toeflThings are pretty busy around here, so I've limited my posts and that's good because, being an old guy and all, I have a lot less interesting material these days. But I did get an interesting phone call in that illuminated me on TOEFL developments, and I thought I'd share that since this is where I keep almost everything I know; my office is so clearly a disaster (see below) that I can no longer find anything that is in writing.
When the TOEFL moved from the paper-based through the CBT (1998) and then to the iBT (2005), we were essentially left behind because we were not made an iBT station; we therefore give and teach the paper-based and my knowledge of the iBT is somewhat limited. It turns out that the new structure of the iBT, with its read-listen-write section, and read-listen-speak section, has students in a kind of a tizzy based on the fact that these are graded by human graders worldwide who have subjective analyses of their ability. And this, according to my sources, makes grammar more important than it had been, partly because a surprising number of subjective decisions at least appear to be made on the basis of grammar. Thus it is now a question of how to teach grammar for the iBT, how to teach grammar as a learn-to-integrate-it-on-the-fly skill.
The TOEFL has become more important, not less, and the Saudi mission now demands its students take one regularly and report the scores; this has made them more TOEFL-crazy, not less.
It turns out we were wrong that the Longman paper-based book was about the only one left on the market, but there is in fact very little left on the market, besides on Amazon or the used book market. And the cd's for the Longman are coming out as digital and easier to get, apparently. I also heard about a Canadian computer thing called Can8, where you can record your own voice and compare it to others; apparently with the read-write-speak you want a good lab to record your voice and analyze it carefully, and all TOEFL classes are of course taught in up-to-date computer labs. How would I record voices in ours? I'm not sure but I know there's a way. The world is leaving me in the dust.
As for good iBT materials, there is plenty out there besides the set of Kaplan books we have around here; I heard of a Longman set, well-respected, Barron's 6th edition, and sets that attempt to combine iBT and paper-based. Bruce Rogers is also well respected although it was unclear to me whether that was an iBT set or what. The question now is how much to put on a CD-rom, and whether to make students lug around a phone book all day to study this stuff. The more online, the better, some people say, since the test is all online anyway. Shrink the book, and make it just a guide to the online tests. But make it clear what the test itself looks like, because that's what the students want to know.