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KURAM VE UYGULAMADA EĞİTİM BİLİMLERİ EDUCATIONAL SCIENCES: THEORY & PRACTICEReceived: March 18, 2016Revision received: August 31, 2016Accepted: November 11, 2016OnlineFirst: February 15, 2017Copyright 2017 EDAMwww.estp.com.trDOI 10.12738/estp.2017.2.0226 April 2017 17(2) 437–461Research ArticleUnderstanding by Design (UbD) in EFL Teaching:Teachers’ Professional Development and Students’Achievement*Nihal Yurtseven1Yildiz Technical UniversitySertel Altun2Yildiz Technical UniversityAbstractConcepts such as teachers’ professional development and students’ achievement act as the driving force forthe development of each in a causal relationship in EFL teaching, as in many other disciplines. The purposeof this study is to investigate the change Understanding by Design (UbD) made on teachers’ professionaldevelopment and students’ achievement. The study was carried out through action research design. Theparticipants were 10 teachers and 436 students. Within action research based UbD studies, the instructorsreceived training, formed four groups and made three designs and implemented them. As qualitative datacollection tools, unit designs and one-to-one interviews were used. The quantitative data of the study werecollected through English achievement scores. We instrumented content analysis for the qualitative data andthe analysis of covariance and independent samples t-Test for the quantitative data. The findings indicatedthat action research based UbD studies had positive contributions to teachers’ professional developmentprocess and students’ English achievement.KeywordsUnderstanding by design (UbD) Professional development Instructional design English achievement* This study is part of a doctoral dissertation.1 Correspondence to: Nihal Yurtseven (PhD), School of Foreign Languages, Yildiz Technical University, Istanbul Turkey.Email: [email protected] Faculty of Education, Yildiz Technical University, Istanbul Turkey. Email: [email protected]: Yurtseven, N., & Altun, S. (2016). Understanding by Design (UbD) in EFL teaching: Teachers’ professionaldevelopment and students’ achievement. Educational Sciences: Theory & Practice, 17, 437–461. http://dx.doi.org/10.12738/estp.2017.2.0226

EDUCATIONAL SCIENCES: THEORY & PRACTICEProfessional development is a phenomenon that has a crucial importance for teachers toadvance in their career professionally. Apart from their professional lives, it is also importantfor the acquisition of required knowledge, skills and instructional practices for addressingstudents’ needs (Benedict, 2014; Cooper, 2014; Ingvarson, Meiers, & Beavis, 2005; Lee,2014). A variety of sources, methods, and tools can be put into practice to sustain teachers’professional development. Understanding by Design (UbD) is among these tools.UbD can be utilized as a tool both for continuing teachers’ professional development(Brown, 2004) and ensuring students’ enduring understanding (Wiggins, 2010). Thefocal point of UbD is to pay attention to all learners and their learning preferencesby minimizing learning that happens incidentally or by inborn capacity. While doingthis, it is aimed that the instructional priorities are determined and the instruction isconducted by making a good design first. These aims can be used as a tool for bothincreasing students’ academic achievement and sustaining teachers’ developmentthroughout all their professional lives (Brown, 2004; Wiggins & McTighe, 1998).UbD refers to the task of designing a unit plan covering a three-staged templateduring the teachers’ designing process. At the first stage of the template, nameddesired results, concepts such as transfer, understanding, and acquisition arementioned. Transfer can be described as students’ making use of the knowledge innew learning situations independently. Understanding is the part in which enduringand transferable ideas as well as provocative essential questions are introduced.At the acquisition part, knowledge and skills that should be achieved at the endof the unit are identified. The key components of the first stage are big idea andessential question. These two components enhance students’ seeing the ‘big picture’and making inquiries with a sense of wonder throughout the unit in order to reachenduring understandings. The second stage, which is called the evidence, is the stagein which a performance task and some other assessment evidence are mentioned.In the third stage, named learning plan, all the strategies, methods, techniques, andmaterials are introduced (Wiggins & McTighe, 1998, 2005, 2011).The fact that implementing UbD in an educational institution enables its instructorsto become active members of curriculum development is mentioned in manyresearches (Andrews, 2011; Baird, 2006; Bertram, 2011; Boehler, 2008; Boozer,2014; Burson, 2011; Corvo, 2014; Edmunds, 2011; Kelting-Gibson, 2003; Meyer,2006). Teachers’ dealing with designing contributes to the burgeon of professionalcollaboration and dialogue at school settings (Anwaruddin, 2013). Together withtheir colleagues, teachers share ideas and make educational decisions in the designingprocess. Besides, implementing their own design in their lessons encourages theemergence of teachers’ designer identity and helps to diminish the routine of textbookcoverage (Wiggins & McTighe, 2011).438

