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Steve Haberlin's picture
Steve Haberlin is an assistant professor of education at Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia, and author of Meditation in the College Classroom: A Pedagogical Tool to Help Students De-Stress, Focus,...
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The Selective Consumer

Joe loves to take on an activity---if he knows he will be successful at it.

He devours books and racks up points by taking tests on the Accelerated Reader program. With a gift for gab~ he gets recognized for his work as the anchorman for the schools morning news. You definitely cant call Joe a lazy student.

However~ give Joe an assignment or task where success is not certain~ and it can be like slamming the brakes on a car. Complete stop. He grows anxious~ tries to change the subject~ works on the activities where success is guaranteed.

Joe is a Selective Consumer~ a term coined by researchers who looked at gifted underachievers and realized there was more to the story. While studying this subject~ they discovered a type of student who was selective in his or her learning. In the words of Dr. Jim Delisle~ co-author of When Gifted Kids Dont Have All the Answers~ selective consumers are adept at taking the best from what school and teachers have to offer and leaving the rest behind.

My interest in the subject of selective consumers has grown in the last year or two~ after interacting with these types of students. My curiosity has driven me to read the research and experiment with my own theories. While the topic is a complicated one with no easy answers~ my own experience has boiled down to this: You have to get selective consumers to see the value in what you are teaching or the activity being presented~ and this requires a shift in perspective.

Last school year~ I worked with one brilliant young lady~ who could perform math and reading at three levels above her grade~ recite hundreds of historical facts from memory~ and trouble-shoot the teachers technology problems~ but when you gave her a county-required essay prompt to hand-write~ she would stand in the corner and cry. When a guidance counselor asked her why she didnt want to complete the assignment~ she essentially told him she thought the prompt was below her academic ability.

Recently~ I have experienced some success with aselective consumer. The student~ who I referred to as Joe in the opening paragraph of this blog~ is a very bright~ capable young man. But when presented with a new challenge~ in this case~ a research project~ he shuts down. After collaborating with the parent~ we were able to get Joe to see the research process as important~ particularly in relation to his goal of becoming a scientist. I explained that the skills he would learnfinding data~ analyzing sources~ organizing information~ presenting it-- would be extremely valuable to any scientist. Furthermore~ I assured him that I would support every step of the way~ and when it came to present his findings~ I would allow him to present in a manner that coincided with his preferred product style (creating PowerPoints and speaking).

In his work~ Delisle breaks down strategies for working with the selective consumer into three categories: supportive~ intrinsic and remedial. Id like to provide a brief summary of each category to provide you with some tools~ but Id also encourage you to read When Gifted Kids Dont Have All the Answers for an in-depth understanding.

These types of strategies involve allowing students great choice-making and control by letting them work on independent study projects tied to personal interests~ eliminating material that they have already mastered~ and permitting students to show mastery through multiple methods.

These strategies entail students helping to design class rules~ allowing them to set goals for themselves~ and teachers practicing reflective listening~ which means clarifying students comments without evaluation.

Strategies include private instruction in areas of weakness~ and using humor and personal example when addressing areas of weakness.

My hope is that by reading this blog~ you are more prepared to discover the selective consumers in your classroom. You will not make the mistake of labeling them underachievers~ but rather you will realize they are being selective in their learning and require some slightly different strategies for being successful.

Thank you~