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VIETNAM NATIONAL UNIVERSITY, HANOI UNIVERSITY OF LANGUAGES & INTERNATIONAL STUDIES FACULTY OF POST-GRADUATE STUDIES ***************** VŨ THỊ HOÀI AN EXPLORATORY STUDY ON STUDENTS’ LEARNING OF TOEFL IBT SPEAKING SKILLS AT EQUEST HANOI CENTER Nghiên cứu thăm dò về việc học viên trung tâm EQuest Hà Nội học luyện thi kỹ năng Nói theo bài thi TOEFL iBT M.A. MINOR PROGRAMME THESIS Field: English Teaching Methodology Code: 60140111 Hanoi – 2014 VIETNAM NATIONAL UNIVERSITY, HANOI UNIVERSITY OF LANGUAGES & INTERNATIONAL STUDIES FACULTY OF POST-GRADUATE STUDIES ***************** VŨ THỊ HOÀI AN EXPLORATORY STUDY ON STUDENTS’ LEARNING OF TOEFL IBT SPEAKING SKILLS AT EQUEST HANOI CENTER Nghiên cứu thăm dò về việc học viên trung tâm EQuest Hà Nội học luyện thi kỹ năng Nói theo bài thi TOEFL iBT M.A. MINOR PROGRAMME THESIS Field: English Teaching Methodology Code: 60140111 Supervisor: Phạm Thị Thanh Thùy, Ph.D Hanoi – 2014 DECLARATION I hereby, certify the thesis entitled “An Exploratory Study on Students' Learning of TOEFL iBT Speaking Skills at EQuest Hanoi Center” is the result of my own research for the Degree of Master of Arts at University of Languages and International Studies, Vietnam National University, Hanoi. The thesis has not been submitted for any degree at any other universities or institutions. I agree that the origin of my paper deposited in the library can be accessible for the purposes of study. Hanoi, 2014 Vu Thi Hoai i ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS I owe a great many thanks to so many people who have supported me all the way throughout my study to this final achievement. Firstly, it is with heartfelt gratitude that I wish to thank Ms. Pham Thi Thanh Thuy, Ph.D for her professional guidance, valuable suggestions and academic advice, leading me through great hindrances and inspiring me to conduct the study. I am grateful to all the lecturers in the Master course, who supplied me with useful knowledge. I would like to extend my appreciation to my colleagues and students at EQuest Academy for their enthusiasm for responding to my questionnaires and participating in my interviews. Last but not least, words are not enough to express my gratitude to my family. Without their help and encouragement, I could not have finished this study. ii ABSTRACT This study is an attempt to explore some strategies commonly used by EQuest learners in the TOEFL iBT Speaking test, discover some difficulties they encounter in learning to respond to the test tasks, and suggest some possible solutions. In the study, the researcher investigates the opinions of 78 students and seven teachers from EQuest Hanoi center. These teachers and students were invited to partake in survey questionnaires and interviews. The results of the study present some strategies that students used to deal with the tasks, their difficulties in learning and some suggestions to improve the situation. Based on those findings, the thesis provides some pedagogical implications, which might be of great help for teachers and learners of TOEFL iBT test. iii LIST OF TABLES Table 1: Format of TOEFL iBT Speaking Test Table 2: Students’ strategies used in responding to TOEFL iBT Speaking Independent Tasks Table 3: Students’ strategies used in responding to TOEFL iBT Speaking Integrated Tasks Table 4: Learners’ difficulties in learning to respond to Independent Tasks from teachers’ views and learners’ views Table 5: Learners’ difficulties in learning to respond to Integrated Tasks from teachers’ views and learners’ views Table 6: Teachers’ recommendations and students’ expectations for teaching and learning iv LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS 1. TOEFL iBT: Test of English as a Foreign Language (Internet-Based Test) 2. TOEFL CBT: Test of English as a Foreign Language (Computer-Based Test) 3. ETS: Educational Testing Service 4. L1: First or native language 5. L2: Second language 6. ESL: English as a second language 7. EFL: English as a foreign language v TABLE OF CONTENTS DECLARATION……………………………………………………………… i ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS…………………………………………………… ii ABSTRACT…………………………………………………………………… iii LIST OF TABLES……………………………………………………………. iv LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS………………………………………………… v TABLE OF CONTENTS…………………………………………………….. vi PART A: INTRODUCTION……………………………………………….. 1 1. Rationale……………………………………………………………………. 1 2. Aims and Research Questions……………………………………………… 1 3. Significance of the study…………………………………………………… 2 4. Scope of the study………………………………………………………….. 2 5. Method of the study………………………………………………………… 2 6. Organization………………………………………………………………… 3 PART B: DEVELOPMENT………………………………………………… 4 Chapter 1: Theoretical background………………………………………. 4 4 1. TOEFL iBT test and Speaking section…………………………………… 1.1. Introduction to the TOEFL iBT test………………………………………. 4 1.2. Format of TOEFL iBT Speaking Section………………………………… 4 2. Learners’ strategies used when learning and responding to TOEFL 6 iBT Speaking Section……………………………………………………… 2.1. Definitions of learner strategies………………………………………….. vi 6 2.2. Classification of learner test-taking strategies……………………………. 