High Ability Does Not Always Equal a Good Student

A note before we begin this section:  just because a child is a high ability learner doesn’t mean that he or she is going to be the school valedictorian or even the best pupil in a given class. High ability refers to the way these children think and learn and not necessarily their behaviors and attitudes toward school.  As illustrated throughout this booklet, there are a variety of obstacles that may keep them from reaching their true potential. It is especially important that their special academic needs be addressed in the classroom so that they can achieve to the best of their ability.

If we examine some of the myths about high ability learners in the previous section, we see many misconceptions that often lead to poor performance in the classroom, many surrounding how high ability kids are taught. Like all children, high ability students deserve to be motivated and educated in a manner consistent with their needs. More often than not it is inappropriate instructional methods that lead to underperformance. For example, high ability kids who are routinely subjected to whole-group instruction (i.e., where the entire class is taught the same material, at the same pace, at the same time) may quickly become frustrated by having to go over the same information they mastered after just one or two repetitions. These kids may quickly lose motivation and tune out or, worse, exhibit behavioral problems that disrupt the class. Similarly, high ability kids aren’t always willing to learn in the manner or at the pace that teachers prefer to teach. And it is important to remember, just because students are labeled “high ability” doesn’t mean that they are equally so in every discipline. A high ability child may be an advanced learner in mathematics but may be on par with the rest of the class (or even learning disabled) in another area, such as writing.

One ways of defining a high ability student is someone who shows or has the potential of showing, high levels of achievement in a number of areas. Therein lies the challenge classroom teachers face. Not only must they teach to the whole class, but for high ability learners, they must also identify the particular areas and styles of learning that allow the students to work toward that high level of achievement. This may mean they have to alter their teaching methodology on a student-by-student basis, differentiating instruction to meet the needs of all their students at all ability levels. But for high ability learners, this differentiation is often the key to whether they succeed in class or whether they come to be seen as an underperforming and problem student.