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Individual differences in time needed to learn : teacher coping strategies Webster, Janet Barbara


This study was conducted to investigate how teachers cope with the differential time needs of students. Time was considered within an economic framework and was conceptualized as a limited resource. The task of teaching was considered as the optimization of learning within the constraints imposed by the collective nature of the classroom. Two major constraints considered were the limited time available for schooling, and the variability in student time needs. It was assumed that the classroom makes three goal-like demands on the teacher: coverage of curriculum material, the engendering' of mastery by students of that material, and the securing of student attention or cooperation. As none of these goals may be realized without compromising success at achieving the others, the problem was considered as involving tradeoffs of coverage, mastery and cooperation. Observations were conducted in five grade 3 classrooms in a school district in the lower mainland of British Columbia. The investigator visited each classroom for one day each week during the Fall term. The methodology was naturalistic. Narrative specimen records were written during each visit, the on-task rates of each student for academic and non academic activities were recorded every five minutes and informal interviews with the teachers were conducted. The strategies used by the teachers to cope with variability in time needs are described, and interpreted from a utilitarian perspective. The strategies appeared to function to keep a class operating as if it were a single organism; keeping the class together may avoid the managerial and instructional difficulties inherent in teaching classes of students with diverse time needs. The teacher is conceptualized as a utilitarian pragmatist who optimizes the learning of the class, rather than the learning of individual students. It is suggested that the enhancement of teacher utilities is achieved through the creation and maintenance of an equilibrium between the time needs of the individual and the time needs of the class. Specifically, it is argued that classroom processes may be interpreted as functioning to effect a balance between coverage, mastery, and cooperation. Underlying this interpretation of teaching is a model of the classroom as a homeostatic system.

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