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Revisiting validation theory: Theoretical foundations, applications, and extensions

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Abstract

Laura I. Rendón (1994) introduced validation theory with particular applicability to low- income, first-generation students enrolled in higher education. Validation theory was offered as a new way to theorize how these students might find success in college, especially those who found it difficult to get involved, had been invalidated in the past, or had doubts about their ability to succeed. This article gives special attention to: 1) how the theory was developed, including the theoretical foundations of the theory; 2) how the theory has been employed as the foundation to frame studies, discuss student success, improve pedagogy, foster student development, and frame institutional strategies; 3) which theoretical perspectives overlap with validation theory; 4) epistemological and ontological assumptions in validation theory; and 5) future directions that could enhance the theory, as well as advance the future research and practice of validation.
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12 Enrollment Management Journal Summer 2011
Laura I. Rendón Linares, Susana M. Muñoz
12 Enrollment Management Journal Summer 2011
Revisiting Validation eory: eoretical
Foundations, Applications, and Extensions
Laura I. Rendón Linares
University of Texas at San Antonio
Susana M. Muñoz
University of WisconsinMilwaukee
Abstract
Laura I. Rendón (1994) introduced validation theory with particular applicability to low-
income, rst-generation students enrolled in higher education. Validation theory was oered
as a new way to theorize how these students might nd success in college, especially those who
found it dicult to get involved, had been invalidated in the past, or had doubts about their
ability to succeed. is article gives special attention to: 1) how the theory was developed,
including the theoretical foundations of the theory; 2) how the theory has been employed
as the foundation to frame studies, discuss student success, improve pedagogy, foster student
development, and frame institutional strategies; 3) which theoretical perspectives overlap with
validation theory; 4) epistemological and ontological assumptions in validation theory; and
5) future directions that could enhance the theory, as well as advance the future research and
practice of validation.
Introduction
Introduced by Laura I. Rendón in 1994, validation theory slowly yet
signicantly found an audience of scholars and practitioners who sought a
theory that could speak to the issues and backgrounds of low-income, rst-
generation students (the rst in the family to attend college), as well as adult
students returning to college after being away for some time. As originally
conceived, validation refers to the intentional, proactive armation of students
by in- and out-of-class agents (i.e., faculty, student, and academic aairs sta,
family members, peers) in order to: 1) validate students as creators of knowledge
and as valuable members of the college learning community and 2) foster
personal development and social adjustment.
Enrollment Management Journal Summer 2011 13
Revisiting Validation eory: eoretical Foundations, Applications, and Extensions
Often, students labeled as “nontraditional” attend aordable community
colleges and Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs) such as Historically Black
Colleges and Universities and Hispanic-Serving Institutions, as opposed to
elite, expensive, research-extensive universities. “Traditional” students are those
whose families have a history of college attendance, come from middle- and
upper-class families, and typically feel condent about attending college.
Conversations and expectations about college attendance are generally part of
family life. Conversely, for nontraditional students the decision to attend college
is typically not automatic or expected. Students struggle weighing the costs and
benets of attending college versus working full time to help supplement the
family income. Some students question if they are “college material,” which
often stems from past invalidation in their prior schooling experiences. Many
of these students hail from communities where college graduates are scarce.
Consequently, they have few role models and friends in their communities
who can help them navigate the college-going process (i.e., lling out college
admissions and nancial aid applications, taking college entrance exams,
selecting appropriate programs). While college involvement is a desired activity
for these students, they are often unaware of the availability of opportunities and
resources because they do not know what questions to ask. For nontraditional
students, institutional validation can be the key to attaining success in college
(Rendón, 1994, 2000; Solorzano & Yosso, 2000).
e Development of Validation eory
In the early 1990s, the U.S. Department of Education funded the National
Center for Postsecondary Teaching, Learning and Assessment, which was
headquartered at Pennsylvania State University. A key research strand dealt with
the transition to college and involved well-known researchers and student aairs
leaders such as Patrick Terenzini, Lee Upcraft, Susan B. Millar, Romero Jalomo
(then a doctoral student at Arizona State University), Kevin Allison, Patti Gregg,
and Laura I. Rendón. ese scholars were primarily interested in assessing the
inuences of students’ out-of-class experiences on learning and retention. To
do so, they designed and conducted a qualitative study involving focus group
interviews. A total of 132 rst-year students were interviewed. Sites included a
predominantly minority community college in the Southwest, a predominantly
White, residential, liberal arts college in a middle Atlantic state, a predominantly
14 Enrollment Management Journal Summer 2011
Laura I. Rendón Linares, Susana M. Muñoz
Black, urban, commuter, comprehensive state university in the Midwest, and a
large, predominantly White, residential research university in a middle Atlantic
state (Rendón, 1994).
