Layna Cole

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching & Learning


The purpose of this study was to explore the tension that exists between the fields of elementary and early childhood education by investigating factors that influence the instructional decision-making of preschool, primary (kindergarten through 3rd grade) and upper elementary (4th through 6th grade) teachers around a specified subject—literacy. This survey study identified factors that influence the decisions of preschool, primary and upper elementary teachers related to teaching literacy. It also explored the differences and similarities of influences on decision-making about teaching literacy among these groups of teachers. Influences on teacher decision-making was the main focus of this study, while literacy served only as a platform to organize participant thinking.

One hundred teachers (31 preschool teachers, 34 primary teachers and 35 upper elementary teachers) from north central and northwestern Minnesota and eastern North Dakota responded to a mail survey designed to measure the influence various factors had on instructional decision-making. Bronfenbrenner’s (1979) ecological systems theory was used to frame the study. All teachers were strongly influenced by factors in the microsystem, including their own beliefs and experiences, the group of children in their classroom and individual children. Elementary teachers were more strongly influenced by factors from the macrosystem than were preschool teachers. Preschool teachers were more strongly influenced by factors from the exosystem than were elementary teachers. These findings support the idea that the different histories and contemporary situations of the fields of elementary and early childhood education may impact how teachers make decisions. The findings also bring to light areas of differences that may create tension and areas of similarity that may create harmony between the fields. The similarity of influence factors in the microsystem can be viewed as a source of harmony among the fields, and the difference of influence factors from the exosystem and macrosystem may be viewed as a source of the tension among the fields. This study also led to the creation of an adapted framework of Bronfenbrenner’s (1979) ecological systems theory model and a survey instrument that may be used for further research on influential factors on teacher decision-making.

Identifying the factors that influence the decision-making of preschool, primary and upper elementary teachers captured the impact that different ecological systems have on preschool and elementary teachers. These findings can be used in teacher education programs to better prepare teachers to successfully operate in the different contexts of preschool and elementary education, helping ensure that teachers bring their best efforts to the young children they teach.