Dr. Gabriel Cámara, Meixi Ng and Sara Vogel Answer Faculty Questions about Redes de Tutoria

Questions from Lehman College Faculty to Redes de Tutoria in Mexico
Answered by: Dr. Gabriel Cámara, Meixi Ng, Sara Vogel

 1) What kind of support exists for when tutors face challenges? Do tutors gather in support groups to share work, ideas, strategies and challenges?
     The organization Redes de Tutoria has a dedicated staff of educators who have worked with the methodology, some of them for decades. From 2008 to 2012, when the federal government adopted the methodology to aid public schools with the lowest point average in the previous three years, those educators trained interested local asesores tecnicos pedagogicos (ATP, teacher coaches) or enlaces estatales (state education coordinators) who would then work with teachers, administrators or community members who were interested in bringing tutoria to their schools. In some cases, educators at Redes de Tutoria coach teachers and schools directly. Teachers also support each other and meet regularly to work in Tutoría, since 2013 on their own except in the six states that officially continue supporting the networks,  giving feedback to one another on both the lesson design and the practice of tutoring.
In 2012, the organization began to implement clinical observations of tutoria. The first team to adopt the practice were those working as coaches at the national headquarters of the organization. The process was designed to help tutors analyze moments during tutoring sessions that resulted in the tutees constructing knowledge for him or herself. Observers were trained to pose a hypothesis about tutoring practice written as an “if / then” statement in order to give themselves lenses through which to view the session. Observers were then to take notes (framed as objectively as possible) of what was said and done by tutors and tutees. Subjective interpretations of these notes were then made, and finally, room was made for observers to write what they would have done differently. Conversation between tutors, tutees, and observers then debriefed the sessions. This type of clinical observation practice, tested at the national level, is also beginning to make its way into classroom practice for local coaches.
For the last several years, there have been national “encuentros,” or conferences during which students, teachers, and administrators from around the nation gather to tutor and work together. More information about those here: http://logroeducativo.wordpress.com/2011/10/31/primer-festival-de-aprendizajes-compartidos/ and http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sara-vogel/schools-should-not-be-isl_b_984219.html

2) Is this a metacognitive approach rather than a cover-the-curriculum approach? What happens when confronted with tests?
      The simple answer to that question is “yes.” Remember: this methodology is working at the margins of the Mexican education system, in mostly rural schools where test scores are generally quite low (the lowest in the nation) to start with. This means there is more freedom to experiment and less pressure to “cover” content. The focus on metacognition and process means students are gaining the tools they need to be more successful on the state tests, but as an incidental outcome (not intentional).

3) Is this an extension of a Vygotskian approach, long used in the arts, into networks?
     In my opinion (Sara) that is a valid and interesting way of thinking about this methodology that I had not thought of before!
Learning is socially constructed in the Tutorial Relationships networked learning community, and the community is a bed for growth and learning (See Networked Community of Practice by Meixi Ng)

4) With corporate pressures on education in both Mexico and the USA, how do you suggest we start tutorials in USA public schools?
     In Mexico, the model is to work at the margins, slowly but surely picking up support from the mainstream. In the United States, this could look like piloting a community in an after-school or special education setting where students are less tightly scheduled, and then demonstrating success to administrators, colleagues, and others to develop next steps for expansion into the school day or mainstream settings. There may be other possible models. Meixi Ng has had some luck in Singapore working in art and mathematics classes within the structured time frames of an average school day, and of course, the heavy testing burden of that system. She has done a lot of work up-front to demonstrate and convince teachers and administrators that the method could be worthwhile, and has been able to demonstrate results (Sara).
Meixi adds: I think it has to start with a school/ principal/ administrator who is willing to try out the pedagogy and start, as Sara mentioned not just from the margins of the system, but from the margins of a particular school – be it a population or finding times within the school day that this learning community can be built up from within. One new area that I am exploring is working in juvenile education settings and building a community from within the school.