Researchers worked with an institutional contact person who recruited the
students to participate in the focus group interviews. Students who volunteered
to be interviewed were paid $10 for participating in focus groups lasting between
1–1.5 hours. e sample yield included a diverse student body in terms of gender,
race/ethnicity, and residency (residential and commuting students). e original
transition to college study was framed using Astins (1985) theory of student
involvement and Pascarella and Terenzini’s (1991) review of 20 years of research
on the eects of college on students. An open-ended interview protocol was
designed. Questions dealt with issues such as how students made decisions to
attend college, their expectations for and the reality of college, signicant people
and events in their transition, selected characteristics of the transition, and the
general eects of college on students (Rendón, 1994).
Once interviews had been transcribed, the research team held telephone
conference calls to analyze what students were saying about their rst-year
experience in college. Initially, the researchers were looking for emergent themes
related to college student involvement, given that the scholars were employing
Astins (1985) theory of involvement as the studys framework. As the study
progressed, two revelations became apparent: 1) there were stark dierences
in the way low-income and auent, “traditional” students experienced the
transition to college, and 2) at some point, low-income students suddenly began
to believe in themselves not so much because of their college involvement, but
because some person(s), in- or outside-of-college took the initiative to reach out
to them to arm their innate capacity to learn.
For example, when students were asked when they knew they could be
successful, they did not typically cite instances of getting involved in college.
Rather, they spoke, often with excitement and awe, about the reassurance and
validation they received from individuals they encountered in college (i.e.,
faculty, peers, counselors, advisers, and/or coaches) and the outside-of-college
personal world of family and friends (sisters, brothers, partners, spouses,
children, grandparents, uncles, aunts). For many students, this was the rst time
Enrollment Management Journal Summer 2011 15
Revisiting Validation eory: eoretical Foundations, Applications, and Extensions
someone had expressed care and concern and the rst time someone made them
feel that their prior life experiences and knowledge were valuable. For example,
validating experiences included instances such as when:
• Facultytookthetimetolearntheirnamesandrefertothembyname.
• Facultygavestudentsopportunitiestowitnessthemselvesas
successful learners.
• Facultyensuredthatthecurriculumreectedstudentbackgrounds.
• Facultysharedknowledgewithstudentsandbecamepartnersinlearning.
• Facultytoldstudents,“Youcandothis,andIamgoingtohelpyou.
• Coachestookthetimetohelpstudentsselectcoursesandplantheirfutures.
• Parents,spouses,andchildrensupportedstudentsintheirquesttoearna
college degree.
• Facultyencouragedstudentstosupporteachother(i.e.,formfriendships,
develop peer networks, share assignments, provide positive reinforcement).
• Facultyandstaservedasmentorsforstudentsandmadeaneortto
meet with them outside of class such as in patio areas, in cafeterias, and/
or in the library.
Reecting carefully on what students were saying about what was most meaningful
to them as they navigated the transition to college, the term “validation” seemed to
make the most sense. e impact of validation on students who have experienced
powerlessness, doubts about their own ability to succeed, and/or lack of care
cannot be understated. Validation helped these kinds of students to acquire a
condent, motivating, “I can do it” attitude, believe in their inherent capacity to
learn, become excited about learning, feel a part of the learning community, and
feel cared about as a person, not just a student.
eoretical Foundation of Validation eory
Rendón (1994) took the originally conceived construct of validation and
theorized its implications for student development and learning in an article
that appeared in Innovative Higher Education. In developing the theory of
validation, Rendón (1994) was inuenced by the work of feminist researchers
who had produced a groundbreaking study of women as learners, Womens Ways
16 Enrollment Management Journal Summer 2011
Laura I. Rendón Linares, Susana M. Muñoz
of Knowing (Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger, & Tarule, 1986). ese scholars
discussed a class of women who were essentially “undereducated,” and felt
powerless and voiceless. ese women had come to believe that “they could
not think or learn as well as men” (p. 16). ey “feared being wrong, revealing
their ignorance or being laughed at” (p. 57). Coming from all walks of life,
and cutting across class, racial/ethnic, age, and educational backgrounds, some
of these women had experienced a powerful developmental progression “from
silence or conformity to external denitions of truth into subjectivism” (p. 54).
In short, these women had moved from relying solely on external “authorities
for reliance on truth to acknowledging and working with an internal authority
which recognized that truth and understanding relied on considering multiple
perspectives, including ones own personal experience. What had transformed
these women was armation provided by maternal or nurturing authorities
(in these cases: therapists, peers, mothers, sisters, grandmothers, and/or close
friends). ese sympathetic, nonjudgmental individuals helped women to
“begin to hear that maybe she is not such an incompetent, a dummy, or an
oddity. She has experience [original emphasis] that may be valuable to others;
she, too, can know things” (pp. 60–61). A paradoxical situation appeared to
be at work here. External conrmation from nurturant authorities was helpful
in order to get women to focus on their internal, subjective views about their
ability to become knowers in their own right. While women relied on external
agents as powerful knowledge bearers, they also recognized the self as a shared
authority in meaning making and knowledge production.
