Strengths or Problems?

For many children, giftedness can be a double-edged sword in that traits that we identify as the characteristic strengths of a gifted child may also cause problems. Here are some examples.


These strengths...

...may be related to these problems.

Acquires and retains information quickly -

- Impatient with slowness of others; dislikes routine and drill; may resist mastering foundational skills; may make concepts unduly complex.


Inquisitive attitude, intellectual curiosity; intrinsic motivation; searching for significance - 

- Asks embarrassing questions; strong-willed; resists direction; seems excessive in interests; expects same of others.


Ability to conceptualize, abstract, synthesize; enjoys problem-solving and intellectual activity - 

- Rejects or omits details; resists practice or drill; questions teaching procedures.


Can see cause--effect relations - 

- Difficulty accepting the illogical or un-proveable, such as feelings, traditions, or matters to be taken on faith.


Love of truth, equity, and fair play - 

- Difficulty in being practical; worry about humanitarian concerns.


Enjoys organizing things and people into structure and order; seeks to systematize - 

- Constructs complicated rules or systems; may be seen as bossy, rude, or domineering.


Large vocabulary and facile verbal proficiency; broad information in advanced areas - 

- May use words to escape or avoid situations; becomes bored with school and age-peers; seen by others as a "know it all."


Thinks critically; has high expectancies; is self-critical and evaluates others - 

- Critical or intolerant toward others; may become discouraged or depressed; perfectionistic.


Keen observer; willing to consider the unusual; open to new experiences - 

- Overly intense focus; occasional gullibility.


Creative and inventive; likes new ways of doing things - 

- May disrupt plans or reject what is already known; seen by others as different and out of step.


Intense concentration; long attention span in areas of interest; goal-directed behavior; persistence - 

- Resists interruption; neglects duties or people during period of focused interests; stubbornness.


Sensitivity, empathy for others; desire to be accepted by others - 

- Sensitivity to criticism or peer rejection; expects others to have similar values; need for success and recognition; may feel different and alienated.


High energy, alertness, eagerness; periods of intense efforts - 

- Frustration with inactivity; eagerness may disrupt others' schedules; needs continual stimulation; may be seen as hyperactive.


Independent; prefers individualized work; reliant on self - 

- May reject parent or peer input; non-conformity; may be unconventional.


Diverse interests and abilities; versatility - 

- May appear scattered and disorganized; frustrations over lack of time; others may expect continual competence.


Strong sense of humor - 

- Sees absurdities of situations; humor may not be understood by peers; may become "class clown" to gain attention.


Adapted from Clark (1992) and Seagoe (1974). 

These strengths and their associated problems may not be easy to separate, but knowing about one can often help us identify, understand, and work with the other.

Underachievement: "Mansfield On Track"

In 2011, we conducted a study on underachievement in gifted children, "Mansfield On Track." The results of our research are presented below, along with strategies for promoting motivation and achievement through Task Valuation, Self-Efficacy, Environmental Perception, and Self-Regulation.

Many previous studies have focused on underachievement among gifted students in adolescent and high school populations; to our knowledge this concern has not been fully investigated in elementary students.  Mansfield On Track may expand our understanding of the dynamics occurring among underachieving, young, gifted-identified students. 

Although this information and the related research largely focuses on gifted-identified students, much of it is applicable to all students. Please note, the information on causes of underachievement and the Achievement Orientation Model presume the existence of adequate skills for the tasks at hand and the absence of underlying learning disabilities or other such obstacles.


Read the presentation, "Overcoming Underachievement Among Gifted Students" by Kristin Baker, 2011:


As indicated on the slides above, much of the information presented here is based on the work of Dr. Del Siegle, of NEAG/UConn, who has been supportive of this project.  Dr. Siegle has also courteously offered access to his own web-based materials, which are linked on below under Additional Resources.  We thank him for his generosity.  Other research resources are cited here.  Local anecdotes are included throughout my slides as examples of Dr. Siegle's strategies.