Yurtseven, Altun / Understanding by Design (UbD) in EFL Teaching: Teachers’ Professional Development and Students’ AchievementAnother important contribution of UbD is that it facilitates students’ learning in ameaningful and enduring way (Anderson, 2012; Duke, 2011; Molina, 2013; Noble,2011; Schoellhorn, 2012; Stotter, 2004; Takacs, 2010). One of the fundamentalproblems in EFL teaching is that content coverage becomes a goal rather than beinga tool (Wiggins & McTighe, 2011). In fact, the focus of instruction is to lay a soundfoundation for the development of learning skills with the help of the content that ispresented to the students. As UbD unit designs basically include essential questionsand assessment techniques as relevant to enduring understanding, they help studentsto see the big picture about learning. Furthermore, the integration of differentmethods and techniques addressing individual differences helps to establish anenjoyable learning atmosphere for students and makes important contributions to theactive learning process (Wiggins & McTighe, 2007). Likewise, assigning meaningfulperformance tasks helps students to make learning a life-long skill and to experiencea learning process in line with their own needs. This, in time, helps them to becomeindividuals that grasped the logic of learning as academic performance as well ascognitive and affective development is supported (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005).UbD is a process that gives opportunity to plan, design, implement, and evaluate thesyllabus to be covered in an institution (Wiggins & McTighe, 2011). The focus of thisprocess is to develop designs in order to reflect the local needs of the school. Simply put,UbD is making educational decisions within the borders of a school through professionalcollaboration (Wiggins & McTighe, 2007). Integration and implementation of UbD bycarrying out necessary steps is crucial for teachers’ professional development (Baird,2006; Bertram, 2011; Boehler, 2008; Boozer, 2014; Burson, 2011; Kelting-Gibson,2003; Meyer, 2006; Steffen, 2011), for students’ academic achievement (Anderson,2012; Andrews, 2011; Noble, 2011; Schoelhorn, 2012; Schranck, 2007; Steffen, 2011,Stotter, 2004; Tacaks, 2010), and for schools’ having a well-established curriculumarchive (Anvarinejad, 2007; Gulsvig, 2009; Molina, 2013).EFL teaching should offer an experiential content to students by its nature. Thisaforementioned course book coverage sometimes causes teachers even to skipproduction-based activities like writing and speaking so that they could complete theschedule on time. To solve these problems, it is essential that the role and responsibilityof a designer be bestowed upon teachers by removing them from the role of solelyimplementers. Furthermore, it is crucial that the curricula have more experientialand cultural components, putting more emphasis on academic achievement. Thefunctioning of the process in this way is also important for the sustainability of theprofessional development for teachers (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005, 2007).This study is significant in the sense that it represents a threshold about the use of UbDin EFL teaching prevalently. We believe that we bring a new perspective into foreign439

EDUCATIONAL SCIENCES: THEORY & PRACTICElanguage teaching at university preparation level as it is mostly carried out via coursebook coverage and it leads to textbook dependence in the long run (Türkiye EğitimPolitikaları Araştırma Vakfı [TEPAV], 2015). Moreover, we aim that we offer a solutionto the problem of English language learning and teaching, which is mentioned in manystudies (Aydın & Zengin, 2008; Balcikanli, 2008; Demir, 2012; Işık, 2008; Yurtseven,2010) in Turkey. We also hope to contribute to the literature by bringing universitypreparation EFL teaching into question and setting an example with the use of UbDbased unit designs in order to fulfill the requirement of incorporating interaction andpromoting meaningful learning in the classroom settings (TEPAV, 2015). Last but notleast, we want to help the teachers take the role of “designers” that professionally shapethe learning experiences of the students with the help of action research based UbDstudies to move away from the image of passive transmitters of knowledge (Svihla,Reeve, Sagy, & Kali, 2015). We believe that we can contribute to their professionaldevelopment and improve their designing skills for the learning environment, whichwill, in turn, contribute to students’ English achievement.Within this scope, the purpose of this study is to investigate what kind of a changeUbD made on teachers’ professional development and students’ achievement. Theresearch questions are as follows:1. To what extent are the unit designs made by teachers compatible with UbDprinciples?2. What are the teachers’ views about the effect of action research based UbDstudies on their professional development?3. Is there a significant difference between English achievement post-test scoresaccording to the levels of students when pre-test scores are controlled?MethodResearch DesignThe study was carried out through the action research. Action research studies areconducted in order to diagnose a problem about education and to develop solutionsto it throughout the process with the help of emerging data. The purpose in actionresearch is to shape and improve the educational practices (Berg, 2001; Burns, 2010;Creswell, 2012). In this respect, we instrumented the action research design in orderto contribute to both teachers’ professional development and students’ achievementwith the help of action research based UbD studies.Johnson (2012) states that action research is the systematic observation of anindividual’s instructional practices. Therefore, apart from qualitative tools, some of440

