Education scholars interested in the communication that transpires within the classroom have often mentioned the importance of studying the teacher as a pivotal source of that communication. After searching the literature, Norton (1977) wrote that very few studies had specifically investigated teacher communication style as it relates to teacher effectiveness, though many of the exciting investigations did allude to the various components or sub-constructs that entail stylistic aspects. To fill this void within the literature, Norton (1977) utilized his conceptualization of communicator style to investigate teacher effectiveness as a function of the way a teacher communicates within the classroom (Norton 1978).
Specifically, Norton studied both teacher and student perceptions of teacher communicator style using the eleven independent variables/sub-constructs (dominant, dramatic, animated, open, contentious, relaxed, friendly, attentive, impression leaving, precise, and voice) and the one dependent variable (communicator image) that operationally define communicator style. Results from this initial investigation into the relationship between teacher communicator style and teacher effectiveness indicated that teacher effectiveness was indeed related to the way a teacher communicates within the classroom. A second result revealed that both teachers and students rated the teacher’s communication style in similar ways. Thus, teachers who perceived themselves as being dramatic and attentive were also perceived as behaving in dramatic, open, and attentive ways by the students. The final result of the study indicated that effective teachers tend to be attentive, impression leaving, not dominant, friendly, relaxed, and precise. Norton concluded that the findings of this investigation provided strong evidence that “perceived effectiveness in teaching is inextricably related to one’s style of communication” (1977, 541). In addition, he speculated that if this link between teacher communication style and teacher effectiveness exists, then the quality of classroom teaching can be improved by improving those specific teacher behaviors related to the styles that predict teacher effectiveness.
Research on Teacher Style and Effectiveness
A series of studies followed Norton’s original test of the link between teacher communicator style and teacher effectiveness utilizing his original operationalization of the communicator style construct. Nussbaum and Scott (1979, 1980) and Anderson et al. (1981) found that perceptions of teacher effectiveness and perceptions of student cognitive, affective, and behavioral learning were related to perceptions of active and open stylistic communication dimensions. In addition, these particular studies located teacher communication style within a much larger teacher–student relational context within which a teacher’s style of communication plays a pivotal role. In essence, a teacher’s communication style can have direct positive impact upon perceptions of student learning and student ratings of teacher effectiveness, and, at the same time, add significantly to the overall classroom relationship between the student and teacher that can further help produce positive student outcomes.
Kearney and McCroskey (1980) pointed out that the concept of communicator style utilized by Norton and others in their investigations of classroom communication was not solidly grounded within instructional communication theory. They grounded their notion of teacher communication style (TCS) within instructional communication theory, and defined TCS as “the collective perceptions of a teacher’s relational image in the classroom” (Kearney & McCroskey 1980, 533). TCS was measured with a survey instrument composed of three dimensions: assertiveness, versatility, and responsiveness. Findings revealed that students who perceived their teacher to be assertive, versatile, and responsive also reported greater affective and behavioral commitment toward the class, content, and instructor. In addition, students who perceived teachers as more versatile and responsive reported lower fears about communicating in class.
Norton and Nussbaum (1980) investigated the link between dramatic teacher behaviors and effective teaching. Nine dramatic behaviors were studied within this study: controls mood; pokes fun; tells good stories; is sarcastic; gets others to fantasize; catches others up in stories; gets others to laugh; is entertaining; and performs double takes. A measure of dramatic style behaviors was constructed and then administered within the classroom. Norton and Nussbaum (1980) found that two dramatic style behaviors related strongly to effective teaching (both by conventional statistical analysis and exploratory data analysis): the teacher is entertaining and the teacher performs double takes. In addition, several other teacher dramatic behaviors were shown to be utilized by highly effective teachers: story telling; gets others to laugh; catches others up in stories; pokes fun; and is sarcastic. The authors concluded that highly effective teachers appear to be doing something qualitatively different in terms of their dramatic style behaviors within the classroom than teachers who are not as effective. An additional investigation by Nussbaum (1982) utilizing causal modeling reinforced the finding that teacher dramatic style predicts effective teaching.
