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The Prism Metaphor: A New Paradigm for Reversing Underachievement

Susan M. Baum
Joseph S. Renzulli
Thomas Hébert

The purpose of this multiple case study was threefold. The first objective was to examine the phenomenon of underachievement using creative productivity, specifically Type III enrichment as a systematic intervention for reversing the pattern. Type III enrichment provides opportunities for students to become actual investigators of real problems in areas of interest through suitable means of inquiry and to bring their findings to bear on real world audiences. The next goal was to describe and analyze the effects of the intervention on participating students, and last, to develop grounded theory about the dynamics of reversing the underachievement pattern. Twelve teachers who had received training in the Enrichment Triad Model selected 17 students identified as gifted who were underachieving in their academic classroom settings. The 17 students ranged in age from 8-13 and included 5 girls and 12 boys. All students were guided through a Type III study by their referring teacher. Interviews with students and teachers, teachers' observational logs, student products, and documents provided information about individual students in the context of pursuing Type III investigations.

The findings were numerous. First, a variety of factors were identified as contributing to the underachievement pattern of high ability students including: emotional issues; social and behavioral problems; the lack of an appropriate curriculum; and learning and self-regulation difficulties. These contributing factors resulted in the students' demonstrating unique learning needs. The second and most compelling finding of the research was the positive gains made by the students through their involvement in the Type III intervention. Eighty-two percent of the students made positive gains during the course of the year or in the year following the intervention in achievement, attitude, or behavior. Most were no longer underachieving in their school settings at the end of the intervention. Five aspects of the underachievement pattern evolved as an important focus for different groups of students depending on their unique learning needs: (1) the relationship with the teacher, (2) the presentation of self regulation strategies, (3) the opportunity to investigate their own issues of underachievement, (4) the opportunity to work in an area of interest in their preferred style of learning, and (5) the opportunity to interact with an appropriate peer group.

Several teacher behaviors emerged as crucial to the students' success in reversing the underachievement pattern. These behaviors included: (1) taking time to get to know the student, (2) focusing on positive traits of the student, (3) understanding their role as facilitator, (4) applying the role of teacher as researcher, and (5) conveying a belief in the students' abilities.

These results formed the foundation for the development of grounded theory in understanding the dynamics of reversing underachievement in high ability students. In addition, the findings endorsed the use of a positive approach to help students reverse their pattern of underachievement.

Reference:
Baum, S. M., Renzulli, J. S., & Hébert, T. (1995). The prism metaphor: A new paradigm for reversing underachievement (CRS95310). Storrs, CT: The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented, University of Connecticut.


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The Prism Metaphor: A New Paradigm for Reversing Underachievement
Susan M. Baum
Joseph S. Renzulli
Thomas Hébert


Conclusions

  1. Underachievement is based on a variety of contributing factors including:
    • emotional issues,
    • social and behavioral problems,
    • inappropriate curriculum, and
    • learning deficits.
  2. Six teacher behaviors promoted student success:
    • taking time to get to know the student,
    • focusing on positive traits of the student,
    • focusing their energies on locating and providing resources for their students,
    • understanding the individualized small group investigations of real problems (Type III),
    • applying the role of teacher as researcher, and
    • conveying a belief in the students' abilities.
  3. The Type III process satisfied individual student needs resulting in positive relationships with adults, acquisition of self-regulation strategies, an understanding of personal issues of underachievement, interest-based activities, and the influence of a positive peer group.