Dearest Stef and Friends,
I wanted to thank you for your visit and for the creation of Touchstones! I don’t know what I would do without it. I have learned so much about myself as an educator and a person and it has enabled my students beyond my dreams. The project has created a bridge in our room.
Students have a voice and have taken ownership of their actions, their comments and the environment. They monitor the behaviors of one another even when they are not in the circle. The kids are able to hold discussions without raising their hands for the most part without interruption. We have found that they are better able to conference, discuss and listen to each in small group as well as during presentations to the class. I have noticed an improvement in their writing that correlates to the way that they discuss topics in the Touchstones circle. I feel that the ability to discuss, in addition to listening, has broadened the ability of my students to gather their thoughts and get them into writing. They are more confident in general and much more capable of articulating their thoughts and feelings. They shared with me they felt inspired because they began to notice that it was helping them in other classes during presentations and in small group. Many kids mentioned that they have become much better listeners. One student in particular told me she now understands how to listen to other perspectives and she learned so much more about herself this year. Many have never had a hard time talking but they learned in doing Touchstones to truly listen to others. I am amazed at how the kids learned to support each other and to set goals and measure them. They learned to think critically and are willing to accept the opinions of others.
I learned to be open to the process of Touchstones 100%. I learned that Touchstones touches me as much as it reaches the kids. It needs to be kept 100% PURE. The project should be kept intact and taught as directed. It took me some time to understand why the stories had to be so hard or the way they were, but once I understood and went along with it, I got it! I really got it.
It is not about just getting kids to talk for the sake of talking. It is a process and a very important one. The text is the key to that process. The discussions, the questions, the group work, the review of ground rules, the reflections are all necessary steps. The first year I attempted Touchstones, I did not get the same results that I did this year. It was not because of the children, it was because of the instructor. I did not understand the true importance of keeping the project pure. Sure, I went through most of the steps and did some preparation, but not nearly enough. Consistency is key. Teachers have to allow the time and attention. Students need time to reflect each class period on the data that they collect. Teachers need to use that data to determine circle seating, small group partners, questions etc. It is not without effort that Touchstones is a success.
I found I had to be humble enough to allow kids a sense of equality in the room at all times. They can’t trust and respect a tyrant. The ground rules if used by everyone in the classroom as well as in the circle make for an effective management tool. Touchstones is more than a once a week lesson for me in my room, it is a way of life. It is method of teaching and a mindset. It has changed everything for me. I no longer ask kids to raise their hands in my room. We follow the ground rules even
when we are not in the circle. It has changed the way I think, interact and respond to others. It is my constant.
I thank you and the project!