Since its inception in 1984, Touchstones has grown by leaps and bounds, attracting interest from schools throughout the nation and abroad. The program is implemented in public, private, and parochial schools, as well as in home school environments and after-school programs. The need for Touchstones is recognized in suburban, rural, and inner-city communities, where Touchstones programs help teachers, coordinators, resource and instructional specialists, and administrators to meet their goals--whether those are the Common Core State Standards, state-specific learning standards, 21st Century Learning outcomes, or their own educational philosophies in which civility, critical thinking, collaboration, and discussion-based learning takes center stage.
In a Touchstones discussion, students of all academic abilities improve skills that help them succeed in school, work, and life. As students progress through the Touchstones program, their new skills carry over into other classes and the classroom environment changes dramatically – students build respect for one another as they become aware that all members of the group have valuable strengths and skills to contribute. Touchstones discussions often fill the perceived gap between schoolwork and everyday life as students recognize the relevance of their education to the world around them.
All students benefit from Touchstones discussions – no student is overlooked or left behind. At-risk students show increased maturity, self-esteem, and academic engagement. High-achieving students demonstrate a new respect for others’ opinions and increased thoughtfulness. Some students discover hidden talents and abilities; and teachers and students alike benefit from the sense of community that results from working together.
Touchstones’ program for students in the elementary grades helps children learn the fundamentals of the discussion process. Each of the two volumes—Touchpebbles Volume A and Touchpebbles Volume B—contains thirty lessons that were developed for students in grades four and five. (Teachers of students in grades two and three have also used the program successfully.) These lessons expose children to a wide variety of classic texts, including folktales and fables from around the world and the writings of many authors over the last 3000 years.
Through their engagement in Touchpebbles discussions, students learn several skills essential to their development as well-rounded learners. These skills include the ability to listen carefully—both to one another and to the text—to speak clearly and organize their thoughts, and to function independently. Through the practice of these skills, students learn to speak to their classmates instead of looking to the teacher for praise or approval. The flexibility of a Touchpebbles discussion encourages freedom of expression while the structures, ground rules, and attention to discussion dynamics ensure that this freedom is used productively and responsibly. Students also develop their critical reading and thinking skills. While it is not intended to be a reading program, participation in Touchpebbles helps students develop strategies which enable them be better, more thoughtful readers. These strategies include making connections between the text, themselves, and the world; learning to ask probing questions and deal with questions for which there is no right answer; making inferences, determining importance, and synthesizing individual pieces of the text into an integrated whole. Because Touchstones Discussions focus on the topics within the text, students gain practice going beyond surface features to the deeper themes the text explores.
“I am impressed at how students are responding so positively to the Touchstones program. In only 6 sessions I have seen them grow. Touchpebbles allows students to speak without judgment, to feel safe and understood. Students keep telling me that they no longer feel alone about how they felt about an emotional or personal issue. They recognize that others in their class may live some of the same issues at home, at school with friends and family. This reassures them that they are indeed not alone and that even adults feel the same way. I am hoping this will lead to more open discussions for the students and their parents. Students are even excited to write about their thoughts on the subject, and their journal entries are insightful and personal. I feel for the first time a connection between the students. It is remarkable.”
-C. Jorgensen, Springfield Heights School, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
- Elementary School Data
- Purchase Elementary School Volumes
As their understanding of the world becomes more sophisticated, middle school students develop ideas that they want to discuss. Unfortunately, the social pressures of this age often keep them quiet and reluctant to share their thoughts. Touchstones Discussions provide an opportunity for students to explore ideas and take risks in a safe environment.
The interrelation of the text to themselves and society helps students see their schoolwork as both relevant and meaningful. Touchstones Volumes A, B, and C, the middle school core volumes, each contain 30 lessons exploring a text from a classic work of literature, history, philosophy, science, or a work of art. From the first lesson, students work toward goals that require them to cooperate with one another, speak clearly, and listen carefully.
“My goals in using the program are to increase student understanding of the process of civil discussion and how discussion can lead to deeper understanding of new and important concepts. I also see the goals of the program as essential and prerequisite to the kinds of "anti-bullying" programs that are now so popular in schools. As such, I continuously reference our experiences with Touchstones when we work in our anti-bullying program”
– G. Heidt, Perkiomen Valley Middle School East, Landsdale, PA
- Middle School Data
- Purchase Middle School Volumes
For high schools, Touchstones offers a range of programs and content volumes. The core program consists of Touchstones Volumes 1 and 2. Each is a series of thirty readings designed to take students through the four stages every discussion group passes through on its way to becoming an effective and collaborative group. These stages are 1) Participation, 2) Cooperation and Collaboration, 3) Active Listening, and 4) Shared Leadership.
