Tag Archive for: International

Touchstones In Thailand

By Lynn Cloutier

It’s fascinating to me that our materials are used around the world. I have enjoyed working with educators in Canada, Spain, Australia, Guadeloupe, and China, and I am currently working with a teacher, Michael Purser, in Thailand. Michael teaches at the Thai Chinese International School in Samutprakarn, near Bangkok. He began using Touchstones materials in his seventh-grade class last year, and at the same time he was writing his doctoral dissertation on discussion-based learning methods. He had learned about Touchstones from his mentor in his graduate education program and wanted to  see what the method looked like and yielded in real practice. Fortunately, Touchstones was able to provide Michael with some initial training by including him in an Open- Enrollment Workshop last fall via the internet.

The school’s goals—which include developing critical thinkers, effective communicators, collaborative workers, and responsible global participants—and the Touchstones method and materials fit seamlessly together to reinforce a student-centered environment focused on 21st Century skills. As Michael’s students worked through their Touchstones program, he reported progress towards 100% participation within each discussion and a marked improvement in comprehension skills. As the school is trilingual (Chinese, Thai, and English), Touchstones programs additionally support those whose native language is not English to strengthen their speaking, listening, and comprehension skills in English.

After several months of using Touchstones with his seventh-grade students, Michael wrote that he saw all students participating actively during their discussions. He also observed during Touchstones that “students appeared to be on more equal footing in the conversation based on their assigned roles of Chairperson and Secretary… and they spoke voluntarily during the group discussions as opposed to being prompted by the facilitator.”

He further relayed that “the discussions were more inclusive, and collaboration seemed to be embedded in the seminars.” Michael also shared that his students said “they liked the flow of the discussion and that they thought all students participated more” in Touchstones than in other discussion-based formats they had been part of previously.

Based on those and other positive outcomes, this fall the school is expanding Touchstones throughout the middle and high school grades. They are also hoping to host Touchstones workshops in 2020 for teachers from across the region. Stay tuned for more from Bangkok!

What do Polar Bears and Touchstones have in Common?

By Howard Zeiderman

When I was younger, I never expected to travel to the many places I have visited over the last three decades: Alabama; Jordan; Ontario; Qatar; Tanzania; and Zanzibar to name a few. The list is longer still when including places I’ve visited by phone and SKYPE. I was trained as a college teacher to be more sedentary. But once I started working on Touchstones, travel was imperative.

We traveled to interest people in our work, to train teachers who were implementing our programs, to observe established Touchstones programs, and to present at educational conferences. It’s true that every place has unique needs and purposes for bringing Touchstones into its educational practice. But here is one place that, though thousands of miles away from our home base in Maryland, demonstrates how universally well Touchstones cultivates authentic learning.

The Canadian Province of Manitoba has a deep commitment to bilingualism, and they educate more than 82,000 of their students in French. Some are Francophones, while most are Anglophones. And in 2010, when the bureau of French education in Manitoba searched the globe for a program to teach their students to think critically, they found Touchstones. Our method and materials were their program of choice.

Under a special partnership in 2012, seven Touchpebbles and Touchstones volumes (teacher’s and student’s editions) were translated into French—along with Discussion Leadership, Getting Started. Then we set off for Winnipeg.

Over the course of a week, we prepared a select group from within the bureau’s curriculum and assessment team as Touchstones trainers. Since then, the team has trained hundreds of Manitoba teachers, and thousands of students report how their Touchstones discussions have helped them become more fluent speakers and thinkers—in French. Touchstones is even used in the northern-most schools in Manitoba—yes, where the polar bears live.

While this project’s success has been great, it’s even more impressive that Manitoba’s outcomes are leading them to expand their Touchstones programming. This winter, the Province has purchased more than 850 additional books, which they’ll provide to teachers being trained in Touchstones. Ultimately, of course, it’s the students who benefit from an education that prepares them for the 21st Century.

Looking Forward, Looking Back: An Interview with Howard Zeiderman

By The Touchstones Roving Reporter

Howard Zeiderman, co-founder and President of the Touchstones® Discussion Project, sat down with me to talk about 35 years with Touchstones and provide a look at the future.

Reporter: What led you, Geoff Comber, and Nick Maistrellis to start work on the Touchstones Project, as it was initially known in the 1980’s?
Zeiderman: Geoff was invited to model seminars at a high school in
Hartford and asked if I’d go with him. I’d taught in the Graduate Institute at
St. John’s College and had met Geoff there. We assumed we’d run our
classes in Hartford like we did at St. John’s. He was going to run an English
class and I was going to run a Math class. Unfortunately, what we saw was
typical in a lower-performing school: students hadn’t prepared. I had to
create the class on the spot. I ended up reading the texts aloud to the students, and there was a lot of initial confusion. By the end of class, though, students were at the board working together. When we looked at video afterward, we saw a Touchstones class starting to take shape. In one period, something extraordinary had happened. Many students participated, listened to one another, and by the end, students were starting to assume leadership in their discussion. We knew we were on to something.

Howard Zeiderman (right), leads a Touchstones workshop in Amman, Jordan in 2010 with Abeer Ammouri from the Ministry of Education and teachers from the Arabic curriculum.

Reporter: Did you expect Touchstones’ work in schools to also appeal to adults?

Zeiderman: I did, in fact. The Project was created for all people. It became a
school project because all people go to school. We wanted to reach everyone
as early as possible. I think people of all ages, backgrounds, and cultures
face the same problems, as we’ve moved into a world that’s very different
from what we inherited. We all need to learn to collaborate with each
other and share leadership—whether we’re talking about a classroom of
young students or a corporate team. Touchstones gives everyone a voice,
which enables people to be recognized as individuals as well as to be
part of a group.

Reporter: What are some highlights of your work with Touchstones?
Zeiderman: I think the most important part of this has been to see how
similar people are from different cultures and work environments and that everybody has talents. I was struck in our work in Jordan by how a group that initially seemed so different was immediately able to apply their strengths in a new environment. They began sharing responsibility for the success of their discussions and started practicing self-governance, which meant they were less dependent on particular leaders for finding answers to hard questions.

Reporter: You’ve served as Touchstones’ President since the mid- 2000’s and are moving into a new role at the end of this year. What do you expect that change will be like?
Zeiderman: I won’t be involved in the day-to-day management and schools.
My focus will shift to organizations and institutions—work I’ve done for
decades but haven’t done exclusively. I’ll be designing programs for groups
of executives in organizations to address specific problems —things like leadership development, communication, and overcoming barriers to inclusive collaboration. I’m putting together a team of executives and leaders to implement these projects with me and looking forward to working
with them.

Reporter: What’s your greatest hope for Touchstones in the future?
Zeiderman: My hope is that the Project becomes the central piece of our national approach to education. Our country needs students whose attitudes and skills are developed in ways that support all aspects of life. Touchstones makes this possible.