Yurtseven, Altun / Understanding by Design (UbD) in EFL Teaching: Teachers’ Professional Development and Students’ Achievementthe quantitative data collection methods can also be used in action research studiesso as to get the picture in a more clear way. In this framework, we obtained the datafrom the teachers through qualitative techniques such as one-to-one interviews orwritten documents. On the other hand, we gathered data from the students throughpre-test and post-test scores for English achievement. In this vein, we applied theEnglish achievement tests both to the participating and non-participating classroomsin the current study. In this way, we aimed to gain more insights about the reflectionsof teachers’ professional development on students’ achievement.Action Research ProcessAction research follows a cyclical process on a continuous basis (Berg, 2001; Berg &Lune, 2012; Creswell, 2012; Kemmis, McTaggart, & Nixon, 2014; Yıldırım & Şimşek,2008). In this kind of research, the data collected during the previous action providesinformation to the researchers about the content of what will be the next action (Costello,2011). Within this framework, we used the following flow of action in the current study.Figure 1. The flow of action.We started the action research process by identifying the problem first. Students’lack of foreign language learning motivation, low achievement scores and lackof professional development activities for teachers were the starting point for theaction plan. The teachers’ experiences during the fall semester and the examination441

EDUCATIONAL SCIENCES: THEORY & PRACTICEof students’ scores had an influence on the identification of the problem and UbDwas seen as an effective tool to tackle aforementioned problems. As mentioned inFigure 1, the teachers received two main trainings about UbD at the beginning ofthe second semester. In the first seminar, they were informed about the principles ofUbD and they were provided with materials and sample unit designs. A week later,another seminar was organized to answer the specific questions of the teachers and togo into more detail about UbD. After the trainings, we made a decision of action toform design groups in accordance with the teachers’ schedules and the courses theygave. In this respect, we created four design groups, two of which were Listening &Speaking groups and two of which were Reading groups. In order not to fall behindthe school’s program, we decided that the teachers designed unit plans followingcurrent curriculum’s objectives and embellishing the content by using UbD’sfundamental principles (e.g. bid idea, essential questions, performance tasks, enduringunderstanding, tailoring student needs, bringing methodological diversity etc.). Nextweek, teachers made the first unit designs during the workshop held. The unit designswere edited and teachers were given feedback to make some adjustments. After editingtheir unit plans, the teachers implemented their first unit designs in their classes. Anevaluation meeting was held after the first implementations. The teachers receivedand provided constructive feedback about the implementations and they shared theirexperiences with their colleagues. As a decision of action, we reached a consensusabout increasing methodological diversity and integrating some special teachingmethods (e.g. six hats thinking method) into the second unit designs. The teachersmade their second unit designs the following week. After they received feedback andthey made the necessary editing, they implemented the second unit designs in theirclasses. We held the second evaluation meeting after the implementations and theteachers shared their experiences and opinions with their colleagues. As a decisionof action, the teachers arrived at a consensus about addressing individual differencesand integrating some other special teaching methods (e.g. differentiated instructionand 5E model) into their unit plans in the third unit designs. The teachers made theirthird unit designs the following week. After they received feedback and they madethe necessary adjustments, they implemented the third unit designs in their classes.We held a final evaluation meeting after the third implementations. At the end ofthe meeting, we made a decision of action to arrange individual interviews withthe teachers and to inform the administration and schools staff after the analysis ofcollected data. After the analyses, the findings were shared with all the stakeholders.ParticipantsThe participants were 10 teachers and 436 students at a state university, located inIstanbul, Turkey, in 2014-2015 academic year, spring semester. 225 of the studentsbelonged to the participating group whose teachers implemented UbD studies in their442