8 3. Difficulties in learning Speaking skills of EFL/ESL learners………….. 12 3.1. Difficulties from teachers………………………………………………… 13 3.2. Difficulties from students………………………………………………… 14 3.3. Difficulties from objective factors………………………………………... 17 Chapter 2: Methodology…………………………………………………… 19 1. Context of the study………………………………………………………… 19 2. Participants…………………………………………………………………. 19 3. Instruments…………………………………………………………………. 20 4. Data collection procedures…………………………………………………. 21 Chapter 3: Results and Discussion……………………………………….. 23 1. Some strategies students often use to respond to TOEFL iBT Speaking questions……………………………………………………………………. 23 1.1. Students’ strategies used in responding to TOEFL iBT Speaking 23 Independent Tasks………………………………………………………….. 1.2. Students’ strategies used in responding to TOEFL iBT Speaking 25 Integrated Tasks…………………………………………………………….. 2. Some difficulties students encounter when learning TOEFL iBT 27 Speaking preparation courses at EQuest……………………………….. 2.1. Students’ difficulties in learning to respond to TOEFL iBT Speaking 27 Independent Tasks…………………………………………………………… 2.2. Students’ difficulties in learning to respond to TOEFL iBT Speaking 30 Integrated Tasks……………………………………………………………… 3. Some suggestions to improve the situation…………………………… 32 3.1. Teachers’ recommendations for teaching and learning………………… 33 vii 3.2. Learners’ expectations for teaching focus………………………………. 33 PART C: 35 CONCLUSION……………………………………………….. 1. Summary of the findings……………………………………………………. 35 2. Implications of the study……………………………………………………. 36 3. Limitations of the study……………………………………………………. 37 4. Suggestions for further studies……………………………………………… 38 REFERENCES……………………………………………………………….. 39 APPENDIX 1: Questionnaire for I Learners……………………………………. APPENDIX 2: Questionnaire for Teachers…………………………………… V APPENDIX 3: Guided Questions for Student Semi-structured Interview……. VIII APPENDIX 4: Respondents’ Personal Information………………………… viii IX PART A - INTRODUCTION 1. Rationale It is widely known that English is playing an important role in opening up new opportunity for people in many developing countries, including Vietnam. English is regarded as a passport for those who wish to have good jobs or study abroad. As a result, many proficiency tests have been spawned to help English learners measure their competence. Among these tests, TOEFL iBT (Test of English as a Foreign Language, Internet-Based Test) emerges as a reliable one, so TOEFL iBT score, according to Educational Testing Service (ETS), is accepted by over 9000 colleges, universities, and agencies in more than 130 countries all over the world. A considerable amount of money and effort is invested in test preparation by test-takers; nonetheless, the results are not always satisfactory. Many candidates report that Speaking skills pose a great challenge to them in this new generation of the TOEFL test as they need to deploy multiple skills ranging from listening, reading, speaking to computer-using. As an instructor of TOEFL iBT working at EQuest center for more than three years, I empirically realize that my students experience a number of problems practicing Speaking skills to prepare for the test. The problems may be about time limitation, vocabulary and expressions, or even speaking to a microphone. Because of this fact, I am concerned with the nature of the problems that my students encounter, and what teachers can do to help them overcome these troubles to better their scores, leading to the implementation of this research. 2. Aims and Research Questions This study is carried out with the aim of gaining an insight into the activity of learning TOEFL iBT Speaking skills of students at EQuest center - my working place - and recommending some suggestions to improve the situation. The study is conducted to answer the following questions: 1 1. What are some strategies students often use to respond to TOEFL iBT Speaking questions? 2. What are some difficulties students encounter when learning TOEFL iBT Speaking preparation courses at EQuest? 3. What suggestions can be given to improve the situation? 3. Significance of the study It can be seen that there are quite a number of researches about TOEFL iBT test; however, not many of them are about speaking skills. Recognizing this gap, the author of this study endeavors to have a close investigation into students’ problems in learning speaking skills for the TOEFL iBT test and give a helping hand to remove them. It is hoped that this study is advantageous to both students and teachers in conquering the test. For students, they may be well aware of the possible challenges and what to prepare to tackle them. Regarding teachers, they can predict their students’ troubles and devise effective solutions for themselves to heighten their teaching qualities. This research is of certain help as a source of reference to any teachers having the same concern. 