The Dot is a great little book. Not only is its obvious message about drawing and creativity extremely easy for kids to understand and to be inspired by, but much more too. It’s like an allegory of good teaching.
- The first conversation between teacher and student takes place after the “art class” itself, revealing that many of the most powerful moments of teaching happen when we least expect it.
“It’s the little conversations that build the relationships and make an impact on each student.”
Robert John Meehan
- The second significant action by the teacher is to value what the student produces, to accept her “starting point”, as David Harste calls it. This is often where most teachers go wrong, when students don’t produce what they had in mind they sometimes tend to reject what is in front of them. This rejection can actually signify a small death for inquiry in a child, and even an adult!
- By framing and hanging the picture of the dot, the Teacher honours the work of the child and treats it like a work of art. She places a child’s work in a genuine context that will connect that child with the way things are done outside a school. This is a very Reggio Emilia inspired moment in the book that reflects the way that, in Reggio, student work is visible in the community, hanging on the walls of restaurants and train stations next to adult work.
- It is at this point that the teacher disappears from the story for a while as the child experiments and explores the new possibilities that have become clear to her. Perhaps the teacher has made materials available or even given small pieces of advice here and there, but they are not as significant as the child’s pursuit of greater skill and self-expression. Her conceptual understanding of space and negative space is also revealed in the process.
- No doubt the teacher is involved with honouring the work again in order to share it in the school’s art exhibition, again putting the child’s work into an authentic, “real world” context that empowers her and helps her see a place in society that could be hers.
- One of the most powerful moments comes as the child becomes a mentor to a younger child, inspired by her work. Taking all the steps above will certainly be important parts of creating a culture of learning in which younger students look to older students and learn by doing so – so much better than adults being the “best” at everything or the source of all knowledge and inspiration.
- By repeating, for the younger student, the process of feedback, valuing and honour that was bestowed upon her by her teacher, the child demonstrates an understanding of what learning looks like and what her role is in it for other people.
So, what appears to be a fairly simple story of a girl who learns to see herself as an artist is actually a kind of mini-handbook of teaching and learning, a reminder of the very essence of what makes good teaching… and what learning, in its purest form, can look like.