The Oxford Preparation Course for the TOEFL iBT Exam (OPC)...
Oxford Preparation Course for the TOEFL iBT Exam is an engaging and interactive coursebook designed to optimize language acquisition, build academic vocabulary, and enhance student performance on all four sections of the exam.
Do you need to improve your English language skills in order to succeed on the TOEFL iBT exam? If so, the Oxford Preparation Course for the TOEFL iBT Exam book, website, and DVD have been designed especially for you. Our comprehensive program includes a number of features and study options to help you achieve your goals.
The Oxford Preparation Course for the TOEFL iBT Exam is the quintessential TOEFL iBT coursebook. It not only teaches TOEFL skills and micro-skills that successfully prepare students for the Internet-based test, but it also employs well-researched techniques and methodologies that maximize language acquisition according to the latest trends in English as a second or foreign language instruction. To begin with, Oxford Preparation Course for the TOEFL iBT Exam is based on the communicative approach—the international standard in language pedagogy. A powerful focus on meaningful communication delivers engaging theme-based content that provides students with a reason to read, listen, speak, and write. What’s more, it gives them a reason to interact, comment, discuss, and debate. This reason or purpose for communication is central to the development of communicative competence (Savignon, 2007).
As summarized with such precision by a Spanish language learner in Savignon (2007: 216), “If you just sit there, you’re not going to learn.” Interaction is key, and as stated with academic eloquence in Ellis (2005: 219), “…both computational and sociocultural theories of L2 (second language) acquisition have viewed social interaction as the matrix in which acquisition takes place.” The TOEFL iBT now effectively measures communicative competence in an academic setting. (Resenfeld, Leung, & Oltman, 2001). For this reason, students need the proper mode of instruction to develop this competence. Oxford Preparation Course for the TOEFL iBT Exam, with its motivating academic content and varied interactive activities transforms the TOEFL classroom, once plagued by dry outdated materials, into an enriched learning environment that promotes the dynamic interchange of exciting ideas. Oxford Preparation Course for the TOEFL iBT Exam teaches communicative competence in the same way that the iBT now accurately assesses it.
Second, since “lexical knowledge is at the heart of communicative competence” (Meara, 1996: 35) and a knowledge of academic vocabulary is crucial to the development of all four skills for college- and university-bound students (Coxhead & Byrd, 2007; Flowerdew, 1995; Grabe, 2004; 1995; Nation, 2001; Schmitt, 2008), all 570 headwords on the Academic Word List (AWL) (Coxhead, 2000) have been introduced in a graded fashion throughout the Reading section of the book. Focus words for each reading passage are coded in bold to assist students in noticing the importance of each item. Standard exercises such as synonym matching, combined with paired practice, paraphrasing academic content using PowerPoint slides, and meaning-based interaction activities round out the instructional program. In addition, to ensure that students encounter the word as many times as possible—as prescribed by Nation (2001), Schmidt (1990), and Schmitt (1995), AWL vocabulary is recycled in reading passages and listening transcripts throughout the book. As an added feature, AWL vocabulary cards—which provide lexical stress, synonyms, and a discussion question—are available online in printable format. Flashcard practice is instrumental in promoting rapid acquisition of vocabulary items (Nation, 1990), the correct lexical stress promotes intelligibility (Field, 2005; Jenkins, 2000), and providing students with opportunities for output where they can personalize vocabulary meanings is a key requirement for an acquisition-rich classroom (Johnson, 1995).
According to Nation (1990), the leading expert in vocabulary research, a mastery of the AWL ensures the required comprehension of both academic reading and listening material for the advanced learner of English. What’s more, it allows them to successfully guess the meaning of unknown words using context clues. In other words, AWL vocabulary is critical to the success of every TOEFL student. Specifically, Nation states that a knowledge of AWL items in addition to the first 2000 words on the General Service List, which most advanced learners will have mastered, brings students to the 95 percent threshold level where they can obtain an adequate comprehension of academic input.
Third, in order to assist students in raising their comprehension level to an even greater extent, the book employs a version of Clark and Nation’s (Nation, 1990) five-step inductive procedure to assist students with contextualized guessing. What’s more, it includes Bauer and Nation’s (1993) seven levels of affixes to provide students with instruction on word analysis. This type of strategy training is essential in preparing students to meet the less-common and rare words that form a part of the 45,000 item TOEFL T2K-SWAL (TOEFL 2000 Spoken and Written Academic Language) Corpus Word List (Biber et al., 2004). These are the words Oxford Preparation Course for the TOEFL iBT Exam codes as low-frequency vocabulary.
