Thinking Out Loud

Teaching Kids To Communicate: Interpersonal Literacy

Recently I talked about literacy skills with a school librarian friend and the new program her school is initiating. It is yet another program to supplement the several programs already in place to help kids learn to read and write. Good, I thought, and then asked, “What about being more effective with verbal communication? Is there any effort to teach kids about interpersonal communication?”

There was silence as we both thought and scanned our combined sixty years of experience working in schools. Then she offered, “I observed a lesson in the sixth grade where students were given a writing prompt and asked to put down some of their thoughts about the topic before discussing it with a partner.” Again I thought, Good.

She also mentioned verbal presentation skills being one of the competencies addressed in the curriculum. Presentation skills, while important, are not interpersonal communication skills.

We agreed that no one really teaches interpersonal communication skills in school in an organized way because there is no structure for doing so. There are only the informal cues that teachers give kids to guide their use of language in a variety of situations. “Can you believe it?” I asked. “Interpersonal communication is the life blood of human relationships and we have no organized way to help people learn effective skills. We just expect everyone to get it.”

What a mistake. Is written communication or oral presentation more important than interpersonal communication? I think the answer is no.

As we discussed this further I said, “My goal is to help people develop their interpersonal skills by understanding the range and effect of different communication styles.”

It’s a pretty simple idea but has a very powerful impact on relationships. Perhaps we’ll recognize a new concept called “Interpersonal Communication Literacy” and integrate it into our school curriculum. Imagine sending our kids off into the world better prepared to confront the complex challenge of human relations, both personal and professional.

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