Similarly, Rendón (2002) noted:
Many nontraditional students come to college needing a sense of direction
and wanting guidance but not in a patronizing way. ey do not succeed
well in an invalidating, sterile, ercely competitive context for learning that
is still present in many college classrooms today. For example, some faculty
and sta view certain kinds of students as incapable of learning, assault
students with information and/or withhold information, instill doubt and
fear in students, distance themselves from students, silence and oppress
students, and/or create ercely competitive learning environments that pit
students against each other. is kind of “no pain, no gain” learning context
Enrollment Management Journal Summer 2011 17
Revisiting Validation eory: eoretical Foundations, Applications, and Extensions
greatly disadvantages nontraditional student populations such as working-
class women and minorities. (p. 644)
is suggests that many students encounter subtle and overt forms of racism,
sexism, and oppression on college campuses. While some students are perfectly
able to overcome these potentially devastating and invalidating experiences
through sheer determination and will to succeed, it is likely that the most
vulnerable students will respond by dropping out of college. Validation theory
provides a framework that faculty and sta can employ to work with students
in a way that gives them agency, armation, self-worth, and liberation from
past invalidation. e most vulnerable students will likely benet from external
validation that can serve as the means to move students toward gaining internal
strength resulting in increased condence and agency in shaping their own
lives. As such, both external armation and internal acknowledgements of self-
competence are important in shaping academic success. What is being theorized
is that for many low-income, rst-generation students, external validation is
initially needed to move students toward acknowledgement of their own internal
self-capableness and potentiality.
Elements of Validation
e theory of validation has six elements. Rendón (1994) indicated that
validation is an enabling, conrming and supportive process initiated by in- and
out-of-class agents that fosters academic and interpersonal development” (p. 44).
e rst element places the responsibility for initiating contact with students on
institutional agents such as faculty, advisers, coaches, lab assistants, and counselors.
Nontraditional students will likely nd it dicult to navigate the world of college
by themselves. ey will be unlikely to take advantage of tutoring centers, faculty
oce hours, or the library, because they will be working o campus, will feel
uncomfortable asking questions, and/or will not want to be viewed as stupid or
lazy. Consequently, it is critical that validating agents actively reach out to students
to oer assistance, encouragement, and support, as opposed to expecting students
to ask questions rst. ere are some who would say that validation is akin to
coddling students to the point that it might make them weaker, and that college
students should be able to survive on their own. However, validation is not about
pampering students or making them weaker. On the contrary, it is about making
18 Enrollment Management Journal Summer 2011
Laura I. Rendón Linares, Susana M. Muñoz
students stronger in terms of assisting them to believe in their ability to learn,
acquire self-worth, and increase their motivation to succeed. Validating actions
should be authentic, caring, and nonpatronizing.
e second element speaks to the notion that when validation is present,
students feel capable of learning and have a sense of self-worth. Whomever the
student turns to for validation, the arming action should serve to conrm
that the student brings knowledge to college and has the potential to succeed.
e third element is that validation is likely
a prerequisite for student development. In
other words, when students are validated on
a consistent basis, they are more likely to feel
condent about themselves and their ability
to learn and to get involved in college life. e
fourth element is that validation can occur in and out of class. Validating agents
actively arm and support students on a consistent basis. Fifth is that validation
should not be viewed as an end, but rather as a developmental process which
begins early and can continue over time. Numerous instances of validation over
the time the student spends in college can result in a richer college experience.
Finally, because nontraditional students can benet from early validating
experiences and positive interactions in college, validation is most critical when
administered early in the college experience, especially during the rst few weeks
of class and the rst year of college.
Types of Validation
ere are two types of validation: academic and interpersonal. Academic
validation occurs when in- and out-of-class agents take action to assist
students to “trust their innate capacity to learn and to acquire condence in
being a college student” (Rendón, 1994, p. 40). In classrooms, faculty can
create learning experiences that arm the real possibility that students can
be successful. One way this can be done is by inviting guest speakers and
exposing students to individuals who come from backgrounds similar to the
students. One of the reasons why many students nd ethnic studies programs
so appealing is because they are able to learn in a validating classroom context.
Students can cultivate a learning a community, have professors who draw out
When validation is
present, students feel
capable of learning
and have a sense
of self-worth.
{
{
Enrollment Management Journal Summer 2011 19
Revisiting Validation eory: eoretical Foundations, Applications, and Extensions
student strengths, learn about their history, see themselves in the curriculum,
and interact and develop close relationships with faculty and peers who reect
their own backgrounds. Another example is that faculty can validate the notion
that what students know and bring to the classroom is as valuable as what others
think and know. is calls for attention to the curriculum so that students
witness themselves in what they are reading and learning. Yet another example is
that faculty can arm student cultural experience and voice by having students
write about topics rooted in students’ personal histories. Rendón (1994) also
noted another example of academic validation, which can occur when faculty
members design activities where students can witness themselves as powerful
learners. In this example, the participant, a community college student who
had been out of school for a long time and had been raising children on her
own, initially believed she might not be able to nd success in college. When
asked, “When did you believe that you could be a capable college student?” she
enthusiastically referred to her communications class, in which she had been
taped giving a speech. e student reected on the experience of watching
herself on tape:
I dont know quite how to say this, but when you hear yourself talk … and
you observe this individual that has blossomed into something that I hadnt
even been aware … I would sit in awe and say, “at’s me. Look at you.
