Alverno in Argentina

Aventuras en Argentina

For the past five summers, Desiree Pointer Mace has journeyed to Buenos Aires, Argentina, to spend a month promoting the Alverno model of teaching and learning. It’s an intense several weeks for the professor of Education as she leads a weeklong continuing education course, holds specialized workshops and gives multiple presentations. But rather than collapsing into exhaustion at the end, she is energized by the response to the ideas she has shared. “This tiny place of Alverno,” she says, “can have an outsized impact.”

Pointer Mace’s host is Universidad Católica de Argentina (UCA), an Alverno sister school and Argentina’s flagship Catholic university. Her visits are an outgrowth of efforts to redesign UCA’s teacher education program. “They quickly learned that Alverno’s teacher education program is internationally renowned,” Pointer Mace says, “and the ability-based model, particularly in a Catholic university setting, was a powerful one that really seemed to resonate.”

The relationship originated with Professor Emerita Mary Diez ’67, OSF, who visited UCA in 2012. On a followup visit to Alverno the next year, the UCA faculty met Pointer Mace, director of graduate education programs and a passionate champion of the Alverno model. They were impressed with her strong command of Spanish, honed through years of teaching in a bilingual elementary classroom.

At UCA’s invitation, Pointer Mace made her first visit as an UCA profesora invitada in 2014, lecturing on the features and benefits of an abilities-based education. She has returned each summer since to teach a continuing education course to an ever-increasing audience of classroom teachers, K-12 principals, education policymakers and more.

“This tiny place of Alverno can have an outsized impact.”

The course theme has varied each year, covering evidence-based assessment in 2015 and the Alverno graduate education program’s five advanced outcomes (conceptualization, communication, diagnosis, coordination, and integrative interaction, or what Pointer Mace calls “the heart-work of teaching,”) in 2016.

Meanwhile, the Alverno model became the basis for UCA’s redesign initiatives, and in 2017, UCA had launched two new undergraduate programs in education built around these five outcomes. “The seeds of the ability-based revolution have been planted in the school of education,” says Pointer Mace. “They are shifting the culture of the entire university.”

This summer, a record 338 people registered for Pointer Mace’s course. They came mostly from the greater Buenos Aires metropolitan area but also from other areas of Argentina, as well as neighboring Latin American countries like Uruguay, Peru, Colombia and Venezuela.

“Most of them are brand new to the idea of ability-based teaching,” Pointer Mace says. “So this is an exciting way in which UCA is leading and trying to shift the dialogue.”

Argentina’s national ministry of education, which sends representatives to the course each year, has recently published several conceptual guides for educators that emphasize 21st Century digital skills. “These digital skills look a lot like the Alverno abilities,” Pointer Mace notes. “They’re not identical, and (the ministry) is drawing from a lot of different sources, but these ideas are being translated and having impact.”

Pointer Mace’s work in Argentina may be the most concentrated example when it comes to sharing the power of Alverno’s approach beyond the U.S. mainland, but the College has also recently sent faculty to Australia and Belize and has ongoing relationships with universities in Puerto Rico and Chile. This past June, Alverno hosted an on-campus workshop with international participants from Australia, Canada, Japan and Peru. Past participants at similar workshops have hailed from the Netherlands, Sweden, Poland and New Zealand.

“The ideas of Alverno are recognized by other settings as tested and valuable,” Pointer Mace says. “When places are looking for an innovative model, we rise to the top.”

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