International K-12 Programs
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K-12 Programs in Canada
Although the Touchstones Discussion Project programs have been used in English for many years in a number of places in Canada, Touchstones has only recently become part of a province-wide implementation. In 2010, the Bureau of French Education for the Province of Manitoba contacted Touchstones after a lengthy and international search for a curriculum that would systematically build critical thinking among their French-speaking students. They identified the Touchstones Discussion Project’s method and core volumes (Touchpebbles A and Touchpebbles B; Touchstones Volume A, Touchstones Volume B, and Touchstones Volume C; and Touchstones Volume I and Touchstones Volume II) as being the ideal means for achieving their goals.
In 2011, Florence Girouard, the Directrice des services de soutien en education, and her team started the work of translating those Touchstones volumes and Touchstones Discussion Leadership: Getting Started into French. Piloting of the materials began almost immediately, and formal training of a core training team within the bureau of French education began in May of 2012. During 2012, 30 teachers in 15 schools piloted Touchstones with at least 655 students. As the Manitoba team continues to train teachers in the program as part of a much larger implementation, Touchstones staff regularly visits key implementation sites and provides ongoing professional development support and training for Manitoba.
Touchstones was recently featured in Trinity College School’s admissions video.
K-12 Programs in Myanmar
In Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, The Diplomatic School in Yangon used Touchstones materials with high school and university students from 2002 until 2014 as a central part of their efforts to create a community of active and engaged learners. Students in the Pre-Collegiate Program at the Diplomatic School were involved in weekly Touchstones classes as part of their intensive preparation for post-secondary studies in the United States. In 2014, the Pre-Collegiate Program moved to its new location at Lumbini Academy in Yangon, where it is experiencing significant growth.
Drs. Jim and Dorothy Guyot have been instrumental in introducing and implementing Touchstones’ innovative pedagogy in Myanmar. This research paper delivered by Dr. Jim Guyot (Writings 2009), describes why Touchstones is an essential and proven part of their work in helping Burmese students to succeed in their collegiate studies.
In the words of Dr. Dorothy Guyot, who co-founded the Pre-Collegiate Program, Touchstones is vital to development of a essential thinking skills in what has been a closed society:
“The distance is vast between students enhancing their memories in seeking to triumph on the matric and in exercising critical thinking skills during Touchstones Discussions. As universities and the Departments of Higher Education develop their new methods of teaching and learning, the ten years of Touchstones Discussions in Yangon can be beneficial for three basic reasons. One, the Touchstones mode of learning demonstrates that Myanmar students can excel in developing their higher order intellectual capacities. Two, the mode of teaching shows that Myanmar teachers can become skilled facilitators. They can transform themselves from the ‘sage on stage’ to the ‘guide by the side.'”
You can read more of Dr. Guyot’s comments about the role of Touchstones in transforming education in Myanmar in the Oct 2012 paper she presented at the NIU Burma Studies Conference.
With great and rapid change now taking place in Myanmar, there is growing opportunity for Touchstones programs to help build Myanmar’s capacity for open and civil society. All citizens must become fully prepared to participate in and meet the challenges of the global community.
K-12 Programs in China
Beginning in the fall of 1994, volunteer John T. Andrews used Touchstones at The Guangdong Teachers College of Foreign Languages and Arts in Guangzhou, China to help future teachers of English gain greater oral fluency.
Reflecting on his experiences, John writes, With about 20 students per class, seated in a circle, instead of 40 seated in rows of desks, we launched with Bacon’s “Revenge.”It was a hit… although I am not sure some of the “older” English teaching Chinese staff ever really approved of this “new” teaching method. In any case, I used the same Touchstones volume for the next 5 years of successive classes, and some of my students went on to earn advanced degrees in linguistics… even teaching in Universities in the UK and Australia. I like to think that Touchstones had something to do with their successes.
Our goal was not so much to develop leadership in the students as it was to encourage their listening, hearing, understanding, integrating, and sharing ideas in a language that was not their own. On a visit in 2012 to Guangzhou, roughly a dozen of my former students took us out for what turned into a three-hour lunch. Sticklers might have quibbled with some of the grammar, but no one could fault the enthusiasm and their adherence to our old rule of ‘English only.’ If they were at a loss for a word, they found a way to talk around the idea, and the idea was heard and understood. We had a good time in the classroom days, and that pleasure continues.
In 2011, John’s exceptional volunteerism in China was recognized by the Touchstones Board of Directors by naming him the Volunteer of the Year for his extended and fruitful endeavors in advancing understanding and communication through Touchstones discussions.