4. Scope of the study Because of the framework of a minor thesis, this study focuses on 78 students who were at the level of 65 points (out of 120) of TOEFL iBT and above, preparing for their upcoming exams at EQuest center to explore the problems they had. At the same time, seven EQuest teachers were involved in the research. 5. Method of the study To address the presented research questions, a combination of questionnaires and semi-structured interviews were deployed. Two sets of survey questionnaires were used to gather data from 78 EQuest students and seven EQuest teachers. Participants were asked to choose the answers best reflecting their viewpoints, and expand their answers if they wish to. Interviews with 10 students were conducted to get more in-depth information about the students’ opinions in the questionnaire. 2 6. Organization The research is composed of three parts: Introduction, Development and Conclusion. Part A: Introduction supplies a brief sketch of the study, including the rationale, aims and research questions, significance and scope of the study. Part B: Development consists of three chapters. Chapter 1:Theoretical background deals with the theory and previous research relevant to the study. Chapter 2: Methodology presents the methodology of the study, explaining the context of the study, instruments and the procedure of data collection. Chapter 3: Results and Discussion states the findings relating to students’ strategies to respond to the test, their difficulties in learning as well as suggests some recommendations to improve the situation. Part C: Conclusion summarizes the main findings of the research, exposes its limitation and puts forward suggestions for further research. 3 PART B - DEVELOPMENT CHAPTER 1: THEORETICAL BACKGROUND 1. TOEFL iBT test and Speaking section 1.1. Introduction to the TOEFL iBT test The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), which was established in 1964, is an international standardized test which “measures how well students use English, not just their knowledge of the language” (The Official Guide to the TOEFL iBT, Third Edition, p.1). It is created by a nonprofit educational organization called Educational Testing Service (ETS). The TOEFL iBT test, administered via the Internet, replaced the TOEFL computer-based test (TOEFL CBT). It simulates the university classroom and student life communication to let test-takers demonstrate their ability to communicate ideas effectively. The test contains four sections – Reading, Listening, Speaking and Writing – and it takes about four hours to complete the whole test, not to mention the time for checking identification and other procedures. There is no requirement for the score to pass the test, but it varies from institution to institution. Each section of the test is scored separately, and then converted to a scaled score of 0-30. The total possible score is 120. The test can be taken as many times as given. The records of scores are kept for two years by ETS. 1.2. Format of TOEFL iBT Speaking Section The Speaking sub-test is designed to assess the speaking abilities of the candidates whose native language is not English but want to study in an Englishspeaking context. This section is delivered via computer, and candidates are equipped with headphones and microphones. Test-takers have to speak to a microphone and their answers are recorded and saved. In this section, test-takers are asked to speak about a range of topics that “draw on personal experience, campus-based situations, and academic-type content material” (The Official Guide to the TOEFL iBT, Third Edition, p. 165). 4 Section Number of Questions Timing Score 2 Independent Tasks (preparation: 15 sec. / response: 45 sec.)  1 personal experience  1 personal choice/ opinion 2 Integrated Tasks: Read-Listen-Speak (preparation: 30 sec. / response: 60 sec.)  1 campus situation topic - reading: 75 ~ 100 words (45 sec.) Speaking - conversation: 150 ~ 180 words (60 ~ 80 sec.)  1 academic course topic 20 minutes 30 points - reading: 75 ~ 100 words (45 sec.) - lecture: 150 ~ 220 words (60 ~ 90 sec.) 2 Integrated Tasks: Listen – Speak (preparation: 20 sec. / response: 60 sec.)  1 campus situation topic - conversation: 180 ~ 220 words (60 ~ 90 sec.)  1 academic course topic - lecture: 230 ~ 280 words (90 ~ 120 sec.) Table 1: Format of TOEFL iBT Speaking Test (Source: How to Master Skills for the TOEFL iBT Speaking – Advanced, p.6) For the first two questions, Independent Speaking Tasks, the answers should be given based on candidates’ personal ideas, opinions, and experiences. In Question 1, candidates are asked about a person, place, object or event that is familiar to them. In the second Independent Speaking task, candidates are presented with two possible actions, situations or options. They are asked to state their more preferable choice and explain their choice with reasons and examples. As the other four questions require test-takers to integrate different skills, they are called Integrated Tasks. For Question 3, they have to read a short passage 5 appearing on the screen about a topic of campus-related interest like university