Some “evidence” that Discipline without Stress really gets kids thinking!

This week I had a neat experience while teaching a grade 7 student at my newest job at the middle school. I just thought I’d share.

For those who don’t know me, I have three teaching positions, all of which are shared with the same partner. Darlene and I share a grade 1 classroom, each working one end of the week, and on our other days we share two literacy positions, working with individual students at an alternate high school and a regular middle school. It’s hectic but we love it!  At our high school and middle school jobs, we work with a great range of students, some struggling with courses like English 10, but most with much lower skill levels. At both the middle and high school, a number of our students are currently reading (independently and accurately, that is) at a mid-grade 1 level.

Usually when we start with a new student, we initially have them work at conquering the alphabet. Recognizing/saying/writing the sounds of the letters is of course necessary for both accurate decoding and spelling. We always begin each 15 minute daily session with a quick “say/write the alphabet sounds” until the student is able to record all the sounds, automatically, as we dictate. Whenever we take on a new student, we also offer them a chance to learn to print each letter shape correctly at the same time. (DWS Principle of Choice!) Many are interested in improving their penmanship by doing that.

Early this week, one little grade 7 boy mentioned to Darlene that he was trying to remember to print every letter properly–not only when he was working with us, but all day long–whenever he had to write something in one of his classes. As a DWS teacher (always on the lookout for any flicker of internal motivation that can be fanned into a stronger flame!) Darlene explained how significant it was that he was CONSCIOUSLY CHOOSING to do this for himself. Naturally, she happily passed this information along to me so I could continue to build on it.

When I met with Mark on Thursday, I started our standard “say and write the sounds,” by telling him that Darlene had mentioned to me that he was starting to take charge of his own learning by choosing to improve his printing all day long. I said, “Wow! That’s the highest level of human behavior there is–to take charge of your own learning like that.” He nodded and on we went with all the various parts of his literacy lesson.

As it happened, we finished up everything I’d planned for that day a minute before his 15 minute time slot was up. Rather than fill in with some other impromptu literacy activity, I decided I had just enough time to explain in more detail what I had meant earlier in his session, when I referred to “the highest level of behavior.” I started to draw a quick DWS Hierarchy on our little white board (D, C, B, A) and explained while writing, that human behavior could be described in four levels.

Beside A, I quickly scribbled, “Anarchy” and gave him the briefest of descriptions. Then as I was about to write another quick word next to B, he said, “that’s Bullying and Bothering.” Well–you could have picked me up off the floor, I was so stunned! This is the first time I’ve ever encountered a student (who didn’t attend my own elementary school,) who was already familiar with the Discipline without Stress Hierarchy! Then I remembered that there was one teacher in this middle school who had told me a month or so ago that she had ordered Marv’s posters and was planning to teach her grade seven classes about the Hierarchy. Of course that explained it; Mark was one of her students.

So, on we went quickly to review the higher levels, with him, explaining to me, what each was about, and we also talked about how these levels connected to his decision to print carefully all the time. By then it really was time for him to go, so I stood up to usher him out to his next class but he remained seated. He asked, “Have you ever taught anyone at this level?” I sat back down and explained that yes, I had sometimes worked with those on Level A before. (In my mind, I thought of a student, who came to our high school with a knife a week ago, and two of our grade 1 students who (unbelievably!) bit two older students on their arms, one after the other, on the playground!)

Then I stood up again–by then we were really cutting into the next student’s time slot–but being a rather easy-going guy, Mark was in no hurry to leave! For the second time, I sat back down, to hear what he wanted to tell me.

He said, “I once knew two kids on Level B. Remember I told you about the teacher who taught me in a little group in grade 5 and then was my tutor in the summer? She was the teacher who taught me about vowels and consonants.”

(When I first met Mark a few weeks ago, I was impressed because he was the only student I had encountered at the high school level who had a pretty accurate understanding of what vowels and consonants are.)

He continued, “These two kids were on Level B with that teacher. They wouldn’t do any work at all and they said they didn’t want to learn anything, and they said mean things to her. But…I just sat back and thought to myself: I don’t want to be like that. I won’t be like them. I’ll try to learn something here–and I did.”

And as he stood up to go, now a few minutes late, I asked, “And what level were you on then?”

“D,” he said, as he went out the door.

To me, this is a bit of “scientific” evidence that even a brief introduction to the Hierarchy can have an impact on a child. Mark’s teacher has only been talking about the levels for a month at the very most–I’ll have to check in with her–and already she’s had an impact on this child. He’s aware that he’s making decisions to be internally motivated and he’s making use of the Hierarchy to make sense of things he’s experienced in his life.

It was exciting for me to witness how one Discipline without Stress teacher’s efforts are paying off for this child! It was what some people refer to as a “Marshall Moment!”