Project Snapshot

Learner Autonomy and Achievement Motivation as a Function of

Teacher Immediacy and Student Attachment Representations

Gary Creasey, Ph.D.

Patricia Jarvis, Ph.D.

Dan Gadke

Psychology Department

Illinois State University

Focus of the Investigation

The purpose of this study was to identify student and instructor variables that predict the quality of student-instructor relationships and achievement orientations. One central student variable that was assessed was teacher immediacy.

What Instructor Variables Predict The Development of Positive Student-Instructor Relationships?

Because confident, self-directed students report supportive relationships with instructors, identifying variables that predict the ontogeny of these affiliations is of immense importance. One exciting variable that has some input in the development of student-instructor relationships is teacher immediacy. Teacher immediacy, a construct that has emerged from the field of communications, represents subtle verbal and nonverbal behaviors exhibited by instructors in the classroom environment. Verbal behaviors might include making positive comments about the performance of the students; whereas smiling at students while lecturing represents a nonverbal behavior. There is some evidence that teacher immediacy predicts the development of student-instructor relationships; however, this idea is mostly theoretical at the present time.


1) Student gender and generalized attachment representations did not predict the quality of relationships with instructors. That is, males and females were equally likely to form good relationships with instructors (e.g., strong connectedness, low anxiety). Further, attachment security did not predict relationship quality, that is, students that were generally secure or insecure in relationships were equally as likely to form a good relationship with their instructor.

2) Verbal and nonverbal teacher immediacy predicted differential aspects of the student-instructor relationship. High verbal immediacy was related to strong feelings of student-instructor connectedness. High nonverbal immediacy was rated to lower perceptions of relationship anxiety; that is, students that had instructors that rated high on nonverbal immediacy were less threatened by these instructors.

3) Achivement motivation (e.g., confidence, perceptions of control; self-regulation) was predicted by instructor immediacy; however, the student-instructor relationship quality mediated this relationship. That is, teacher immediacy only predicted strong achievement orientations when the student felt connected with the instructor (and were not anxious).


1) It is compelling that what students "bring into the classroom" (e.g., gender; general attachment orientations) does not strongly forecast the development of a close, non-threatening relationship with the instructor. If anything, these data suggest that general attachment problems do not create obstacles in terms of forming relationship with instructors in traditional classroom environments.

2) It appears that the verbal and nonverbal cues emulated by instructors have a strong bearing on the development of a relationship between the student and instructor. Verbal immediacy (e.g., learning the names of students; dialogue that communicates concern for student learning) appears to foster feelings of connectedness with instructors; whereas nonverbal immediacy predicts less anxiety in the relationship. Perhaps verbal immediacy fosters connectedness because there is the direct connotation concerning a regard for the student; whereas poor nonverbal immediacy (e.g., ignoring a student that raises their hand) may result in a feeling of ambiguity on the part of the student. For example, in the case of an instructor that does not respond to a student's question (e.g., a raised hand), the student must interpret the instructor's intentions which may result in heightened anxiety.


3. Although teacher immediacy predicted achievement orientations, the results suggest that highly immediate behavior is not effective unless the student develops a good relationship with the instructor. We need to keep in mind that this relationship is usually more or less a perception on part of the student, but nevertheless, a very important one. That is, feeling connected to an instructor may represent an important resource for the student because they believe that they could depend on the instructor "in case" a problem should arise. It is not surprising that such impressions are related to high student confidence, perceptions of control, and self-directed learning.

4. We are currently conducting a longitudinal study to determine if the development of a strong relationship with the instructor actually results in changes in trait-level achievement motivation over the course of the term.

What Was Your Approach and/or What Evidence Have You Gathered?

Full-time, college students (N = 263; ages 18-22)) completed questionnaires that assessed generalized attachment functioning, verbal and nonverbal teacher immediacy, aspects of the student-instructor relationship and achievement motivation. Generalized attachment functioning pertains to general attachment security (secure or insecure), whereas the student-instructor relationship pertains to feelings of connectedness (low or high) and anxiety (low or high) with the instructor. Students were instructed to rate their behavior, as well as the instructor in a randomly determined, traditional classroom context. We assessed four aspects of achievement motivation: Effort regulation; metacognitive regulation; student control over learning; and student self-efficacy. The specific measures to assess the study variables were:

Generalized attachment functioning (Relationship Questionnaire; Bartholomew & Horowitz, 1991)

Teacher Immediacy (Teacher Immediacy Scale; Gorman, 1988)

Student-Instructor Relationship (Creasey & Jarvis; please contact us for scale)

Achievement Motivation/Self-Regulated Learning (Motivated Strategies for Learning Scale; Pintrich et al., 1991)

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