"Sharing Best Practices in Teaching English for 50+" is an international project with English language teachers/learners from Poland, Romania, and Estonia taking part in it. The project was implemented as part of the Erasmus + Adult Education program, Action 2. The main purpose of the project/cooperation was to exchange experience in the field of teaching English to 50+ students.
Modern Languages Center, the project coordinator from Poland, has successfully conducted English classes specifically for seniors for over 10 years. When implementing the project, the coordinating institution wanted to draw attention to the specific needs and barriers that may occur in teaching foreign languages to senior students. Although the project was initially targeted at the 50+ age group, in the course of exchanging experience within the partnership, it was decided that it would be more appropriate to focus on 60+ and 70+ language learners.
One of the major factors (apart from age) that may cause the appearance of specific barriers in language teaching/learning is the status in the labour market. People who remain professionally active report and feel at a much later stage that it is more difficult for them to learn a foreign language than for younger students. The teachers participating in the project also emphasized that they can see the difference in teaching adult learners who are still actively working and those who have retired.
The outcome of the project is "The Set of Tips & Guidelines for teaching English in 50 + groups" - material created thanks to the exchange of experience between the schools and teachers involved in the project, teaching senior- and mixed-age groups.
During the six project meetings, teachers from participating schools observed each other's classes, took part in workshops and discussed ideas received from the observed lessons. An important element of each meeting was discovering new products as well as common elements in school structures and adopted teaching methods. As the culmination of the project, in June 2019 a training session for 16 teachers took place in Poland using the project results and shared knowledge.
All the participating schools determine their language levels on the basis of the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR). However, all schools use a slightly different system of naming the levels within the schools. The levels selected for comparison within the project are: A2.2 (Estonia), A2.3 (Romania) and A2 + (Poland). A detailed description of the teaching systems and framework of selected levels of language proficiency in each school is provided in the 1st part of "The Set of Tips & Guidelines for teaching English in 50 + groups".
The second aspect that differentiates the three participating countries is the economic situation of seniors, their retirement age, and access to education. Estonians are in the best situation, their life expectancy is the longest, they retire at an older age and have the easiest access to education. The worst situation is in Romania where the percentage of people with higher education in the 50+ group is the lowest in the partner countries; life expectancy is the shortest, and access to education is often limited by finances. It is worth emphasizing, that despite a wide range of activities seniors may be involved in, their lower pay rates often restrict their access to education. A comparison of the socio-economic situation of seniors in the partner countries is part of the brochure.
The most important goal of the project was to create a set of universal tips and tricks that, regardless of the cultural differences, would help teachers to conduct classes for groups of senior learners. A survey was conducted in all the schools involved in the project, among senior learners and their teachers, mapping the educational needs of senior citizens in the field of learning English and the most common barriers they face. As a result, the project team was able to diagnose barriers in language education of seniors, and also formulated a set of tips to overcome them.
Defined barriers are:
- Limited access to materials in English in the real world (e.g. YouTube, Netflix, podcasts, etc.).
- Reluctance to adapt to contemporary teaching techniques.
- Reluctance to adapt to new learning environments.
- Need for more encouragement to counter lower confidence in language abilities.
- Fewer opportunities to practice English outside the classroom.
- Greater dependence on encouragement as motivator.
- Slower assimilation of new materials (e.g. new grammar points or lexical units).
Based on the tips pilot lessons were conducted in all the participating schools. In the surveys collected after the classes teachers were asked about the usefulness of the advice, and students were asked whether they noticed any difference in conducting the classes.
The teachers found the tips useful, they also noticed a positive reaction among the listeners to the introduced changes.
On the other hand, according to the students, the classes were more understandable, more interesting, the atmosphere was nicer and the material more adjusted to their needs.
While collecting material for the set of tips, the teachers also gave some advice on how to better prepare classes for seniors compared to younger adults:
- Age needs to be considered (along with other personality traits).
- Consider the life circumstances for 50+ students when creating a stimulating classroom environment.
- Allow more time for explanations, transitions, and exercises.
- Listening exercises need to be scaffolded and repeated to a greater extent.
- Longer preparation phases for role-plays.
- Possibly require more drilling.
- They may need more examples of the target language and/or translation.
- Less rigorous assessment; more informal assessment.
- Consider phrasing feedback more diplomatically.
- Adapt lesson content to suit the interests and priorities of the students.
- Adjust your teaching approach to the age of your students. People from different age ranges have different educational needs (most of the 50+ students still work while 70+ students are mostly retired).
The results of the project and tips on how to overcome barriers in teaching English to 50+ students can be found HERE