Professor of Literacy, Program Leader of Reading Masters and Doctorate Courses & Assistant Chair of Teaching and Learning, Concordia University Chicago, IL

Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Kari Pawl, Professor of Literacy, Program Leader of Reading Masters and Doctorate Courses & Assistant Chair of Teaching and Learning

Meet the passionate Dr. Kari Pawl, CUC’s Professor of Literacy, Program Leader of Reading Master’s and Doctorate, and Assistant Chair of Teaching and Learning.

What programs do you teach at Concordia University Chicago? What drew you to this field of study? What keeps you excited about it?

At Concordia University Chicago, I serve as the Assistant Chair in the Division of Teaching and Learning, which houses undergraduate and graduate programs in education. I also teach at the graduate level and work with students earning their M.A. in Reading to become reading specialists or reading teachers.

I also work with doctoral students who will earn a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) or a Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) Reading, Language and Literacy Specialization. In addition, my time is spent serving on dissertation committees as chair or reader. I am currently serving on reading and early childhood committees.

I teach a variety of reading courses. As the program leader for seven courses, I ensure that the content is current and aligns with professional standards. These courses provide a foundation, theory, and practices in literacy. Mentoring professors and supporting them so that they have a successful teaching experience is another area of focus that I enjoy.

My teaching experiences in literacy in schools and my educational background drew me to this field of study. Teaching in higher education provided me with the professional opportunity to work with graduate students who teach at different grade levels, settings, and locations across the United States and internationally. Their unique experiences and varying levels of knowledge keep me exploring new trends and practices in reading and writing, which excites me as I continue in the field of literacy.

How will your programs better prepare/equip educators for the current climate they are facing?  

The master’s degree and doctoral degree programs are designed to prepare educators for what is current in literacy education. The faculty who teach in these programs are experienced educators who know the content and expertise in the disciple they are teaching.

The faculty working with graduate students read and examine research in the field to make the best decisions to help their students address issues and concerns that may arise in their classrooms. Including teaching, faculty are willing to spend extra time with students through a virtual meeting or phone conference to help them problem solve and work through their programs.

Students who graduate from the programs are knowledgeable and can apply what they have learned to their classrooms, school districts, and other educational settings to meet the needs of diverse learners and the demands of the changing educational landscape. One of the main goals is to have each student be successful in teaching reading and writing to students and thus, understand the components of a comprehensive, integrated literacy curriculum. Our graduates are equipped to become literacy leaders in the field.

How will it help them tackle the challenges of COVID and post-COVID teaching? 

The pandemic has caused teachers to switch from in-person teaching to virtual classrooms and back to in-person. In addition, teachers were required to plan and deliver alternative ways of instruction. Many students did well with working and learning at home during this time, but others did not. Teachers are being faced with supporting, assessing, and teaching students who need more interventions and helping them re-adjust to classroom learning and studying.

Professors helped the graduate students strengthen their knowledge of best practices while working with their classroom students. Professors also helped their grad students complete assignments during this time with limited exposure to in-person teaching and assessing. A wealth of resources were provided to aid the graduate students.

Our programs were recently aligned to the International Literacy Association 2017 standards. With this, courses were redesigned, and new assignments and assessments were created. All of the changes understood the impact of COVID and focused on helping graduate students meet the needs of their students.

There are specific courses that graduate students take that provide strategies and interventions to work with children who need extra help or for those who need to enhance their learning. Some courses assist educators with program evaluation and curriculum planning.

What attracted you to teach at Concordia University Chicago? What sets them apart?

Before joining Concordia University Chicago as a full-time faculty member, I taught in the K-12 public school system. My experiences included teaching at the elementary level and then as a reading specialist. As a graduate student, I have fond memories of being taught by both full-time and adjunct faculty.

I reached a point in my career when I felt confident that I could use my knowledge and professional experience to teach others in the field and applied for an adjunct position at CUC. Needless to say that my experiences here were top-notch. The unconditional support from faculty and administration truly set me up for success. This included professional development and communication throughout the year, both in-person at events and virtually.

