Using the Discipline without Stress Principle of Reflection to improve spelling.

Through our use of the Discipline without Stress approach, my teaching partner and I have come to understand that positive changes in behavior are more likely to occur when we prompt students to think about how they choose to operate in their lives. More and more often, we now practice the Discipline without Stress Principle of Reflection–not only in behavior and discipline situations, but in academics too.

Dr. Marshall’s Hierarchy of Social Development is a wonderful tool for encouraging students to look honestly at choices in all areas of their lives. With an understanding of choice-response thinking, young people become aware that a conscious choice to operate at the higher levels is always an option—an option that results in powerful feelings of personal satisfaction and a greater sense of self-control. In an academic setting, this naturally leads to a desire to improve and to achieve academically.

Here is one example of how my partner and I use the Discipline without Stress approach to help students make progress academically–in this case, with regard to spelling. Using the Hierarchy, we find that we can concretely show our students how they can CHOOSE to become better spellers. We begin by using the basic framework of the Raise Responsibility System Hierarchy to create a new hierarchy related specifically to SPELLING and tailored to our own particular classroom practices.

Just as it is most effective to ask students to do their own thinking in a discipline situation (as opposed to the teacher simply telling the students what the teacher thinks), it is similarly effective in an academic situation to “ask,” rather than “tell.” In accordance with the PRINCIPLE of REFLECTION, we often guide our students to create an “academic hierarchy” for a particular subject area, by ASKING questions that enable students to come up with descriptors for each of the applicable levels. Sometimes we record the descriptors for later reference, but more often than not, the exercise simply takes the form of an oral discussion.

Here is an example of a “spelling hierarchy” developed orally in our primary classroom:

Level D (Motivation to become a good speller is INTERNAL)
• Attempts to look critically at his/her own writing in order to find spelling errors.
• Independently uses the words, spelling lists and spelling cues posted on the classroom walls.
• Tries out different spelling patterns independently before asking for help
• Remembers having seen the word somewhere (possibly in a book) and looks it up to copy correct spelling.
• Uses a primary dictionary.

Level C
Does all of the above but with one important difference–the motivation to spell correctly is EXTERNAL. In other words, a student at this level, WAITS until a teacher points out that a word is spelled incorrectly before trying to fix it, or waits until being REMINDED before thinking to look for words on the wall or in a book etc.

Level B
• doesn’t make any attempt to be careful with spelling when writing
• doesn’t make use of the words on the wall, spelling lists, dictionary etc.
• doesn’t bother to proofread

Level A
Not applicable in a discussion of academics

As in any Discipline without Stress Hierarchy discussion, a critical point to highlight is the difference between Levels C and D—a difference in the source of motivation only. As teachers, my partner and I want to encourage our students to take care with spelling and become increasingly more responsible about looking critically at their own completed work–with an eye to finding their OWN spelling errors, without a teacher necessarily being present.

Having taken time to build a hierarchy related to spelling, we then proactively refer to it whenever we begin a writing activity with our students. At the start of any writing lesson, we VERY QUICKLY review ONLY the two higher levels and prompt the students to reflect on the benefits of operating at the highest level–improved spelling performance and an internal sense of pride and satisfaction!

Following the writing activity, we ask them to once again, silently REFLECT for a moment–this time focusing on their personal level of operation with regard to spelling in the lesson that has just passed. We find that over time, this process of prompting reflection in connection to an academic subject, both before and after lessons, motivates students to WANT to improve their academic performance.

Other sample hierarchies (adapted from his original discipline Hierarchy) are available on Dr. Marshall’s website.  


1 Comment
  1. Reading this brings my understanding of implementation of DWS to another level. While I’ve practiced this in my classroom for the past 5 years, I never thought of this application. I foresee using it in a variety of situations: homework, writing workshop, science labs, reading journals, etc.