Through an analysis of vocabulary loading in ETS’s TOEFL Accelerator (an online classroom practice program for the iBT), it was determined that ETS reading passages contained between 5.2 and 10.4% of less-common or rare vocabulary, while listening passages included only 2% according to the T2K-SWAL. This means that each TOEFL iBT reading passage contains approximately 35 to 70 less-common or rare words. Due to this potentially large number of unknown vocabulary items, students clearly need vocabulary instruction on both contextualized guessing and word analysis. For this reason such instruction is presented at the very outset of the Oxford Preparation Course for the TOEFL iBT Exam program. This early introduction gives students ample time to gain confidence in understanding, practicing, and mastering this key learning strategy.
Fourth, the underlying organization of the book effectively complements the structure of the TOEFL exam by presenting the four skills individually within each chapter. This allows students the flexibility of focusing on particularly weak skills as is often required. Furthermore, because the new Integrated Speaking and Writing tasks on the iBT demand a competency in synthesizing information from various input sources and responding with either spoken or written output, Oxford Preparation Course for the TOEFL iBT Exam ensures that an Integrated-skills approach within a single-skills framework as suggested by Oxford (2001) is an integral part of every section of the book. For instance, students watch a DVD documentary segment to stimulate interest in a reading passage or participate in Internet research prior to listening. They learn note-taking strategies to assist in comprehending lectures and then use their notes to orally summarize and paraphrase the passages. They view DVD interviews of university students responding to a typical Independent Speaking task and give peer feedback on TOEFL Integrated and Independent essays. According to Oxford (2001), this Integrated approach to language instruction optimizes communication opportunities because it reflects how language is used in the real world.
Fifth, Oxford Preparation Course for the TOEFL iBT Exam incorporates multimedia support in an engaging DVD program. Authentic high-interest news and documentary segments serve as advance organizers (Lin and Chen; 2007) to activate and build background knowledge and stimulate interest in both reading and lecture material. Furthermore, the DVD program includes text and AWL vocabulary previewing through illustrated PowerPoint presentations in which students get a briefing on the main points and vocabulary in full-length test readings. According to Grabe (2004), text previewing that relates to specific text content is even more effective in promoting comprehension than the activation of generalized background knowledge gained from advance organizers. Moreover, Elley (1989) submits that both reading comprehension and vocabulary acquisition are enhanced through listening to a presentation of a reading if the content is interesting and is supported visually. This comes as no surprise since dual-coding theory (Pavio 1991) provides a sound theoretical basis for implementing visual support into instructional design. This theory underlines the fact that while verbal processing employs only a single verbal memory coding system, visual processing utilizes dual coding, that is, both verbal and visual coding systems. In this way, visual information is stored in working memory longer and has a greater chance of being transferred to long-term memory.
Sixth, the contextualized skills instruction in Oxford Preparation Course for the TOEFL iBT Exam is based on the solid foundation of comprehensive ETS research involving teams of experts in the fields of applied linguistics, educational assessment and English as a second or foreign language instruction. (Rosenfeld, Leung and Oltman, 2001; Biber et al., 2004) Through this research, ETS identified key competencies that were essential for success at graduate and undergraduate programs in North America. The specific skills and tasks identified are exactly those that form the underlying curriculum in Oxford Preparation Course for the TOEFL iBT Exam
Not only has attention been paid to ETS guidelines in determining the core skills prescribed, but also in ascertaining how they would most effectively be taught. Propell (ETS, 2006), an authoritative guidebook for instructors who participate in ETS’s Workshop for the TOEFL iBT specifically recommends the communicative approach to language instruction and an integrated approach to language learning. Furthermore, it advises “motivating students with activities that are dynamic, meaningful, contextualized, and linked to learning objectives (Propell Teacher Workshop, p. 5).” Oxford Preparation Course for the TOEFL iBT Examdoes exactly that.