And I like me.” (p. 41)
In a validating classroom, faculty and teaching assistants actively reach out
to students to oer assistance, encouragement, and support and provide
opportunities for students to validate each other through encouraging comments
that validate the work of peers.
Interpersonal validation occurs when in- and out-of-class agents take action to
foster students’ personal development and social adjustment (Rendón, 1994).
In a validating classroom, the instructor arms students as persons, not just as
students. Faculty do not detach themselves from students. Rather, faculty build
supporting, caring relationships with students and allow students to validate
each other and to build a social network through activities such as forming study
groups and sharing cell phone numbers.
20 Enrollment Management Journal Summer 2011
Laura I. Rendón Linares, Susana M. Muñoz
Review of Research Studies Using Validation eory
A review of quantitative and qualitative studies over the past 15 years reveals that
validation theory has been employed in a variety of ways.
Validation as a eoretical Framework
Validation has provided a theoretical framework to guide research that attempts
to understand the college experience for low-income, rst-generation students
such as students of color, developmental education students, immigrants,
community college students, and international students (Ayala Austin,
2007; Barnett, 2011; Bustos Flores, Riojas Clark, Claeys, & Villarreal, 2007;
Dandridge Rice, 2002; Ezeonu, 2006; Gupton, Castelo Rodriguez, Martinez,
& Quintanar, 2007; Harvey, 2010; Holmes, Ebbers, Robinson, & Mugenda,
2007; Lundberg, Schreiner, Hovaguimian, & Miller, 2007; Pérez & Ceja,
2010; Rendón, 2002; Saggio & Rendón, 2004; Stein, 2006; Vasquez, 2007).
Collectively, these studies provide the following key ndings:
• Somestudentsexperienceinvalidationwhileincollege.Examplesof
invalidating actions include some faculty who students believe are
unapproachable, inaccessible, and often dehumanizing toward students.
• Academicvalidationcantakemultipleforms.Forexample,faculty,
counselors, and advisers can arm the real possibility that students can
be successful college students. Faculty can also validate students’ cultural
experiences and voices in the classroom, provide opportunities for
students to witness themselves as capable learners, and actively reach out
to students to oer support and academic assistance.
• Facultycouldbenetfromtrainingtoprovideacademicand
interpersonal validation for their students.
• Studentsbenetsignicantlyfromvalidation.Studentsareproudwhen
they are recognized as capable learners, and when they develop a strong
sense of condence. ey feel cared about when faculty and sta take the
extra time to support them during dicult times.
• Employingvalidationdoesnotmeanthatfacultyneedtolowertheir
academic expectations.
Enrollment Management Journal Summer 2011 21
Revisiting Validation eory: eoretical Foundations, Applications, and Extensions
Validation as a Framework to Foster Student Understanding and Success
In numerous cases, the theory is cited in literature reviews, research ndings,
and recommendations (often alongside other student success, engagement, and
persistence theories) when attempting to provide educators and policymakers
with a better understanding of at-risk, underrepresented populations and when
proposing strategies to improve student retention, transfer, and academic success
(Bragg, 2001; Castellanos & Gloria, 2007; Chaves, 2006; Cox, 2009; Dodson,
Montgomery, & Brown, 2009; Jain, 2010; Jalomo, 1995; Maramba, 2008;
Martin Lohnk & Paulsen, 2005; Martinez & Fernandez, 2004; Martinez
Aleman, 2000; Moreno, 2002; Museus & Quaye, 2009; Nora, 2003; Nora,
Barlow, & Crisp, 2006; Nora & Crisp, 2009; Nuñez, forthcoming; Nuñez,
Murkami-Ramalho, & Cuero, 2010; Oseguera, Locks, & Vega, 2009; Patton,
McEwen, Rendón, & Howard-Hamilton, 2007; Pérez & Ceja, 2010; Rendón,
2000, 2005, 2009; Tinto, 1998; Smith, 2009; Solorzano, Villalpando, &
Oseguera, 2005; Terenzini, et. al., 1994; Woodlief, omas, & Orozco, 2003).
e theory has also been used to frame student success initiatives (Bustos Flores,
Riojas Clark, Claeys, & Villarreal, 2007; Richter & Antonucci, 2010; University
of Texas at El Paso, 2006). Taken together, these research articles posit that:
• Low-income,rst-generationstudentsrequirebothin-andout-of-class
validating support strategies and communities comprised of faculty,
counselors, advisers, family, peers, and professionals.
