Voices in Education

What the Dot Test Can Teach Us to De-Stress Our Students

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Despite all the careful planning and prep, the school year has the capacity to quickly get stressful. As soon as I sense students are feeling overwhelmed, I try to find little techniques to help lighten the mood and detox any unnecessary stress from building up. When things start to feel like too much, I pull out one of my favorite techniques - The Dot Test - which I was fortunate enough to experience in graduate school. When I can pull it off, it’s one of my favorite lessons of the year.  

The Story of the Dot Test

Upon entering the classroom, a lecturer greeted us and asked us to look up on the board and tell us what we saw. The board was seemingly empty. Everyone started looking at each other, all of us aware that we must be missing something. Finally, someone walked up to the board and said, “All I see is this small dot, is this what you meant?” 

The lecturer said, “Yes that’s what I was hoping you’d find - the dot.” We were a bit confused, so he explained. “You see, I know you are all in the middle of a stressful year, but I wanted to tell you to enjoy it, because as stressful as the tests seem and as daunting as the homework might feel, throughout the grand scheme of your life you won’t remember any of it -- it will be as significant as this small dot on this vast board. When you look back on this year, what you will remember are the friends you’ve made, the experiences you’ve had, and how your teachers made you feel. Don’t waste too much time being stressed out about the exams, because in the end, these tests won’t matter much in your life. They will become small dots. No matter what happens, you will all be okay and do great things.”

Why I love the Dot Test

As a student, I remember the wave of relief that washed over me upon having this experience. I had needed someone to tell me that it would all be okay amid all the pressure. I knew he wasn’t telling me to throw out my books or give up on academics (although there always seems to be one student who goes to this extreme when I run the test myself), but to know that it’s okay to have shortcomings. One bad grade isn’t going to hurt anyone, and it’s important to spend time soaking up all the wonderful moments and experiences that make our school years so special.  

I have done The Dot Test every year with my students, especially with the overachievers and highest performers who often push themselves to the maximum. It’s an absolute joy to see the weight being lifted off their shoulders, if only for a moment, and opens up a healthy dialogue on stress, life, and the pressures of school. Built up tension dissolves, and it quickly becomes one of my most memorable days of the year. 

How else can we detox stress?

Too often, we find students to be stressed out (in all areas of their lives)  which can lead to depression and anxiety. As an educator, it’s hard to watch people so young so consumed by worry and pressures. These should be happy years.  In a highly competitive world, I’ve often asked myself how can we help to put things into perspective for our students and ensure that education is a joy and not a stressor.  In addition to The Dot Test,I’ve compiledother techniques that seem to work the best:

  • De-stress Yourself - Bad energy feeds off itself so don’t feel bad taking time for your own well-being. If running’s your thing, fit it into your schedule. If you need an hour in the morning to enjoy your coffee and have a few moments of solitude, do it. Whatever your thing is that makes you relax, prioritize it.
  • Practice Mindfulness - Allow students to take time to reflect, observe, and know themselves. Let them find purpose in what they do.
  • Give Praise - Most students have strengths that could never be measured by a test. Recognize and value the strengths each student possesses. Be sure to recognize and reward growth, not just high scores, so students know it’s about doing their best, not being the best.
  • Make time for Fun - Every lesson won’t be exciting, so remember it’s okay to waste a few minutes on a funny YouTube video or plan a smoothie day. Smiling is important.
  • Show you Care - Ensure your students know you genuinely care for them and their lives. Let them know they’re much more than a grade or a test score
  • Go Outside - Take any chance you can to give students fresh air.
  • Emphasize Healthy Habits- Raise awareness and incentivize healthy habits. Eating the right foods, getting a good night’s sleep, and getting that heart rate up are all effective ways to feel good.

Our kids are stressed out. We want them to do well, to succeed, but they can and will without all the stress. It seems many of them need a reminder that it’s okay to focus on the good parts of their youth and childhood: their friends, their experiences, and their curiosity. The more we let them be kids, the more we can build their love for learning because to me, learning should never be a cause for a child drown in anxiety or depression.



Michelle Blanchet

Michelle Blanchet Educator

Michelle Blanchet is an educator and entrepreneur. She has been working with young people for the past ten years and founded The Educators’ Lab, which supports teacher driven solutions to educational challenges. Michelle earned a Master in International Relations from Instituto de Empresa in Madrid. She has taught sociology and economics, and has presented at numerous events including SXSWedu and TEDxLausanne. She has worked with organizations like PBS Education, Ashoka’s Youth Venture, the Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning, and the Center for Curriculum Redesign. Michelle is a part of the Global Shaper Community of the World Economic Forum and blogs for Edutopia.

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