Propell also makes specific reference to teaching appropriate micro-skills such as paraphrasing, summarizing, and note-taking among others. For this reason, micro-skill instruction that supports the major skill competencies of the curriculum has been given the appropriate emphasis.
Consistent with the communicative approach to language learning, Oxford Preparation Course for the TOEFL iBT Exam incorporates the most useful and widespread form of content-based instruction according to Oxford (2001) and Brown and Crandal (1993). Theme-based instruction, which ensures a focus on meaning rather than form (Krashen, 2003), also provides narrow input (Krashen, 1981). As background knowledge increases with narrow input, students are able to handle progressively more challenging material. What’s more, thematic materials encourage students to make connections between newly-learned vocabulary items, thus contributing to enhanced recall (Krashen, 2004). Other researchers such as Wiesen (2001) support that content-based learning paves the way for academic success because it is both motivating and stylistically similar to the type of material students will meet in their academic studies. Chamot and O’Malley (1994) add that content-based learning provides students with an accurate picture of academic discourse in terms of vocabulary and grammar, thus facilitating their transition to college and university environments. In addition, they state that due to the cognitive demands content-based learning placed on learners, such instruction tends to promote higher-order thinking skills that will assist them in their academic careers.
Within each thematic chapter, there is a selection of academic topics in the four TOEFL subject areas of life science, physical science, social science, and the arts. With this multi-disciplinary approach, students sample the range of topics addressed on the exam and yet feel a sense of cohesion in their study. For example, in exploring the theme of intelligence, students are exposed to readings in the fields of medicine, nanotechnology, international business, psychology, computer science and biology and lectures in the areas of nutrition, kinesiology, neuroscience, sociology and music. The novelty of viewing the same theme from such diverse and multi-disciplinary vantage points both maintains student interest and addresses the needs of students headed in a variety of academic directions.
It is essential that the level of instructional material in Oxford Preparation Course for the TOEFL iBT Exam corresponds to the precise level of the TOEFL iBT exam. Accordingly, students will know what to expect on the test and be sufficiently prepared. Therefore, an exhaustive comparative study between ETS readings and lectures were compared with all readings and lectures in Oxford Preparation Course for the TOEFL iBT Exam, according to Flesch-Kincaid readability measures and reading ease scores. Findings revealed that ETS readings, including those in the Reading, Speaking, and Writing sections, had an average grade level of 12.3 whereas the grade level for lectures averaged 7.4 in the Listening section, and 10.1 and 10.2 in the Speaking and Writing sections, respectively. Conversations came in at a mere 3.9. This comparative study ensures that the level correspondence between Oxford Preparation Course for the TOEFL iBT Exam and the TOEFL iBT is an exact match.
It is also of the utmost importance that the style of readings, including textbook excerpts from authentic sources, and academic lectures in Oxford Preparation Course for the TOEFL iBT Exam directly corresponds with those on the TOEFL exam. According to Biber et al. (2004) academic written registers such as textbooks contain the following lexiogrammatical features: information density, long words, complex noun-phrase structures, frequent nouns and nominalizations, prepositional phrases, adjectives, phrasal coordination, relative clauses and passives. Therefore, these same features have been included in Oxford Preparation Course for the TOEFL iBT Exam readings. What’s more, Biber emphasizes that vocabulary loading plays a central role in determining the difficulty level of reading passages. As mentioned vocabulary loading in readings comprises between 5.2 and 10.4% of less-common and rare words based on the T2K-SWAL corpus. Accordingly, Oxford Preparation Course for the TOEFL iBT Exam features this same vocabulary loading.
An analysis of the T2K-SWAL corpus based upon two separate multi-dimensional frameworks revealed that lectures, office hours, and service encounters were found to be radically different from text-based materials. Specifically, spoken registers incorporated first- and second-person pronouns, WH questions, present tense verbs, generalized nouns such as thing, personal stance language, structural reduction, and formulaic language including contractions, common vocabulary, and lexical bundles. Furthermore, conversations were found to include features of both procedural and persuasive language and included linguistic features such as modal verbs, second-person pronouns, causatives, conditional clauses, to clauses with verbs of desire, and “suasive” verbs such as insist, demand, and command. For these reasons, the lectures and conversations in Oxford Preparation Course for the TOEFL iBT Exam incorporate these respective linguistic features along with the characteristics of natural speech such as redundancy, clausal nature of word groupings, sentence fragments, hesitations, fillers, false starts, and self corrections in addition to a variety of accents from Canada, the US, Great Britain and Australia. As mentioned, vocabulary loading in lectures was found to be significantly lower than that in reading passages. In fact, less-common and rare words comprised only two percent of lectures and were negligible in conversations. Therefore, Oxford Preparation Course for the TOEFL iBT Exam lectures and conversations reflect this same proportion of vocabulary loading according to the T2K-SWAL corpus.
