Tag Archive for: Elementary School

Touchstones Spotlight on Alexandria Jones

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


The Touchstones community spans the globe, poses a challenge when communicating everything Touchstones makes possible. It’s our goal to remedy this by finding new ways to share the inspiring work happening in classroom and community discussions every day. Over the past several months, we’ve been working to highlight the incredible stories of educators using Touchstones on our social media channels, and now we’re adding them to our new blog as well!

Alexandria Jones headshot

Alexandria Jones, 4th Grade Touchpebbles Teacher

In this post, we’re shining the spotlight on Alexandria Jones, a 4th grade teacher at Learning Community Charter School who uses Touchpebbles B each week with her students. This is her second year using Touchstones, after first learning about the program during her student teaching last year. We sat in on her Touchpebbles class during a recent school visit, and the community she is building with her students was palpable. We’re grateful to Alexandria for taking the time to share more about her work with Touchstones and the impact she has seen with her students!

What do you love about Touchstones? 

I love that Touchstones is a platform that gives all students an opportunity to speak and feel that when they speak, they are heard. It allows the students to self-regulate and be considerate of other people when they are speaking. In the classroom, students frequently get excited to share their thoughts and ideas, which leads to them talking over one another. Ultimately, this results in nobody truly feeling heard. But, through Touchstones students have learned the importance of being considerate when one person is talking and truly listening to what they are saying before sharing their ideas.


How does Touchstones support the goals of your work?
This supports my goals as an educator precisely because as a teacher, your goal is to prepare your students for success. Conversational skills and the accompanying qualities such as being patient, empathetic, respectful, and confident are qualities that Touchstones works to build and will allow for our students to thrive.


How have you seen yourself develop as a discussion leader?
As a discussion leader, I have been able to reflect on the development of my ability to guide fruitful discussions such as opening up, being vulnerable, and sharing personal experience. This reinforces that our conversations are safe grounds where students can feel comfortable and confident to share their ideas too. Through Touchstones I have also learned techniques to include my more reserved students and have been able to watch them share their ideas with confidence.


How have you seen your students develop through Touchstones?
Over the course of this school year, I have witnessed a drastic change in the way my students try their best to share their ideas one at a time and create platforms for their friends who share less frequently. This goes beyond Touchstones as well, but the skills were developed through Touchstones. I have watched my students transform into leaders who will frequently intervene to include all voices by saying, “Guys! Listen, ….. is talking” or “Guys, …. is talking lets listen.”

class of 4th graders in Touchstones circle
Can you share one or two memorable moments from your Touchpebbles classes?

When doing lesson 5: A Case Study in Medical ethics, the students were amazed to see the validity of what they were learning and that the decisions doctors have to make is not simple. In fact, it can be hard to distinguish between right and wrong. For the class, seeing that what they were reading about ties into the real world decisions doctors have to make engaged them and made them see that things are not always black and white when it comes to decision making.
In my most recent Touchstones lesson, the class was discussing the way that we feel when someone calls us dumb. Many students were saying that they feel angry and feel the desire to retaliate and express their frustration. But, one student went against the grain and stated beautifully that if he were called dumb he would feel embarrassed. This added great depth to the conversation and showed that he has the skills to deepen the conversation when expressing vulnerability.


What do you want others to know about Touchstones?
It is important to know that Touchstones is a foundational tool that goes beyond the classroom and is not limited to one particular age group. Through my own practice in Touchstones I have improved my conversational skills drastically. I remind myself constantly of what it means to actively listen and engage in conversation, and I personally work to make my conversations more fruitful. Talking – as simple as the concept is – was something that I once feared. I would overanalyze my word choice when talking and would feel that conversations often fell on surface level. Now I am consciously able to apply skills to spark deeper thinking and add value to the conversations I am having through talking and listening alike. Touchstones helped me to gain confidence in my own conversational skills, and I know it does the same for my students.

Commitment To Civics

By Howard Zeiderman

Early this year, the Mt. Desert Island Regional School System (MDIRSS) contacted Touchstones. They wanted to take a great step forward for their students and community by implementing a district-wide civics program. And they wanted Touchstones to be a core part of their new curriculum. When the pandemic struck, even the best laid plans of in-person workshops evaporated. However, persistence from the dedicated leaders at MDIRSS ensured their evolving civics program moved forward. They are launching it even as they begin this school year remotely. By the time you read this, many of their middle and high school students will already have started exploring the central role of civil discourse in American civics.

As part of the district’s preparation, Touchstones engaged more than 20 MDIRSS educators in two days of online professional development in mid-June. As Julie Melzer, Director of Curriculum, Assessment, and Instruction and Title IX Coordinator, wrote afterward, “[The] facilitation was excellent. [Their] calm demeanor and articulate responses to all questions was impressive. I’m looking forward to working with them throughout the coming year.” To ensure teachers were fully ready to implement online, the same group then spent a day in August participating in model classes. The middle school teachers participated first in Lesson 1, as high school teachers observed. Then the teachers swapped virtual seats and roles, to experience both the Touchstones discussion class and role of observer. In the afternoon, we used the same format as both groups participated in Lesson 2 of their respective volumes. After each session, the teachers—participants and observers alike—discussed and evaluated the modeling. Because most virtual classes in the district will include 12-15 students, the teachers will use a similar approach within their own classes of students.

The teachers’ feedback afterward made clear how valuable the observer and participant structure can be to seeing how Touchstones works—how it deliberately addresses student interaction and outcomes. As one teacher reported, “It was wonderful to investigate and try out a genuine cooperative learning approach, which really does help eliminate anxiety, fear of speaking, or fears of not being heard. I’ve never experienced a workshop like this, and I can’t wait to begin with students in the fall.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed the world into unpredictable and unexpected situations. Months into this crisis, it is still unclear what a return to “normal” will entail. Though many professional exchanges previously straddled the physical and digital worlds, it’s clear now that education must prepare students with highly effective communication, collaboration, and leadership skills in both environments. MDIRSS’s choice of Touchstones for their teachers and students promotes the longstanding value of civics-centered education while reinforcing the centrality of civil and inclusive discourse in our democracy.