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Personality, Gender, and School Behaviors

Social and Emotional Resources

The following article written by Deborah L. Ruf, Ph.D. highlights the education struggles gifted youth have according to personality type and gender and orchestrates why these factors can lead to underachievement.

Extroversion, being male, and having a sister are a triple whammy for most boys during their school years! Especially for gifted boys who don’t cooperate with parent or teacher goals for them. See why.

From his and his parents’ reports, Donald always chose to be with his friends rather than change classes or develop goals that were not part of his own friendship group’s goals. When still in early elementary school, Donald was given an IQ test. He scored in the gifted range. He scored higher than his sister. But he floundered throughout his school years while his sister soared!

What’s up?

It all starts when the boy begins his elementary school years. All too often that happy, active, engaging boy starts to lose the joy that was such a noticeable part of him.

Extroverted people tend to prefer working with others

Donald was an extrovert as a child. So, how do extroversion and introversion compare to each other and how does it affect school behaviors?

E stands for extroversion. Extroverted people are energized by being with people and interacting with others. This does not necessarily mean talkative; an E can be quiet, even shy.

I stands for introversion. Introverted people gain energy by being alone. “Down time” generally means “alone time.” Introverts can be talkative and good in groups, but they need “alone time” to recharge.

How do the behaviors of extroverted school boys (and sometimes girls) compare to those of introverted gifted boys?

Common School Issues for Extroverts

Extroverted gifted children: Want to work with and do what others are doing. Resist individualized plans, subject acceleration (where friends are left behind), or working beyond what classmates are doing. Fewer E’s than I’s spend lots of time reading, and instead prefer to discuss and pick each other’s brains.

Parental and Educator Viewpoint of Extroverted Children

Because they often defy the gifted stereotype of being a loner, they are seen as “not trying” rather than as extroverted gifted. If ongoing ability grouping is not provided, this child resists going to a pull-out gifted or accelerated program, won’t follow through on an IEP, gets restless doing independent study or online learning and the child, rather than the environmental expectations of his school and family, is blamed.

Common School Issues for Introverts

Most introverts dislike “group work” (working in groups), and they have a more difficult time making friends in mixed ability classes than an extrovert because they prefer one or two good friends, or a soul mate, or would rather read a good book.

Parental and Educator Viewpoint of Introverted Gifted Children

Parents and teachers are often concerned if the child doesn’t have a lot of friends or is a loner; adults often manipulate the situation to get the student more involved with classmates and learn to get along with “peers,” although this usually means “agemates,” not true peers.

As a result of his extroverted personality, combined with his high intellect, Donald wanted to fit in with his classmates. This means he wanted to belong and be liked by his classmates. If an extroverted boys’ coursework and pacing are lower — less interesting and challenging — than he could have handled, he can become impatient and restless and make different behavioral choices of whether to bother with the assignments or spend time clowning around or playing with his buddies. If the school offers a gifted program that meets once a week or so, or even for an hour each day, if his buddies aren’t in the program, he likely will not want to go.

There is very little ability grouping in the elementary through middle school years, so even when the high school offers higher level classes for the most intelligent and advanced students, many extroverted gifted boys will refuse to leave their buddies behind. It’s especially worrisome when the extroverted gifted boy is capable of a professional career and education but most of the families in his school are not headed for post-secondary schooling. Again, he is unlikely to see himself as college material. Plus, there can be a certain amount of “who do you think you are?” that reaches the boy. Do you think you’re better than us?

Schools Tend to Fit Girls Better Than They Fit Boys

At this point, I probably do not need to point out that Donald’s sister is a girl, and schools almost always work better for girls. Both boys and girls need a “good fit,” but what works best for most girls’ school behaviors may not work best for most boys. Also, school settings tend to fit the activity and learning modes of girls (more verbal and less physically active than what most most boys need, thus the overdiagnosis of ADHD), a well-behaved, good grade-getting sister simply makes her brother look bad by comparison.

Donald reported, “My sister Arlene is always organized and hard-working, and my parents are clearly satisfied with her.”

The above situation leaves the boy, the girl, the teachers, and the parents all misconstruing what’s going on.

What is a “good fit” in school?

First, “good fit” and “best fit” pretty much mean the same thing. Some even call it a “maximal fit.” In the context of school and social life it means that the children feel as though they belong, that they are not outliers, or lonely, or weird compared to the others.

