I think to be a great TOEFL teacher, besides knowing the TOEFL inside and out, above all you must be very adaptable. Being flexible and adapting to your students makes all the difference in creating a quality learning experience.
Adaptability is of course important for any teacher, but it is especially important when teaching the TOEFL. The very means of communication (if you teach in English) is what is being tested. To high-level English speakers, you can communicate high-level techniques, which they can then execute. On the other hand, with low-level English speakers, you may have difficulty just explaining a technique, never mind having them execute it. There are two possible points of failure. A comparison with teaching a different standardized test, like the SAT, may better illustrate what I mean. (I used to teach the SAT extensively.)
Now, no doubt teaching the SAT also requires flexibility and adaptability. You have to slow down if the class is not understanding the techniques, or you may have to simplify the steps. However, teaching TOEFL requires the same type of slowing down and simplifying, and often that still doesn’t work. If your class is just not understanding, or doesn’t have the basic skills to do the techniques, you have to change your content and style entirely.
The techniques and strategies you teach to the lowest-level TOEFL students is completely different to those you teach to high-level students. And if you have a mixture of both, it is a delicate balance blending two different styles and content. With the SAT, you could fall back on other techniques for the slower students. You could simply tell slow students to skip the questions they could not understand. This is great advice since an SAT student should avoid guessing (wrong answers are penalized .25 points each). However, there is no penalty for wrong answers on the TOEFL, so students should answer every question. Further, on the Speaking and Writing sections, a student cannot simply opt-out of any question, although undoubtedly many wish they could.
In this blog, I will be discussing my experiences on how to be adaptable in teaching the TOEFL. Flexibility is even more important when teaching small group or one-on-one tutorials, since you have to quickly find the students’ skill level and teach to that level so as not to waste the students’ time.
I mentioned before that there is no penalty for wrong answers on the TOEFL. If you didn’t know that, you should pay close attention to my next blog post in which I will be discussing the basic structure and rules of the TOEFL. You must know these facts because they shape the basic strategies underlying all TOEFL teachings.
Until next time,
Ed, founder of ScoreNexus