Watch a brief video about the Pedagogy in Practice workshop on this topic.

Do you want to increase cohesiveness and inclusiveness between students in your classroom? Consider using the Interpersonal Classroom Model (ICM). The central aim of the ICM is to cultivate an open and supportive classroom environment. Instructors can use this teaching approach to encourage open dialogue within a supportive classroom setting. The ICM encourages students to gain insights from each other’s experiences and cultural perspectives, to proactively support one another, and to appreciate the diversity existing within the classroom.

The ICM approach includes three key attributes: weekly experiential learning opportunities, online evaluation surveys, and online journal entries. Through an ongoing feedback loop, the instructor monitors student progress and addresses student learning needs in a continuous manner. In a course with two class meetings per week, the instructor dedicates the first class meeting to course content and the second to experiential learning. For example, during the first class meeting, an instructor may introduce interpersonal skills, such as active listening. During the second class meeting, students then practice interpersonal skills in a group setting. After both class meetings, students complete weekly evaluation surveys and journal entries about their in-class experiences. The instructor can use this data to prepare content for the next week.

Students benefit from a weekly feedback loop. For example, students select interpersonal communication goals each week that they want to work on in class. At the end of the week, students complete evaluations and write journal entries about their in-class experiences. In their evaluations, students respond to statements with a Likert scale rating from (1) disagree to (4) agree. For instance, “I gave direct feedback to group members and willingly accepted feedback from others.” Journal entries further engage students to participate in reflective learning. After students complete journal entries, the instructor can respond with suggestions for new goals.

Feedback loops promote critical thinking among students. For example, while reading journal entries, an instructor can identify specific student learning challenges, such as a hesitancy to speak in front of others. An instructor can then inform students of themes that the instructor observed when reading journal entries and hold a class discussion allowing students to consult with each other regarding how to create a cohesive environment that is supportive of all students. When students are provided with problem-solving opportunities, they create their own solutions.

The ICM teaching approach also allows for flexibility when presenting course material. An instructor can teach course content through video demonstrations, guest speakers, and by providing students with opportunities to teach portions of the course material themselves. For example, when the semester begins, students can select skills they want to provide trainings for in the class. Throughout the semester, students deliver presentations and skill demonstrations. In this manner, students learn to share responsibility with the instructor to teach course content.

Besides encouraging students to participate in the teaching process, the ICM supports other collaborative learning strategies. For example, instructors can invite students to identify an example of when they experienced marginalization and an example of when they experienced privilege. Students can then separate into dyads to share their experiences with each other. This allows students to first speak comfortably one-on-one with another student and then form small groups to share their stories with a slightly larger audience. Afterwards, the instructor can invite all students to sit together and reflect on their personal classroom activity experiences.

In the ICM approach, students learn from experience by testing new ideas and evaluating the results. During the last week of class, the instructor can share evaluation survey results from the entire semester with the students. Students receive all survey results, including the average scores for each survey question compared week-by-week. Together students speculate about why one week was rated lower or higher than the others. As students take part in the evaluation process, they learn the integral role evaluation plays in the educational learning process.

In summary, the ICM teaching approach is designed to create an open and supportive environment where students encourage one another as they develop vital interpersonal communication skills useful for working in a variety of professional settings. This approach can be adapted for use within any academic major program on TCU’s campus. If you would like to learn more about the ICM teaching approach, please contact Tee Tyler:

Tee Tyler

This article was written by Tee Tyler, Assistant Professor of Social Work, for the Spring 2020 Issue of Insights.