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Encouraging Student Initiative in a Fourth-Grade Classroom

Although much has been written about empowerment in the educational literature, few studies have examined the development of student empowerment in elementary classrooms. This study focused on understanding a teacher's and researcher's collaborative efforts to empower a class of 17 fourth-grade students in a suburban public school. A number of questions guided our explorations. How would students respond to opportunities to initiate their own learning? How could we create opportunities that would bridge the present teacher-centered approach to more student-centered, empowered learning experiences? Would students respond favorably to our invitations or resist the opportunity to play a stronger role in their school life? Student empowerment through both democratic practices and service projects is discussed. Findings point to the critical role of the teacher, the centrality of students' ownership of their learning, and the importance of understanding contextual influences on student empowerment.