Friends of the Nonverbal Communication Club, this week we present the paper “Does Teacher Immediacy Affect Students? A Systematic Review of the Association Between Teacher Verbal and Non-verbal Immediacy and Student Motivation”, by Liu, W. (2021), in which the author carries out a revision of some previous studies about whether teacher immediacy affects students behavior.
The study of the teacher immediacy in the field of educational communication is attracting more and more the attention of experts.
But what is immediacy?
It was first introduced by Mehrabian, who defined the concept as “communication behaviors that enhance closeness and non-verbal interaction with others.” Furthermore, considering the “approach-avoidance theory”, this author proposed that people are likely to approach those who they like and away from those who they do not like.
Regarding the importance of immediacy in educational environments, other authors have proposed that the verbal and non-verbal behaviors that teachers use in their interactions with their students can be considered as a reward by them. That is, teachers could inspire students to be more motivated, attentive, and engaged, minimizing anxiety, stress, and negative reactions from students, by exhibiting verbal and non-verbal actions.
It has been pointed out that this could be especially useful for foreign/second languages classes, although it could also affect all training activities in general.
Some research has studied the satisfaction of students regarding the immediacy of the teacher. In these investigations, reached conclusions point in the direction that students who have an immediate teacher are more satisfied with their learning experience than those who do not.
Although numerous studies have sought to examine the association between immediacy and factors such as academic engagement, participation, or learning, there is less research on immediacy and motivation.
For this reason, the author decides to carry out a systemic review of the existing literature on this matter.
What would be the teacher’s behaviors of immediacy? We can classify them into verbal ones and non-verbal ones.
The verbal ones can be: calling the students by their names, asking for comments on the lessons, referring to the class as “we/us”, engaging in conversations with the students before and after class, etcetera.
The non-verbal ones can be: having close proxemics, a direct body orientation, smiles and vocal varieties, using physical gestures, making eye contact, having a relaxed body position, among others.
How was this study conducted? The author carried out a bibliographic search in different databases about the subject. After filtering numerous articles, the sample was finally reduced to 30 investigations.
Of these 30, only 5 empirical studies (17%) were carried out in foreign/second languages classes; the rest examined the interaction between teacher immediacy and student motivation in general educational contexts (science, communication, business, etc.).
Among the results obtained, it was found that students perceive the immediate behaviors of teachers as an important motivating factor in teaching-learning environments.
Regarding the role of teacher non-verbal immediacy, the findings indicated that these behaviors improve students’ motivation. In other words, it was revealed that the teacher’s non-verbal immediacy is a strong predictor of their students’ motivation.
A positive relationship was also found between the verbal immediacy of the teacher and the motivation of the students.
That is, students instructed by a teacher who uses both verbal and non-verbal immediacy behaviors are more motivated than those instructed by teachers who do not use them.
This can be explained by the fact that getting students’ attention is the most crucial factor when it comes about motivating them. Moving around the class, making eye contact, and, in general, calling them by name, etcetera, also strongly influence.
These teachers, in addition to improving the state of their students’ motivation, contribute to strengthening their interaction with them, and therefore, the relationship between them.
There are also signs that immediacy would also influence the learning outcomes of students, with higher achievements. It can be explained because these behaviors would inspire students to be more attentive and therefore improve their performance.
Among the limitations of this research, we point out the small number of studies that have been examined and, furthermore, that the vast majority of them were carried out in university and non-school contexts.
For future research, the importance of conducting more empirical studies in these settings, especially in foreign/second languages classes, is pointed out.