Sunday, April 11, 2004

TOEFL Changes!
Last week, (or, as it is Sunday, perhaps I should say the week before last,) most of the staff in the ELC were at this year's TESOL conference in California. On Thursday, we had a meeting so everyone could share handouts, information, insights, and anecdotes. There was a lot of interesting stuff, but one thing made me positively gleeful.

They're changing the TOEFL! *happy dance, happy dance*

Why should this make me gleeful? Because they're completely taking out the grammar section, the bane of a native-English-speaking teacher's existence. No longer will I have to spend time teaching two types of grammar: the rules required on the TOEFL and the language students will actually hear English speakers use. The new TOEFL is going to require students to write a standard essay, but also write an essay synthesizing information from first a reading and then a lecture on the same subject, which is *gasp* what learners would actually be expected to do in an actual English-speaking learning environment. There will also be a speaking section.

A telling quotation from the "Skills" section of the introductory video:
"In the speaking and writing sections, the tasks require test takers to employ more than one skill, which reflects how we use language in real life."

I told my students about the changes that the TOEFL will have, and they all responded with dismay. The ELC has a notorious problem, especially at the upper levels, with students not coming to class because they're studying for the TOEFL. They definitely have a feeling that what they are learning in class doesn't help them pass the test that serves as the hurdle they have to pass to get into mainstream academic classes. While this is something of a reflection on ELC classes, it is certainly also a reflection on the relevance of the TOEFL, in its current form, to actually learning English. Our students, when asked, respond that they want to learn the rules of English, they want more grammar, they want to pass the TOEFL, oh, and yeah, they want to learn that speaking and listening stuff, too. All their lives, they've lived in test-driven academic settings, and they do not perceive our classes as being useful unless it will help them pass the test. For once, the test is actually conforming to how classes should be effectively taught, and not the other way around.

I'd like to think that the changes in the TOEFL might also effect the testing standards in the countries our students are coming from (primarily Asian, do keep in mind,) but I don't think I hold a lot of hope for that. As one of my students said, "It doesn't really matter; in our country, it's the TOEIC that counts more anyway."

I can still dream.

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