Teacher confirmation is the transactional process by which teachers communicate to students that they – the students – are valuable, significant individuals. Like other affective variables such as teacher immediacy and teacher caring, studies indicate that perceived teacher confirmation plays a very important role in students’ learning.
Philosopher Martin Buber (1957) was the first to write about confirmation in an interpersonal sense. He argued that confirmation may well be the most significant feature of human interaction, and that it is the interactional phenomenon by which we discover and establish our identity as humans. British psychiatrist Laing (1961) further developed the construct and emphasized that confirmation includes actions on the part of others that cause individuals to feel endorsed, recognized, and acknowledged as unique, valuable human beings. Disconfirmation, on the other hand, negates the other as a valid message source and communicates to the other that he or she is less than human, that he or she is merely a thing, an object in the environment, worthless and insignificant as a human being.
Although empirical research about confirmation is limited, much progress has been made toward the clarification of confirmation theory and the identification and systemization of specific communication behaviors that are likely to influence individuals in such a way that they feel confirmed or disconfirmed. Sieburg (1973, 1975) initiated this effort when she extracted the basic dimensions of confirmation and disconfirmation from the conceptual framework provided by Laing (1961) and the descriptive work by Watzlawick et al. (1967). According to the Sieburg (1975) and Cissna and Sieburg (1981) typology, confirmation includes the interrelated clusters of (1) recognition, (2) acknowledgment, and (3) endorsement. Disconfirmation includes (1) indifference, (2) imperviousness, and (3) disqualification of the speaker, his or her message, or both.
Empirical work is just beginning regarding the role of confirmation in instructional settings. Building upon the theoretical underpinnings just described, Ellis (2000) developed a typology of teacher confirmation behaviors and validated a measure of perceived teacher confirmation that delineates specific teacher behaviors students identified as confirming or disconfirming. Analysis of data obtained through student focus groups revealed four general categories of behavioral patterns through which teachers communicate confirmation: (1) teachers’ response to students’ questions and comments, (2) demonstrated interest, (3) teaching style, and (4) absence of disconfirmation. Teachers’ response to students’ questions includes taking time to answer students’ questions fully and listening attentively when students ask questions or make comments during class. Demonstrated interest includes making an effort to get to know students, showing interest in whether they are learning, and communicating a belief that students can do well in the class. A confirming teaching style is interactive and employs a variety of teaching techniques to help students understand course material. Absence of disconfirmation includes the avoidance of teacher behaviors such as rudeness, belittling, and embarrassing students in front of the class.
Using two samples, Ellis (2000) explored the relationship between perceived teacher confirmation and learning and found that perceived teacher confirmation is a strong, significant predictor of learning, uniquely explaining 30 percent of the variance in affective learning and 18 percent of the variance in cognitive learning. She also found that the effect on cognitive learning was mediated through affective learning. In subsequent studies, Ellis (2004) examined students’ actual feelings of being confirmed and disconfirmed as a function of the perceived teacher behaviors previously identified. Findings indicated that 61 percent of the variance in students’ feelings of confirmation was attributable to perceived teacher confirmation. Ellis (2004) also examined how teacher confirmation operates in the instructional process to influence students’ receiver apprehension, state motivation, and learning. She found a very large and direct effect of teacher confirmation on receiver apprehension and large indirect effects of teacher confirmation on motivation, affective learning, and cognitive learning. Thus, the effect of teacher confirmation on learning appears to be mediated through receiver apprehension.
Results of these early studies clearly attest to the importance of teacher confirmation in instructional settings. One may reasonably ask, however, how confirmation differs from immediacy. Although Ellis (2000) demonstrated that the constructs are not completely redundant, given the potency of teacher confirmation reported in the existing studies, it is not unreasonable to speculate that confirmation may actually include immediacy. Confirmation may well be the underlying latent variable of immediacy as well as of several other affective variables that appear in instructional communication literature. All are conceptually and empirically overlapping, yet each is important and contributes to our knowledge of communication behaviors that characterize effective teaching.
- Buber, M. (1957). Distance and relation. Psychiatry, 20, 97–104.
- Cissna, K. N., & Sieburg, E. (1981). Patterns of interactional confirmation and disconfirmation. In C. Wilder-Mott & J. H. Weakland (eds.), Rigor and imagination: Essays from the legacy of Gregory Bateson. New York: Praeger, pp. 253–282.
- Ellis, K. (2000). Perceived teacher confirmation: The development and validation of an instrument and two studies of the relationship to cognitive and affective learning. Human Communication Research, 26, 264–291.
- Ellis, K. (2004). The impact of perceived teacher confirmation on receiver apprehension, motivation, and learning. Communication Education, 53, 1–20.
- Laing, R. D. (1961). The self and others. New York: Pantheon.
- Sieburg, E. (1973). Interpersonal confirmation: Conceptualization and measurement. Paper presented at the International Communication Convention, Montreal, Canada.
- Sieburg, E. (1975). Interpersonal confirmation: A paradigm for conceptualization and measurement.
- San Diego, CA: United States International University. (ERIC document no. ED 098 634/CS 500881).
- Watzlawick, P., Beavin, J., & Jackson, D. D. (1967). Pragmatics of human communication: A study of interactional patterns, pathologies, and paradoxes. New York: Norton.
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