5) How do you assess what students learn?
     There are multiple opportunities for the community to evaluate what an individual has learned in tutoria. Chief among them is the “demostración pública” where tutees stand up in front of the community to present what they learned and how they learned it. The group has a chance to ask questions of the learner. After this event, the individual becomes a tutor for others. Peer tutoring is not only a privileged occasion to learn in depth specific school themes, but also to appreciate how fellow students feel and think as they engage in tutorial dialogue. Effective sharing with others what one has learned demonstrates both, the good quality of what has been learned and the equity with which the learning process took place. The teacher in the room constantly monitors tutoring sessions, doing “quality control” to ensure that tutors are ready for the responsibility.
Meixi adds: At some schools teachers also collect the tutoring catalogues of each student and reads their work as well, offering more feedback and insight to each individual so that he/she can suggest new lines of investigation according to specific interests.

6) How do topics get covered that students aren’t enthused about?
      In this system, students are able to choose what they want to learn, and that may mean certain contents are not covered. As previously mentioned, the focus is on learning at the tutees own pace, with special attention being paid to process. The goal of this system is for the tutee to learn to learn, not to cram content. This is less of a pressure at the schools in Mexico where this method works, since they are at the margins of the system, and have more freedom to experiment.
Meixi: Interest grows and can bud from other things that the students are already interested in. We as educators must believe that our students are interested in learning, that anything can be interesting, it’s just how the information is presented. Math can be wonderfully curious if we find the right way and allow for the right discussion and questions. The challenge then is to find that interest and connect it to the topics that “need to be covered” and make it personalized to that student. I’ve found that students, when given a choice, are more interested in school and learning than not.

7) How have the learning communities transformed the role of the school leader?
     As Dr. Camara mentioned in his talk, many school leaders have had to abdicate the perception that they are absolute authority figures at the school. They have, themselves, sat and been tutored by young people, a humbling experience. Upon noticing the success of the methodology. they become advocates for the method, fighting the bureaucracy for the structures that their teachers and students need to continue working in this way. Teachers in the room become facilitators of the community, checking in on the quality of the tutoring sessions, and modeling good practice.
Meixi: They have modeled vulnerability as in the story of the principal who stood up and demonstrated his process of learning. They begin to support teachers in a way they they feel they need. They begin to see leadership as service.

8) Your work is closely aligned to that which is involved in cogenerative dialogues. How do you allay the fears of those pedagogues who do not understand the value and necessity of being vulnerable? How do you address the naysayers who refuse to let go of power dynamics that restrict, and embrace a paradigm shift that is transformative?
     Changing teacher and pedagogues’ hearts and minds are one of the most challenging things to do. Some ways I’ve seen this happen, is for the adults to experience and live out the tutoría with their own students, especially with students whom they regard as “difficult-to-teach”. When they see a new way of teaching and learning that actually works for these students, they soften and realize that another kind of education is possible.
This also takes time and some teachers in Mexico tell me (Meixi) stories of how they have been working on “converting” their fellow teacher friends to try Tutoría for 3 years until they finally came to an academic exchange and were willing to be tutored by a student. It takes real heart from us, and creating share dreams and visions together. The community also then models this vulnerability and creates an environment where they feel safe doing that too. In my experience that has been the only way for other teacher/ administrators to relinquish control of the classroom and let go of the idea that they are the center of learning and join in the community/ safe space where learning is shared and vulnerability is key growth.

