Teacher Support of Student Autonomy in Comprehensive School Reform Classrooms

From Section:
Instruction in Teacher Training
Nov. 17, 2008

Source: Teachers College Record, Volume 110 Number 11, 2008, p. 2389-2407.


Research in the self-determination theoretical (SDT) tradition indicates that teachers’ autonomy-supportive behaviors result in students’ greater perceived academic competence, better academic performance, and increased achievement. This study describes autonomy-supportive teacher behaviors in schools participating in Comprehensive School Reform (CSR).

Research Question

In a 2006 pilot study to determine if autonomous opportunities occurred in CSR classroom contexts, Bozack, McCaslin, and Good identified the presence or absence of autonomy-supporting teaching in their written narratives of classroom practices. The current study moves that pilot research forward by asking, Are autonomy-supportive teaching practices present? And if so, what is the nature of the teacher-student interactions in these classrooms?


The sample consisted of 696 intervals of field notes from 106 classroom observations in five CSR schools in Grades 3, 4, and 5.

Research Design

Comprehensive School Reform Classroom Observation System (CSRCOS) observation field notes were analyzed using the Autonomy Supportive Behavior Instrument (ASBI). The scale was developed based on previous SDT research suggestions about how teachers can foster autonomy in the classroom.


Results indicated that all eight teaching practices suggested by SDT were present in the field notes; however, their frequency and form varied considerably from SDT expectations. Students had many opportunities to manipulate objects, but in half of the codes, the authors found that students were using the same objects for the same tasks in the same way, suggesting that there was little opportunity for students to choose how they wanted to work with objects. Students had many opportunities to talk. Teachers prompted and guided student learning most of the time, yet rarely helped students to relate ideas and concepts from one topic to another or from one lesson to another. Opportunities for student choice were infrequent, and when the field notes included verbal exchange, the authors found that teachers consistently responded to student questions and student-initiated dialogue. The authors rarely identified explicit instances of encouragement or teachers engaging the experiences, expertise, or perspective of students.

Updated: Jan. 17, 2017
Autonomy | Behaviors | Elementary schools | Reforms | Students | Teachers