Touchstones Volume I is a 30 session exploration of the discussion process itself culminating in students working in small groups to prepare and lead the last series of discussions. Touchstones Volume II builds upon that foundation and guides students to go even further and share the role of teacher, for themselves and their peers. Throughout the year, students explore various aspects of their relation to their education: beginning with how they learn with others by examining themselves as participant and leader; next they examine how they teach themselves incorporating exploratory writing to examine themselves as both reader and writer; and finally, how they teach others by examining their role as both student and teacher.
“I love the process materials that are provided with each text. Your work in this area alone makes Touchstones worthwhile. It is our hope that our kids will learn that differing opinions doesn't mean that one is right and the other wrong. That it is OK to ask people why they believe a certain way and to be curious enough to ask questions in order to expand their worlds.”
-Dr. G. Netzer, Principal, Van Horn High School, Independence, MO
- High School Data
- Teacher Evaluation of Student Social & Cognitive Learning Outcomes
- Logic Model for High Schools
- Critical Thinking and Reading Skills Change Achieved through Touchstones Discussions
- Touchstones Discussions and Target Practice as Enhancers of SAT Critical Reading Scores
- Purchase High School Volumes
Data and Evaluations
- Combine Survey Results 2010-11
- Innovation Configuration: Teacher Skills
- A Powerpoint Presentation of Why California’s AVID Region 6 Uses Touchstones
Touchstones is also used successfully in extended-day programs that strive to strengthen student speaking, listening, reading, writing, and thinking skills through intensive academic support. In the ACCESS program in Baltimore City at the Bluford Drew STEM Academy, Touchstones was used with 83 students in the One Mic subgroup specifically to build literacy and communication skills. Although Touchstones is not mentioned by name in this evaluation, it was the primary academic program component in One Mic programming. This year end program evaluation outlines statistically significant increases in measures of self-efficacy and enjoyment of the programming among students in the One Mic target group and suggests encouraging changes in attitudes correlated with school attendance, success, and graduation.
Resources for Teachers
- A Video Overview of the Touchstones Discussion Method
- Alignment to Standards
- Samples of Available Touchstones Materials
- Touchstones Program Catalog
- Download Order Form
- List of Schools that have ordered Touchstones Materials
- Purchase Touchstones Materials online
- Garreth Heidt Named Teacher of the Year - The Key Reporter - March 2013
- Cecil County Uses Discussion to Meet New Academic Standards - Capital News Service - October 2012
- Touchstones gets students engaged in civic discourse - The Capital Gazette - March 25, 2012
- Teacher creates national award for discussion-based instruction - The Capital - October 2011
- Dr. Charles Flanagan from the National Archives visits 7th and 8th grade Touchstones Discussion groups - The Guardian, St. Martin's in-the-Field Day School - February 2011
- ASCD 2010 - The Final Prezi Report - 2010
- Touchstones Discussions and Target Practice as Enhancers of SAT Critical Reading Scores - March 2010
- From Great Texts to Great Thinking - Educational Leadership - March 2010
- Mrs. Bernanke, Can We Have Recess? - The Washingtonian - October 2009
- Seminar for the 21st Century - The International Educator - February 2009
- New Program Gives Girls a Chance to Discussion Problems Find Support - The Capital - February 2009
- Thinking Outside the Box - Kingsport Times-News - May 2005
- Touchstones Brings Unique Way of Learning - Kingsport Times-News - September 2004
- Discussion Boosts Student Literacy - Education Week - November 2003
- Gives 'em Somtheing to Talk About - The Capital - April 2003
- Touchstones for Class Fire Keen Discussions - The Baltimore Sun - February 2003
- Touchstones: Making Science Matter in Middle School - HHMI Bulletin - February 2002
- Questioning the Answers - Washington Post - May 2001
- Eastport Newcomer Zeiderman Brings Change - The Capital - February 2001
- New Touchstones Program Begins at Arapahoe - The Pamlico News - April 2000
- Teaching Reading Beyond the Plot - Phi Delta Kappan - November 1998
- The Proof is in the Discussion - Momentum - March 1997
- Touchstones Expands Learning - Ashland Daily Tidings - December 1993
- Innovative Program Teaches Children to Think Independently - The Baltimore Sun - October 1993
- Free Inquiry In the Secondary Classroom - The Reporter - June 1993
- Valley Academy Asked More of a Good Student - Albuquerque Journal - May 1993
- High Expectations - Albuquerque Journal - May 1993
- In the Midst of Hartford's Poverty In Walks Aristotle - The Hartford Courant - March 1993
- Enhancing Your Child's Education - Chesapeake Family - September 2002
- Touchstones Project, Teaching and Learning - The Annapolis Times - August 1992
- Touchstones Education Gets Students Involved - The Baltimore Sun - 1991
- Northwestern's Touchstones Program Offers Students An Operning for Discussion - Washington Post - March 1990
- Tiny Valley High Raises Expectations - Albuquerque Journal - August 1989
- Discussion Classes for Students of All Abilities - Educational Leadership - March 1989
- Touchstones Puts Students, Teachers on Fair Ground - Anne Arundel County Sun - October 1988