It is simple only if…

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to hold a monthly workshop this year. Well, up to this day, I still keep this promise, because tomorrow is my January TOEFL Speaking / Writing workshop.

In this year’s workshop, I have decided to accommodate no more than four participants. Therefore, it’s not so much a lecture that gives them a general idea about what good responses are, as a one-on-one session where I give specific feedback to each response so that they can get their responses as closer to the ideal as possible. I am sure that they will have a tough time tomorrow. All the participants have already practiced enough (all of them must have taken the TOEFL plural numbers of times), but they will be strongly advised to change their attitude and the way they present their responses tomorrow. Without a change, they will end up repeating the same less than ideal response the next time they take the TOEFL. It will only produce exactly the same score.

For those learners whose score is just as good as 100, a change in the way they respond to each prompt would mean a better result. Since they have enough knowledge about the language, they will never make a change in the wrong direction. As long as they make a change, therefore, it is a good thing.

The thing is that very few people can think of how the responses should be changed. They have no idea, so they repeat the same. It even means that the more they practice, the more fossilized their responses become.

Tomorrow, I will help them break the fossil into pieces.

If I were to summarize in 10 words what I will do tomorrow, that would be the answer.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it?

It is simple. I mean it.

Only if you have energy, motivation, patience, flexibility, determination, readiness to change, responsibility for all that is at stake, and a motivated, self-sacrificing, experienced instructor.

The last one, I guarantee.

Keeping a good balance

I am now adding a final touch to the handouts for the seminar, “how to successfully take the TOEFL test”, that is. Luckily enough, I’ve got more participants than I’d expected. I was wondering if I would be able to hold the seminar in the first place when I first made its announcement. I know I am known to those whose purpose is to get as much as 105 or 110, but I am not sure if my lecture would be appealing to those who have not even taken the TOEFL yet. So this seminar was a kind of challenge to me. I will make this seminar as meaningful and instructive as it can.

It’s so easy to give a seminar that is satisfying to the host himself, but it is so much harder to give a seminar that satisfies the actual participants. There may be a set of information that is so obvious to me, but not that familiar to the participants. At the same time, however, those basic sets of information can be learned by the participants themselves. There are a range of channels available to get such information (let’s assume they are valid and reliable). So if the seminar is filled with those basics, I will be dumbfounded to read the reflection and feedback of the participants.

Difficult, huh?

This, however, always applies to the classes I teach like every day. Do I have to give detailed explanation on this sentence? Should I refer to a similar Japanese custom to this? Am I talking too much now? How many more seconds do the students need to get the task done? Class should be meaningful to students, not teachers. Teachers can find pleasure somewhere else, but for students, pleasure must be there in class.

Now as a final touch, I am thinking about the ice-breaker that everyone could use at the beginning of the seminar. Some of them speak English well, while others not that well, but I would like them to speak out for the first 10 minutes or so just to create a good atmosphere. But then again, this is something I find natural, but participants may feel awkward just to do so.

It all amounts to keeping a good balance, which is what I will do tomorrow at the seminar.

Luck matters.

I am holding another seminar on Dec 21. That falls on Sunday, when more people can spare time for the seminar if they want to. I have had six seminars this year so far, but this upcoming one is a bit different in principle. This seminar caters to those who have not taken the TOEFL yet, or who have, but still wonder how they can go about preparing for such a difficult language test. In that sense, it will be analogous to an orientation session at an English school. However,  it is totally different from an ordinary orientation session because I will deliver all the explanation and study tips. (It should be different when a different person is in charge, that’s for sure.)

I have taken this test a number of times. I have been teaching this test for as many years as the test was around. I have taught countless students who were successful in receiving the required scores to go to the U.S. to further explore their respective academic interest. At the same time, I have seen some unlucky students whose scores didn’t reach the requirement and who had to change their universities, which, in retrospect, has contributed more to my understanding of the test.

On Dec 21, I will summarize the above experience and share with the participants some of the things necessary to get a head start on the TOEFL.

Now I’m wondering how those would-be test-takers will be able to find this opportunity. I don’t think of any particular means of searching for those who are eligible for this seminar and letting them know about it. I will just create a blog post like this and wait…

So I would take it that those who will come to this seminar are inherently lucky…and luck always plays an important role in succeeding in whatever you are trying to achieve, doesn’t it?

You might as well break it as keep it, if it doesn’t work.

I will be holding a seminar for the preparation for the TOEFL next Monday.

In this seminar, I will emphasize the forms. In both the speaking and the writing sections, so long as you can get a good score, whatever you say or write is considered correct. If your score is good enough, there is no reason you wonder if you should take part in this seminar. If you have not yet received a score you ought to have gotten by now, there is something wrong with the way you speak and write, and you are welcomed to my seminar.

One very easy way to overcome it is to acquire forms. You speak whatever you have in mind according to a certain format, your score will improve a bit. If you follow a typical academic writing formula, your writing will look much better.

The thing is that this is not enough at all if you look for a better score like Sp=26 or Wr=30. As is often the case with any discipline or sport, form itself is important only for those novice learners. From that stage on, it is just as important to break the forms and establish your own formula, which should be better in quality than most of the mantras you can find in the TOEFL course books.

In this seminar, I will help participants achieve this goal. Most of them struggle to get out of the quagmire of Speaking=20~22 and Writing=25. Basic formats will bring you to those scores, but not any further.

In this seminar, I will bring them to a higher score by demanding that participants establish/memorize the typical formats and then break them down to pieces to re-establish their own. This is not to say form should be ignored. Form is necessary. So test-takers should learn forms first. Most of them, especially when their required score is 80, do not have to go any further. Here I am talking about those who need more than 105.  If they keep using the same formats, they will end up receiving a score in the same range, because nothing has changed. As Charles Darwin is believed to have said, those who change will survive. I am not only talking about a finch. I am also talking about TOEFL test-takers.

This will happen on Monday.