articles, opinions, and research about teaching and learning

Interpersonal skills for learning

(With information from "Gender dimensions: Constructing interpersonal skills in the classroom," by Andrea Allard and Jeni Wilson.)

You can walk into any classroom in the world and know its spirit immediately, know whether the children in it are free to explore skills and knowledge, know whether they support each other and work together, or undermine each other's learning.

Underlying lessons in mathematics and reading, and in other subjects, are four foundation activities that must be practised by teachers and learners.

Building group spirit leads to the success of the whole class.

Competitions, divisions, and favouritism interfere with the learning of all students. As a teacher, you can help the children think of themselves that they are a learning team, in which the success of one is the success of all. And in which no student can be "left behind."

Effective communication involves listening, speaking, and taking turns.

A good teacher manages communication to be sure that a few children don't answer all the questions or dominate the discussion. Active listening, in which students take responsibility for hearing and understanding what each other says, is a vital part of the learning environment. Assertive speaking is equally important, clearly stating thoughts and feelings without interfering with the rights of others.

Cooperation enables learners to work together, sharing responsibilities, materials, roles and learning.

Small groups of children can divide roles and share responsibilities. In a science activity, one child might weigh different materials, while another might record results. Halfway through the activity, the children might swap roles. Cooperation must be practised if groups of children are to work independently.

Problem solving and negotiation help learners resolve conflicts and make decisions.

To learn how to think, children need to be encouraged to agree upon goals, weigh alternatives, make decisions and support them, and follow through to learn the outcomes of their choices. All of these processes depend on group-spirit, communication, and cooperation.

And, when conflicts arise, the same skills will help you and your students resolve them through negotiation. Compromise may be necessary, but giving in without being heard should never be.

For more information, go to Beliefs about a constructive learning environment.

Journal activity: Assessing interpersonal skills

Assess the successful use in your class of the four interpersonal skills that are important to learning. Begin by reflecting on the events of the past week:

  • What specific steps did you take to nurture any of the four interpersonal skills? (building group spirit, effective communication, co-operation, negotiation)

  • When were the children challenged to make use of these skills?

  • Did any events take place where the four essential skills were needed, but not used?

When you have completed your assessment, outline at least two specific activities that you could use to build one or more of the four tools.

Go to the Teachers Talking discussion and share your activity ideas.

If you have difficulty envisioning activities that will make a difference, go to the forum area and see what others have done.

Teacher Talking Explore Ideas · Discuss Issues · Take Action
Last revised April, 1999
Copyright © UNICEF