• Studentknowledgeandexperienceshouldbeusedasalearningresource
and be validated in the curriculum.
• Students’personalidentitiesandoccupationalrolesshouldbevalidated.
• Avalidatingteamoffacultyandcounselorscanprovidestudentswith
care, encouragement, and support, as well as key information needed to
transfer and academic skills needed to be successful in college.
Validation as a Tool to Improve Pedagogic Practice
Validation theory has been employed in connection with the improvement of
teaching and learning practices through the use of validating environments
(Rendón, 2009, 2002) and in the development of teaching approaches with
concern for inclusive, liberating pedagogy (Bragg, 2001; Jehangir, 2009; Nuñez,
Marakami-Ramalho, & Cuero, 2010; Rendón, 2009). Liberatory pedagogy
22 Enrollment Management Journal Summer 2011
Laura I. Rendón Linares, Susana M. Muñoz
works against the oppressive banking model of education that oppresses and
exploits students (Freire, 1971). Instead, a liberatory pedagogy honors diverse
ways of knowing, invites all to participate in knowledge production, allows both
teachers and students to be holders and beneciaries of knowledge, promotes
an ethic of care, helps students nd voice and self-worth, and works with a
curriculum that is democratic, inclusive, and reective of student backgrounds.
Researchers such as Nuñez, Murakami-Ramalho, and Cuero (2010), as well as
Rendón, (2009), contend that faculty need to critically reect upon their own
assumptions of students. Often, students of color and rst-generation students
are regarded as non-college material, and some faculty view these students
from a decit standpoint. Validation theory is related to the tenets of liberatory
pedagogy in the following ways:
• Facultybecomeaccessible,supportivevalidatingpartnersinlearning
with students.
• Facultyvalidatestudentculturalidentities.Validationofonescultural
identity and prior knowledge can address the existing inequities with
educational attainment among student-of-color populations.
• eclassroominvitesstudentstoexploretheconnectionsbetweentheir
personal histories, group, and community contexts to allow students to
arm their own identities and create new knowledge. is can also help
students decipher abstract concepts and become comfortable challenging
ideas in class.
• ecurriculumcontainsassignmentsthatreectstudentbackgrounds.
Validation as a Student Development eory
For the next generation of student aairs practitioners and scholars, student
development theory is important in understanding the developmental process of
college students. At the same time, researchers (Evans, Forney, Guido, Patton, &
Renn, 2010) have cautioned practitioners and scholars to keep in mind: 1) the
applicability of theory in various contexts (theories must consider environmental
factors), 2) the generalization of theory to all student experiences (theories must
consider student dierences), and 3) the utilization of theory as a solution to
student behaviors (theories are not prescriptions to remedy student behavior
but rather a way in which students can engage and reect about their own
developmental process).
Enrollment Management Journal Summer 2011 23
Revisiting Validation eory: eoretical Foundations, Applications, and Extensions
Validation theory (Rendón, 1994), can be considered to have an “interactionist
perspective” (Evans et. al, 2010, p. 29) that considers environmental factors
and agents such as “… physical surroundings, organizational structures, human
aggregates, and individuals” (p. 29) that can either help or hinder students’ growth
and development. Nancy Schlossberg’s (1989) concept of mattering and marginality
has attributes of interpersonal validation by focusing on human needs such as
attention, caring, feeling needed and appreciated, and identifying with others.
eoretical Perspectives Supporting Validation eory
eoretical perspectives posed by numerous scholars share remarkable
consonance with some key elements of validation theory. e theories briey
summarized below have important implications for creating validating, inclusive
learning environments where all students (regardless of gender, race/ethnicity,
sexuality, physical ability, or socioeconomic background) can thrive.
ABC model of creating inclusive environments. Daniel Tatum (2007) posits that
inclusive classrooms should focus on an ABC model, where A is arming
identity, B is building community, and C is cultivating leadership. Arming
identity “refers to the fact that students need to see themselves—important
dimensions of their identity—reected in the environment around them, in
the curriculum, among the faculty and sta, and in the faces of their classmates
to avoid feelings of invisibility or marginality that can undermine student
success” (p. 22). Building community “refers to the importance of creating a
school community in which everyone has a sense of belonging, while cultivating
leadership prepares students to be active citizens in society” (p. 22).
Community cultural wealth model. Yossos (2005) community cultural wealth
model employs a critical race theory framework to challenge decit-based
perspectives that view all low-income students as marginal and as possessing
limited social, educational, and cultural assets. Instead, Yosso (2005) views
low-income students from an asset perspective, and theorizes that students
may possess at least one but often multiple forms of capital. is capital may
be categorized as 1) aspirational (referring to student hopes and dreams), 2)
linguistic (speaking more than one language), 3) familial (ways of knowing
in immediate and extended family), 4) social (signicant others who provide
support), 5) navigational (ability to maneuver institutional structures), and 6)
resistance (ability to recognize and challenge inequities).
