I was “gifted” in elementary school, but my grades are slipping in high school. How can I motivate myself to do my homework?

If this kind of detail helps you formulate an answer, I was in my elementary school’s Gifted and Talented Education program from 3rd to 5th grade and about 7 months ago, I tested an IQ of 143. My grades began to fall in 7th grade and since have worsened. I’m a junior now, and I need to get my act together, but not much has helped my difficulties in school.

Written Oct 2, 2016

At first, I was ready to give you a glib answer like “Smart kids tend to get bored in school, yada … yada … yada.”

 

However, as I thought about this, I realized that you deserve more.

Background

I basically made it through high school without studying, and graduated in the top 3 of my school. College was easy, and fun. I screwed up, because I didn’t challenge myself enough.

My daughter, in 3rd grade, was identified as gifted. She was doing fine in school, but always complained about being bored.

So, what’s the plan?

Why are you in school? Why do you care about grades? In short, what are your goals and ambitions? What are you studying in high school, and why? What are your interests?

These questions are important. If you are in classes because they are part of the curriculum, and you just have to do them to graduate, then you are probably not invested in your school education. In other words, you have no motivation to do well.

However, consider another approach to your education.

Most likely, there is something that fascinates you, and will drive you to explore – possibly even become consumed with it. You may not have found your passion yet, but it is lurking somewhere. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes a state he calls “Flow”, where you become immersed in something, to the point that you lose track of time, and essentially exclude awareness of other things going on around you. You may have experienced something like this playing chess, reading a book, playing video games, or sports, etc. Your first goal is to identify the types of activities that fascinate you.

Next, determine what you need to achieve to accomplish your goals. On the one hand, school (including college) is just a stepping stone, a tool to demonstrate your qualifications to others. In this sense, graduation from high school and college are just keys to open doors.

On the other hand, school can be the portal to an amazing, rich banquet of ideas and stimulation that can captivate and engross you throughout your life.

Let’s face it. We don’t really need to attend school. We don’t really need to learn other languages; parse sentences; solve quadratic equations; remember dates of ancient battles, etc.

Unless …

  • You want to explore the Universe … from huge galaxies all the way down to the building blocks of the atom
  • You dream of designing bridges, or low-cost drinkable water systems
  • You imagine that fractals can contribute to an understanding of synapse functions
  • You believe that a sonar system can be adapted to help blind people “see”

What’s next?

If there are 1,000 students in your school, then only one other student has the potential to compete with you (if you choose to compete). Most likely, you have the greatest potential to succeed (academically) in your grade. Currently, you are choosing to become another gifted “statistic” – just another gifted kid who became bored, and lost the motivation to succeed in school.

Well, screw that!

You should already know that getting into college won’t be that hard. Your grades don’t have to be stellar. So, do your research, and figure out which college; what area of study, etc., and then what are the entrance criteria. Make sure you meet the criteria. Period. Your undergraduate degree will be your first opportunity to really stretch academically. Even then, it is just a springboard to a lifetime of learning.

Next, spend your spare time doing something that you love. Video games are fun. But if you want to make a career out of video games, you’d better be darn good at coding. Even then, you’ll get bored. You’ll need to go to the next level – new algorithms. And for that you will need great math skills. So, whatever you choose, it had better be really captivating.

Putting it all together

If you choose to pursue learning as a lifetime avocation (and I believe you will come to realize that you need to do this to be happy), then realize that you are running a marathon. High school is merely a warm-up event. Just like qualifying at the Olympics, you need to perform well enough to get into the next event. College is like the quarter-finals – now you are competing at a level that can challenge you. Don’t screw up. You have to do well to make it to the next event.

Most events in the Olympics are really close. Occasionally, there is someone who is so far ahead, it seems like they are in a class by themselves. Sure, they are talented. But when you dig deeper, you discover that they worked harder and longer than others. Michael Phelps worked out for 6 hours per day, 6 days a week for years to achieve his goals (Michael Phelps Workout). It takes incredible stamina and determination to become the best in any field.

So … you decide. If getting into an Ivy League is your goal, then gut it out and study hard, do all your homework. If your goal is a lifetime of learning and fascination, then start pursuing your passions. View high school as a qualifying event, but start identifying and participating in the fascinating stuff – enroll in college courses; get online … there are tons of great courses available for free (e.g. Coursera). Figure out what you really like, and then prepare yourself to win the marathon.

Postscript

I didn’t run hard in college, so I missed out on opportunities for advanced schooling. However, I still found lots of fascinating things to do, and have had a great time.

My daughter is now 10. (Her IQ is similar to yours). We have chosen to homeschool her. She now gets to participate in decisions about what to study – she has chosen astronomy and physics (on Coursera), and recently started participating in an online Latin class. I have her study math and writing with me, because I believe these are a necessary part of the “qualifying events” for her later learning.

Over the past year of homeschooling her, I have found my ideas for her education evolving. I no longer believe an “Ivy League” undergraduate education is appropriate. I now believe a small liberal arts college will provide a better learning opportunity (See The Ivy League, Mental Illness, and the Meaning of Life and Colleges That Change Lives). After that, it’s up to her.

The rest of your life is up to you. You need to get through the qualifying events first.