Nussbaum (1983) attempted to utilize the research evidence suggesting a link between a teacher’s communicator style and teacher effectiveness by conducting a systematic experiment that trained teachers to modify their in-class behavior, then observed the resulting teacher effectiveness and student test scores. Several teacher behaviors that had been associated with teacher dramatic and immediate behaviors (teacher movement, teacher gestures, and teacher eye contact) were manipulated with the use of in-class video tapes during a semester-long teacher training process for five graduate student teachers. Two significant results emerged from this intervention study. First, all five teachers changed their in-class behavior to become more dramatic and immediate after participating in the video-tape feedback training sessions. Second, these behavioral changes were shown to improve student evaluations of teacher effectiveness and student test scores as the semester progressed. While these results must be interpreted with some caution, this investigation does point toward the possibility that teacher communicator styles can be changed and that this change can produce positive outcomes within the classroom.
Javidi (1987), Nussbaum et al. (1987), and Downs et al. (1988) investigated whether highly effective teachers utilized different verbal behaviors within the classroom when compared to ineffective teachers. A coding scheme was developed to count the use of teacher humor, teacher self-disclosure, and teacher narratives. It was reasoned that each of these verbal behaviors contributed to both the dramatic and open style components of the teacher’s communicator style. Results indicated that highly effective teachers did utilize humor, self-disclosure, and narrative more frequently than ineffective teachers. In addition, highly effective teachers knew when to use humor, self-disclosure, and narratives appropriately to draw attention to and reinforce course content. It is also important to point out that the teachers studied within these investigations not only taught quite different content (from economics to music) but also taught at different grade levels (from middle school to graduate school). The common thread across content and grade level was the association between highly effective teaching and the appropriate and frequent use of humor, self-disclosure, and narratives.
Myers and Horvath (1997) have more recently investigated the relationship between Norton’s original operationalization of teacher communicator style and student affective, behavioral, and cognitive learning. Noting that the great majority of teacher communicator style research had been conducted over 15 years before this particular study, Myers and Horvath reasoned that not only had the communication dynamics of the classroom changed since the previous research was conducted, significant progress had also been made in the measurement of student learning utilized by instructional scholars. In this investigation, undergraduate participants completed a series of measures, including Norton’s communicator style measure and updated versions of scales measuring affective and cognitive learning. Results did indeed indicate several significant differences from the much earlier studies. Rather than the dramatic and attentive styles predicting positive student outcomes, Myers and Horvath found that teacher styles that were friendly, relaxed, and impression leaving resulted in students having more positive attitudes about course content. These results reinforce the findings of Potter and Emanuel (1990), who previously had found that high school students preferred teachers who were perceived to be friendly and relaxed, and who had the ability to maintain control (the dominant style) within the classroom.
The relationship between why students are motivated to communicate with their teachers and their perceptions of teacher communicator style was investigated by Myers et al. (2000). It was reasoned that communication context plays a significant role in how individuals are motivated to communicate. Because teacher communication style can affect numerous student outcomes within the classroom and can have a significant impact on classroom climate, perceived instructor communicator style should have an impact on why students choose to communicate with their instructors. Undergraduate students completed Norton’s communication style measure as well as the Student Communication Motives scale. Results revealed that five teacher styles affected student motivation to communicate with instructors: impression leaving, friendly, contentious, animated, and attentive.
A series of investigations were conducted by Scott Myers and several colleagues to investigate the relationship between teacher argumentativeness, teacher verbal aggressiveness, and positive student outcomes within college classrooms (Myers 1998, 2002; Myers & Knox 2000; Myers & Rocca 2001). Teacher argumentativeness was conceptualized as the predisposition to defend one’s position while attempting to refute another’s position and is considered to be a positive communication trait. Teacher verbal aggressiveness is any message that attacks a student’s selfconcept to deliver psychological pain and is considered to be a negative communication trait. The results of these investigations do support the notion that perceived instructor argumentativeness in the classroom is positively related to student outcomes while teacher aggressiveness is negatively related to positive classroom outcomes. Related to this work is the finding by McPherson et al. (2003) emphasizing the distinction between teacher assertive displays within the classroom, which are perceived by students to be appropriate, and teacher aggressive displays within the classroom, which are perceived to be inappropriate.
Numerous additional variables related to teacher communication style have recently been investigated and related to positive student and teacher outcomes within the classroom. For instance, teacher self-disclosure (Cayanus 2004), teacher humor (Wanzer & Frymier 1999), and positive facework by teachers (Kressen-Griep 2001) have all been shown to produce positive student and teacher outcomes within the classroom.
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