This is the time of the year that all of us are selecting the read-alouds for the first month of school. We’re literally charting the course for the school year with the texts we select. The books we read now with our students will become the Touchstone Texts for our year with them. We’ll refer back to them again and again as the year moves along. We’ve all had the experience of choosing a book at this magical time of the year and then, sadly, discovering that it didn’t work well for us at all. It didn’t serve our students or our teaching as the year progressed. What a loss! We invested all of that time, all of that student learning energy into a book that fell flat before the year was over. It didn’t make it for the long haul.
Recently our minister, Brent Damrow, preached on Touchstone Texts in our church one Sunday. (Okay, he didn’t intend to be preaching on Touchstone Texts the way you and I think of them. He had a different type of text in mind.) He did an amazing job of explaining how Touchstone Texts operate and why they’re so important. Frankly, he did a better job of explaining it than I have EVER done. So, I asked him if he’d share with all of you.
Graciously, he said, “yes”. Here’s his explanation:
What is your touchstone? The idea of touchstone has always been associated with something precious as far back as ancient Greece, touchstones were used to measure precious metals. The touchstone was a piece of slate or flint, and when you rubbed a piece of gold or silver over that flint it left a mark that told you just how precious the metal was; Just how pure it was – whether or not you wanted to hold onto it.
In the 1880’s inspired by the character Touchstone from Shakespeare’s As You like It,that idea was extended by Matthew Arnold to apply to poetry. Arnold was frustrated that the greatness of poetry was measured by its historicity or simply by who wrote it; rather than by its meaning or beauty. And so Arnold suggested a few gems, like Hamlet’s dying words to Horatio, as touchstones against which the beauty and significance of poetry should be measured: A way of determining which pieces of poetry were worth committing to your heart.
By the way, I want to look at that term today is in the sense of something that you hold onto. Something that in the midst of difficulty or stress points you straight to what its beautiful, true and worth holding onto. Something whose touch calms you, grounds you, shows you peace or hope or love. A touchstone is the rock you hold onto when the winds blow and the rains fall. What is your touchstone? Sometimes that touchstone is a memory or a song. And sometimes it is something tangible that we carry with us.
So…. what will you choose as the touchstones for your classroom for this year? What will you hold up to your students as beautiful, true, and worth holding on to? This is our opportunity to choose for our students for this year… to create the anchors that will ground our work for the entire year. Choose well. If you’d like to hear Brent (he’s really easy to listen to — engaging and animated — and as great as these words are printed here, they are incredibly powerful when Brent is speaking them) go here.