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  -- Bright Underachiever

Kids and Community
Bright Underachiever: How to help
By Judy Shepps Battle
 
"Your child is a bright underachiever."
 
Many parents are likely to hear this phrase -- indicating a significant gap between ability and school achievement -- during parent-teacher conferences. They are less likely to be told that gifted youngsters do not always learn well in traditional school settings and may require modifications in class structure and curriculum to achieve their potential.
 
Too often, public school students do not receive such assistance.
 
This is unfortunate, because signs of underachieving are clear, such as when an elementary school youngster understands the academics but is late with assignments and/or makes "sloppy" mistakes on tests.
 
Signs are visible during middle school years when report cards reflect poor grades and a youth manifests extremes of behavior, ranging from withdrawal to defiance.
 
By high school, a highly intelligent underachieving teen may be denied entrance into honors classes and urged to take either general or vocational classes because of a lackluster middle-school performance.
 
Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
Such a situation easily becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
 
As one recent high school dropout bitterly noted; "If they give you the name, why not play the game? School gave up on me before I gave up on it!"
 
There is a grain of truth in this young woman's accusation. She challenges us to ask what must happen so that a student who learns and achieves differently can be successful in our school system.
 
If we are to motivate adolescents, we must honor their learning styles, help them discover their unique abilities, and give them appropriate tools for successful achievement. In the process, families and schools both may need to re-examine assumptions of what "achievement" is and the forms it may take.
 
Honoring Unique Learning Styles
Learning styles differ. It is important that each student be given an opportunity to explore a variety of ways to successfully accomplish a homework task or do a term project.
 
For many, "book learning" is natural, but others find this mode difficult. Whether it is because of a learning disorder or neurological difficulties, some students cant complete an assignment that is based on reading chapters or taking out a library book on the subject.
 
The same youngster may do very well using the Internet, DVDs, or even interviewing someone. Instead of writing homework neatly in a spiral notebook, such a student may do better using a camcorder or creating a computer presentation.
 
A third teen may do best with a combination of traditional print methodology and more interactive technology.
 
The task of a school system is to provide early instruction in using alternative media and to have sufficient resources available so that students get a chance to discover their learning styles.
 
Passionate Interests
Within each of us is a passion, some item of interest that holds our fascination. When this desire is validated we eagerly spend time and money to learn whatever new skills may be necessary.
 
This is especially true for teens. Whether it is how to operate a ham radio, set up a profitable Internet company, or score perfectly on the college admissions test, every youngster has one interest that dominates all others.
 
Unfortunately, all "passionate interests" do not necessarily fit into a traditional school curriculum. Any teacher can harness the verbal desire of a student to be admitted to an elite college and convert it to earning "A" and "B" grades.
 
But what about a teen who has given up on being successful within the school system?
 
Becoming Willing
If we are to motivate an angry or withdrawn underachiever, we must enter his world and find a way to fan the flame of buried interests. We must encourage her to dream and talk or write or paint or make movies about her goals.
 
And then it means finding the best arena for bringing these goals to fruition -- even if this arena is nontraditional. For example, this may mean being a craftsman's apprentice rather than attending school, or developing independent study projects with a team of teachers.
 
Offering unconditional support to a youth by recognizing his or her strengths increases self-esteem as well as the belief that the world is a good place in which to live. Being willing to mold the school experience to the needs of the child is a powerful act of faith in human nature that has a tremendous positive effect.
 
Becoming willing is the first step in creating change on both a personal and social level. If families and school systems would be willing to draw a bigger circle of acceptance around underachieving teens important changes would begin immediately.
 
Unconditional acceptance coupled with providing tools to succeed -- emotional, material, and spiritual -- is the best motivator we can offer to kids who have fallen by the wayside.
 
Let's start today.
 

Judy Shepps Battle is a New Jersey resident, addictions specialist, consultant and freelance writer. She can be reached by e-mail at writeaction@aol.com. Additional information on this and other topics can be found at her website at http://www.writeaction.com.


Copyright 2007 Judy Shepps Battle


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