24 Enrollment Management Journal Summer 2011
Laura I. Rendón Linares, Susana M. Muñoz
Funds of knowledge. Luis Moll, Cathy Amanti, Deborah Ne, and Norma
Gonzalez (2001) worked with the concept of funds of knowledge “to refer to
the historically accumulated and culturally developed bodies of knowledge and
skills essential for household or individual functioning and well-being” (p. 133).
Funds of knowledge is an asset-based theory where teachers can become learners,
and can come to know their students and the families of their students in new
and distinct ways. e theory of funds of knowledge debunks the pervasive,
decit-based notion that linguistically and culturally diverse working-class
minority households lack worthwhile knowledge and experiences. When faculty
and sta take time to get to know students—to acknowledge and validate their
backgrounds, culture, family sacrices, challenges they have overcome, etc.—
they can view students with more respect and understanding. In the process of
working more closely with students, faculty can potentially draw out hidden
talents and abilities.
Liberatory pedagogy. Scholars such as Paulo Freire (1971) and Laura I. Rendón
(2009), among others such as Peter McLaren (1995), Antonia Darder (2002),
bell hooks (1994), and Henry Giroux (1988), have advanced the notion
that education must transcend the “banking model” (Freire, 1971), where
knowledge is simply “deposited” in students’ minds and faculty operate at
a distance from students. ese scholars posit that the banking model is
oppressive in nature, exploiting and dominating students, as well as working
against democratic structures that honor diverse ways of knowing and
participation in knowledge production. A liberatory pedagogy allows both
teachers and students to be holders and beneciaries of knowledge. rough
an ethic of care, compassion, and validation, faculty and sta can liberate
oppressed students from self-limiting views about their ability to learn and
can help students nd voice and self-worth. e curriculum is democratic,
inclusive and reective of student backgrounds. Ultimately, a liberatory
pedagogy has the potential to transform both faculty and students who break
away from conventional ways of teaching and learning that oppress and
marginalize students. Students can begin to dene themselves as competent
college students and nd their sense of purpose and voice (Rendón, 2009).
Ethic of care. At the core of validation is authentic caring and concern. Both
Nel Noddings (1984) and Angela Valenzuela (1999) expressed concern that
many schools are focused on detachment, impersonal and objective language,
Enrollment Management Journal Summer 2011 25
Revisiting Validation eory: eoretical Foundations, Applications, and Extensions
and nonpersonal content. ese forms of invalidation can lead students to
believe that who they are and what they represent are not valued. Noddings
(1984) and Valenzuela (1999) argued that an ethic of caring can foster positive
relationships between faculty and students. Noddings (1984) noted that care is
basic in all human life; all people want to feel that they are being cared for in
their lives. Simple actions such as calling students by name, expressing concern,
and oering assistance can go a long way toward building caring, validating
relationships with students.
Epistemological and Ontological Assumptions in Validation eory
From the discussion above, one can conclude that validation theory nds strong
conceptual, theoretical, and pragmatic support from dierent theorists and bodies
of research. is rich body of literature illuminates what could be considered the
epistemological and ontological assumptions of the theory. Validation theory:
• Workswithstudentsaswholehumanbeings.Attentionisplacednot
only on academic development, but also on emotional, social, and
inner-life aspects of human development (i.e., caring, support, reective
processes, relationship-building, nurturance).
• Embracesstudents’personalvoicesandexperiences,whichareas
important as traditional, objective ways of knowing.
• Isanasset-based(asopposedtodecit-based)model.Akeyassumption
is that students, regardless of background, bring a reservoir of funds of
knowledge and experiences that render these students open to learning
with validating instructors and classroom climates. When validating agents
work with students as possessing a reservoir of assets, the dominant view
that poor students only have decits is shattered and decentered.
• Isrootedintheexperiencesoflow-income,nontraditionalstudents.
Validation theory emerged directly from student voices, and the theory
places students as the center of analysis.
• Opensthedoorforfacultyandstatoworkwithstudentstopromote
equitable outcomes, to eliminate racist and sexist views about students,
and to promote inclusive classrooms.
• Engenderstransformativeconsequencesforstudentsaswellasfor
validating agents. With validation, students can begin to view themselves
as competent college students and college sta can begin to work
26 Enrollment Management Journal Summer 2011
Laura I. Rendón Linares, Susana M. Muñoz
with students in a more respectful, compassionate manner, while not
sacricing academic rigor.
• Isfocusedonmakingstudentsacademicallyandpersonallystronger,
as opposed to coddling or patronizing students. e emphasis is on
working with student assets in order to unleash potential to learn,
promote well being, and help students feel that they are being cared for
in a way that promotes their ability to succeed in college.