Additional Resources on Underachievement

The discussion of the topics addressed in this section draws on a broad range of research; please see Resources Cited for full details.

Resources from Dr. Del Siegle and NRC/GT

The specific strategies presented in this wiki are largely based on the work of Dr. Del Siegle at NEAG/UConn.  Dr. Siegle offers much more information in themed modules available through his website.  One can access these materials by clicking on Underachievement Information, which leads to these topics (also hyperlinked, below):

Making a Difference: Strategies to Increase Student Motivation and Academic Achievement

Each of the modules offers an introductory video clip, and a link which states Click here to begin your training, leading to a user-friendly Table of Contents for the specific topic. The modules were developed for the NRC/GT Increasing Academic Achievement Study, and provide user-friendly instruction of strategies to develop students' skills in the target areas.  We thank Dr. Siegle for his generosity in sharing these resources.

Other resources addressing achievement

These publications are not part of the academic research for this project, but may be useful for parents and teachers seeking to optimize students' achievement"

  • The article Mind the Other Gap: The Growing Excellence Gap in K-12 Education discusses the systemic concern of distribution of educational resources for remediation at the expense of growth for proficient or advanced learners.

  • The book Executive Skills in Children and Adolescents: A Practical Guide to Assessment and Intervention, by Dawson and Guare, provides numerous organizational tools for immediate use.

  • The 2003 article Summary of Current Findings About Underachievement provides an overview of the concerns and patterns noted by Drs. Del Siegle and Sally Reis.

Other Valuable Resources

Specific Resources

Characteristics of Gifted Children:

Social/Emotional Needs of Gifted Children:

Gifted Education:

Helpful Websites

Here are several additional websites that I find to be valuable. If you find other sites to share, please email me so I can add them. Thanks!

  • New Jersey Association for Gifted Children

    • Mission: The New Jersey Association for Gifted Children will promote excellence and leadership in gifted education through appropriate programs, resource networks and community advocacy.

    • NJAGC offers an excellent annual conference in March/April, which includes sessions on gifted education, advocacy, and social/emotional characteristics.

  • Gifted Child Society

    • The Gifted Child Society is a non-profit organization that was founded in 1957 by parents of New Jersey to further the cause of gifted children.

  • Hoagies' Gifted Education Page

    • Hoagies' Gifted Education Page is the comprehensive resource for education of gifted children, for parents, for teachers, for administrators and other educators, counselors and psychologists, and even for the gifted kids themselves.

  • Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted

    • SENG is dedicated to fostering environments in which gifted adults and children, in all their diversity, understand and accept themselves and are understood, valued, nurtured, and supported by their families, schools, workplaces and communities.

  • Uniquely Gifted

    • This site addresses the needs of students who are twice-exceptional, that is, intellectually gifted children with special needs such as AD/HD, learning disabilities, Asperger Syndrome, etc.

  • Mindware

    • Brainy toys for kids of all ages

  • Center for Talented Youth

    • Since 1979, the Center for Talented Youth at Johns Hopkins University has focused on the needs of students with exceptionally high academic abilities.

  • Summer Institute for the Gifted

    • Summer Institute for the Gifted offers summer courses in a college setting (day programs as well as overnight) for gifted students aged 4-18.

Additional Resources for Kids


  • Newsela

    • Newsela presents current events at various reading levels (the blue bar with 580L, 830L, etc.). Try starting with the 580L or 830L and using the Quiz function (available on some but not all stories) to check understanding. It's a good stretch to aim a little higher than where the student can consistently score 100% so there is opportunity to grow vocabulary and sentence structure. Remember to talk about the stories together!

  • Wonderopolis

    • Wonderopolis is less news-oriented and presents all sorts of questions that kids find interesting. Both of these sites can help to expand non-fiction reading and critical thinking – valuable skills!


    • "Launched in 2013,® is a non-profit dedicated to expanding access to computer science... Our vision is that every student in every school should have the opportunity to learn computer science." has tutorials and activities for learning code through contexts such as Frozen's Anna & Elsa, Star Wars, and Flappy Birds.