policies, rules or procedures, university plans. The readings are shown in various forms such as a bulletin, a letter, or an article. The reading is about 75-100 words long. They then will listen to two people discussing that topic and expressing an opinion about the topic related to the reading. The question will be about what they have read and heard. Question 4 requires candidates to read a short academic reading passage and listen to a professor giving a brief lecture on the subject presented in the reading. The topics may vary from different fields, including life science, social science, physical science and the humanities. Questions 5 and 6 are not accompanied by reading passages. For Question 5, a short conversation about campus-related situation will be played. Its topics may be about any everyday situation arising in the college or university. In this listening, two people discuss a problem and suggest two possible solutions. The problem directly concerns one or both of them. After listening, test-takers need to briefly describe the situation in the listening and give their own opinion about solutions to the problem. The last question, Question 6, is based on academic content. A short lecture focusing on a single topic is presented by a professor. The lectures might be about a process, method, theory or idea of any type. Normally, the lecture is started with a definition of a concept, or highlight of an issue, and then goes on with discussing some important aspects related to it. Test-takers are supposed to summarize the information they heard from the listening. 2. Learners’ strategies used when learning and responding to TOEFL iBT Speaking Section 2.1. Definitions of learner strategies There has existed considerable debate over the definition of learner strategies and different terminologies have been coined within the field of second-language acquisition (SLA) (Cohen, 1998; Ellis, 1994). According to Abhakorn (2008), learner strategies are “conscious actions in learning and using a second or a foreign language” - one of the variable factors that have profound effects on how individual 6 learners approach language learning and how successful they are. From the point of view of McDonough (1999), the term “learner strategies” is related to “learning a second language, for using the language, for communicating in the language and for compensating for lack of knowledge or break down of communication, for exercise of language in macro-skill areas such as reading, writing, speaking, and listening, and for coping with difficult elements of language instruction such as classroom presentation and instruction, and taking tests”. A widely accepted definition of learning strategy was made by Oxford (1990): learning strategies are “specific actions taken by the learner to make learning easier, faster, more enjoyable, more self-directed, and more transferable to new situations”. Brown (2000) figured out the differences between language learning strategies and communication strategies. The former is associated with “input processing, storage and retrieval” while the latter is related to “output – how we productively express meaning and how we deliver messages to others”. The use of communication strategies by speakers to deal with communication breakdowns is referred to as strategic competence. (Canale & Swain, 1980) In language testing research, the main focus is on the test-taking strategies used by learners to perform the tasks and handle communication needs in the testtaking time, rather than the strategies deployed when students are learning to communicate. O’Malley & Chamot (1990), Oxford (1990) and Phakiti (2003) saw test-taking strategy as “the conscious, goal-oriented thoughts and behaviors testtakers use to regulate cognitive processes, with the goal of improving their language use or test performance”. Having a similar viewpoint, Swain, Huang, Barkaoui, Brooks, & Lapkin (2009) defined strategies as “the deliberate thoughts and behaviors used to manage or carry out cognitive processes with the goal of successful test performance” and “strategy use is closely linked to cognitive processes”. 7 2.2. Classification of learner test-taking strategies Gagne, Yekovich, & Yekovich (1993) noted that during tests or in language use situations, strategy use is pertaining to “the ongoing working memory in association with the short-term memory regarding the language to retrieve necessary declarative (knowing what), procedural (knowing how) and conditional (knowing when) knowledge in the long-term memory to solve task difficulty.” Cohen (2002) viewed that language test-taking strategies consist of both language use strategies and test-wiseness strategies.  