Touchstone is a 'corpus-informed' course, drawing on extensive research into the corpus of North American English in the Cambridge English Corpus - a large database of everyday conversations and texts that show how people actually use English.
Touchstone merges the best features of familiar communicative methodologies while, at the same time, offering stimulating activities carefully crafted to focus on the learning process. The Touchstone philosophy maintains that a successful course meets all of the following goals:
1) It is interaction-based
An important learning aim in every lesson is to get students talking to each
other. This strong emphasis on spoken interaction enables students to put new language to use immediately in order to communicate with their classmates. In addition, Touchstone devotes a full lesson in every unit to the teaching of conversation strategies so that students can learn the skills needed for effective spoken communication.
The Touchstone Online Course creates opportunities for interaction-based activities both in the online environment and in communicative classroom activities. Work carried out in the LMS complements the classwork and vice versa. In the LMS students are encouraged to collaborate and interact online. Every lesson in the Touchstone Online Course has at least one interactive activity to motivate and support learners.
Interaction-based activities are handled in the Touchstone Online Course through pair work, closed group work, debates and discussions with wider groups, and interaction with the teacher. Students interact in pairs, groups, and as classes using a variety of Web 2.0 tools, and are encouraged to share their communicative work with the teacher and with wider groups. Students can also ‘interact’ with the program, for example, through video role-play activities, allowing them to benefit from interactive learning even when they are working alone.
2) It personalizes the learning experience
Touchstone offers engaging activities that encourage students to talk about their own lives and ideas as they discuss topics relevant to their interests and experiences. Students will enjoy talking about topics such as TV, music, the Internet, sports, and celebrities. The ‘About you’ icon points out some of these opportunities.
Web 2.0 tools are used to further the role of personalization in the ‘About you’ activities, which prepare the learner for classroom speaking activities and for written interaction online (personalized Blogs). Students are prompted to personalize their learning not only to aid their understanding, but to create a personal record of what they have achieved. This personal record creates a collection of learner assets that gathers over the student’s learning ‘career’ within the program.
3) It promotes active and inductive learning
Throughout the series students complete tasks that actively involve them in the learning process. Students are also challenged to figure out (inductive learning) grammar structure or English usage. Solving a problem or figuring something out for oneself is a powerful aid to understanding, and research shows that activities that have students notice and figure things out result in successful learning. Figure it out tasks challenge students to think about how target grammar structures are formed and used before they are formally introduced. Notice tasks in the Conversation strategy lessons encourage students to think about how people manage conversations effectively. Word sort tasks and Vocabulary notebook pages get students to actively learn new vocabulary.
Students are challenged to notice and figure out target structures before they are formally introduced to them. The use of video and structured activities models the language and guides students through this process, providing them with ready access to authentic language models. In self-study, students can replay presentations and redo activities as many times as they wish, enabling them to actively and inductively learn at their own pace.
4) It encourages students to be independent learners
The book-based course + components provide opportunities for students to take the initiative in improving their speaking and listening skills. In addition, clear learning aims at the start of each unit, Self-check and Study plan charts in each Touchstone Checkpoint lesson, and Progress checks at the end of each Workbook unit enable students to monitor their own learning. Each Teacher’s Edition also provides a testing package which give teachers and students another valuable tool for assessing progress.
The Touchstone Online Course encourages independent learning. The process of developing independent and active learners is many-fold. It centers on a carefully controlled, graded, and linear approach to learning, which means that no student is left confused by the system or facing activities that are daunting or too complex. It is promoted through functionality such as chat and message boards to communicate with their peers and the teacher. These resources encourage autonomy and provide students with essential tools for language learning. Students are trained in how to use these resources through specific task-based activities in the first three units of the course. This task-based approach not only builds confidence but also motivation and a sense of achievement. Learner empowerment continues in the integration phase of the LMS Course where learners practice target language in a supported and nonthreatening environment. This ‘safe’ environment is especially pertinent for language areas such as pronunciation where a learner lacking confidence might be reluctant to participate in a face-to-face classroom. By offering a supported and non-threatening environment for the initial language encounter, the online course empowers students and allows them to work at their own pace before entering the face-to-face class.
5) It recognizes the importance of review and recycling
Language students need constant review, and Touchstone systematically recycles and reviews target language in several sections of the Student’s Book as well as in the Workbook. Grammar, vocabulary, and conversation strategies taught in earlier units are recycled in later units. Items learned in lower levels are recycled in subsequent levels.
Language is reviewed and recycled consistently within lessons, units, and levels in the Touchstone Online Course. Language is formally reviewed at designated ‘checkpoints’ within the course. Students can work at their own pace and repeat activities or review input and new language as often as they wish. Students are also prompted to reflect on their progress and evaluate their work through specific activities at key checkpoints in the course. Because of the nature of online materials, it is possible to ensure a much more thorough recycling structure with students, especially at lower levels, encountering vocabulary items and grammar structures much more frequently than they might in the classroom.