Jeremy Connor, a gifted tenth grader, is proving to be a real puzzle. He's sometimes motivated, sometimes creative, sometimes disengaged, and consistently inconsistent. Jeremy's teachers, his school counselor, and the principal try to figure out how to motivate Jeremy and hold him accountable.

Joan Freemeyer, the school counselor, observes gifted tenth-grader Jeremy Connor during several of his classes.

Joan Freemeyer rounds the corner just in time to see Jeremy enter his math class.

“I hate math,” Jeremy mumbles as he shuffles to his seat in the back of the room. He passes a couple of his friends as he slowly ambles down the narrow aisle of desks and nods his head in acknowledgement. He doesn’t crack a smile or say a word. As the bell rings Mrs. Carter moves forward to address the class.

Jeremy Connor’s inconsistent behaviors puzzle his teachers.

“Good afternoon, everyone. Please take out last night’s homework. Did everyone complete the chapter seven review?”

As the other students sort through their folders and papers, Jeremy slouches in his seat and lets out a groan. He didn’t do a single problem, didn’t even open his book last night to look at the assignment, and makes no move to pretend otherwise.

As is typical protocol in Mrs. Carter’s AP math class, she begins by asking students to take turns sharing their homework answers. She begins with Anna, who is seated in front of her, and asks her to show the problem on the board. The student behind her takes the next question and so on.

As Jeremy waits for his turn and listens to the other students readily detailing their work, he rests his chin in his hand, looks out the window, and tries to think of a new excuse. There’s nothing on his desk but his elbow: no papers, books, or pencils.

Joan has seen enough. She slips quietly out the door, ready to take advantage of the next hour or so to work on scheduling. If she times it right, she can make it to Jeremy’s second period German class.

Just as the second period bell rings, Joan approaches the German class. Laughter spills out into the hall as she stands next to the open door.

Jeremy and his two classmates are rehearsing the comedy dialogue they wrote together. When one of his classmates has trouble translating a phrase, Jeremy offers his interpretation. Praising the students in German for their effort, Mrs. Bell reminds them of some tricks for conjugating verbs. They successfully complete a run-through of their dialogue with Mrs. Bell laughing heartily. As the students leave the room to go their next class, Jeremy stops to speak with Mrs. Bell—in German, of course.

Although Joan cannot understand a word that has been said, she can clearly see a difference in Jeremy. Her curiosity is stirred. She’s looking forward to her next class visit.

A few minutes later Joan and Mr. Bull chat outside the door to his science classroom.

“Hello, Jeremy,” Mr. Bull interjects. He takes a speedy inventory of his student and notices the lone folder Jeremy is carrying. “Where’s your science book? You’re going to need it for lab today.”

Jeremy stops, looks down at his folder, and shrugs. “I left it at home. I forgot that today was lab, I guess.”

“Jeremy, I really need you to remember these things. For today, ask one of your lab partners if you can look off of his book. But don’t forget that this is an AP class. I’d hate for your forgetfulness to affect your grade.”

As the last of his students take their seats, Joan slips away and Mr. Bull steps into the room, facing his class with a smile. He enthusiastically announces his daily affirmation, which, as usual, makes most students chuckle with embarrassment and shake their heads.

“Today is the first day of the rest of your lives, young people! Let’s make it a good one!” Mr. Bull directs the students to gather their equipment and move to their lab stations as he closes the door.

Later that afternoon, Joan visits Jeremy’s art class. She loves the art room. Its walls are covered in colorful masks and paintings, twisted wire sculptures hang from the ceiling tiles overhead, and quiet music fills the spaces in between.

Jeremy makes a beeline for Ms. Garcia, who is busy organizing the brushes, paints, and pastels for her next lesson.

“Can I get my materials out?”

“Sure, go ahead, Jeremy. There are also a few new oil pastels on that table over there. Take a look at them.”

“Yeah, cool. Thanks.” Jeremy smiles at his teacher and nearly bumps into another student in his rush to retrieve his unfinished project from the rack in the back of the room. He finds his drawing quickly and heads to the table with the new oil pastels.

“Ooohhh. These are great colors, Ms. Garcia. Can I use them?”

“Yeah, help yourself.”

Jeremy sets up his work station and takes a seat on a stool next to the table. He works silently throughout the class period, often pausing to evaluate his work, and when the bell rings to signal both the end of the block and the end of the day, he huffs with frustration, wishing he had more time.

Joan meets with the principal, the district-level gifted education coordinator, and four Advanced Placement teachers to discuss Jeremy’s placement in upper-level courses for the upcoming year.

Joan is anxious to get this meeting rolling. She’s curious about Jeremy and hopeful that with her varied observations the group will understand his issues and be able to determine class placements for his junior year.

See a transcript of the meeting below:

Bella Thomas, the gifted coordinator, has heard this all before. Even the best AP teachers sometimes don’t have backgrounds in gifted education. Often they believe that all gifted students should be self-motivated and that Advanced Placement courses are differentiated instruction—even though AP students are often taught a prescribed curriculum at the same pace and at the same level of difficulty.

Walker High School’s principal, Jerome Davis, has been sitting nearby, listening. This quiet gathering of information is his usual approach. Often, he waits this way until there’s a conversational lull, and then he jumps in. Today, he’s feeling a little defensive of his faculty. Wanting to move beyond any blame-games that might be lurking, he directs his first question to Joan. “So, I hear you’ve been observing Jeremy this week, Joan. What have you noticed?”

“Well, Jeremy exhibits a variety-pack of behaviors, that’s for sure. He went from being completely engrossed in his art project, to being nearly jovial in German class, to acting uninterested in science, to being practically antagonistic in math. He’s an interesting kid, that’s for sure.”

“I think I can explain the changes you’re seeing in Jeremy,” Bella begins. “The behavior of gifted learners in the school setting has been linked to at least four areas: student grouping, educational programming, curriculum and instruction, and attitudes toward giftedness. I believe a lot of Jeremy’s behavior is a reaction to environmental influences that he has no coping skills for. In many cases, the behavior is situational—it changes depending on the circumstances. That’s why Jeremy performs better in some classes than others.”

She continued her detailed explanation. “Rejection of rote learning may be why Jeremy refuses to do homework and still does as well as 90% on his tests and quizzes. No follow-through on projects may be the result of poor study habits and/or non-conformist behavior… I’m hoping we can create environments that lead to more positive ways of dealing with giftedness. Negative coping skills such as underachievement or perfectionism may be maladaptive behavior rather than maladjusted behavior,” Bella concludes.

Mr. Bull replies, “But Jeremy is in the best classroom environments available to him. He’s enrolled in AP classes, and he’s still not performing. Maybe the high quality of his work in art class can be explained by the lack of academic rigor there.”

“Or, maybe his motivation in art class is linked to the fact that he can be more self-directed there.” Bella rejoined. “Either way, gifted students need differentiated learning opportunities. Are the AP courses more appropriate than grade-level courses for advanced learners? Yes. Do they adequately meet the needs of gifted learners? Not necessarily.”

“How can we justify keeping a student like Jeremy in AP? He’s not performing, and I don’t think he belongs in them, period,” answers Mrs. Carter.

The group reviews Jeremy’s assessment results in an attempt to reach consensus.

“Alright, aside from our own obviously slanted opinions, what else do we have that might help guide our thinking?” Mr. Davis tries to redirect the conversation, “Let’s look at Jeremy’s assessment results.”

See Jeremy Connor’s Assessment Profile below: