Touchstone Texts


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Touchstone Texts

  1. 1. TEACHIN TEACHING T TEACHING TEAC Touchstone Texts: Fertile TEACHING TIPS TEACHING TIPS Ground for Creativity TEACHING TIPS TEACHING TIPS Irma Sturgell ■ You find many things to teach in the text. A s a new teacher, I approached my first job like an artist facing a blank canvas—a little paraly- ■ You can imagine talking about the text for a very sis mixed with a healthy dose of youthful long time. TEACHING TIPS enthusiasm. How fortunate I was to have skilled col- ■ Your entire class can have access to the text. leagues mentor me. In those days, contagious creativity ■ Your students can read the text independently or TEACHING TIPS made teaching an exploration—simultaneously invig- with some support. orating and frightening. That was well before standards, TEACHING TIPS ■ The text is a little more sophisticated than the writing TEACHING TIPS state assessments, and relentless accountability. Curriculum was often teacher invented, limited more of your best students. by imagination, energy, and enthusiasm than by state ■ The text is written by a writer you trust. standards or the constraints of a mandated curriculum. ■ The text is a good example of a particular kind of Now, as standards drive curriculum, I miss those writing (genre). freewheeling days. Teachers may feel more like tech- ■ The text is of a genre you are studying. TEACHING TIPS nicians than artists, and, while excellent teaching can breathe life into a standardized curriculum, there is no Ray (1999) suggested using touchstone texts as excitement quite like that of a spontaneous lesson that TEACHING TIPS part of a teacher developed writing workshop and se- just works. lecting texts that TEACHING TIPS A little of that spontaneity came my way when my TEACHING TIPS ■ Have background information included principal asked me to spearhead a book-of-the-month project for our school: Each teacher would receive a ■ Have a writing concept that is interesting new book each month, or “touchstone text,” to use as a ■ Remind readers of other texts seed for reading and writing activities. As we built these ■ Are crafted with interesting structures classroom libraries, month-by-month, the principal ■ Are full of crafted ways with words hoped we would also expand our repertoire of writing TEACHING TIPS TEACHING TIPS ■ Are ones in which writers take risks models to encourage and support our writing lessons. There was no guide—no standard—for this project. TEACHING TIPS TEACHING TIPS Tending the Seedlings The Seeds TEACHING TIPS TEACHING TIPS The charge from my principal was simple—get the EACHING TIPS TEACHING TIPS The dictionary defines a touchstone as a test “of au- books, a new one each month, for every teacher in the thenticity or value” (American Heritage Dictionary, school and provide support for developing reading 1994). In his book Rose, Where Did You Get That Red? and writing lessons based on the books. I invited Koch (1990) shared a model for using great poetry as teachers and a parent to help select books, and we a touchstone for student poetry. His method was sim- set up a series of meetings to review lists. We looked ple; he shared poems he liked best, believing his en- for books that first engaged students as readers and thusiasm would inspire student writers. Nia (1999), then as writers. We wanted books that helped chil- following a similar line of thinking, proposed the fol- dren see how the text was written—how it was put to- lowing criteria for choosing a touchstone text: gether. We considered the calendar when choosing texts and sometimes made seasonal selections. Our lo- ■ You have read the text and you love it. cal independent bookstore shared new titles to get us ■ You and your students have talked about the text a started. As books were brought to the table, we read lot as readers first. and reacted with students’ eyes while considering our The Reading Teacher, 61(5), pp. 411–414 © 2008 International Reading Association DOI:10.1598/RT.61.5.5 ISSN: 0034-0561 print / 1936-2714 online 411
  2. 2. TEACHIN TEAC TEACHING T TEACHING TEACHIN TEAC TEACHING TIPS Figure 1 Each month, teachers get the same title—a notion TEACHING TIPS Student Work Decorates Hallways I first lobbied against. “Surely we need to differentiate,” TEACHING TIPS I protested. But no, it was to be one book for everyone. TEACHING TIPS My principal trusted the instincts of the teachers, and TEACHING TIPS he was right. The kindergarten teacher might use her TEACHING TIPS book as a read-aloud for enjoyment or as a book to il- lustrate a pattern while the sixth-grade teacher creates a class book of haiku poems inspired by the same text. When teachers know their students’ writing needs, and have their touchstone texts at hand, they can select the perfect book to easily model what is needed. Fletcher TEACHING TIPS (1993) reminded us that writing mentors support writ- TEACHING TIPS ers by maintaining high standards, building on TEACHING TIPS strengths, valuing diversity and originality, and encour- TEACHING TIPS TEACHING TIPS aging risk taking. Touchstone texts bring author men- TEACHING TIPS tors into the classroom. High-quality picture books can and should be shared across the grades. Because they are so concise, so well written, mentor texts model the craft of writing more efficiently than novels or other types of longer texts. While younger children focus on the story and enjoy the pictures, teachers guide older TEACHING TIPS children to focus on the structure of the text (Ray, TEACHING TIPS 1999). Books such as French’s Diary of a Wombat TEACHING TIPS made our youngest readers and writers chuckle as TEACHING TIPS they began to internalize the journal format. Older TEACHING TIPS writers studied the text as an example of the diary TEACHING TIPS while learning facts about an animal. As new titles were added, students began comparing the titles; they noticed similar structures, saw new ways to convey content, and broadened their grasp of writing styles. Specialists and support teachers also received TEACHING TIPS TEACHING TIPS copies of the books and found ways to incorporate them with their content. Our English as a Second TEACHING TIPS TEACHING TIPS Language (ESL) teacher reinforced fluency by using TEACHING TIPS TEACHING TIPS repeated choral readings to help children develop pro- TEACHING TIPS TEACHING TIPS Note. Photographs by Irma Sturgell. TEACHING TIPS TEACHING TIPS nunciation and intonation. ESL students used another EACHING TIPS TEACHING TIPS text to create an illustrated story that showed their com- prehension. With Sams and Stoick’s Stranger in the criteria. It was essential to select texts with lots of Woods, the music teacher taught a musical routine with teaching mileage for grades K–6. Before finalizing our dancing snowmen. Brown’s The Important Book was a list, we solicited feedback from teachers. favorite in many classes. The important thing about The We began with Gonsalves’s Imagine a Night. Important Book is the repeated pattern. Our writers Teachers were encouraged to visit the illustrator’s web- seemed to absorb this structure naturally and apply it in site where they found additional artwork to entice writ- many subject areas. In gym class, as a follow up to a ers in creating original stories. This first text was an parachute lesson, students wrote poems describing im- inspired choice. Who could resist the compelling portant things about a parachute and displayed their Escher-like illustrations? After teachers received this work in the hallway. When a fourth grader moved book, it didn’t take long for book-based projects to midyear, her class wrote farewell cards titled, “The emerge like spring crocuses. Important thing about Anna is....” These cards became 412 The Reading Teacher Vol. 61, No. 5 February 2008
  3. 3. TEACHIN TEACHING T TEACHING TEAC her parting gift. The art teacher’s crazy hair project led Sometimes teachers use the suggestions, and other TEACHING TIPS to poems titled, “The important thing about my hair times they create their own. Our principal invites dis- TEACHING TIPS is....” Book projects like these showed us how easy it is plays of student work and has designated the wall to integrate literacy and a variety of school subjects. space under his office window as a prime showcase TEACHING TIPS TEACHING TIPS area. But class projects have expanded way beyond that space to line the hallways of the school (see Our Harvest Continues Figure 1). Monthly titles and student projects are post- Each month, activities from author webpages as well ed on our school webpage ( as suggested activities are included with the books. cation/staff/staff.php?sectionid=15) TEACHING TIPS TEACHING TIPS Sample Touchstone Texts TEACHING TIPS TEACHING TIPS Imagine a Night (Gonsalves, 2003). Students found America the Beautiful (Bates, 2004). This book fantastic pictures on the artist’s website. One class reinforces geographic connections in a study of wrote “Imagine a school day” stories and added U.S. regions and revisits an important piece of drawings. national history. Pieces: A Year in Poems & Quilts (Hines, 2001). Pinduli (Cannon, 2004). Pinduli is a charming hyena Hand-pieced quilts connect geometry with that children love and to whom they can relate. The TEACHING TIPS seasonal poetry. A third-grade teacher sewed an author’s website advises young writers about writing, ABC quilt using fabric squares embellished by research, and illustration. The author shares the TEACHING TIPS students. The sixth-grade math teacher taught book’s development from idea to final production. symmetry and students made their own quilt Elena’s Serenade (Geeslin, 2004). This is an TEACHING TIPS patterns. TEACHING TIPS adventure story about a girl with a mission. The Going North (Harrington, 2004). The story of a book includes Spanish phrases and is excellent for family moving north teaches point of view through teaching story sequence and literary elements. the narrator, Jessie, who imagines her family’s Punctuation Takes a Vacation (Pulver, 2003). What feelings while traveling. The text provides historical a thrill to write without punctuation—or is it? The background for the story. The technology teacher appeal of this idea engages students, inviting TEACHING TIPS TEACHING TIPS taught comprehension strategies (prediction and them to abandon punctuation and see the chaotic main event) and literary elements (simile, results. Notes and postcards without so much as a metaphor, personification, and alliteration) through period lined our hallways. One teacher even had TEACHING TIPS TEACHING TIPS PowerPoint slides with the text. her students write advice letters to punctuation TEACHING TIPS TEACHING TIPS Sky Tree (Locker, 1995). Art, science, and poetry marks who were feeling left out. EACHING TIPS TEACHING TIPS combine to illustrate changes in a tree as the If Not for the Cat (Prelutsky, 2004). In this book, seasons pass. Students drew favorite trees to haiku is combined with exquisite watercolors to accompany original poems. The author includes inspire young poets. Teachers will use this again scientific information and describes painting and again in their study of poetry. First-grade techniques. teachers connected it to their science unit on living Twilight Comes Twice (Fletcher, 1997). Well- and nonliving things. known and loved by teachers and students, this Stranger in the Woods (Sams & Stoick, 1999). The book is an excellent catalyst for examining story authors’ webpage provides background about how structure and word choice. the book was made and models the patience needed The Art Lesson (dePaola, 1989). This book for observation in the natural world. Connections to celebrates a child’s special talents. Students wrote scientific observation, weather, ecology, and writing about their own talents in response. make this an interdisciplinary choice. Touchstone Texts: Fertile Ground for Creativity 413
  4. 4. TEACHIN TEAC TEACHING T TEACHING TEACHIN TEAC TEACHING TIPS Children enjoy seeing their own work displayed books at hand is key to nurturing creativity in writing. TEACHING TIPS alongside the work of others. It reminds them that Developing libraries of touchstone texts is one step to TEACHING TIPS good books can be read again and again and helps immerse children in quality literature and encourage TEACHING TIPS us develop as a community of readers and writers. teachers to let their creativity grow from the seeds of TEACHING TIPS well-loved books. TEACHING TIPS And So It Grows Sturgell is the building resource teacher at Cougar As teachers discover new books that fit our criteria Run Elementary, Douglas County, Colorado, USA; e- for touchstone texts, they pass titles on for committee mail review. In addition to using the books for reading les- sons and writing models, teachers use them for shared TEACHING TIPS References reading with book buddies. On our “read all day” American heritage dictionary (3rd ed.). (1994). Boston: Houghton TEACHING TIPS event, teachers displayed their collected titles for inde- Mifflin. TEACHING TIPS pendent reading. Fletcher, R. (1993). What a writer needs. Portsmouth, NH: TEACHING TIPS Heinemann. All the while, our children benefit from the writ- TEACHING TIPS Koch, K. (1990). Rose, where did you get that red? Teaching great po- TEACHING TIPS ing of these mentor authors. Samuel Johnson etry to children New York: Vintage Books. (1709–1785), reminded us, “The greatest part of a Nia, I.T. (1999). Units of study in the writing workshop. Primary writer’s time is spent in reading in order to write; a Voices K–6, 8, 3–12. Ray, K.W. (1999). Wondrous words: Writers and writing in the ele- man will turn over half a library to make a book” mentary classroom. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of ( Having English. TEACHING TIPS TEACHING TIPS TEACHING TIPS TEACHING TIPS TEACHING TIPS TEACHING TIPS TEACHING TIPS TEACHING TIPS TEACHING TIPS TEACHING TIPS TEACHING TIPS TEACHING TIPS TEACHING TIPS TEACHING TIPS TEACHING TIPS TEACHING TIPS EACHING TIPS TEACHING TIPS 414 The Reading Teacher Vol. 61, No. 5 February 2008