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Closing the Achievement Gap Part 3: A Concordia Portland Professor Addresses Literacy in the Classroom

By Marcus Hennessy, CEA February 26, 2013

In Parts 1 and 2 of this series, we looked at definitions of “the achievement gap” in K-12 student performance, surveyed some causes of the problem and discovered some proactive approaches to narrowing the gap. Now let’s hear from an expert in reading education who talks about how Concordia University-Portland’s Master of Education curriculum trains future teachers to close the gap.

‘An issue of poverty in general and lack of access’

“The achievement gap is a complex issue that I believe goes beyond schools and families,” says Dr. Monica Nagy, professor of literacy at Concordia Portland. “It is also an issue of poverty in general and lack of access.”

online MEd professorDr. Nagy has been with the Concordia Portland faculty since 2010, teaching the courses Current Issues in Literacy and Action Research. She brings substantial real-world experience to her online classroom, having worked as a school teacher in Europe, then shifting to an administrative track and becoming an elementary school principal in Rhode Island for several years.

“In my experience as an elementary school principal I got to see things I didn’t expect to see, and experience and learn about teaching reading,” she says. “That just falls right into place in terms of the course that I teach now, Current Issues in Literacy.”

“The Concordia faculty operates from a perspective of building a community of learners and getting to know our students, not just from an academic perspective but from a personal one, too,” Nagy says. “By knowing your students from more than one angle, this better helps teachers to create meaningful lessons and to address particular academic needs.”

Nagy maintains that teachers can apply this approach with their own K-12 students. “By modeling the building of a community in our Concordia classes, our students can then model this same strategy in their classrooms,” she notes.

Nagy believes the so-called achievement gap results in large part from a breakdown in teacher content knowledge, language barriers and poor community support. “Teachers need to be content-knowledgeable,” she says, “and have strategies for students who might be second-language learners. With this combination of skills, which the master’s program at Concordia teaches, I hope to see the achievement gap continue to narrow.”

‘Middle and high school teachers are not generally prepared to teach reading’

As both a school principal and a teacher, Nagy made a critical observation that has shaped her subsequent career path.

“It’s still fairly true, although I think it’s changing, that middle and high school teachers are not generally prepared to teach reading,” she asserts, “because the assumption is that by the time students reach middle school, they already have a basic understanding of reading and are really learning content. When I was teaching in the classroom, I would meet a lot of students who were below grade level in reading and I was struggling about how to support and help them.”

Today, in her parallel career as a representative for the American Reading Company, Nagy makes progressive reading material and assessment tools available to school districts across the country, which she believes goes a long way toward narrowing the achievement gap at a fundamental level.

The rest of the series

Part 1: An introduction to the Achievement Gap.

Part 2: Workable solutions to the Achievement Gap.

Learn More: Click to view related resources.

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