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Academic choice provision in an urban elementary school classroom: An examination of the factors and processes that lead to growth in teaching and learning

Paula C Denton, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Researchers, theoreticians, and teacher educators often treat the strategy of providing students with choices related to their curriculum as a simple one and individual studies generally consider only a few variables. In practice choice provision is a complex strategy that cannot be isolated from the institutional and instructional contexts within which it is utilized and many teachers do not use it well or often. This dissertation describes an analytical action research case study designed to provide a holistic, in-depth examination of the contexts, processes, structures, and outcomes of academic choice provision for a fourth grade teacher, Ann, and her students as they developed their use of this strategy over one school year. In order to address practical problems of choice provision as they arose and to support the teacher in her development of expertise with this strategy, the researcher worked as a supporter, and facilitator for the teacher and structured interactions with her based upon Stringer's (1999) look, think, act cycle for action research. This process was documented through classroom observations, interviews with the teacher and students, and collection of documents. Data were analyzed using Strauss and Corbin's (1998) methods for developing grounded theory. An inter-related set of contextual factors influenced the nature of Ann's work and its outcomes as well as her interpretations of key concepts related to academic choice provision. These factors included (a) time pressures, (b) high stakes testing, (c) required curricula, (d) students' prior knowledge, and (e) teacher support. Ann's development of academic choice was characterized by her efforts to find and enact an optimal balance between student and teacher input into the curriculum within contextual pressures that worked both for and against such a balance. Within this central theme Ann grappled with (a) treating academic choice as peripheral versus integral to the curriculum, (b) focusing on student products versus student learning processes, and (c) nurturing student dependence versus independence. Choice provision was associated with a high degree of student engagement including enjoyment, on task behavior, and increased individual initiative.

Subject Area

Curricula|Teaching|Elementary education|Teacher education

Recommended Citation

Denton, Paula C, "Academic choice provision in an urban elementary school classroom: An examination of the factors and processes that lead to growth in teaching and learning" (2005). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3179869.