‘It breaks your heart’: MNPS teacher explains literacy challenges and how new initiative will help


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – The Metro Nashville school district is working to improve student reading through a new initiative called Literacy Reimagined. Right now, three-quarters of the district’s third-graders are not reading at grade level.

Educators explain why 3 out of 4 Metro Schools’ third-graders are not reading at grade level

“Literacy Reimagined is all about re-engaging our efforts and our focus. It’s about improving literacy outcomes for our students and we want to do this by two key actions: Number on is putting high-quality instructional materials into the hands of teachers and students,” said Metro Nashville Public Schools Elementary Literacy Interim Director Aliya Washington Smith. “Secondly, we have excellent teachers and we need to provide them with extensive, comprehensive professional development that reflects the most current research.”

Charity Quinonez teaches English Learners in first grade at Goodlettsville Elementary school. She said it was heartbreaking to see students struggle with reading under the current curriculum.

“I knew based on being with them in the classroom every day, observations that we were doing, testing we were doing, that we weren’t meeting those students’ needs,” she said. “There’s something missing in the instruction that we’re giving those students and so It breaks your heart as a teacher because you want so badly for the students in your room to succeed.”

Quinonez said she’d always been passionate about helping students navigate the world of a second language in their younger years, but she’s always known of the challenges.

“Students in our district who were struggling — or had another issue like they’re also learning a second language at the same time — for so long, those students have gotten less from us than they needed. So the reaction if a student has been struggling or doesn’t have the knowledge or doesn’t have as many vocabulary words as other students have been ‘okay let’s give them easier books so they can be successful, we’ll come down and give them an easier text that they can be successful with right now. Well, that’s created a huge gap. That’s actually widened the gap for those students,” she explained. “They’re getting these easier books but those easier books have less knowledge in them, they have a less new vocabulary in them. So, over time they’re getting less and less so it’s like a rich get richer poor get poorer effect except with learning for our students.”

MORE: Initiative targets reading deficiencies among students of color in Nashville

(Courtesy: MNPS)

According to a press release from the district, “MNPS’s Literacy Reimagined initiative promises to teach reading and writing in a more robust and accessible way by putting curricula designed around authentic texts for students in the hands of excellent teachers.”

Quinonez explained that it’s all about trying to meet a students’ individual needs as much as possible.

“Something I’m excited about with this new initiative is that we’re making sure all students are getting the same content and instead of bringing things down we’re going to build them up to grade level text,” she said, adding that it also helped teachers whether they were new or had years of experience. ” Everything is there in line without being scripted for you so you’re still the expert in the room but rather than having to search and find what can I do to help my students read these texts it’s full of strategies and ideas for what to do for a variety of different students and it’s all there for you. So you can pick and choose what the students sitting in front of you need.”

Quinonez said teachers needed text that was more interesting with deep knowledge. She was part of a group of teachers who piloted the Wit & Wisdom literacy curriculum last year.

“The depth of knowledge-building that it gets students to buy into was amazing, the engaging activities that it suggests that really has students doing really heavy thinking and heavy lifting is really amazing to see as a teacher,” said Quinonez.

She also saw changes in the Informative Writing she taught every year where she asked students to tell her about a particular topic and what facts they learned.

“They were asking questions like ‘Well do these things go together?’ and ‘Is this writing interesting enough?'”, she explained. “To have a first grader ask about their craft as a writer, the curriculum really set them up to do that – to be reflective and to take ownership of their writing so that was something that was really exciting for me to see.”

Quinonez is optimistic the COVID-19 pandemic will not keep students from bouncing back next year.

“Yes, COVID and shutting down schools has led to some losses in some areas and in some areas it hasn’t,” Quinonez said. “Kids are really resilient. I think we can get kids back to where they need to be. I think it’s going to be individualizing what they need as they come back to us and focusing on what they gained while they were gone instead of what they’ve lost.”

Metro Nashville Public Schools plans to roll out the new initiative in Fall 2021.

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