Because Oxford Preparation Course for the TOEFL iBT Exam was written by a seasoned ESL professional with over 30 years experience, many of those spent teaching TOEFL to multi-level classes of international students, the book includes numerous innovative techniques that have evolved over time to specifically address this audience. While many instructors may not believe that upper-intermediate or lower-advanced students can be presented with TOEFL-level materials, experience has shown the author otherwise, especially if students are sufficiently motivated. Furthermore, if they have the benefit of instructional techniques that deliver a structured program, the necessary vocabulary, and plentiful support in terms of scaffolding, they will surprise you with astounding gains in language acquisition. Among others, specific innovative techniques refer to a preview and peer-teaching of core skills as a prelude to classroom instruction, the introduction of speed-reading techniques, interactive activities for AWL vocabulary study, summary chart interactions to accompany each essential skill, and the Interactive PowerPoint presentation before reading as described earlier. Aside from gains in reading comprehension and vocabulary acquisition, what makes this technique so innovative is that it engages students. An interactive question at the bottom of each slide gives students a chance to process the input and discuss personally meaningful questions based on the academic content. This serves to both pace the delivery of input and promote language-learning opportunities (Johnson, 1995).
Not only has the author tested materials in her own classes, but her publisher, Oxford University Press, has kindly arranged for the field testing of additional materials as they were created. This invaluable feedback from both students and instructors has improved the book by identifying strengths and weaknesses in specific chapters. Furthermore, the book has benefited from the innumerable comments and reviews from leading professionals. Oxford Preparation Course for the TOEFL iBT Exam is the end result of many minds coming together to create the quintessential coursebook.
These many minds include not only students and instructors, but also prominent researchers in the field. Reference has already been made to authorities on Communicative Language Teaching, the Integrated-skills approach, second or foreign language acquisition, vocabulary acquisition, and multimedia support. The literature review that follows comprises research with specific implications for teaching the four skills to learners preparing for the TOEFL iBT.Reading Research
Word Recognition According to Grabe (2004) in his overview of reading research to date, instructors need to promote a variety of strategies to accelerate reading comprehension. First, ensuring “word recognition fluency” (Grabe, 2004: 47) is essential. Tan and Nicholson (1997, 1999) demonstrate that flashcard practice, part and parcel of the Oxford Preparation Course for the TOEFL iBT Exam program, is effective in achieving this aim.
A Vocabulary-rich Environment
The Importance of Grammatical Knowledge
Strategy Training Rather Than Grammar Instruction
Building Reading Fluency and Rate
Interestingly, Vandergrift (2004) makes specific mention of research (Ginther, 2002) referring to the two types of visuals on the TOEFL iBT exam: context visuals to set the scene and content visuals that illustrate key points in the text in lectures. Ginther concludes that context visuals detract from listening because they utilize processing resources without delivering any real information, whereas content visuals facilitate the proper comprehension because they illustrate key points.
Furthermore, in the Low and Multi-level Classes section of the In the Classroom section of this website, instructors are advised to use additional strategies in Vandergrift’s metacognitive training method to assist low-level learners, even with bottom-up processing. For instance, word segmentation skills are facilitated by drawing students’ attention to key features of spoken discourse such as thought groups, focus words or nuclear stress, syllable length in stressed syllables, linking, and reduced forms such as contraction, assimilation, elision, and reduction. According to Field (2003), a metacognitive awareness of these linguistic features assists students in understanding spoken discourse.
