Saturday, February 8, 2014

"The Dot"

                I’ve only ever read two Peter H. Reynolds books, but I think I am somehow already a fan of everything he’s written.  In my blog post about Cynthia Rylant, I wrote how I had a hard time putting my finger on who she was as an author because she writes such varied things.  Two books into Peter H. Reynolds’ bibliography, and I think I have a pretty good feel of who he is as a writer, and I just might be in love.

                The Dot (Published in 2003) is the story of Vashti, who simply cannot draw.  Her teacher, however, refuses to believe this of her.  She tells her to “Just make a mark and see where it takes you.”  In a typical response from a little kid, Vashti angrily jabs a dot onto the page.  Her teacher surprises her by asking her to sign her work.  The next day, when Vashti comes into class, she notices that her signed dot is hanging on the wall in the classroom.  She says to herself, “”Hmmph!  I can make a better dot than that!’”  This thought sparks her to begin to draw more and more.   Eventually, Vashti has an entire art show that is full of nothing but the dot works she has created. Through these dots, Vashti is able to find out that she is capable and able to be successful.
It might just be the week I’m having, but reading this book tonight stirred up all kinds of emotions in me that I didn’t expect.  As a teacher, this book makes me think about my students.  I think about students I have had that are 9, 10, 11 years old and still fighting to read.  Kids who have gone year after year with teachers who loved them and tried their best for them, and yet these students are still not successful.  Tuesday night in class my professor shared with us a statistic that I had heard in my teacher preparation program, but had not thought about since. It has depressed me since that night.  Here it is:

There is a 100% predictability of failure for children if:

1.       They are poor.

2.       They go to school with other poor children.

3.       They have been retained within their first three years of school.

4.       They are not reading on grade level by the end of third grade.

So, why does that depress me so much?  Because I teach fourth grade.  All four of those factors have been decided before a child enters my classroom.  100% predictability leaves no real wiggle room.  How can I bounce back after that as a teacher?  More importantly, I suppose, is what does this have to do with The Dot?

                The Dot, just like Peter H. Reynold’s Ish, is a story about a child gaining confidence and believing in themselves.  Both Ish and The Dot are about young artists, but the story can be applied to any aspect of learning.  All little Vashti needed was encouragement from someone who refused to give up on her, and the acknowledgment that what she could do right at that moment was okay.  Our children deserve someone who never, ever gives up on who they are as students.  This book is a reminder to me about the impact that I still have as a teacher.  As teachers, we never see the full effect we have on students.  We see these children day after day, and sometimes the differences are so minute we think we haven’t done anything.  I think of Vashti and I think of my children and I realize that I matter more than I believe sometimes.  I never know when simply believing in a child and not giving up is going to help them turn their lives around for the better, statistics be darned!

                The bottom line for me is this—I’ll allow myself to feel sad when I look at statistics.  I will allow myself to have days where I am frustrated with students.  I will allow myself to occasionally feel useless.  I will allow myself to have mornings where I just can’t seem to get it together.  But for the sake of my kids, I will not allow myself to stop believing that faith in a dot can change their lives.  So thank you, Peter H. Reynolds, for restoring faith in children and faith in myself.  Sometimes, 100% predictability of failure just isn’t a strong enough statistic.
There is an International Dot Day every year, and it just happens to be on my birthday!!!!  This book and I were meant for each other.  Check it out, and sign up!
On a lighter note, check out Peter H. Reynold's website.  I didn't realize it, but he also illustrates the Judy Moody books, the Olivia Kidney books, and has illustrated the covers for the new Fudge covers!
Also, check out his blog.  Did you know The Dot has been in space?!?

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