Blending many definitions together, there are two types of “best fit” and the more familiar term “Goodness of Fit”: how a trait or condition interacts, e.g., giftedness or personality, with the environment and how it interacts with the person or other people in that environment. Any trait in and of itself is not a problem; rather, it is the interaction that determines the “acceptability” of that trait.

It is not the same to say that because schools work better for girls, gifted girls experience a “good fit.” In fact, the fit is still inadequate for gifted girls especially if their intellectual abilities are in Levels Two through Five. Their agreeableness and adaptability can leave them severely under-achieving for their capabilities. Many gifted young women are later surprised that they could have been much farther along in their knowledge gathering had their fit been appropriate for them. Plus, good grades may have opened educational doors, but the good grades still didn’t tell them much about what to do with their lives or how to find work they love.

What Do We Mean by School Behaviors?

This is also where the type of school, who else is there and what the average ability level is in their classrooms, can have lifelong repercussions if students continue to accept, or be compliant with, what is offered. It can also deny them the opportunity to find true peers, both female and male, and pathways to the post-secondary institutions and careers where they ultimately would find their “best fit.” The changes in girls’ learning environments must start when they are in early grade school or most of them will not see that they are under-challenged and should seek more. Girls are usually more adept, too, at fitting in, and they often pride themselves on how well they get along with others. Of course that’s important, but it can cloud their ability to see the “getting along well” is often from her to them and not the other way around.

Had Donald’s school environment included lots of families and students who were as smart as Donald — and the schools he attended throughout his grade school years did not have that — Donald’s friends would have more likely set the expectation and pace as a group, as Harris points out in The Nurture Assumption (1998, p. 259), for working toward fulfilling and motivating careers. Extroverted gifted children, especially boys, are unlikely to choose to be the only ones who take on a more challenging learning opportunity. Either they all do it or none of them do.

Because Donald’s primary learning modes were not the same as his sister’s, he needed “moving around time” and hands-on activities. As an adult, almost all his work tasks are hands-on because he had the freedom to choose what he likes to do. Sadly, many boys like Donald end up feeling there is something wrong with them and they let other people down. Even sadder is that family and others often blame the gifted extroverted boy for failing and not living up to his potential.

What Can We Do to Fix This?

The best, most direct way to address this mis-fit issue for an extroverted gifted boy is to make sure the schools are set up to allow ability grouping in the strength areas of a group of learners, e.g., not just an independent learning plan. Until more schools do this — create ability grouping that was once the norm (it stopped in the 1980s because it was seen as unfair), or changing schools and having school choice, adults cannot expect this boy to get through it without emotional, mental health, and long-term academic and career damage. When a gifted boy is surrounded by true peers, he will fit, belong, and do what all the other kids are doing … because the curriculum and pacing fit them all! Please note that homeschooling, tutoring, or online learning rarely work well for extroverted boys.

Future posts will address other personality types and more educational options that can make a positive difference and let children be the natural people and selves that they are.

https://medium.com/@deborahruf/membership

Some key resources for parents and educators

The Minds of Boys and Girls – an Online Course for Parents – GURIAN INSTITUTE
This online course is divided into 7 Units and 27 sessions of video clips. The clips are between approximately 7 and 20…gurianinstitute.com

Boy V. Girl?: How Gender Shapes Who We Are, What We Want, and How We Get
Along Boy V. Girl?: How Gender Shapes Who We Are, What We Want, and How We Get Along [Marjorie Lisovskis, Abrahams, George…www.amazon.com

Why Gender Matters, Second Edition (2017)
Twelve years ago, Why Gender Matters broke ground in illuminating the differences between boys and girls-how they…www.leonardsax.com

Selected Bibliography

Gurian, M. (2003). What could he be thinking: How a man’s mind really works. St. Martin’s Press.

Gurian, M. (2011). Boys and girls learn differently: A guide for teachers and parents, 2nd edition. Jossey-Bass.

Harris, J. R. (1998). The nurture assumption: Why children turn out the way they do. Touchstone.

Ruf, D. L. (2009). 5 Levels of Gifted: School Issues and Educational Options. (Formerly titled Losing Our Minds: Gifted Children Left Behind, 2005). Gifted Unlimited, LLC.

Ruf, D. L. (July, 2023). The 5 Levels of Gifted Children Grown Up: What They Tell Us. 5LoG Press.


Permission Statement

Permission to reprint this article was granted by the author, Deborah L. Ruf, Ph.D.

This article is provided as a service of the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to supporting profoundly gifted young people 18 and under. To learn more about the Davidson Institute’s programs, please visit www.DavidsonGifted.org.

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