K-12 Programs in Haiti
In the 1990s, when a former Touchstones employee traveled to Haiti, his journey firmly planted Touchstones as a fruitful tool for literacy development there with adults and children. Known in Haiti as “Wonn Refleksyon” or “Circles of Reflection” (because there is no translation into Kreyol for the word “touchstones”), Touchstones first partnered with Fondasyon Limye Lavi to bring Touchstones school programs into conventional primary schools, adult literacy and workforce readiness programs, and community-based initiatives.
A number of volumes of Touchstones materials were translated into Kreyol for immediate use, which spread to the Circles of Change project within the Beyond Borders program. In 2009, that program received acclaim by WorldBlu, whose mission is “to acknowledge the most successful organizations in the world that are choosing to operate, not using the traditional, command and control model of business, but a democratic model based freedom and possibility.”
Since its introduction to Haiti, more than 60,000 volumes of Touchstones texts have been printed, at least 50,000 of which have been distributed for school and community programs. And Touchstones programming has been widely used to empower a range of participants—from teachers and educational administrators to victims of violent crime and children and families afflicted with HIV and other life-altering illnesses—to gain essential academic, communication, and collaboration skills. For some, Touchstones serves as a much-needed professional development tool and a means for gaining student cooperation that does not include corporal punishment. For others, it is a highly effective means for addressing issues of social justice by empowering participants to overcome the barriers inherited through economic impoverishment and political marginalization. Organizations such as Fonkoze, which uses microfinance opportunities to help small business get started, also use Touchstones to ensure that striving entrepreneurs and other business people have the skills they need to organize their ideas, articulate their vision, and build collaborative teams within their businesses.
As one of Touchstones most active partners, Haiti Partners makes Touchstones volumes available to a range of organizations working with the underserved, including Limyè Lavi, Fondasyon Eksperyansla, KOFAVIV. Touchstones volumes are regularly used in their partner schools with approximately 700 students and in educator training programs.
In 2011, Touchstones partnered with Children’s Place International to provide a systematic thinking-skills program for children in the New Ventures program located in Cap-Haitian. For that project, the entire Touchstones Teacher’s Guide for Touchstones Volume A was translated into Kreyol, the lead project manager was trained in the Touchstones method, and Touchstones created custom evaluation tools for use by in-country program staff. The New Ventures program is now in its fourth year of programming.
Read more about Touchstones K-12 Programs in Haiti
K-12 Programs in Jordan
In Jordan, the Ministry of Education adopted a Touchstones curriculum in Arabic for all students in grades 6-10 as part of Education Reform for Knowledge Economy Project (ERfKE). The creation of the Touchstones program in Jordan, known in Arabic as MaHakkaat at-Tafkir (The Touchstones Way of Thinking), or simply MaHakkaat, has been funded by a number of sources, including the Institute for Intercultural Studies, Appleby Foundation, Sheik M A Shami Foundation for Human Services, private donors in the U.S. and Jordan, and the Touchstones Discussion Project itself.
The project is a collaborative effort between Touchstones, Ministry of Education officials, and Touchstones volunteers who first introduced Touchstones to Jordan and collaborated on early efforts there. Some of the project accomplishments from 2006-2010 included informal training sessions in Amman, work with a team of educators to try to form a core team of potential trainers, and the development of various Touchstones materials, which were then translated into Arabic and tested in the classrooms. Some of the programmatic materials included the development by Howard Zeiderman, Touchstones Co-founder & President of a volume of Touchstones texts from Arab sources, called MaHakkat Aliph, which includes complete lesson plans for use in high school. That volume was translated for use in Jordan and was subsequently reworked and augmented extensively for use in U.S. high school social studies classes. The new volume, called Touchstones Alif: Readings from the Arab Tradition, was released onto the U.S. market in 2012. Zeiderman also created custom lessons to accompany sections within Touchstones Discussion Leadership: Getting Started, which has been translated, printed, and distributed to more than 800 teachers throughout Jordan. The accompanying lessons were designed to give groups of teachers the tools needed to practice their discussion leadership skills together on a monthly basis.
In 2010, Touchstones Co-founder & President, Howard Zeiderman, the lead developer of the programs for Jordan, traveled with a team of four Touchstones trainers to Amman to run a multi-week teacher-training project. During their stay in Amman, the team trained more than 500 teachers in the Touchstones method using a modified Touchstones workshop and real-time interpretation from English to Arabic. Touchstones programs have reached more than 8,500 teachers and more than 500,000 students in Jordan.
K-12 Programs in South Africa
Since 2003, Touchstones programming has been used in the South African Education and Environment Project’s (SAEP) Bridging Year Programme, which remediates essential social and cognitive skills.
