CLASSROOM OF THE WEEK | Divided they stand; united they learn: Patrice Gamberoni's third graders love to tackle new challenges

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Jenn Smith — The Berkshire Eagle
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PITTSFIELD — Instead of rushing in from recess, the third-grade students in Patrice Gamberoni's class at Williams Elementary School transition by taking a few minutes of "mindfulness." It starts with Gamberoni's voice, at a gentle, low level, asking students to take their seats, close their eyes and become aware of the thoughts and sounds and sensations around them. 

After leading them through some neck rolls and deep breaths in a dimmed room, the students noticeably become less fidgety, and all are quiet. You can hear them softly breathing in through their noses and out through their mouths. 

After a few moments, everyone seems to be physically and mentally on the same page when Gamberoni turns on the lights and asks the kids to get ready to review their multiplication. They run through multiples for 7, 8 and 9, to the tunes of "The Ants Go Marching," "Frere Jacques" and "Rock Around the Clock," respectively. Then, she introduces a new lesson. 

"Today, we're going to be starting division," Gamberoni says. But instead of a chorus of groans, the kids leaned in, ready to learn more. 

After introducing what a division symbol and formula look like, and going through a couple of equations, the teacher directed her students to a "criteria for success" written out on a poster-size page. Then, she assigned them to one of eight division stations that offered word problems and physical props, like baseball cards and flowers, to practice dividing into groups. 

Gamberoni had each student complete worksheets at each station exercise, saying: "You're going to show me what you all know." 

"This is a teaching classroom," she reminded her students. "There are clues around the room and supports to help you everywhere." 

Indeed, there are posters and symbols and materials stationed around the room to help remind students what they're studying and how to think about their task at hand. 

"'Going above and beyond' are the perfect words to describe Williams Elementary third grade teacher Mrs. Patrice Gamberoni," writes Alison Underdown, a parent of Aidan, one of the students in the class. 

"With a class of nineteen students, Mrs. Gamberoni does an amazing job using a variety of teaching methods while teaching students who have a varying degree of abilities. From those who are struggling to those who are performing at or above grade level, she finds ways to help and challenge all students," Underdown writes in her nomination. 

After a hiatus from teaching to raise her own three children, Gamberoni joined Williams Elementary two years ago.

"We have a wonderful team in third grade," she said, referring to her fellow grade-level teachers, Elizabeth Joppru and Patricia Pelkey. She also credited paraprofessional Suzanna Robarge, who is embedded in her classroom. 

Gamberoni likens working in a classroom to being an actor or actress onstage, "where everything you say is so important and the audience is honest, brutally honest at times." 

"Sometimes when we do our songs, Mrs. Gamberoni hops around the room," third-grader Hannah Phillips divulged. But she said it works in keeping her attention. 

Other classmates highlighted the incentives and goals Gamberoni gives them. For example, they can earn points for practicing the classroom values of readiness, safety and respect. Their teacher keeps tally, and for every 100 points earned, students get to vote on a collective incentive, ranging from extra recess or a game day, or the perennial favorite, a "pajama day," when kids can come in dressed super casually. 

"They have to really earn things, but this is something to help keep them motivated and excited about learning," Gamberoni said. 

"We have a nice teacher," said student Connor Laughrey. 

Students said they enjoy studying current events through the "Scholastic News" classroom program, learning about topics such as recent hurricanes and the changing habitats for polar bears in the Arctic. 

"We work a lot together on writing projects," Juliana Bourassa said. Among the most interesting topics she and her classmates mentioned were dolphins, "how to plant seeds" and making posters about themselves to share with the group. 

Underdown said she is most impressed by the students' daily writing journals. She writes how Gamberoni writes comments to every child, "regarding what students need to continue working on, what she liked about what they have completed so far, what step they are ready for next and how they should proceed with that step, and if they need to go back and make any changes. ... Each student is unique in his/her learning ability and style, and she feels that this method helps all of her students become successful writers." 

There is a plaque on the corner of Gamberoni's desk that reads, "The best teachers show you where to look but don't tell you what to see." This philosophy seems to ring true in Gamberoni's teaching style, which Underdown says is reflected in the success of her students. 

"You try to change your style and mix up your approach to try and reach every student so that he or she understands," Gamberoni said. "No day is the same. The work of a teacher is no doubt very challenging and wonderful."


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