Date of Award

Spring 2004

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Urban Studies

Committee Director

Dwight W. Allen

Committee Member

Lynn Doyle

Committee Member

Alice Wakefield


This dissertation documents an in-depth year long qualitative case study of three elementary school teachers to address the following research question: what characterizes, and what are the major influences on, an integrated, constructivist-oriented approach to elementary math instruction? The researcher, working collaboratively with the teachers, used a combination of interviews, observations, journaling, and informal discourse to learn about what they want to do in their classes, the various pressures they feel for performance and student learning, the forces they balance in making their instructional choices, and the ways in which they make instructional choices and change their approaches over time. From analysis of the data a five-part model emerged. The overarching construct was the school environment, with a culture focused on collaboration and continual improvement, and administration who supported the teachers in developing an innovative and collaborative approach to instruction. Three major aspects of teacher functioning within the framework of the school were identified: Personal Agency; Philosophy; and Beliefs about Students. Personal Agency describes their sense of themselves as agents of change within the school. This includes discussions of how their personal educational history gave rise to their current practice; their sense of responsibility for change; their processes of growth and development as professionals; and their excitement about teaching and their students. Philosophy encompasses their commitment to theory-based practice and their views on various philosophies of education such as constructivism, direct instruction, and special education. Beliefs about Students addresses their commitment to understanding and respect of student thought processes; an underlying belief that all students, of whatever abilities and challenges, can learn; and the way they create collaborative, supportive classroom learning environments to support student development. These three constructs gave rise to a set of particular instructional approaches and strategies, the fifth construct. Major elements of their instructional approaches include use of questioning and wait time to elicit student thinking; active teaching and inculcation of cognitive strategies for problem solving; and group processes such as math talk, flexible grouping, and peer interaction.