As a veteran teacher, Adwoa Nyantakyi took the kindergarten team at KIPP Academy Elementary School to new levels of success by ensuring that her students were on track to get to and through college. She exudes the KIPP values of zest and optimism while teaching rigorous content and setting ambitious goals for students. We visited her classroom to chat more about her commitment to excellence and the importance of academic rigor in early childhood education.
How is KIPP focusing on high levels of academic growth and achievement in early childhood education?
Young kids are so malleable and internalize messages about motivation, effort and success quickly. Kindergarten can be framed as the “easy or baby grade” but we need to ensure that students conclude kindergarten either on grade level or ahead to set them up for success. When you leave kindergarten a bit behind, the potential to repeat grade levels is higher which can be detrimental to a child’s social-emotional development.
This knowledge motivated me to ensure that all my KIPPsters could count to 100 by January. My co-teacher and I drove student investment by creating “The 100 Dollar Bill Club.” Every day we would do counting activities chorally and once we had students reaching the goal, we visually displayed their name on a $100 bill. As a reward, students would lead the activity while I provided scaffolds to support students who were struggling. I knew that concepts such as addition and subtraction would become significantly easier once students could count and visually recognize numbers. Celebrating student growth with songs and dances ensured that all students in my class were able to achieve the goal by the end of the year.
Our students enter kindergarten at a variety of levels. The transition between kindergarten and first grade is mostly around independence and learning to solve problems by themselves. Here at KIPP, these are not foreign concepts to kindergarten students, and as a result, they are set up for success to achieve academically and socially as they mature.
What strategies are you using on a daily and weekly basis to collect data to drive student achievement and amplify growth?
After diagnostic testing and observations at the beginning of the school year, my co-teacher and I were able to create small groups according to skill level. I use different strategies in the moment to check for student understanding. I will cold-call students so I can target kids individually during guided and independent practice. Through this targeted extra support and “no opt out” approach, I limit the negative mindsets regarding math and see a decrease in avoidance behaviors. I ensure that kids get the opportunity to talk to one another about math and drive their own understanding through Cognitively Guided Instruction and turn and talks. Tracking their Exit Tickets helps me identify true conceptual understanding and areas for growth in my own practice.
Automaticity is another data collection strategy. I created a specific tracker to highlight growth for each student and to communicate with families about student progress. Within a couple of months, the majority of my class was able to complete fast facts in under a minute. We also use innovative programs, such as ST Math and Zearn, which expose children to technology while collecting academic math data. The kids are super invested in the programs and utilize grit as they pass from level to level so it’s also character education in action!
How have you developed as an educator since joining KIPP NYC?
Collaboration is the key to our success. I came to the team with the perspective of first grade while my teammates had a strong understanding of kindergarten content and expectations. In the beginning, we focused on content specific meetings to prepare for new modules, but as the year progressed, we began checking in on a daily basis. We’d discuss student misconceptions, engagement strategies, and how we could better prepare for the next lesson.
The leadership team has been very supportive in terms of acclimating me to the curriculum and has empowered me to take ownership over my classroom. I have leaned heavily on my grade level team to observe me and provide feedback. They have developed expertise in the content and varied instructional strategies as they differentiate for students on a daily basis. There are certain nuances that my co-teachers pick up and can coach me on; they are very intelligent and engaging people to work with.
What brought you to KIPP and how do you envision your future at the network?
I’ve been teaching for charter schools for four years but I was looking for a school that would fit my drive to teach children in a rigorous way while also investing in character development. I’m from the Bronx and was looking to teach in my community. I wanted to work at a school that I’d feel comfortable sending my own kids to and I definitely feel that way at KIPP Academy Elementary School.
I’ve found that children can be strong academically while lacking the social skills to engage with one another. KIPP helps me recognize the importance of data in order to help kids achieve while also letting me exude joy and celebrate social intelligence. KIPP treats children as children. There is a balance between academic rigor and classroom management. I’m educating kids to high academic levels while also having fun with them, and KIPP has provided that happy medium. While we have a network curriculum, my team and I were given the autonomy to adapt content to suit our student needs. I’ve met incredible people here who have helped me to grow in my journey as an educator.