Stress Management for Living, Teaching, & Parenting

How can I motivate my students to take care in their schoolwork?


I am a high school Social Studies teacher.As a teacher of a content area, I don’t penalize my students for spelling errors on their assignments as an English teacher would, but at the same time, I don’t want to give them the impression that spelling isn’t important. I’m not having much success. Once the students know that no marks will be taken off for errors, they seem to get even sloppier with their spelling!Do you have any suggestions for how I might use Discipline without Stress to motivate students in this academic situation?


One reason that I enjoy using the Discipline without Stress approach in my own teaching is that I find that the Hierarchy makes it easy for me to motivate students to WANT to operate on the higher levels–not only in terms of their behavior, but also academically.

Whenever I introduce an assignment, project or activity, I not only explain the basic expectations (in other words, the Level C expectations/standards), but I also routinely leave the class with an understanding that there is always an option to chooseto operate on a higher level–if they would like to feel more satisfied with themselves.By being proactive and spending the time to concretely give them a vision of what Level D–the level of internal motivation–might look like in a specific situation, I find that the majority of students become more interested in striving for that highly satisfying level.

(By the way, since genuine internal motivation can never be mandated, the teacher bears no responsibility for students who choose to remain at the more ordinary Level C. Remember Level C describes acceptable behavior. Anything lower is unacceptable–but anything higher is voluntary.)

Here’s a rough outline of how the conversation might go in the situation you described:

Social Studies is a content subject, so while spelling is not as much of a priority as it would be in English, and I won’t be basing your mark on spelling, spelling IS important to the overall presentation of your work. Spelling will be important to you in life, for example at times when you are applying for a job or writing a letter to City Hall, or going to college or university.

Even though spelling doesn’t indicate any certain level of intelligence, sloppy spelling certainly doesn’t look very good on paper. Here’s an example of a paper poorly spelled, from a very bright (but anonymous) student from years ago. How does the spelling affect your impression of this paper and of this person and their abilities? Now… here’s that same paper, with correct spelling. And a third version, correctly spelled and typed. What do you think?

Of course, the amount of care you put into your work is a personal choice, however, I find that many students decide by the time they come to high school, that they really want their work to start looking more mature. They decide for themselves that they want to do their best work in order to feel proud of themselves. If you want your work to look like that of a much older or more capable student, one thing you can do is to take care with spelling.

If spelling doesn’t come naturally to you, what can you do to help yourself?Right, you can use the spellchecker on the computer, you can use a dictionary, you can look back at your textbook to find the correct spelling of a term or a historical figure, or you can ask someone for help–all good ideas!

I’m just throwing this out as an option for those who want to hand in their best effort.

In my own teaching, I find that more often than not, this type of a discussion leads to a high level of motivation in almost every student. Who wouldn’t rather think of themselves as MORE mature and MORE capable, if there’s a choice?It’s a satisfying feeling to know that you are choosing to operate on a level that’s above the ordinary. Students of any age find this an attractive thought.

The Hierarchy from Discipline without Stress, is a powerful teaching tool. It provides teachers with a way to inspire their students!

Dr. Marvin Marshall
P.O. Box 2227
Los Alamitos, CA 90720
Phone: 714.220.1882
Piper Press
P.O. Box 2227
Los Alamitos, CA 90720
Phone: 559.805.1389