Extending theLevels of Development into Learning

Gradually, as I experienced continued success with using Dr. Marshall’s Discipline without Stress approach to help students develop self-discipline and a sense of responsibility, I realized that there was enormous potential and value in using his Levels of Developmentto inspire young people in all areas of their lives.

One day I decided to have a discussion with my grade one students about how they could use their understanding of the four levels to help themselves become better readers. We talked about the “Whole School Read” session in which we participate each morning. I asked the youngsters to describe hypothetical behaviors of students operating at each of the levels during this daily reading time.

Using their own words,they were able to clearly describe conduct at each level:

At the lowest level A, students wouldn’t be practicing reading at all. They would be deliberately misbehaving. At the next higher level B, the students explained that people wouldn’t be doing much reading either. At this level, students would be annoying or distracting others, perhaps by poking them or by making jokes. They would probably flip through the pages of a book but wouldn’t put in the effort to actually read. We reviewed that at Levels A and B, a teacher must step in and use authority.

Then we discussed the higher and acceptable levels of development, Levels C and D. Students operating on Level C would be reading––but more or less only when an adult (the teacher or a parent,) was directly watching or working with them. Their motivation for reading is based on an external factor––they willingly cooperate and do what is necessary in order to satisfy, impress or avoid the disapproval of adults in the room. Yet there is still that one higher stage of development, the level of personal power and autonomy, Level D.

At Level D, the students described that a person would be using reading time each morning to truly practice. It wouldn’t be necessary to have an adult directly with them at all times; they would read and re-read sections of their book because they know that by doing so they will become better readers. Their motivation would be internal. They would be reading in an effort to become the best reader that they could be.

Promoting Learning with the DWS Hierarchy

Having run through examples of all the levels, I asked, “Which of these students from our discussion will learn to read well?” They understood that it seemed unlikely that students operating at Levels A and B could ever learn to read very well. Their choices and actions were leading them in the opposite direction.We discussed that although students operating at acceptable Level C would learn to read, it was unlikely they would become proficient readers simply because they were reading only when directly supervised.  With only a so-so effort at practicing, they would get only so-so results.

Then we discussed Level D, the level at which people take the initiative to motivate themselves to put forth effort. They feel good about themselves because they are aware that improvement is a direct result of conscious choices that they have made and so they experience a sense of personal power.

After these discussions, I simply asked the students to silently identify their own developmental level in the reading session that had just passed. After giving them a moment to reflect, I asked them to honestly evaluate their own level and whether or not they were heading in a positive direction. Nothing more was said aloud, by either myself or the students, and we soon moved on to another lesson.

The Results

That night, without any suggestion or prompting on my part, the poorest reader in the class went home and read his reader over and over again. Prior to this, the kindly parents of this child had been sincerely concerned about his lack of reading progress and fairly supportive of the school, but obviously they hadn’t understood the value or importance of the school’s request for nightly reading sessions with their struggling youngster.

That evening they watched as their little boy independently read and re-read his reader. Both the parents and the child could see a dramatic improvement in his reading skills. They experienced the powerful impact that internal desire, coupled with just one night of true effort, could have on someone’s ability to read at a grade one level. He came back to school the next day bursting with pride and determination to practice more and more so that he could move on to a new, more difficult book.

The DWS approach prompted this youngster to learn a powerful lesson that is bound to influence his behavior in the future. He could clearly see the connection between his own choices and the results from them. I could never have bribed him into such a learning experience by offering a sticker or prize for having read a certain number of pages.