Igniting Critical and Creative Thinking

Gifted Girls: Strategies for Underachieving Gifted Students

Creating strong, capable women who are high achievers starts not only at home but also in the classroom. When many gifted girls encounter a new or difficult challenge, they often believe that they will be unsuccessful, so they give up. Smart and gifted girls underachieve for a bunch of reasons! Have you ever noticed this pattern, perhaps with your children at home or in your classroom?

According to Carol Dweck, the Growth Mindset guru, one of the causes of underachievement among girls is because we praise boys and girls differently. Girls are frequently praised for being “good” or “smart” (i.e., for their ability) or “pretty”, while we praise boys for “trying hard” (i.e., for their effort) or being athletic. As teachers and role models, we need to do better and use these strategies for underachieving gifted students.

Let’s combat this issue and encourage girls to reach their full potential!

Sylvia Rimm, the author of See Jane Win and How Jane Won, is an expert in encouraging student achievement. Her advice: Let’s praise the process, i.e., effort, perseverance, resilience, daring, or taking a risk rather than the result – winning, a good grade, getting the lead in a play, etc. We need to teach our girls that it’s cool to be smart and that they CAN do hard things. Rather than choosing friends based on their popularity, let’s encourage our girls to associate with others who have interests similar to theirs. Remind them to be their authentic selves, not a copy of someone else. Women can be high achievers with these simple mind-shift tasks.

One of the most significant factors in determining a student’s outcome is the support and encouragement they receive from the adults in their life. These are some of my favorite ways that parents and teachers can step it up for our girls to encourage them to reach their potential. 

Talk About Turning Mistakes Into Opportunities 

Have a bulletin board in your classroom where everyone posts the mistakes they’ve made. This activity is a fantastic way to encourage transparency and a stronger sense of classroom community. A great lesson I have about making mistakes is my Flip That Flop Freebie. It’s a fun activity that teaches students mistakes are a good thing and how to learn from mistakes and turn them into learning opportunities. Be sure to put some of your mistakes on the board as well!  Kids need to see that their parents and teachers make mistakes too.

Gifted Girls: Strategies for Underachieving Gifted Students


Read books that have strong female characters.

Of course, one of my favorites is still the classic Little Women. I loved Jo and always will. When I was younger, I wanted to be just like her. Encourage your female students to make those text-to-self connections and relate to the strong characters they read about. 

Learn the power of  perseverance

Perseverance is a lifelong skill that everyone needs to get a hold of. Many excellent read-aloud books spark perseverance and lead to great discussions about grit and never giving up.  Some of my favorites include, Sometimes You Win – Sometimes You Learn by John C. Maxwell, The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes by Mark Pett, and The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires.

Talk, talk again, and then talk more

Talk to your child about how you can develop abilities through hard work and perseverance. My daughter Jessica was a high achiever in school, and today she is a very successful Director of a Non-Profit agency. But, when she was a child, she never learned to ride a bike!  I’m not kidding!  I mean, what kid doesn’t know how to ride a bike?  Right? 

We tried to help her. We got training wheels, and we held on to her as she rode. Nothing helped. She just gave up when it didn’t come easily, and my mistake was that I let her give up.  As an adult, she has two kids who love their bikes and a husband who has a passion for cycling. We are encouraging her to learn so they can ride bikes together as a family.

You can download a copy of this checklist of Dos and Don’ts for supporting underachieving gifted girls in the Teacher’s Toolbox, my FREE Resource Library.

Encourage  High Achievers to Take Risks

Most high achievers are risk-takers as adults. Talk to your underachieving gifted girl students about taking risks. Have them especially look at the consequences: “What’s the worst that can happen?” “What can you do to minimize the chances of failing or losing?” “How will you move on if you win or lose? Teach them to do some mirror talk to turn around negative thoughts.

I just read the children’s book The Oldest Student – How Mary Walker Learned to Read. It’s the true story of how Mary Walker, a slave born in the 1880s, learned to read when she was 114 years old. – She lived to be 121 and was certified as the oldest student in America. Mary is proof that it’s okay to take a risk and you are never too old to learn something new.

Challenge Your Girls to Try Something New

I get it, new can be scary! But challenge your girls to try something new. This could include trying out for a part in a play, playing a new sport, or even investigating a new hobby. Also, encourage female students to complete a Passion Project; learn to do something new in an area they are interested in! 

Read about Female High Achievers

Abigail Adams, Rosa Parks, Kamala Harris, Sandra Day O’Connor, Eleanor Roosevelt, to name a few. Don’t just focus on the facts and what they accomplished. Look at their struggles and how they persisted and overcame prejudice, failure, or adversity. Look at the character traits of these female high achievers and compare them to your character traits. Allow your girls to see that before progress and perfection can occur, this is often a struggle unseen by others. I created Women’s History Month Activities for students to study and be encouraged. You can use these women’s biographies with your students not just during Women’s History Month but throughout the year. I think this is a great way to highlight their character and dedication. 

Think Outside the Box 

Encourage your girls to participate in sports and other competitive activities such as science fair projects, STEM challenges, Math Olympiad. These activities, not typically thought of for females, instill in them that they do have what it takes, and they too can be successful. 

Educate Yourself

Read books about teaching persistence and Growth Mindset geared explicitly toward girls.  The Confidence Code For Girls by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, See Jane Win and How Jane Won by Dr. Sylvia Rimm, Enough As She Is by Rachel Simmons are some of my favorites.

Be A Role Model for High Achievers

Finally, be transparent. Talk to your underachieving gifted girls about times you’ve made a mistake and how you persisted. Let your kids see you making a mistake. Misspell a word on the board (I’ve done this without even trying). Be a role model of persistence for your daughters and female students.

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I'm Susan!

I’m Susan Morrow and I help overwhelmed teachers create thinking classrooms where students discover the joy in learning and achieving.

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