• Shiftstheroleoftheinstitutionfrompassivetoproactiveintermsof
promoting learning and retention. In other words, it is not enough for
the institution to say it oers student services. Proactive measures to
actually get students to take advantage of these services must also be in
place. is means that college faculty and student aairs sta must be
ready to actively reach out to students (as opposed to having student
reach out to them rst), be accessible, and be open to establishing close
working relationships with students.
Validation eory: Enhancements and New Directions
Like all theories, validation theory has its strengths and limitations. Future
research, theoretical perspectives and practice strategies should consider how to
enhance the theory.
Research Enhancements
Most of the studies employing validation theory have been qualitative in nature,
and more quantitative analyses are needed to conrm the impact of validation on
student learning and overall academic success, including changes in motivation,
attitudes toward learning, and identity changes, among others. Research questions
to consider include the following: To what extent does validation predict
retention? To what extent does validation overcome past invalidation and/or
feelings of incompetence? In what ways does validation contribute to identity
development? What are the liberatory elements of validation?
In the original study (Rendón, 1994) where validation emerged as a theoretical
construct directly from the voices of students themselves, the analysis did not specify
how the theory could apply to all kinds of students with a multiplicity of diverse
Enrollment Management Journal Summer 2011 27
Revisiting Validation eory: eoretical Foundations, Applications, and Extensions
backgrounds (i.e., race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender, academic ability,
physical ability, religion, sexuality). It is appropriate that future studies apply the
theory to understudied populations. As future research develops, it will be important
to examine the theory closely with an eye toward providing more specic examples
of academic and interpersonal validation in and out of the classroom context.
e original study also did not fully employ a social justice perspective. Validation
theory has liberatory and equity elements related to power and agency, and future
studies could explore the role of validation with a social justice framework.
eory Enhancements
eorizing about academic success for underserved students will become
increasingly important as more low-income, rst-generation, and older students
choose to attend college. Advancing theory for these students requires a theoretical
critique of notions of self-ecacy. e uncritical acceptance of the premise that
all students can and should be successful on their own seems to privilege auent
students who have signicant nancial, social, and academic capital. Students
lacking these forms of capital will ultimately want to function on their own, but
studies employing validation theory demonstrate that there is a class of students
that does initially benet from nonpatronizing, caring, external authorities who
can provide armation and support. is external support can eventually translate
to internal strength as students gain condence and agency.
Related theories noted in this article (i.e., ethic of care, mattering, funds
of knowledge, etc.) support the premise of validation. It is likely that both
internal acknowledgements of self-condence and external forms of validation
are important; one is not better than the other. However, future theoretical
perspectives should illuminate the concept of self-ecacy with a deep critical
analysis. For example, given the oppressive, invalidating elements in some
parts of higher education (i.e., racism, monocultural curricula, stereotyping of
students, etc.) how can students develop their own form of armation?
While validation theory has been explored as a student development theory,
it is important that educators understand how the theory contributes to student
development. e transformative power of validation for both students and faculty
also needs to be conrmed and expanded as future studies are developed.
28 Enrollment Management Journal Summer 2011
Laura I. Rendón Linares, Susana M. Muñoz
Pedagogic Enhancements
e role of validation in fostering a liberatory, inclusive teaching and learning
context needs to be further dened. Training in the use of in- and out-of-class
validation could benet educators with whom students are most in contact
such as faculty, teaching assistants, advisers, and counselors. Faculty also need
to engage in self-reexivity which explores their own identities, assumptions
they make about students, positionalites, and how they have located themselves
within the classroom context (Osei-Ko, Richards, & Smith, 2004).
Final oughts
Validation has emerged as a viable theory that can be employed to better
understand the success of underserved students, improve teaching and learning,
understand student development in college, and frame college student success
strategies. With its underlying tenets of social justice and equity, validation
theory can serve researchers and practitioners alike with a framework to create
liberatory classroom environments, work compassionately with students as
whole human beings who can best function with an ethic of care and support,
and transform underserved students into powerful learners who overcome
past invalidation and oppression. For those researchers and practitioners who
seek a socially conscious, eective way to theorize student success, as well as to
understand and work with underserved students, validation theory holds great
promise and merits increased research attention
about the authorS: Laura I. Rendón Linares is a professor in the Educational Leadership and
Policy Studies department at the University of TexasSan Antonio.
Susana M. Muñoz is an assistant professor in the Department of Administrative Leadership at the
University of WisconsinMilwaukee.
Address correspondence to: Laura Rendón, One UTSA Circle, San Antonio, Texas 78249,
laura.rendon@utsa.edu
Enrollment Management Journal Summer 2011 29
Revisiting Validation eory: eoretical Foundations, Applications, and Extensions
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... For this study, the Validation Theory (Rendon, 1994(Rendon, , 2002 was chosen as the theoretical lens to ground the research specifically in the experiences of nontraditional Latina students. Validation theory places students at the center of analysis (Rendón & Muñoz, 2011). The construct of validation is offered as a way to support students to find success in college, especially those who may have been invalidated in the past, or had doubts about their ability to succeed. ...
