Being a ‘clever clogs’ in class can also have negative consequences, study shows

The old saying ‘it’s lonely at the top’ also applies to bright school children, it seems

Standing out from the crowd by being designated the class swot can leave children socially vulnerable and, in the end, they may learn less than their not-so-bright classmates.

A new Danish study points in this direction, having followed a group of school children all the way through classes 4-6, reports

More of an irritant
“Some of the pupils labelled ‘clever’ by teachers went through a social process in which over time they experienced that other pupils – and in some cases teachers – became irritated by them,” explained Ulla Lundqvist, an associate professor at the institute for social science and pedagogy at Metropolitan University College in Copenhagen.

“Where we’ve previously assumed it was always positive to be regarded as clever, my study points to the fact that there is another side to the coin.”

Not enough help always
In particular, Lundqvist followed two pupils – a boy and a girl – who were both designated as clever, but for whom things didn’t go so well over time.

“The teachers can assume that clever pupils don’t need any help. They can also be made favourites and ‘teacher’s assistants’ when it comes to maintaining the flow in the teaching process and attaining the necessary educational goals,” added Lundqvist.

In the case of the girl, she gradually became an irritation to the teacher because she was always so eager to show she was capable of and ended up being thought of as a disruptive element and being ignored. Socially, she was thought of as having a negative role in the class – even though she was only trying to contribute to the common learning process.

The boy helped the teacher by guessing the answers to the teacher’s questions, but when Lundkvist analysed video footage of him in class, she found that the teacher was giving him the answers. In that way, he was probably learning less than if he had to work them out himself. Socially, he was seen by the others as being a ‘teacher’s pet’ and ended up socially vulnerable.

Teachers need a policy
Lundkvist believes that schools in general ought to be more conscious of what they mean by a ‘clever pupil’ so that they can identify the consequences a pupil’s role can have for the teaching process in general.

“It’s important that teachers share experiences on what social behaviour they associate with bright pupils so that it does not become a negative thing to be eager,” Lundkvist adds.


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