In 1984, three professors (tutors) from St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland, Geoffrey Comber, Nick Maistrellis, and Howard Zeiderman, joined forces to better understand the benefits and barriers encountered in discussion-based learning. Their inquiries led to the formation of the Touchstones Discussion Project. Today, Touchstones programs are implemented with many diverse demographics and in a wide range of educational and professional settings around the world.
In their examination of why discussion-based learning does or does not succeed in particular groups, the three founders intensively and thoroughly investigated the socio-behavioral and cultural habits that influence how people see themselves as viable and legitimate voices in discussion. They explored the particular impediments that typically hinder authentic discussion and shared inquiry as attempted in other “seminar” type programs.
Howard Zeiderman leads an introductory Touchstones session at an AVID Summer Institute.
Their work led to the development of the Touchstones method, which includes:
- Touchstones texts for discussion
- Essential teacher and student behaviors
- Individual and small group
- Full class discussion
- Metacognitive and reflective exercises and analysis
Researched in Pittsburgh, Maryland, New York, and Delaware, Touchstones proven results and highly engaging format have made it an attractive tool among adult groups as well. Today, our programs reflect 35 years of research and development from thousands of implementation sites.
So Touchstones programs are readily delivered in the classroom — with or without training in the Touchstones method — co-founder Howard Zeiderman began developing and authoring Touchstones Teacher’s Guides in the late 1980s. The Teacher’s Guides support the discussion leader by building effective classroom management skills and cooperative and inclusive classrooms. These environments are characterized by:
- High levels of student engagement
- Differentiated instruction and peer teaching
- Improved reading comprehension
- More effective verbal and nonverbal communication
- Creative problem-solving and increased responsibility for one’s own education
Touchstones now has 68 titles in circulation. Each book offers a highly replicable program proven to transform teaching and learning.
Touchstones reaches people all over the world. In addition to the tens of thousands of U.S. schools using Touchstones today, our highly transportable programs can be found in countries on six continents, and program materials have been translated into five languages for use in schools, colleges and universities, executive development, community and senior centers, NGOs and governmental agencies, and with incarcerated persons. The lives of 5,000,000 participants and counting have been transformed through the activity of Touchstones discussions.
Since the Touchstones Discussion Project began, more than 5,000,000 people have participated in Touchstones programs. While the majority of participants are in grades two through 12 and primarily in the United States, Touchstones programs are in at least 47 countries. Participants range from very young people to adults running organizations to older adults seeking new educational opportunities.
With our train-the-trainer technique and fully developed program curricula, Touchstones is readily used by educators and community leaders around the world to empower the populations they serve in English, Spanish, French, Haitian Kreyol, Arabic, and Burmese. In Touchstones, participants find their voice and their dignity, experience the value of their own thinking, and discover a sense of belonging and purpose.