Using DWS to deal with younger siblings visiting in the classroom

Throughout this summer, I’ve been emailing back and forth with one teacher in my province who wants to learn how the reading program my partner and I have developed, works in our grade one classroom. She is also quite interested in a program our K-6 school has instituted called “The Whole School Read,” in which every class reads for the first 30 minutes of the day and parents are encouraged to join us as helpers.

She recently asked me the question posted below and I share my response here because it includes an explanation of how this discipline approach can be used to help children take responsibility for their own behavior by understanding the concept of Choice-Response Thinking. In other words, as humans, we have the ability to consciously choose our behavior, so therefore, we also always have a choice in how we respond to any situation or stimulus or impulse.

Whereas most conventional discipline approaches–typically based on external motivation–rely on OVERpowering or DISempowering students who choose to misbehave, an approach based on internal motivation has a different goal; to EMpower a child to take charge of their own behavior. This makes discipline far more positive. As well, over time, DWS offers many valuable understandings to the students–understandings that are totally bypassed when a teacher is focused primarily on just stopping misbehavior immediately, with either the quick promise of a reward or the threat of a slight punishment.

Here’s that question I was asked …

Do your parent volunteers bring babies, toddlers and preschoolers with them when they volunteer during your Whole School Read? If so, how do you deal with these little children in the room when your class is trying to read?

Sometimes we do have younger siblings join us when their parents come in to volunteer for the half hour of reading. When we do, we make toys available but it’s the parent’s job to get them out etc. Sometimes, it’s actually a bonus if we have a preschooler or toddler who loves stories and will sit still and listen. It provides an audience for the grade ones — then it works out really well! Sometimes an older baby is content to sit in a stroller with their own toys, near their mom who is helping.

Sometimes though, a younger child CAN BE a bit of a problem but then we use our discipline system to deal with it. Just to be clear, we use our discipline approach to deal with our grade ones–not the disruptive toddlers who are simply doing what toddlers naturally and joyfully do!

Such a situation gives us the perfect opportunity to talk about self-discipline. That’s one of the first suggestions of this approach: view problems as opportunities to teach and learn! We use Marvin Marshall’s Discipline without Stress, Punishments or Rewards which is all about fostering SELF-discipline. We really focus on this; it’s quietly woven into every subject and activity. We think of this program as a gift really. What better gift could you give a child than starting them down the path towards becoming self-disciplined in their lives?

DWS is based on teaching a Hierarchy of four levels that can be used to discuss personal and social responsibility. It’s too much to explain it all here but the article, Using a Discipline System to Promote Learning would give you an overview.

To deal with the situation you asked about, we have a discussion with our grade ones using the four levels of Marshall’s Hierarchy. We focus on the two highest levels, both of which are acceptable levels of behavior in the classroom.

We talk about the need for SELF-control when someone younger can’t manage (or appears to be having a great time playing with toys during our lesson time!)

In other words, regardless of the fact that there is:

  • someone having a playtime while WE’re reading,
  • baby “babble” in the room,
  • a younger child moving around a bit too quickly, or;
  • a toddler eating a snack that looks quite good! etc.,

WE can still be in control of ourselves and make good use of our reading practice time ANYWAY. Our Whole School Read is one of the most important learning times of our day and so it’s important to stay focused and use our time wisely. In fact, it’s our job to use our school time to learn. Our playtimes, snack times and free times come later in the day–not first thing in the morning!

Referring to the four levels of the Hierarchy, we help our students to understand that a person who lowers their own behavior when young children and babies are in the room, is in effect deciding to choose a very young level of maturity themselves.

Viewed in this light, misbehavior doesn’t look very attractive! Students are keen to display a high level of maturity because all of us (at any age,) want to feel capable and in control of ourselves. Even someone as young as grade one would like to consider themselves grown-up–certainly grown up enough to manage better than a cranky baby or slightly out-of-control two year old.

We finish the conversation by reviewing that all behaviour is a CHOICE. We can CHOOSE to act with self-discipline–even in situations that aren’t perfect. We can CHOOSE not to be distracted by small things. We can CHOOSE to “do the right thing, simply because it’s the right thing to do” which, in a nutshell, sums up the focus of Marvin Marshall’s discipline program.