Touchstones Spotlight on Outer Island Collaborative

Interview by Brittany Usiak, K-12 and Adult Programs Manager

For our last Touchstones Spotlight of the school year, we’re highlighting Maine’s Outer Island Teaching and Learning Collaborative. Laura Venger and Lindsay Eyesnogle teach in one room schoolhouses on islands off the Maine coast with mixed age groups of students, and Robin Chernow, of The Island Institute, was the group’s discussion leader. They piloted the digital version of Touchpebbles A with K-3 graders over 7 weeks this spring. Although engaging in discussions in this unique environment required some advanced planning and additional differentiation, Robin shares that she and the teachers found it to be a valuable opportunity to help their students build skills while connecting with each other.

How did you structure Touchpebbles so that younger learners could participate?

We met on Zoom for 7 weeks this year with Laura’s three students in grades 1, 3, 3, and Lindsay’s three students in grades K, 1, 1, each on their own computer. Before reading the first story, we had a virtual meet & greet and Zoom practice session and began to talk about the Ground Rules. That was helpful before getting started in the stories and breakout rooms. The Touchpebbles sessions were a good chance for students to not only practice their discussion skills but also to interact with a different group of peers than those in their classroom each day. It was helpful that I could facilitate and Laura and Lindsay were onsite to help their respective students (with technology/breakouts or finding materials, etc).

What do you love about Touchpebbles? How does it support the goals of your work?

Touchpebbles provided our younger students a chance to practice listening to each other and sharing their ideas. It also prompted them to listen to and remember stories without illustrations. Since we did Touchpebbles virtually across two islands, students were able to interact with other students than just their peers in their own classroom.

How have you seen yourself develop as a discussion leader?

As a discussion leader, I had to be aware and make judgement calls about how to balance hearing all voices, letting conversation keep going, and sometimes calling on students when they needed help entering the conversation.

How have you seen your students develop? 

It was good to see the quieter students increase in comfort speaking up over the 6 weeks. Small groups breakouts helped some of them speak up even if they were quieter in the large group setting.

Can you share one or two memorable moments or stories from using Touchstones?

In the story with the plum pit/seed, the students became very interested in talking about what they plant in their gardens at school or at home, and they shared what they would like to grow if they could grow something in the future. An unexpected tangent for me, and a good discussion and share out that was inspired by the text.

What do you want others to know about Touchstones?

Try it a few times and see how it goes!