Yurtseven, Altun / Understanding by Design (UbD) in EFL Teaching: Teachers’ Professional Development and Students’ Achievementclasses. 211 of the students were in the non-participating group who did not receiveany UbD implementation during the lessons. The information about the teachers andthe students is presented in Table 1 and Table 2:Table 1Descriptive Characteristics of the TeachersTeacherYear of Experience0-55-10T110 3EducationAgeBD*MD ** 22-25 25-353T23T33T4333T53T63T7333T93T103* Bachelor’s degree33333333333333333333GenderFM333T835 333** Master’s degree and moreTable 2Descriptive Characteristics of the 56.8760f225211436%100100100The students received English preparatory education at the department of BasicEnglish. There were three levels at preparatory education, namely, A, B, and C. Alevel students were the ones who had the highest scores in the placement test whileB level students had medium and C level students had the lowest scores. There waslittle or no change in the implementations at different levels since their syllabi werequite similar to each other. However, the formation of design groups was made bytaking these differences into consideration.Data Collection ToolsThe data collection tools used in the study included unit designs, unit designevaluation rubric, one-to-one interviews, and English achievement scores.Unit designs. They were the unit plans that the teachers made in the light of Ubd. Inthe study, there were totally four unit design groups in which 10 teachers participated.Each group consisted of two or three teachers. Teachers’ schedules and the coursesthey gave were taken into consideration while establishing groups. In this way, two443

EDUCATIONAL SCIENCES: THEORY & PRACTICEreading unit design groups and two Listening & Speaking unit design groups werecreated. Each group made three unit designs and 12 designs were made in sum.Unit design evaluation rubric. The unit designs were examined about theircontexts by taking UbD template and principles into account. To do so, a tool,named unit design evaluation rubric was developed to examine the unit designs. Theresearchers within the scope of the related literature developed this rubric and twodifferent experts gave their opinion about it.One-to-one interviews. At the end of the action research, one-to-one interviews,the length of which ranged from 30 to 45 minutes were held with the teachers. Throughthe interviews, we tried to clarify elaborately how the teachers evaluated designing,implementation and professional development process. The questions directed to theteachers were prepared in the light of the existing literature and the opinions of fivedifferent experts were taken to give their last form.English achievement scores. Students’ fall and spring semester scores wereexamined to obtain their English achievement scores. Fall and spring semester scoresrefer to students’ grades per semester. The main scores included in the average arefirst visa (20%); second visa (20%); three quizzes (20%); two reading exams (10%);writing portfolio (10%); presentation and oral exam (15%) and class participation(5%). Students’ fall semester average scores were regarded as pre-test while springsemester average scores were regarded as post-test. It was considered that the scoresobtained from students’ grades they got during the entire semester were reliable byhaving expert opinion. All the tests that the students took during the two semesterswere prepared by the Testing and Evaluation Office as standard tests.Data Collection ProcedureDuring the data collection procedure, we;1. Contacted the instructors working at the institution and created a study groupbased on the principle of voluntariness.2. Obtained the students’ fall semester English achievement scores as pre-test.3. Put into practice the action plan.4. Used unit designs and unit design evaluation rubric as data collection tools duringthe action plan.5. Ended the action plan.6. Held one-to-one interviews with the teachers.444

Yurtseven, Altun / Understanding by Design (UbD) in EFL Teaching: Teachers’ Professional Development and Students’ Achievement7. Obtained the students’ spring semester English achievement scores as post-test.8. Analyzed all the data collected throughout the process.Data AnalysisWe analyzed the qualitative data through content analysis. Conducted to definedata and reveal the hidden facts within the data, content analysis is the unificationof data within the framework of similar concepts and themes, organizing it sothat the readers can easily understand, and interpret it (Yıldırım & Şimşek, 2008).The primary objective in qualitative data analysis is to create patterns and themesinstead of digitizing it (Glesne, 2012). Each sentence in the transcript obtained fromthe interviews was read carefully and coding was made. After the first researcherchecked the codes, the second researcher made coding once again and the themeswere identified by bringing the related codes together. The codes and themes weresent to the teachers to obtain audit trail and the teachers confirmed them. Lastly, fivedifferent experts checked the codes and themes.The analysis techniques of quantitative data included the analysis of covarianceand independent samples t-Test. In the study, English achievement pre-test scoreswere controlled to examine the differences between post-test scores through theanalysis of covariance. When the assumptions for the analysis of covariance were notmet, the independent samples t-Test was administered.Validity & Reliability of the StudyWe referred to Lincoln and Guba’s (1985) (i) credibility, (ii) transferability, (iii)dependability and (iv) confirmability terms for validity and reliability of the currentstudy. To increase the credibility of the study, a long-term interaction was ensuredduring 16 weeks with the participants; in-depth data was collected and they werecontinuously compared; more than one source of data was obtained to providediversity; expert opinion and audit trail were referred to during the process of decidingon research design, data collection tools, and data analysis techniques.Transferability is an important criterion for the readers to develop an understandingfor similar settings and processes and to maintain their own practices in a moreexperienced and conscious way (Yıldırım & Şimşek, 2008). In the current study, theresearchers paid utmost attention to lay out the research process as clearly as possible.Dependability is about the continuation of research and finding arrival process asclearly and reproducibly as possible (Morrow, 2005). To meet this requirement,a great deal of effort was made to create data collection tools, to follow the datacollection process, to analyze data and to report the findings in a consistent way.Furthermore, the data obtained from the study was examined for its consistency. In445

