Motivating the Elementary Gifted Student
The gifted population in America often struggles academically, socially, and mentally while in the public school system. These struggles are often seen in gifted students as early as the second grade. One of the reasons gifted students struggle is motivation. Shunk, Meece and Pintrick (2014) define motivation as “the process whereby goal directed activities are instigated and sustained” (pg.5). Long (2013, September) found gifted students need to be intellectually stimulated or they will become bored in class (pg. 1). Most educators struggle to keep their gifted students engaged within their classroom. Theroux (2014) found not all motivational theories will work well with every gifted student (pg. 1). Educators need to implement different motivational strategies frequently (Theroux, 2014, pg.1).
Classical conditioning is the process in which a stimulus is presented to the student in order to elicit a response (Shunk, Meece, and Pintrick, 2014, pg. 22). A response will not occur if the learner does not see a link between their response and the stimulus that was given. Gifted students will not respond if they have “checked out” of the learning environment. A gifted student will “check out” of a learning environment when their minds are somewhere else (Long, 2013, September). This usually occurs when the student is unmotivated. Unmotivated gifted students will operate within classical conditioning whenever they are seeking attention. Theroux (2014) found gifted students who are bored would frequently seek attention through positive, negative or passive attention seeking behaviors depending upon their preferred attention seeking style (pg. 1. See figure 1).
Operant Conditioning is a motivational behavior theory that is like classical conditioning. In both Operant and Classical Conditioning a stimulus is introduced and a response is gleaned from the reaction of the student. Schunk, Meece and Pintrich (2014) found motivated behavior can be increased or decreased depending upon the consequences of the student’s reaction (pg. 25). Unlike Classical Conditioning, Operant Conditioning stipulates that a student’s reaction to a stimulus can be changed through reinforcements or punishments (Shunk, Meece and Pintrich, 2014, pg. 24). Reinforcement is given to increase the likelihood that the behavior exhibit will appear more frequently (Shunk, Meece and Pintrich, 2014, pg. 24). Punishments are used to decrease the likelihood of the behavior’s occurrence.
Educators who work with the gifted population can use Operant Conditioning to encourage proper behavioral management. A student who turns in all their homework on time may receive a sticker or stamp on their paper would be an example of positive reinforcement. Theroux (2014) cautions educators to sparingly use rewards and punishments as a behavior modifier when working with the gifted population (pg. 1). The goal of the educator should be to develop intrinsic motivation within their gifted students. Theroux (2014) argued rewards are only effective in gifted students when they are unmotivated or engaged in an activity that is lower than their abilities (pg. 1). Rewards should never be increased for increased expectations (Theroux, 2014, pg. 1). Negative reinforcements occur when a reward is removed. A reward is removed once the desired behavior is effective (Theroux, 2014, pg. 1).
Bad behavior may be countered by punishment by removing either a positive or negative reinforcer (Schunk, Meece and Pintrich, 2014, pg. 24). For example, a student talks excessively in class. The teacher decides to reward all her students with a sticker except for the student who has been talking. This would be a punishment because the educator has removed a positive reinforcement from that student. See figure 1 for more examples.
Long, C. (2013, September). Are We Failing Gifted Students? neaToday. Retrieved from http://neatoday.org/2013/09/18/are-we-failing-gifted-students-2/
Schunk, D. H., Pintrich, P. R., & Meece, J. L. (2014). Motivation in education: Theory, research, and applications (4th ed.). Columbus, OH: Pearson/Merrill Prentice Hall.
Theroux, P. (2014). Intrinsic Motivation. Davidson Institute for Talent Development. Retrieved from http://www.davidsongifted.org/db/Articles_id_10648.aspx