For young people, exams are the primary measure of their ‘achievement’. Exams define how we categorise our children and what level of ‘intelligence’ society considers them to possess. Anyone who has struggled at school will understand the negative impact it can have and how unfair it is to be considered as lacking intelligence simply because you did not understand covalent bonds in chemistry but excelled at music or sport.
How, therefore, can we help those labelled ‘not academic’ to thrive and establish a rewarding career?
Theory of Multiple Intelligences
Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences is a good place to start. Gardner was challenging the concept of a single type of intelligence, summarised by the exams and tests young people take every year in schools, colleges and universities.
He proposed that instead of a single definition of intelligence, there are eight:
- Linguistic: aptitude for spoken and written language, the ability to learn a language and use languages to achieve objectives (e.g. a translator or an author);
- Logical-Mathematical: a talent for logical and/or mathematical problem-solving, methodical investigation of problems to a conclusion (e.g. an accountant or scientist);
- Spatial: the ability to recognise and manipulate space, assess or create patterns in space (e.g. landscape gardener or an architect);
- Bodily-Kinaesthetic: using the body or parts of the body to create objects, manipulate them or solve problems with them (e.g. carpenter or sports coach)
- Musical: skilled in the understanding, appreciation, composition and performance of musical patterns (e.g. a composer or a musician);
- Interpersonal: an aptitude for understanding the motivations or intentions of other people and the ability to work collaboratively with them to achieve a goal (e.g. marketing consultant or a teacher);
- Intrapersonal: the ability to understand and manage their own emotions, intentions and capacities (e.g. a counsellor or psychologist); and
- Naturalist: a desire to understand, classify and harmonise with the surrounding natural world of other species and living organisms (e.g. biologist or gardener).
He believed these offer a more comprehensive assessment of ‘intelligence’ and one that took into account the natural abilities and talents of the individual. Using Gardner’s model, it is possible to determine a young person’s intelligence type. In doing so, we can then support them to focus their efforts on areas of aptitude.
Consider their natural aptitudes
Take time to consider your child’s strengths and natural aptitudes. How do they sit within the model of intelligence? Ideally, do this collaboratively with them. Discuss what they are good at and the subjects that click naturally with them.
From there, future career prospects based on their strengths and abilities can become clearer and importantly, it is possible to remove some of the pressure that might surround their performance in subjects they are less well-equipped for.
Help them set realistic goals
Once those natural areas of strength are determined, it is important to help young people set realistic goals. A naturalist intelligence does not guarantee a future as the next Sir David Attenborough or Dame Jane Goodall. But it does mean with effort and commitment, they could follow in such illustrious footsteps.
Similarly, understanding their intelligence type is not an excuse to give up on difficult subjects. The ability to complete and pass exams in trickier subjects develops skills and resilience which will benefit them for a lifetime.
What pressure are you putting on them?
Take a step back and look at your expectations for your child. Do you expect too much from them? Are you adding more pressure? Do you feel that they have to do things ‘differently’ than you did to have a happy life? Conversely, do you feel that they have to do things exactly as you did to be content?
Academic studies are not for everyone
Understand that a traditional academic environment is not suitable for everyone. Young people can flourish when they leave school and start an apprenticeship or join the workforce. Some decide later in life they want to return to study and have success going to college or university as a mature student.
There is no one set path for young people coming out of school and it is important to let them know that.
Counselling for young adults
If you think your child or young person is struggling at school, encourage them to speak to a teacher or mental health practitioner.
The Spark provides counselling for young people through Scottish schools and individually online. Our team of specialist children and young people counsellors work extensively with young adults.
You can also complete an enquiry form and we will call you back.