All ETDs from UAB

Advisory Committee Chair

Lois M Christensen

Advisory Committee Members

Kay Emfinger

Lynn Kirkland

Maryann Manning

Lesley Sheek

Document Type


Date of Award


Degree Name by School

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) School of Education


The purpose of this study was to explore the behaviors of early childhood educators that support their students' autonomy. Researchers have shown that the most prevalent style of teaching is an autonomy-suppressive style that has been determined to undermine student functioning and achievement (Assor, Kaplan, & Roth, 2002; Reeve, 2009). Teachers are often unaware of the atmosphere they create in their classroom (DeVries & Zan, 1994) and this can result in learning environments that are coercive which has been found to impede children's autonomous thinking (Reeve, 2009). This study sought to explore autonomy-supportive teacher behaviors in the early childhood classroom. This case study sought to answer the following research questions: 1. How do teachers describe their autonomy-supportive practices of offering choice to students in the early childhood classroom? 2. How do early childhood teachers describe their beliefs regarding the offering of choice? 3. What kinds of choices do early childhood teachers offer? 4. How do early childhood teachers describe their beliefs regarding autonomy? The three early childhood educators in this study were purposefully selected for their strong views in favor of autonomy-supportive learning environments. The participants taught kindergarten, first grade, and third grade in a southeastern, public school system. The data were collected through classroom observations, individual interviews, and emails. The observations and interviews were audio-taped, transcribed verbatim, and analyzed to provide rich, thick description using the words of the participants (Geertz, 1973). The transcripts were coded and six themes were identified. These themes were composed into a narrative description that corresponded with the findings of the research questions.

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