reversal of underachievement occurred through diagnoses of learning difficulties or disabilities, family support, and an appropriate learning environment.


These findings demonstrate that recognition of giftedness in the classroom is important, especially as giftedness can be masked through underachievement and learning difficulties. Specialised provisions are recommended for underachieving gifted students in order to support their learning, their motivation, and provide equity in the classroom.