The Frustration of Being Underchallenged

Todd StanleyBlog, Differentiate Better, Engage Better, Lesson Plan Better


  • Gifted students are often under-challenged.
  • Under-challenged students are not given the same opportunities to learn and grow.
  • There are ways to serve our gifted population that are beyond differentiation.

Todd’s Gifted Rants: The Frustration of Being Underchallenged

You know how to speak English very fluently. It comes very naturally to you, and you find it quite easy to speak. Now imagine that you are placed into a basic English class where the teacher is going over how to pronounce single-syllable words, how to spell words such as C-A-T and D-O-G, and how to speak simple sentences such as “I went to the store.” It would be incredibly frustrating to be in such a class for a few reasons:

  1. You already know what is being taught.
  2. What is being taught presents no new learning for you.
  3. You are ready for more advanced versions of this learning and are anxious to start.

This is how it can be for many gifted students. They are placed into classes where the material and lessons being taught are something they already understand. They yearn to take this learning further or deeper. Unfortunately, the pace of the class has been set by the mastery of all students. If everyone has not gotten it yet, it will be retaught until they do. This means that not only are these gifted students introduced to something they already have learned, they also have to hear it several more times for those who have not.

Imagine you are a tennis coach. You have some players who can barely hit the ball with their racquet, and you have others who could beat you pretty soundly. There are also those in-between who have the basics. Click To Tweet

The Frustration of the Student

Such is the frustration of being under-challenged. This is what many gifted students experience daily. This is not to say that teachers don’t want to challenge these students. However, they are taking care of the more looming problems first such as getting everyone caught up. Sure, the teacher could use differentiation to challenge the students at the level they are capable of. But it is incredibly difficult to juggle these varying skill levels in the classroom.

Imagine you are a tennis coach. You have some players who can barely hit the ball with their racquet, and you have others who could beat you pretty soundly. There are also those in-between who have the basics and just need to develop them more. Where do you start coaching? If you design drills for the really good players, the ones who don’t have much skill at all are going to be completely overwhelmed and lost. If you design drills to help students to gain a basic understanding, the more skilled players are just standing around not becoming any better.

The Frustration of the Teacher

This is what it is like for most teachers. Although some school districts meet the needs of their gifted students by placing them into programming designed for them with teachers who have had the training to be able to challenge them, most gifted students are put into a regular education classroom. The teacher does his/her best to challenge them without much if any training on how to do this.

There is no one specific person or thing to blame here, and yet these students who are capable of learning at high levels are left under-challenged. This being under-challenged can be incredibly frustrating for gifted students. Imagine you are that top tennis player on the team, and yet because you are not being pushed, you do not get any better. That is all fine and dandy when playing the less skilled players on your team, but when facing off against another team who does have equally if not more skilled players than you, it is going to be difficult to compete. This is what happens to gifted students when they get into high school or college. Because they have not been challenged for so long, they don’t know what to do once they finally are.

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My Pledge to You

Here is my pledge to you the teacher as well as to the gifted student community. I will use this platform to help:

  1. understand what challenging gifted students looks like.
  2. provide multiple strategies and methods for how to do this.
  3. find ways that you can best challenge these students as well as any students ready for such a task.

Part of this is creating an awareness and dispelling some of the many myths about gifted students. Another part is providing the teachers with concrete strategies that can be used in the classroom immediately. But if you follow along with Todd’s Gifted Rants blog, you will be equipped with the tools and the confidence to meet the needs of these under-challenged children. This way, you the teacher, are no longer frustrated about finding ways to meet the needs of all of your students. And because the students are now challenged, they are no longer frustrated at not learning to their potential.

About Todd Stanley

Todd Stanley is a National Board teacher and the author of many teacher-education books including Project-Based Learning for Gifted Students: A Handbook for the 21st Century Classroom (2nd Edition), Authentic Learning: Real World Experiences that Build 21st Century Skills, and his most recent How the Hell Do We Motivate These Kids? He served as a classroom teacher for 18 years where he worked with parents to create two gifted programs for Reynoldsburg Schools as well as serving as their gifted coordinator for two years. He is currently the gifted services coordinator for Pickerington Local Schools where he lives with his wife and two daughters. You can follow him on Twitter @the_gifted_guy or visit his website at where you can access blogs, resources, and view presentations he has given.