Sunday, October 21, 2007

iBT TOEFL ~ reflecting authenticity...

Topic: Purposes and Types of Language Test Date: 13 January 2007 5:19 PM
Subject: iBT TOEFL ~ reflecting authenticity... Author: Mondy, Steven

I was reading about an interesting development in the iBT (internet based TOEFL test) in the Daily Yomuiri, a Japan-based English language newspaper
(Lawrence J. Zwier, TOEFL Booster / Readings get longer, and tougher, Yomiurihttp://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/features/language/20070112TDY15001.htm).
The article talks about a change in the test that is an attempt to make the reading section more authentic, has made it more difficult for some test-takers. The most significant change is the move from what the article calls enumeration type readings (where a point is given, then supporting evidence) to a more complex form where several ideas are interlaced ~ a task requiring more understanding of various reading skills and the purpose for obtaining information. The article implies that the change in the test is to encompass, 1. Reading to find information (such things as speed reading, using thinking skills while reading), 2. Reading for comprehension (the more traditional focus), and 3. Reading to learn (being able to summarize, and then use the information).
This was very interesting to me as one of the main focuses in my college has been point number two, comprehension, then followed by point number one, the development of reading skills. Unfortunately, point number 3 has been missed in our curriculum design phase, which will make it quite difficult for our students in this new version of the iBT.
This semester, I have also discovered that this focus has been detrimental to our students, especially within short answer type questions. They are too used to multiple choice type questions, and are not sure what information to include in a written response. I have tried to change this by not only testing, but also teaching various techniques to get away from just reading for comprehension, such things as, discussion, inference making, and summarization. I believe that we need to essentially test how we teach, which means that we at the college need to adopt new curriculum ideas, to reflect changes to ideas out in the real world ~ which I suspect the new version of the iBT is attempting to do?!
Steven Mondy

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