Guest Educator Carrie Kondor on Literacy and Differentiated Instruction
Teaching a student to read and helping them succeed looks easy in the movies. There’s a struggling student, a montage where the teacher helps the student, and then miraculously that student can read and they’re successful in every way. As educators, we know that so much more goes into literacy and how exactly we help each student. To explore this topic further, I spoke with Carrie Kondor, assistant professor and reading chair at Concordia University-Portland and a graduate of our EdD program.
Carrie has an extensive background in research-based literacy instruction and inclusive practices, having held positions as dean of students at an elementary school in Beaverton, Oregon, an intervention specialist in two Beaverton schools, and literacy coach.
What’s a common struggle that you’ve seen and how have you addressed it?
We have such a diverse group of students in our classrooms, which is definitely an asset. But many teachers struggle to meet all of their students’ needs at once. There’s no magic formula for teaching students to read. So, I show teachers how to effectively observe and assess students to find out their skills and who they are as learners.
Do you have any particular online resources for literacy strategies that you’ve found helpful?
The What Works Clearinghouse provides research-based reading interventions and strategies. Also, the Florida Center for Reading Research has free research-based practices related to literacy instruction.
Has anything surprised you as you’ve gotten more immersed in addressing students’ needs?
Yes, we can think we’ve written the best lesson plan but it might not work with all students unless we are able to differentiate. I’ve realized we have to think about how to have a culturally responsive approach. About one in three students enrolled in our elementary and secondary schools is a racial/ethnic minority, while 87 percent of our teachers are white and female. (Those statistics are included in my dissertation “The Fortuitous Impact of a Cross-Cultural Tutoring Experience on Prospective Teachers’ Development Toward Cultural Competency.”) We have a big cultural gap. Many of our teachers start with great tools, but we need to look at how we can meet students’ needs, and recruit and retain more teachers of color so our teaching force is more reflective of our student population.
What are you currently working on?
Oregon now requires teachers to have foundational knowledge to teach students with dyslexia, so I’ve been working with some colleagues to examine and promote different approaches to this. I’ve also been working with Cathryn Lambeth on a research project related to assessing English learners who have indicators of dyslexia. Additionally, I’m writing an article that examines cultural competency in training pre-service teachers.
It sounds like you are very busy and you’re obviously passionate about this work. What led you to work in education?
A love for children, and I see education as a way to help our society move forward. It’s such a gift to work with youth in a way that can not only be impactful for them but hopefully inspire them to pass that on to benefit those around them.
What’s one really rewarding moment you’ve experienced?
Actually, this morning I visited a classroom of one of our alumni, who was part of our MA in Teaching program. It was rewarding to see our work in the teacher education program be reflected in her classroom. In her literacy block she had individualized instruction going on with students in groups doing a sorting activity, Venn diagram analysis, small group reading comprehension intervention, and a reading assessment. It was a perfect orchestration of what we talked about in class and how to create balanced, differentiated instruction.
I have a statement posted in my office that I wrote. It says: “Every day I work to build teachers who will make a positive impact on students and create an equitable education system.” The field of education can be exciting but also challenging, so it’s important to stay rooted in what we’re doing. Visiting that alumna’s class allowed me to see my mission statement in action.
What is the biggest challenge that you and your colleagues face in terms of education policy?
Equity is really the challenge. All students deserve an education that moves them to achieve their full potential regardless of gender, race, or economic status. As educators, we must continue to keep moving the system toward providing an equitable education even when facing challenges such as unstable funding, the achievement gap, and issues with current legislation. We have to make sure every student has the chance to be successful. It’s hard when teachers feel the burdens: being underpaid, having so many responsibilities, and experiencing inequities themselves. But we have to find ways to keep advancing and changing for the better.
How has your work changed your outlook on education?
It’s made me more involved in my local community, which is in line with what Concordia University-Portland is doing with 3toPhD®. I moved into the neighborhood where the Faubion School is and my daughter is planning to attend it next year. I’ve really seen the benefits of community involvement and high-quality teacher training. Concordia University-Portland has offered trainings on culturally responsive practices, and they’ve had guest speakers and local workshops. Our work is about relationships, so I’ve come to really appreciate a teacher training model that values them. Now I focus on knowing the whole child and really coming to understand the community in which they live.
For more information on Concordia’s 3toPhD® education model, check out this Q&A with Madeline Turnock, the strategic communications and partnership advisor at Concordia University-Portland.
Kara Wyman has a BA in literature and an MEd from University of California-Santa Barbara. She worked with adolescents for a decade as a middle school and high school English teacher, the founder and director of a drama program, a curriculum designer, and a project manager for a nonprofit. She now works with educators of Concordia University-Portland as the manager of their online student/alumni community.