By Olivia Grugan, Virtual Learning Specialist and Spanish/German/Arabic instructor
World of Learning Institute
Appalachia Intermediate Unit 8
Picture 1 – Spanish students voluntarily attending daily “Coffee Breaks” on Zoom
As teachers and districts adapt to this “new normal” of remote education and each determines how they will continue to provide educational opportunities for all their students, our students themselves sit at home, waiting. Engaging themselves with a book, TV show, or project. Maybe hanging out with siblings. Probably bored. At least, that’s what I presume. On the district level, there are so many questions to answer: How do we ensure access to everyone? What will feedback and evaluation look like? Does everyone have the resources and skills they need to make this shift? And on and on. But, for us teachers and our students, there is much less to figure out: We just need a place to connect.
So I began hosting morning “Coffee Breaks” for my language students. Here is what they look like: Every morning at 10:00 am, I reheat my coffee, open my Zoom room and wait to see who shows up. I have invited all of my Spanish students, even those studying different levels. I told them this: it is optional, it is daily, it is short. They show up any time between 10:00 and 10:30 (though most come right at 10:00). Some days I have 2 students, some days 8, but always at least 1. We talk about how everyone is doing. Students show me projects they are working on at home, tell me what they’ve been reading or watching. I ask them their opinions about stuff and why they feel that way. We engage each other. I meet their pets and sometimes their siblings or parents. All of our sharing happens in the target language.
Am I seeing all of my students? Definitely not. Though the word is spreading. I always remind those who do come to contact one friend from class and invite them to the next Coffee Break. This “word-of-mouth” approach is bringing new students almost every day and may reach those who don’t have access to my original email.
Are we moving forward with the established curriculum during the Coffee Break? Also, no. But there is definitely rich learning. Just yesterday, I told my students that I wanted to do some cross stitching and… guess what… we had an expert among us! Over the next 15 minutes, a 17-year-old taught me how to start my “quarantine project”! We quickly realized that it would be difficult to explain the craft’s mechanics without some visuals, so we pulled up a shared whiteboard feature and my student (now teacher) sketched on the screen as she explained how much thread to use, what a “back stitch” is, and how to read the pattern. When she was tempted to switch to English for a word or concept, her classmates chimed in with suggestions in Spanish. This was certainly not in the curriculum, but it may have been some of the most authentic learning we’ve experienced all year, for her and for me as well.
Picture 2 – Whiteboard tutorial on cross stitching
But most importantly, there is connection. Bored students are seeing my face; they are seeing each other’s faces. Students who spend the day alone in their homes have an outside connection. Students are waking up 10 minutes before “Coffee Break” to join! And we are laughing together every single day.
Picture 3 – The students mostly drink water during “Coffee Break” but I commend them for it!
All images used with consent from parents/guardians.