Incorporating TIE in the Traditional Classroom: Is it possible?
Dr. Elisavet Apostolou, University of Athens
A common misconception among language teachers and school owners is that the Test of Interactive English (TIE) is difficult to be adopted in the learning classroom. This misconception mainly stems from the fact that TIE is different from the other language proficiency certification exams administered in Greece, as it is a learner driven exam. Therefore, contrary to more traditional tests that use discrete-point test items for evaluating candidate performance, half of this test is built around the material each candidate brings to the exam room. In other words, the learner defines and shapes part of the testing procedure. On the other hand, in order to maintain comparability of performance, the other half of the test presents candidates with standardized, spontaneous task.
Another differentiating characteristic of TIE is that it aims at assessing language use in authentic contexts of communication that encompass all the four language skills (reading, writing, listening and speaking) paying less emphasis on language form and accuracy. In doing so, it adheres to most contemporary language testing theories that view language as a means of communication and not as a system of rules. Therefore, in contradiction with the other language proficiency exams which contain four discrete test modules for the assessment of reading, listening, speaking and writing, in TIE there are two test modules, one for listening and speaking and another for reading and writing where the holistic approach is applied. However, when it comes to assessment, there are specific evaluation criteria that measure the four skills distinctively.
The unique characteristics of TIE have reasonably given rise to a number of questions that the present paper aims to answer:
- How hard is it for the teacher to make TIE part of the classroom?
- What is the extent of teacher preparation needed for TIE? Is the work load for the teacher heavier as compared to the other exams?
- Is it possible to teach TIE alongside other exams in classes preparing students for different proficiency tests?
- Making TIE part of the EFL classroom
Regarding the first two questions, two are the main factors that make TIE easily adaptable in the learning classroom: a) its simple and flexible format and b) the fact that there is no pre-determined preparation test material, but each learner selects the material s/he wishes to be examined on for the ‘prepared’ part of the test. In the context of the present paper, I am going to present teaching practices related to the prepared tasks of the test.
Therefore, in preparation for TIE, the learner needs to perform three tasks and record them in a logbook. These are:
- Carry out an investigation / mini project on a subject of their interest.
- Select and read a book, which the learner feels is suitable in terms of topic and level.
- Follow a News Story from at least two different sources (internet, newspapers, or any other audiovisual material).
Although these tasks are carried out by each learner separately, the classroom can provide the framework in which the learners can present and improve their material and be offered guidance towards enhancing their speaking and writing abilities.
Incorporating TIE in the classroom does not require additional teaching time. On the contrary, TIE can be combined with any course book which can also serve as reference for the tasks the learners need to prepare. More specifically, all course books consist of topic-based units. These can present students with ideas and relevant vocabulary for their own investigations. The reading comprehension texts themselves can also serve as models for the students’ investigations, as they usually meet TIE requirements for the investigation, i.e., they are related to a specific topic, they are accompanied by visuals and have a title. Therefore, the teacher can use them in multiple ways in the classroom: a) to show students how an investigation is written, b) to generate ideas about similar topics, c) to teach relevant topic vocabulary and d) to engage learners in speaking and writing practice that would be useful for their exams.
Apart from the investigations, the book and the news story can have a place in the classroom, as well. The teacher can use the speaking parts that all course books contain to practise asking and answering questions with the students about the book and the news story each has prepared. S/he can also engage students in a conversation regarding their classmates’ presentations. This would also be a helpful practice for TIE since the oral part of the test is interaction based and the candidates are expected to be able to interact with the Examiner as well as with the other candidate.
Moving to the written part of the exam, again no extra preparation time is required by the teacher or the students. TIE’s test tasks are not different from the writing tasks involved in the other language proficiency exams. Common genres are being tested, such as email/letter (formal or informal), article, essay and narration, referring to topics of general personal experience so that all learners, irrespectively of their age, are able to write about. As writing practice is already part of the learning classroom, no special teaching time is necessary for TIE. All course books contain a writing section and the teacher can use the classroom time for text analysis and writing practice aiming at improving the students’ writing skills. Regarding the books and the news stories selected by the learners, the only additional task for the teacher is to present students with writing topics suitable for this part of the test. Such tasks should be enough generic so as to match the variety of topics the learners have selected to read. Despite that, the work load for the teacher at home is similar with the other exams that include a writing test section and involves the marking of the students’ compositions.
At this point, it needs to be stressed out that the TIE website (www.tieexams.gr) has been developed so as to serve teachers’ and test takers’ needs. Thus, it provides samples of investigation and news story writing that teachers can download for free and use them as they wish in their classrooms. Additionally, the website presents a list of books/readers that have been categorized by level. Teachers are welcome to consult with these lists and add the suggested material in their lessons in the way that it suits them best.
Moreover, a very useful guide for teachers who are preparing their students to sit for the TIE exams is the TIE Handbook. In it, teachers can find anything they need to know about the format and the procedure of the exams. They can also see the assessment criteria used for candidate evaluation and read calibrated sample compositions to understand how test-takers’ scripts are being marked. The TIE Handbook is also available on the TIE website (www.tieexams.gr) and can be downloaded for free.
As TIE has been carefully designed so as to easily adapt to any test material selected by each candidate, it can be flexible in its application in the EFL classroom. What is more important is the fact that it can easily be taught alongside other exams. Considering the increasing number of certification tests available in Greece, mixed exam preparation classes is a reality. TIE is the only proficiency test that can be part of any exam preparation course because: a) it has a simple structure and includes test material that is determined by the learner, b) it is an integrative test, which means that reading is tested along with writing and listening . In practice, this entails that there is no need for the teacher to use different test books with material especially designed to prepare learners for reading, writing, listening or speaking, c) writing is already part of the teaching procedure and the writing tasks included in TIE do not differ from the writing tasks of the other exam batteries and d) speaking is already part of the teaching procedure, so the teacher’s only responsibility is to become familiar with the format of the oral TIE part so as to practise it with his/her students in the classroom using their investigations, books and news stories.
- Concluding remarks
In conclusion, it is without doubt that the innovative design and structure of TIE differentiate it from the traditional four skills language proficiency exams administered in Greece. At the same time, by placing the candidate at the centre of the testing process, it has a strong backwash effect in the language learning process. Hence, in contrast to exam preparation approaches to learning which prioritise the product of the learning experience (that is, achieving a passing score in the exam) over the process (that is, learning how to actually use the foreign language for communication), the main concern with TIE is to reflect good classroom practice that offers opportunities for using the language in real life communicative contexts. As a result, the learner chooses the topics of half of the test, defines the content of the tasks and works both within and outside the classroom to carry these out. The teacher’s role is to advise, guide, facilitate and direct, as necessary, making sure that their students would reach the level of language proficiency they aim at for succeeding in the exam.