For students who are not native speakers of English, Touchstones provides the added benefit of regular practice using English to explore and express their opinions, as they prepare themselves for the academic rigors and expectations associated with post-secondary studies. Consequently, Touchstones is also used by SAEP with high school students. Over the past decade, an estimated 200 students total have benefited from Touchstones programming at SAEP.
Here is a recent account of Touchstones programs at SAEP from Shep Willis, the Programme Manager.
“Our Bridging Year Programme is designed for students from disadvantaged Cape Town townships who have shown academic promise in their high school careers but found themselves unable to enter tertiary education upon matriculation, sometimes because of financial constraints, sometimes because their final exam results were not high enough, but most of the time they simply lacked the guidance necessary for navigating the complex university application and admission process… I think the programme’s strength is in helping the students develop life skills, personal responsibility, and resilience.
The Touchstones curriculum has added benefits in the context of our Bridging Year Programme—perhaps even more benefits than its inventors imagined. First of all, the project is perfect for building vocabulary and English skills. English is not the first language for our students. We do spend time in class circling the words we are unsure of and parsing difficult sentences. The fact that the students are learning these words simply because they want to know what Machiavelli or Twain is really trying to say rather than because they will be tested on them makes for a very effective lesson. Further, the discussions—in which students won’t be corrected by a teacher insisting on perfect syntax—are an excellent platform for them to develop confidence in their spoken English skills. This confidence is absolutely vital to their eventual success at university.
But the most important benefit of Touchstones is more subtle. A social psychologist could say more about this than I can, but students often enter our programme with a complex relationship with authority. Most find it very difficult to disagree (or express disagreement) with something that has been printed in a book or a newspaper. They usually really struggle to tell a teacher—particularly an older white male—that they have a different opinion. The Touchstones system provides a fantastic, safe forum for students to realize that respectful disagreement with authority can be a good thing and that their own voices have meaning. Mastering this concept means the difference between a university student who sits silently as he or she fails a class and one who confidently approaches a professor for more guidance. I am sorry if my description is vague. It’s a tricky concept, but it is real and very profound.”
Other International K-12 Programs
Touchstones in Georgia
In 2008, two students from St. John’s College approached the Touchstones Discussion Project in regard to their Project for Peace proposal, which has been chosen for funding by the Davis Foundation. The project was to bring seminar style discussion classes in 2009 to a group of college age students (ages 18-24) in the capital city of Tbilisi, Georgia as a means for fostering peaceful communication in a war-torn country. The project outline required texts that would be accessible to all participants in the seminar format. But the project leaders also recognized that they needed a starting place for all participants to learn what it would mean to engage in open and civil discourse. Over several meetings, the Touchstones staff helped the project team to think through what materials would be most successful in this first endeavor. In addition to Touchstones texts, the team decided to use Touchstones Discussion Leadership: Getting Started to help participants consider their specific roles in discussion—as individuals and as members of a group. In his final report to the Davis Foundation, one of the project managers and discussion leaders, Noel Brokett, shared this:
“I spent my summer half way across the world leading a course with a group of people my age who have been living in turmoil and conflict for their whole lives. We did not speak the same language, but with the help of others we communicated about the fundamental questions of peace and human relationships. At first the Georgian students sincerely thought that a group of 18 people their age were incapable of holding a peaceful, passionate conversation. I found that what I saw possible for those students they perceived as impossible for themselves and their country, but together we succeeded; we listened to each other.“
Subsequent student teams have also received funding for the continuing of this crucial work to build understanding and discourse through seminar and continue to carry out summer projects in Georgia.
Touchstones in South Korea
For her Hodson Internship project in 2012, Eunji Kim, a sophomore at St. John’s College, designed an education project to run a seminar style course during the summer semester at the Yettrang Academy in Muan, South Korea. At this alternative high school, most instruction is in English and all graduates have gone on to attend U.S. colleges and universities. As Eunji prepared for her summer project, she started looking for appropriate resources and was directed to the Touchstones Discussion Project. By using Touchstones Volume I, Eunji had access both to comprehensive pedagogical instruction and a systematic way to build skills among her students through discussion.
When summarizing her internship work, Eunji wrote of her students, “It took them a while to get used to the discussions but they talked more than I thought they would from when we began, and as the weeks passed I saw improvement in areas they were weak in. An interesting thing was that they would talk more when they were in small groups of four or five compared to when they were in the larger group of twelve. We discussed that aspect and other ways of how they could improve the discussion. I also had them take turns leading the discussion themselves to get them to participate more in the discussions. The students also enjoyed the class and even after I left they continued to have the discussion class for the remaining few weeks on their own.”