Celebrating Dot Day
The first couple weeks of school are spent, or at least should be spent, getting to know the kids and making them feel comfortable in their classroom. In language arts, that means engaging the kids in writing about themselves and reading about others with a focus on identity and what makes us who we are. That makes the timing of International Dot Day perfect. The day, inspired by Peter Reynolds’ The Dot, focuses on how kids make, or want to make, their mark on the world, gets the kids engaged in a fun and meaningful book while giving them the chance to write and think about themselves.
For our celebration of Dot Day at Walton Middle School, we read The Dot and had students create their own dots, either describing the mark they made on the world or the mark they wanted to make on the world in the future. This was a great first day activity because not only did it get the kids thinking about their goals for the year, it also gave them the chance to create their own dots while talking to their tablemates, something very necessary to building a classroom community when five elementary schools are feeding into the middle school. When kids finished their dots, they had the choice to hang them wherever they wanted in the classroom, and most chose the door. By the end of the day, both sides of the door was covered in dots.
We planned our own Dot Day celebration at Walton Middle School by setting up conversations with local schools about the mark we leave or want to leave on the world. Schools we linked up with included Greer, Brownsville, Broadus-Wood, and Burley, as well as inviting other grade levels within our school to participate. We also had Liz Armenio (@lizarmenio) join us at five in the morning from Sydney, Australia, before she went to teach at St. Augustine’s, which was very cool for the kids to see that someone so far away was excited to hear what they had to say as well as have the opportunity to ask her questions about Australia.
As far as who joined us, some classes chose to, others didn’t. Many other schools were invited as well, but for whatever reasons did not join us. I learned no matter how many emails and tweets you send out, and no matter how many people send their emails and tweets promoting the event, whether or not the kids can participate and benefit from an event like this relies completely on the teacher’s personal feelings about connectedness and communication, which means some kids will always benefit from days like this while others will only be able to look in the amphitheater windows on the conversation on their way to the bathroom or water fountain.
For our Dot Day celebration, we set up four Google Plus Hangouts. The times of the Hangouts were sent to teachers at other schools through a Google Doc, and teachers signed up for slots that were convenient for them and their students. Once teachers were signed up, we did test connections with those who had not done a Google Plus Hangout before, an option that was better than Skype because it allowed for multiple schools to be connected at once.
Only one of our Hangouts had kids from the same grade level. Most of our sixth graders talked with kindergartners, first graders, third graders, and fifth graders, which was really cool. It put them in a leadership role and made them the big ones in a school where the eighth graders generally tower over them. It also allowed them to see the difference in their work compared to that of younger kids’ as well as see how excited the younger kids got when they shared their work.
One of most amazing parts of the day was watching kids walk up to the camera to share how they wanted to make their mark on the world. Kids who usually don’t raise their hand wanted to share in front of the camera, and they often watched for the reaction of the other kids projected on the screen. Almost every kid shared, watched the screen, and breathed a sigh of relief followed by a smile when the younger kids clapped and screamed for them. Our kids also had the opportunity to be a good audience member, asking questions to other kids and applauding for their work.
Too often kids don’t get the chance to share their work with anyone outside of their class. Days like this are invaluable to teaching kids there is a world beyond their classroom and that world does value what they’re doing. These days also motivate kids who maybe didn’t do their best work this time, but knowing that it will be on display, will probably work harder on the next project. That kind of authentic motivation does more for a kid than any teacher standing over their shoulder telling them to “just try a little harder.”