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Concordia Portland Professor Dr. Monica Nagy Raises the Bar in Literacy Education

By Marcus Hennessy, CEA July 28, 2012

online m.ed. professorTeachers who first enter the classroom often get something between a wake-up call and a rude awakening when they discover many of their students cannot read as well as they should. Concordia University-Portland Professor Monica Nagy, EdD, had a similar eye-opening experience when she began her career back in 2000.

“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,” she said in a recent interview.

Results published in the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress, or “The Nation’s Report Card,” show that 22 percent of white, 51 percent of black, 49 percent of Hispanic, 20 percent of Asian/Pacific Islander and 53 percent of Native American fourth graders read at or below basic levels. These numbers have remained relatively unchanged from the 2009 NAEP survey.

“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 said, “because the assumption is that by the time you reach middle school, you already have a basic understanding of reading and you’re really learning content.”

Breaking down the complexity of reading

Learning to read is a complex cognitive function that involves many separate elements, such as:

  • Letter knowledge — associating particular sounds with letters
  • Phonemic awareness — hearing and vocalizing the sounds of words
  • Decoding — using the sounds of letters to vocalize words
  • Fluency — reading and understanding each word in a connected text
  • Comprehension — understanding the meaning of sentences and paragraphs

Another aspect teachers apply in the learning-to-read process is leveling, which Dr. Nagy advocates in her work for American Reading Company, a private firm based near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

“Basically what I’m promoting is using what we call an Independent Reading Level Assessment, called IRLA for short. It assesses students and places them at their appropriate independent reading levels,” Nagy said. “There are other assessment systems, but what I like about this one is that it’s very organized.”

Hands-on experience in literacy education

As Nagy progressed in her career and assumed administrative responsibilities, she focused resources on improving student reading proficiency. She eventually became principal of an elementary school in Rhode Island and was able to secure a Reading First Grant that allowed her to hire literacy coaches and improve her teachers’ skills. Her efforts resulted in the school being reclassified as “higher performing” according to No Child Left Behind (NCLB) benchmarks.

Today, Nagy considers her role as an online professor in Concordia Portland’s Master of Education program a perfect match for her literacy background.

“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 emphasized. “That just falls right into place in terms of the course that I teach now.”

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