Test-wiseness strategies Test-wiseness strategies depend on the respondents’ knowledge of how to take the tests. They allow test-takers to utilize the features and formats of tests and/or test-taking situation to gain better scores. Benson (1988) and Rogers and Bateson (1991) supposed that test-wiseness strategies are “a cognitive ability or a set of test-taking strategies a test taker can use to improve a test score no matter what the content area of a test.” A number of taxonomies for test-wiseness strategies have been devised so far. Nitko (2001) categorized test-wiseness strategies into three groups: (1) Timeusing strategies (starting to work as fast as possible with reasonable assurance of accuracy); (2) Error-avoidance strategies (determining the nature of the task and the intended basis of response and paying careful attention to directions); (3) Guessing strategies (always making guesses if only right answers are counted). Sarnacki (1979) devised a taxonomy of five categories: (1) Test-using strategies (working as fast as possible with reasonable assurance of accuracy); (2) Error-avoidance strategies (paying serious attention to directions); (3) Guessing strategies (keeping guessing if there is no penalty for incorrect answers); (4) Deductive reasoning strategies (utilizing relevant content information in other test items and options); (5) Intent consideration and cue-using strategies (using any idiosyncrasies of the test to distinguish correct answer from other incorrect choices). Watter & Siebert (1990) and Wenden (1991) classified test-wiseness strategies into three major categories: 8 (1) Strategies used before answering the test (starting with easy questions, outlining, budgeting time, and identifying key words in the questions…); (2) Strategies used during answering the test (revising each question after answering, immediately writing what comes to mind, answering all the questions even ones do not know…); (3) Strategies used after answering the test (revising both content and language, avoiding last minute change…)  Language use strategies Language use strategies are used to help produce response to language testing tasks. They refer to actions that individuals consciously take to enhance the use of second/ foreign language in order to accomplish language tasks. Language use strategies have been classified in various ways. They may be grouped based on question-type, language skills, or task type. According to Cohen (2002), there are four types of language use strategies, including retrieval strategies (to recall language material from storage), rehearsal strategies (to rehearse target language structures), cover strategies (to create the impression that test-takers can have control over the material when they cannot), and communication strategies (to convey a meaningful and informative message to listener or reader). Based on the concept of “strategic competence”, which means “a set of metacognitive components, or strategies, which can be thought of as higher order executive processes”, Bachman and Palmer (1996) suggested another conceptualization and taxonomy for language test-taking strategies constituting three groups. (1) Goal setting (deciding what going to be done) (2) Assessment (taking stock of what is needed, assessing how well one has done) (3) Planning (deciding how to use what one has) There are contrasting viewpoints on the model proposed by Bachman and Palmer. In the point of view of Alderson & Banerjee (2002), it is a “significant advance” in language testing because it is “an interactional model of language test 9 performance that includes two major components: language ability and test method”. However, there are some disagreements from other researchers. Chalhoub-Deville (2001) considered it a theoretical model lacking congruence between theoretical models and operational assessment frameworks. McNamara (1996) suggested that the Bachman model does not take the social dimension of language proficiency into consideration. Oxford’s (1990) taxonomy of language learning strategies has been used as a frame of reference by many researchers. According to this classification, there are four groups of strategies: cognitive, metacognitive, affective and social. Cognitive strategies are “test-takers’ ongoing mental activities to use their language and world knowledge to solve the test tasks.” Metacognitive strategies are deliberate mental processes to direct and control the cognitive strategy processing of test-takers to have a successful test performance. Affective strategies are related to the learner’s emotional requirements and social strategies are pertaining to interaction with the target language. Swain et al. (2009) synthesized a list of strategies drawn from both secondlanguage acquisition and language testing fields as follows. A List of Strategic Behaviors This is a compilation of L2 use, learning, test-taking, and communication strategies found in the literature. Communication Strategies: Involving conscious plans for solving a linguistic problem in order to reach a communicative goal Reduction Strategies: Topic avoidance: Avoiding topic areas that pose linguistic difficulties Message abandonment: Leaving a message unfinished because of linguistic difficulties Semantic reduction: Changing a message (e.g., reducing the scope of message) rather than abandoning the message Achievement Strategies: 10
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