9) Dear Dr Cámara,
You come to come to the community with capital: knowledge, male, respected scholar, and a person with wisdom and age. There is a challenge in this country, for example, accruing capital with this type of work when one is black, female and youthful. What advice would you give to those who are “different” in propagating this type of work?
     As a young woman myself (Meixi), I’ve also personally struggled with this, thank you for your question and I grapple with this constantly myself. Three things have stood out to me so far and I hope these help you in your journey too. 1) Find Community. I am more and more convinced nothing in this world can be done without connections, alliances and community to make our voices stronger as educators who might present a voice that is not represented or even uncomfortable in the field. Even in the academic field, we are always going to present a counter-narrative to the master narrative that is difficult. Sometimes we have to play the game, but we can be even more effective the moment we find like-minded folk around us because we are out there ready to learn from and support each other. 2) Have Patience. I’ve found that people often shy away from what they don’t know and change takes time. Gaining courage to do this work, and gain wisdom and legitimacy as a speaker/ leader in education takes a lot of hard work. We might have to work harder to “prove our worth” but if we are faithful in the small things, we will gain strength and legitimacy in community. 3) Keep learning. It only keeps us open to criticism and sharpening our work and the change we want to see in our schools and neighborhoods. Together, we’ll get there.

10) Recently, I read about 43 education teachers who have been abducted and perhaps murdered in Mexico. How safe do you feel doing such transformational work?
     The horrible event of the kidnapping, and by now almost certain murder, of 43 students of a rural teacher’s college in the state of Guerrero is a national shame and, unfortunately, only one –closer, cruder, better know– in a series of similar events common in a country becoming a generalized narco-state. As happens in violent social situations ordinary life continues in spite of hardships, and has not stopped the transformational work in Mexican schools (Dr. Camara).

11) In the video, we see some middle school students tutoring adults from the community. Can you say some more about the impact of the method on the adults and adult literacy?
     Often students go home and tutor their parents, often teaching them how to read or even how to think differently about crop production in the ranches/ farms. Another thing is that parents are involved in the academic exchanges and share the lessons/ topics they have designed with teachers and students in the school. However, in terms of measurable impact, we don’t have any figures or data but that is something we need to do more on and a big area of research that has not yet been done or collected.
Meixi wrote a short ethnography on the healing power of Tutorial Relationships: http://meixi.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/the-healing-power-of-relacic3b3n-tutora_english.pdf
It does not look at adult literacy but does show the impact of Tutorial Relationships on the community if that is of interest. But more research should be done on this area – that would be very interesting and insightful!

Meixi Ng meixi@fiftyfold.org
Sara Vogel sara@globalkids.org
Gabriel Camara, Redes de Tutoria

Dr. Dr. Gabriel Cámara Presents Peer-teaching Methods and Lehman Plans New Connections!


Provost Anny Morrobel-Sosa, Dean Deirdre Pettipiece, Dr. Gabriel Cámara, Dean Harriet (Niki) Fayne, President Ricardo R. Fernández

On November 12, 2014, Lehman School of Education faculty and administrators gathered for a talk by Dr. Gabriel Cámara, a Mexican educator who, for the last several decades, has developed and worked to implement a peer-teaching methodology and pedagogy to transform teaching and learning in struggling schools throughout Mexico.


Meixi Ng, Sara Vogel, Dr. Cámara, Dr. Fayne, Dr. Qian


Dr. Camara’s visit to Lehman was part of a tour of the east coast which included stops at Harvard, Boston College, Princeton, and Teacher’s College. At Lehman, he was joined by Meixi Ng and Sara Vogel, educators from Singapore and New York, respectively, who worked as Princeton in Latin America fellows with his organization, Redes de Tutoria, in 2011. 3_Camara_talkThe three guests spoke about the successes of the approach of the tutoria method, including its potential to engage students who seemed previously uninterested in school, to reinvigorate and support teachers, and promote student learning. They compared the “top-down” nature of many education policies passed in the United States and around the world to the “bottom-up” way in which tutoria has spread from classroom to classroom, school to school, and state to state in Mexico. Faculty members, who had watched the documentary about the methodology, Maravillas, had an opportunity to ask questions of the panel. Dr. Camara and staff, administrators, and faculty at Lehman expressed great enthusiasm for continuing a relationship between the College and Redes de Tutoria, so that students may learn about and be exposed to this pedagogy.   4_Camara_meeting_w_facutly