Amplifying Minds

Learning and Growing Together

The 12 Touchstones of Good Teaching

Recently I was asked by ASCD to review this book by Bryan Goodwin and Elizabeth Ross Hubbell, and so was given an advance copy to read. I devoured it, to be honest.  It was easy reading, affirmed many of my beliefs, but also stretched my thinking as I constantly was assessing whether each touchstone would be one of my own twelve. I have to say the one I like the best is the last one–“I help students do something with their learning.” Again recently, a friend, Hollins Mills (@htmills on Twitter) commented here on my blog and said, “I always ask myself, “Would this work exist anywhere but school?’ and if the answer is no – it needs to go.” I so agree with Hollins. What we help students do with their learning has to be real.

Another part of this book I liked was the real life examples in areas other than education for checklists, and also the recurring acknowledgement of how complex teaching and learning are. Many educators are talking about Carol Dweck’s book  Mindset–and whether teachers have a fixed or a growth mindset.

But just how much growth do we need to see to feel like we did our job and are doing it well?  Did you know that “if the success rate for air travel was as low as 99%, 870 planes would fall out of the sky every day in the United States alone? ”  ( quote from 12 Touchstones authors)

Every teacher, even every great teacher, can tell you the things s/he needs to work on to be better. But these 12 touchstones are a way to help us reflect and check ourselves each and every day to make sure we are “identifying and sharing what we know we must do and then see that it gets done.”  These 12 touchstones are organized in sets of 4–into three groups.  Each set of four is grouped into one of three organizing imperatives:

1. Be demanding.

2. Be supportive.

3. Be intentional.

I love these three imperatives…and if I asked teacher friends to name 4 components of each,  we may or may not come up with the same four, but some would certainly be similar.  The difference in what the authors of this book came up with is that each and every one of their components is considered a “big Idea” and is based on decades and decades of solid educational research.  We know what works–we often just don’t take the time to make sure we are doing it every day, in every classroom, with every child.

The subtitle of this book is “A checklist for staying focused every day” but it is not about reading the item and doing it–checking it off.  It’s more, as the authors say, a “Do, Confirm” list–do it, then look at the checklist to make sure you have done all you need to do.  We need to “relentlessly focus on doing what we know must be done and doing it well in every classroom, with every student, every day of the week.”

So, to teach writing, we should ask kids to write–not answer our questions, but respond to things they read or events in their lives or feelings, thoughts and questions they have that they want to share with others.

To teach math, we should look for examples of real life mathematics.  In early August, for example, I saw this sign in a Target store:

photo (43)

and immediately thought,

  • Holy Cow!  How much does that mean they make a week?
  • Is that for all Targets or just this one?  Do different Targets have different amounts?
  • How do they define community? My community or all communities they serve?
  • What’s the markup on items they sell?

and I could go on and on and on…but what I really want is to know what the kids wonder when they see this. So this will be one of my first math lessons when we start switching and I begin to work with my assigned group. (I’ll also read Counting on Frank  to my fifth graders and we’ll talk about “Henry questions.” That book begins, “My Dad says, “If you have a brain, use it.”  So I do.”  and it goes on from there, showing how Henry uses his brain every day.)

We won’t be talking about 5 paragraph essays. I know I used to teach those, but that’s before I had a clue how to teach writing- before I participated in two National Writing Prjects and became a writer myself.  It’s also before our Virginia DOE Literacy coordinator flat out said in a workshop that the VA DOE was NOT looking for 5 paragraph essays in our state writing tests, and if they saw a proliferation of them coming from one school, they would know the kids had probably been given limited opportunities for real writing.

I won’t be killing kids’ love of reading (committing “Readicide“) with comprehension packets of worksheets.

I won’t be giving blogging prompts to get kids to respond to books. I will be modeling blogging my own thoughts and sharing those with kids. I will be talking about books I’m reading and pondering themes, characters and plots in conversations with my students.

I will be sharing my passion for learning and thinking aloud a lot with them.

And I will be sharing the three imperatives from this book and asking for student feedback.  Maybe we’ll even create some touchstones for learners….

hmm, I wonder what those would look like?

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