DLC Fellow Classroom Visit: Mrs. Giamanco

By Cristina Villarreal Smith, DLC Engagement Specialist

As soon as you walk into Mrs. Giamanco’s room, you get the feeling that learning happens here. There are quotes from texts dissected on the walls with student thoughts scrawled on sticky notes around them. There are sentence and conversation starters posted for students to use as they need to, which they do, because this is an English Learners classroom.

Upon arrival, Mrs. Giamanco welcomes us warmly, and invites us to have a seat in the back before her students trickle in. She teaches 8th grade English Language Arts, and we are sitting in on the class period just before lunch time.

“You’re going to see some…behavior” she chuckles, after pausing. “And I’d really like some help with that.” Being a DLC Teacher Leader doesn’t mean that you never experience challenges, but it does mean you get to receive feedback to tackle those challenges.

“No problem,” Mary Rakes replies. “That’s what we’re here for.” Mary is the Director of EL Strategy and of the DLC Teacher Leader Fellowship. She’s been conducting classroom observations since the beginning of school, and will continue to do so throughout the year. The observations are non-evaluative, and serve purely as a support to our Fellows.

As her students make their way into the room, they find their normally grouped desks covered in different colors of chart paper. “Find what color group you’re in for today and take a seat,” Mrs. Giamanco says, echoing the instructions projected on the board. Students buzz about their newly decorated desks and group assignments, and the class gets started.

“O.k. you should all have your books out. I’m setting the timer for five minutes.” Mrs. Giamanco starts a digital timer at the front of the room and class goes silent. Students get comfortable in their seats as they settle in to whatever book they are currently reading. Some hunch over graphic novels, while others are buried in chapter books. The energy in the classroom feels calm and focused. “I wish I got to start my classes with five minutes of reading when I was a student” Mary whispers to me. I do too. It’s almost as if you can see the students shedding their cares from the morning as they get lost in their books.

As soon as the timer goes off, the lesson is up and running. As a class, students complete a graphic organizer they were working on the day before, analyzing the tone and theme of a poem. They later participate in group discussions, which is where the chart paper on the desks comes into play.

“Here is what you are going to be discussing in your groups,” Mrs. Giamanco coaches, going over a series of questions on the board. “First, take time to prepare and think about what you are going to say. Write down your thoughts on the chart paper in front of you.” She passes out markers and students get to work.

“As you’re preparing for your discussions, I’m going to prepare a surprise for you.” Mrs. Giamanco smiles, as student interest perks up.

While students finish preparing, Mrs. Giamanco passes out paper plates piled with tortillas and rolls to the center of each table, along with small bowls of salsa with plastic spoons. It’s the last day of working with the poem “Bread and Tortillas,” and she’s brought for them a treat based on the poem for them to enjoy. In true middle schooler fashion, students first grumble and turn their noses up at the food, then devour it, few of them thanking their teacher.

Before they begin their group discussions, Mrs. Giamanco reminds them for the second time about their upcoming assessment the next day. “Remember, this is a good time to prepare, because we’re going to have an assessment tomorrow.”

“You mean a test?” a boy quips.

“You really like the ‘T word’ don’t you?” jokes Mrs. Giamanco.

As students leave the room for their next class, I take a look at student work. What one Muslim girl wrote on her chart paper about the Latino poem strikes me:

“It makes me feel relatable because my parents always tell me to not lose my culture even if I’m in the other side of the world because that’s what represents me.”

Mrs. Giamanco is doing a fantastic job as a teacher. You can see it in her thoughtfully planned lessons, and also in her students’ work. In the busyness of the day, it’s possible to miss the profound impact that a teacher has on students. We love having the privilege of getting to witness this impact firsthand through visiting our DLC Teacher Leader Fellows.

Thanks for having us, Mrs. Giamanco!

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