Technology? Right up my alley (said my 79-year-old student)

Recently the school where I work has implemented Google Classroom for most of the groups, in order to promote a broader and more consistent interaction with learners, as well as make communications between students and teacher faster and more effective. As a tech enthusiast myself, I celebrated the achievement along with my peers at the branch, specially because we knew the impact this would have on the students’ tangibilization of progress. Mind you, I have the utmost respect for students who are able to keep their studies organized through beautiful notebooks and color-coded notes, but shifting part or all the work to the tech devices can also help students keep better track of what they have been learning, not to mention it is a green initiative.

However, I have to admit I had a fear at the beginning of the term: how about the students over 60 or 70? I find it hard to place an age here without sounding ignorant to the major issue of ageism in ELT, but I mean the people who weren’t born being tech-savvy, and couldn’t update their tech knowledge along the years. My biggest concern was them not being able to cope with dealing with technology and how to access the material which would be available to them on the Google Classroom.

When I started the lesson, I remember my mother (who is now 78 years old) saying she was “too old” to learn new tricks, and she was doomed to live apart from society because it was too difficult for her to learn how to send a whatsapp message for instance. I remember her mentioning: “do you see any commercial of old people being celebrated out of the context of dental fixtures, health care plan or cooking for their kids?”. She is not entirely wrong, and I wasn’t ready to give up on her, and neither on my students.

Brief background information on my “older” students: I have 4 of them this semester (all girls)- they are aged 62, 70, 72 and 79.

I devised a mini-training on the tech tool which would take 10 minutes of my lesson for the first 2 weeks. All the students were invited to bring their mobiles to class, and 3 of them had it already, but the fourth – the one who was 79 – said she bought it specifically for this purpose, because she “was finally going to learn how to handle mobiles”.

For the next classes, I allowed myself to set tasks on the google classroom periodically, and assisted these students with eventual problems they might have. I was really happy with the result at that moment, because these ladies were mastering not only the use of the tool I proposed, but also the use of mobiles as a whole. They proudly came to me and said they were helping their colleagues to deal with issues they were experiencing concerning technology, and this brought them a great sense of pride.

The cherry on the top came 2 weeks ago: it was time for them to deliver a written essay through Google Classroom, so that they could have a differentiated feedback. Guess who were the first ones to deliver the text through feedback? My top 4 stars. These ladies rocked the mastery of the tool up to a level they were able to do the written work on their own and deliver it way ahead of time. They came to me and said they saw the advantages of working with technology in class, and I believe their emotional relation to this accomplishment made the whole learning process even more relevant to them.

Informally, I asked around to check how the other teachers were seeing this process, and 3 of my peers mentioned their older students were the first ones to deliver the written task through Google Classroom, showing how big their commitment towards learning really was.

Having all these powerful results in hand, I was very happy I insisted on the use with them. It’s important to let go of these stereotyped images of older people in all walks of life, because they are not ready to be left behind by the herd: they all are and will be invaluable operating members of society, and they are here to perform, like anybody else. Learning how to embrace grey hair or wrinkles as a sign of greater experience, rather than an expiration date should be what drives us all in class.

39-year-old teacher at Cultura Inglesa with experience in working with Young learners, teenagers and adults. A CELTA and ICELT holder, with a passion for Continuous Professional Development. I have presented in important Conferences such as BrazTesol and IATEFL and I am a true believer of education as a means to making the world a better place.

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