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... The final theme that emerged from the data is the barriers that nontraditional students often encounter as they pursue their degree. According to Rendón and Muñoz (2011), the decision to enroll in college is not an easy or automatic decision for nontraditional students due to a variety of potential challenges. Validation Theory indicates that early validating experiences at the college positively impact students' decision to persist (Rendón & Muñoz, 2011). ...
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This qualitative study explored how the life experiences of nontraditional Latina students influenced their decision to transfer from a community college to a state university as early childhood majors. Guided by Validation Theory, the researchers share the participants’ stories in the areas of early schooling, language, and familial influences in order to analyze how this has affected their pursuit of higher education. The findings present multiple factors that are significant in improving the transfer process. The study provides recommendations such as developing relationships, hosting validating events, and increasing collaboration between the community college and state university as instrumental in creating a supportive transfer system.
... For example, validation theory argues that students from marginalized backgrounds gain self-efficacy through the validation they receive from faculty members who make an effort to acknowledge students' competence (Rendon, 1994), so increasing connections between faculty and marginalized students is critical. Validation theory has become the underpinning for much research into best practices in fostering student success among students from marginalized backgrounds (Linares & Muñoz, 2011) and has also been used as a framework for several student success initiatives (Richter & Antonucci, 2010). In fact, the qualitative data we collected about students' experiences are consistent with this theory, as we saw students increase their social cohesion and self-efficacy through the validation and support they received by faculty, staff, and peers alike. ...
... This study examined the way two ethnic-and gender-specific programs in four-year state universities support men of color. I used Laura Rendón's (1994Rendón's ( , 2002Rendón & Muñoz, 2011) validation theory to understand how men of color programs cultivate support and validation for men of color in four-year institutions. Rendón (1994Rendón ( , 2002 posited that when students feel connected and receive sustained attention, investment, and support from institutional agents (e.g., faculty and student affairs personnel), it results in improved persistence, retention, and degree completion. ...
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... First, our work highlights the predictive power of students' interactions with high school teachers for their postsecondary achievement. Much of the research scholarship on validation, with some noteworthy exceptions (Linares & Muñoz, 2011), include high school achievement as an explanatory variable without examining students' interactions with high school teachers as a predictor. Future work, however, should more closely examine the practices, supports, and mindsets that enable high school teachers to best position students for postsecondary success. ...
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We use survey data from three four-year campuses to explore the relationship between academic validation and student outcomes during students’ first 3 years in college using structural equation modeling. We examine both a psychosocial outcome (mattering to campus) and an academic outcome (cumulative GPA). We find that both frequency of interactions with faculty and feelings of academic validation from faculty are positively related to students’ feelings of mattering to campus and cumulative GPA in their third year. Our results suggest that academic validation, beyond the frequency of faculty–student interactions, is an important predictor of students’ psychosocial and academic success.
... We, as community college leaders, serve as validating agents both in and out of the classroom (Linares & Muñoz, 2011;Rendón, 1994) who have immense influence in shaping institutional culture, campus climate, and student success. Although this is true, extant literature has suggested the need to further explore experiences in the community college of professionals who hold intersecting identities of being Latinx (Burmicky et al., 2019;Márquez & Hernández, 2020;Nevarez & Wood, 2010;Ponjuan, 2011). ...
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... Communal praxis also strives to create a validating institutional context, which Rendón and Muñoz describe as places where the institutional agent "affirms students as persons, not just as students. [Institutional agents] do not detach themselves from students" [76] (p. 19). ...
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While the education of first-generation students (FGS) has garnered the attention of scholars, educators, and policy makers, there is limited dialogue on how first-generation faculty and administrators (FGF/A)—that is, first-generation students who went on to become faculty and/or administrators—experience higher education and are engaged in enhancing equity, inclusion, and justice. Intersectional approaches, which illuminate the nexus of race, gender, and class in education, are necessary for appreciating the complexity of FGF/A experiences and liberatory practices taking shape in higher education. Narrative analysis examining nine Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) FGF/A oral histories reveal how stories of mattering and intersectional marginality are sites of communal praxis that aim to dislodge systems of power, including racism, classism, and patriarchy. This praxis involves validating the complexity of students’ academic and social lives and engaging vulnerability. The discussion encourages reflection of how communal praxis can be cultivated toward transforming the linked conditions of faculty and students.
... What we see missing in the literature is a more nuanced understanding of why these types of curricular and cocurricular experiences (i.e., diversity courses, service learning, participation in Latina/o student organizations) increase civic engagement. For students of color, inclusive curricula and validating pedagogy allow them to see themselves, including their culture and their history, in the curricula (Rendón Linares & Muñoz, 2011). Furthermore, inclusive curricula and validating pedagogy increase students' understanding of social inequities and enhance their critical consciousness. ...
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