Note-taking & Discourse Markers in Lectures
Speed of Lecture Delivery
Opportunities for Output
Metacognitive Awareness of Response Macrostructure
Micro-skill Instruction on Relevant Linguistic Markers & Language
Scaffolding and the Zone of Proximal Development
Input Serving Output
Metacognitive Awareness Current writing research also highlights the use of metacognitive awareness as a strategy to improve student writing (Wong & Storey, 2006). Specifically, Wong and Storey found that having students compose journal entries on how to write a proper essay or paragraph prior to the writing task improved their performance. They also found that peer-to-peer editing was effective in both raising cognitive awareness and enhancing students’ writing quality. For this reason, Oxford Preparation Course for the TOEFL iBT Exam incorporates metacognitive awareness activities and peer-to-peer editing as an integral part of the writing program. Checklists, as advocated by Butler (2006), draw student attention to both the macrostructure and essential components of a well-written TOEFL essay.
Wong and Story point out that eliciting knowledge from students in consciousness raising activities builds writer confidence and puts the onus on students to transfer declarative knowledge into the productive domain.
Scaffolding Just as the proper scaffolding of Speaking tasks ensures student gains in the zone of proximal development (Vygotsky, 1978), the appropriate scaffolding is required in TOEFL iBT writing tasks to promote student success. Oxford Preparation Course for the TOEFL iBT Exam with its step-by-step mode of instruction including peer-teaching enlists students as experts who can guide each other in gaining a full understanding of the array of micro-skills involved in the target tasks.
Vocabulary and Grammar Instruction Coxhead (2007) suggests that students need the appropriate instruction on the language of academic prose if they are to be effective academic writers. She argues that teaching students the high-frequency words of academic discourse, that is, those words that occur with regularity across a variety of disciplines including the arts, commerce, law, and science (Coxhead, 2000), is a necessary component of academic writing instruction. Accordingly, Oxford Preparation Course for the TOEFL iBT Exam provides students with this instruction. Coxhead also refers to corpus-based research (Biber & Conrad, 1999, 2004; Biber, Conrad & Cortes, 2003; Biber, Conrad & Cortes, 2004) that reveals language-in-use in academic reading and writing is context specific. In other words, the vocabulary, grammar, and language in academic discourse includes precise features and characteristics unique to this form of expression.
With reference to grammar, Coxhead explains that academic writing is noun heavy with long complex noun and prepositional phrases, contains a wide range of vocabulary including a greater number of long words, employs remarkably few verbs with a repeated use of be, have, and seem, and incorporates the present tense with respect to general and theoretical statements. For this reason, she cautions that the verb-centric instruction in the typical English as a second or foreign language grammar guide may not in fact be serving the best interests of students. Coxhead advises against using such material and instead recommends that teachers look to academic material as reference and provide pertinent instruction on the features of language found within that context. The reading texts in Oxford Preparation Course for the TOEFL iBT Exam can provide just such academic input since they contain the prescribed linguistic features.
Teach the Grammar of Academic Prose Move away from the verb-centered instruction advocated by typical grammar guides, and instead, implement a more noun-centered focus as recommended by Coxhead (2007). Use academic materials to raise student awareness of the specific features of academic language. Create lessons to teach the grammatical features of academic prose:
Teach Lexicogrammatical Sequences
Instructor Feedback Hyland and Hyland (2006) report that indirect instructor feedback on student writing such as underlining or coding an error rather than specifying the correct form is more effective in improving writing performance. For this reason, Oxford Preparation for the TOEFL iBT Exam provides instructors with an error coding sheet on page 612 that they may use in the correction of student essays. This, in combination with the Writing feedback forms on pages 613–14 that refer specifically to ETS scoring criteria provide students with the required feedback they need in order to improve.
Noticing and Reflecting upon Errors Second language acquisition theory applies equally to both speaking and writing. By guiding students in noticing (Gass & Slinker, 2001; Mitchell & Myles, 2004) the differences between their errors and the correct forms on a Writing Feedback form, instructors provide students with key input. Allowing students to reflect upon how their output differs from the correct form by completing a Writing Error Chart on page 609 can aid students both in making gains in language acquisition and in making the appropriate revisions.
Peer Feedback Using Checklists Peer-to-peer scaffolding, especially in association with writing checklists, both adds the element of audience and provides students with a set of criteria they can use in evaluating their own essays (1993; Cheng & Warren, 1996; Stoddard & MacAurthur, Hyland & Hyland, 2006). For this reason, peer-to-peer feedback and a variety of writing checklists reflecting to specific TOEFL iBT Writing tasks have been included throughout the book.References
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