I immediately felt part of the CUC family, and this was a very different and unique experience. After serving as an adjunct for two years, I applied for a full-time position, and 12 years later, I still count my blessings as a full-time faculty member.

What is your professional background as an educator?

My professional background includes being an educator in the public school system for 21 years, teaching grades second and third, and then as a district reading specialist.

I received my B.A. in Elementary Education degree from Barat College, my M.A. in Curriculum and Instruction, and a Certificate of Advanced Study in Reading from National Louis University. My doctoral degree was earned at Loyola University, a Doctor of Education (Ed.D) in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis in Reading. My dissertation was titled Half-day and full-day kindergarten: key factors that make a difference in the reading achievement of struggling readers receiving literacy intervention.

When I was teaching in the schools, I became a reading specialist with a Type 10 license and worked in this position for many years. After a year-long training to become a reading recovery teacher, I was part of a group that developed a literacy program for the entire school district and wrote grants for educational resources.

In addition to teaching and designing courses, I have served as a consultant for school districts and as a literacy coach to teachers at various Lutheran schools. My professional experiences also include presenting at local and national conferences, providing professional development for schools, and conducting research in the field of literacy. I have published several articles in various journals, and currently, I am serving as an editor for the Illinois Reading Council Journal.

I am also a reviewer for the Global Education Review, a forum for reporting approaches and implications of educational practice, and the influence of social, economic, and political forces on educational practice in different countries or global regions. I am a member of the Association of Literacy Educators and Researchers and have published in their journal.

Since reading is my passion, I am currently involved in several research projects with colleagues to publish the results of these studies when they are completed.

Tell us a little about yourself. Why did you become interested in education? 

I have always considered myself to be an innovative thinker. This is evident when planning and designing courses as I take the traditional way of learning and adapt it by making it more usable and engaging for students. In this way, the students can interact with content and make meaningful connections. Students have shared that my creative activities and approaches have helped them apply the information to class discussions, assignments, and teaching methods.

My passion for teaching began at an early age when my mother, a devoted teacher, instilled in me a love for reading and learning. My childhood memories include being surrounded by books and going on numerous educational excursions with my family. It was no surprise that my career path was in the field of teaching.

As an elementary teacher, I saw first-hand students having difficulty transitioning from learning how to read to reading to learn, and I knew that there was more I could do to support them. I also discovered that a “one-size-fits-all” approach does not work, and therefore, my quest was to learn all that I could in the field of literacy to help support students of all ages, which began and remains present today.

What would you tell prospective students considering the program and about yourself? 

The masters and doctoral programs are excellent programs and meet students’ needs as a classroom teacher to being a researcher in the doctoral program. Our students appreciate the professors and the knowledge that they share.

I want students to know that I am dedicated to teaching reading and want all of my students to succeed in their courses and the program. I consider myself a lifelong learner and look forward to working with each new student. I am a hard worker yet accessible when students need additional support.

My goal is to deepen students’ understanding of literacy and help them apply that knowledge to improve instruction. I use an interactive approach to teaching, which makes learning meaningful and memorable. From my faculty evaluations, students know and learn from my instruction.

What’s something that students and colleagues should know about you? 

I am active in the field and president of the West Suburban Reading Council, a part of the Illinois Reading Council. I have been on the board for approximately 10 years. I love book clubs and have been a part of Concordia’s and Illinois Reading Council’s book clubs for many years.

What advice do you have for students interested in pursuing their graduate reading degree? How can people stand out in this field?

Enroll in Concordia University Chicago’s M.A. in Reading or the Ed.D/Ph.D. Reading, Language, and Literacy Specialization and gain the knowledge and expertise to be one of the best educators in the field of literacy. Candidates will be prepared whether the goal is to attain a new teaching position or improve current literacy practices.

Many graduates are now reading specialists, reading teachers, full-time professors at colleges and universities or curriculum administrators at school districts. These graduates stand out in the positions as they are trained to be leaders in literacy.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

When you come to Concordia University Chicago, we will welcome you into the program and support you during your learning journey. Establishing new partnerships with your professors and graduate peers will make your learning experience rewarding and memorable.