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March 8, 2017

The Power of Words: Teaching With The Dot

By Julie Ballew
Grades 3–5

    As teachers, we wear a lot of hats. So many, in fact, that it’s hard to keep up sometimes. Depending on the current need, we often must be coaches, counselors, mentors, and nurses, not to mention readers, writers, artists, mathematicians, historians, and scientists. To say that it’s exhausting is an understatement!

    In my classroom, my favorite hat (and the one I wear most often) is that of an encourager. I am constantly making a conscious effort to encourage my students to outgrow themselves again and again. I want them to hear my voice in their heads, cheering them on when something is hard. I also want them to learn how to be encouragers for each other. I want them to understand that they have an opportunity and an obligation to lift up a classmate, every single day.

     

        

    Peter H. Reynolds has been one of my favorite mentors in this type of work. His books are filled with characters who learn the power of words, both encouraging and discouraging. He celebrates creativity and expression through stories of working through struggle, and I can think of no better example to give my students.

    I read The Dot to my students early in the school year and paired it with a discussion about creativity and risk-taking. I have a lot of high-achievers in my class, and taking risks is not exactly their favorite hobby. When you have a lot of strengths, it can be especially scary to try something new without knowing how you’ll perform.

    This month, we revisited The Dot. My students remembered our previous discussion of creativity, but this time, I asked them to focus on the words said to and by Vashti, the main character. Vashti is discouraged because she feels like she can’t draw, and she jabs at her paper in frustration. Her art teacher, however, manages to change everything with three simple words: “Now sign it.”

    After re-reading The Dot, I also read Ish, another Reynolds title. Again, we have a main character, Ramon, who is feeling discouraged. His brother had some unkind things to say about his art, and again we see the power words can have. Eventually, Ramon gives up drawing for good, but his sister changes his mind when he sees how much she loves his “ish” drawings.

    I could tell after this read-aloud that my kids were ready to talk about the power of words. I began by asking them to make a personal connection to Ramon or Vashti and think about a time someone’s words had a lasting effect on them. Some of them remembered positive words that pushed them to persevere, and others remembered unkind words that caused them to feel defeated. The more students shared, the more connections we were able to make. I jotted down some of the words they shared as they told their stories.

    When the sharing began to wind down, we looked at the list I compiled and thought for a long time about the kinds of words that made us want to push forward. I asked them to think about how they could be encouragers for the people around them. In The Dot, Vashti takes the lesson she learned from her art teacher and pays it forward to a younger child. I told my students that they had this capability within themselves too, and they agreed.

      

    After our discussion, I asked the students to create a mini-poster with some encouraging words that had been powerful for them. We decided that they would decorate them in the style of The Dot, and we hung them on the windows to the hallway so that they could be reminders for us but also encouragement for anyone who passes by our classroom.

    My students absolutely loved this work, and I have heard them remind each other of their powerful words several times since then. They can’t get enough of Reynolds’s books, and they have already asked when we’ll talk about another one. If you haven’t checked out his titles yet, click on the book title below to order from the Teacher Store. I promise you won’t be disappointed!

    The Dot

    Ish

    Sky Color – if they’re hungry for more creative kids, this is the third book in Reynold’s Creatrilogy!

    As teachers, we wear a lot of hats. So many, in fact, that it’s hard to keep up sometimes. Depending on the current need, we often must be coaches, counselors, mentors, and nurses, not to mention readers, writers, artists, mathematicians, historians, and scientists. To say that it’s exhausting is an understatement!

    In my classroom, my favorite hat (and the one I wear most often) is that of an encourager. I am constantly making a conscious effort to encourage my students to outgrow themselves again and again. I want them to hear my voice in their heads, cheering them on when something is hard. I also want them to learn how to be encouragers for each other. I want them to understand that they have an opportunity and an obligation to lift up a classmate, every single day.

     

        

    Peter H. Reynolds has been one of my favorite mentors in this type of work. His books are filled with characters who learn the power of words, both encouraging and discouraging. He celebrates creativity and expression through stories of working through struggle, and I can think of no better example to give my students.

    I read The Dot to my students early in the school year and paired it with a discussion about creativity and risk-taking. I have a lot of high-achievers in my class, and taking risks is not exactly their favorite hobby. When you have a lot of strengths, it can be especially scary to try something new without knowing how you’ll perform.

    This month, we revisited The Dot. My students remembered our previous discussion of creativity, but this time, I asked them to focus on the words said to and by Vashti, the main character. Vashti is discouraged because she feels like she can’t draw, and she jabs at her paper in frustration. Her art teacher, however, manages to change everything with three simple words: “Now sign it.”

    After re-reading The Dot, I also read Ish, another Reynolds title. Again, we have a main character, Ramon, who is feeling discouraged. His brother had some unkind things to say about his art, and again we see the power words can have. Eventually, Ramon gives up drawing for good, but his sister changes his mind when he sees how much she loves his “ish” drawings.

    I could tell after this read-aloud that my kids were ready to talk about the power of words. I began by asking them to make a personal connection to Ramon or Vashti and think about a time someone’s words had a lasting effect on them. Some of them remembered positive words that pushed them to persevere, and others remembered unkind words that caused them to feel defeated. The more students shared, the more connections we were able to make. I jotted down some of the words they shared as they told their stories.

    When the sharing began to wind down, we looked at the list I compiled and thought for a long time about the kinds of words that made us want to push forward. I asked them to think about how they could be encouragers for the people around them. In The Dot, Vashti takes the lesson she learned from her art teacher and pays it forward to a younger child. I told my students that they had this capability within themselves too, and they agreed.

      

    After our discussion, I asked the students to create a mini-poster with some encouraging words that had been powerful for them. We decided that they would decorate them in the style of The Dot, and we hung them on the windows to the hallway so that they could be reminders for us but also encouragement for anyone who passes by our classroom.

    My students absolutely loved this work, and I have heard them remind each other of their powerful words several times since then. They can’t get enough of Reynolds’s books, and they have already asked when we’ll talk about another one. If you haven’t checked out his titles yet, click on the book title below to order from the Teacher Store. I promise you won’t be disappointed!

    The Dot

    Ish

    Sky Color – if they’re hungry for more creative kids, this is the third book in Reynold’s Creatrilogy!

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