Don't hit the snooze button on potential! Recognizing and supporting high-achieving students

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How can high-achieving students be characterized? And how are they best supported to reach their full potential? Our colleague Lisa Ziernwald looked into these questions in the course of her doctoral thesis, which she successfully completed today. We are very delighted, congratulate her and take this opportunity to look at the results of her research.

Sitting in mixed-ability classrooms, sometimes undercover – high achievers are students who do particularly well, but also those with high potential. – But what does this mean? The typical image of the ambitious child does not do justice to the diversity within the group of high-achieving students: they vary greatly in terms of both domain-general and domain-specific potential and competences, as well as in their motivation. In order to support high-achieving students in a targeted way, it is therefore worth taking a closer look at their abilities and needs.

Anything but a uniform group

In order to get a more exact idea of the abilities of high-achieving students, Lisa Ziernwald compared two approaches that identify high-achieving students and assign them to different subgroups. Result of the comparison: When measuring the performance and motivation of the high-achieving students in the identified groups, differences become apparent. In other words, the two approaches group high achievers differently. Nevertheless, the so-called top performers stand out in both approaches. They consistently show the highest scores in terms of achievement, but also in regards to motivation and interest. This makes them a prime target group for specific support within the education system.

Supporting high-achieving students in mixed ability classrooms

Teachers and schools face a particular challenge in realizing the full potential of their high achievers. In addition to the multifaceted nature of their abilities, most high-achieving students learn in mixed-ability classes with students of very different performance levels.

Considering these conditions, Lisa Ziernwald sees great potential for differentiated instruction. Applied in the mixed-ability class, differentiated instruction hits two targets with one shot: it increases the academic success of high-achieving students, while also having a positive impact on the entire class, as it allows all students to learn effectively at their individual pace. However, research also shows that teachers still use differentiated instruction too infrequently. This is where schools and policymakers come in. They can provide time and resources, offer teachers further trainings and workshops and thus set the course for supporting high-achieving students in mixed-ability classes.

In her doctoral thesis, our colleague Lisa Ziernwald debunks common stereotypes about high-achieving students, shows their many facets and explains how to instruct them appropriately. "It is important to understand the abilities of high-achieving students in all their diversity in order to be able to support them in a targeted way. After all, it is not only the high-achieving students who benefit individually, but also society as a whole," she concludes after several years of research.

More about these studies:

We are happy with and for our dear colleague Lisa Ziernwald and congratulate her on the successful finalization of her dissertation!