EDUCATIONAL SCIENCES: THEORY & PRACTICEthis scope, codes, categories, and themes gained through the content analysis weresent to five experts for examination.Confirmability refers to the confirmation of findings with the help of obtaineddata and presentation of them to the readers with reasonable explanations (Creswell,2012; Yıldırım & Şimşek, 2008). In the qualitative dimension of the study, transcriptforms were created and the experts and the participants confirmed the accuracy ofthe forms. In addition, three different experts read the transcript forms and gave theiropinion about the codes, categories, and themes.The Roles of the ResearchersThere were three main researcher(s) in this study. The first one was the researcherwho made this study within the scope of her doctoral dissertation; the second onewas the thesis advisor; and third one was the group of teachers that participated inthe action research based UbD studies. The educational institution in which the studywas carried out was the institution where the first researcher had worked for 10 years.In addition, the researcher made several studies about UbD before the main study toanticipate possible problems and take precautions about them. She also had an activerole in creating design groups, coaching the teachers, checking the implementations,collecting the data and managing the whole action research process. The thesisadvisor, who was the second researcher, took part in national and international projectsboth as a coordinator and counselor about teacher education and she had ongoingprojects. She had an active role about training teachers about UbD, examining theunit designs made by the teachers, conducting evaluation meetings, and making oneto-one interview with the teachers. The teachers group, which was the third part inthe research, rolled as important figures about designing unit plans, implementingthem in their classes, making peer evaluation, and identifying the succeeding and thefailing aspects of the action research.FindingsThe Compatibility of Unit Designs to the UbD PrinciplesTeachers’ unit designs were examined within the scope of the first researchquestion. Unit design evaluation rubric was used for the examination. All the unitdesigns were examined in rubric’s framework and they were given scores out of 3for each item (1 meant poor; 2 meant average; 3 meant good). Generally speaking, itcan be said that each group made considerable progress about conforming to the UbDprinciples throughout the action research. This case reflected onto the scores that thegroups gained from each unit design and to the total scores.446

Yurtseven, Altun / Understanding by Design (UbD) in EFL Teaching: Teachers’ Professional Development and Students’ AchievementWhen the unit designs were examined generally, it was noticed that theteachers were successful about systematic issues. Time management, group work /cooperation, and conformance to the UbD template were among the examples aboutthis issue. The groups made distinguishable progress about writing desired resultsaccurately, preparing authentic performance tasks, determining assessment criteria,enriching the unit design methodologically, and addressing individual differences.Furthermore, all the groups were good at enriching the materials, informing thestudents about the goals, and preparing warm-up activities. Finally, all the groupsimproved considerably about presenting the big idea in the classroom, reminding thestudents about it frequently, and referring to the essential questions throughout thewhole unit. However, the unit designs could have been much better about includingsome elements about experiential language learning, encouraging the students aboutactive use of English, and transferring knowledge into new learning situations.In this context, it can be said that the unit designs conformed to the UbD principleson a large scale, but they needed to be improved about the mentioned aspects.The Teachers’ Views about UbD StudiesIn order to answer the second research question, one-to-one interviews were madewith the teachers at the end of the action research; the data obtained were convertedinto transcripts, and the transcripts were content analyzed. When we consider actionresearch based UbD studies, professional development process consists of threebasic dimensions. These are designing units, implementing the designs, and thecontribution of UbD to the professional development.Designing units. Designing units is about teachers’ preparing UbD based unitplans by gathering together with the members in their groups. When the transcriptsobtained from the interviews were examined, it was noticed that two main themesemerged under this title. These themes were the contribution of UbD to the lessonplans and the process of designing with UbD.Theme 1: The contribution of UbD to the lesson plans: Five main categories wereidentified under the theme of the contribution of UbD to the lesson plans. Thesecategories were the knowledge gained, the skills gained, the experiences gained,support for the improvement, and the differences that UbD brought to the lesson plans.In the knowledge gained category, teachers stated that terms related to the UbD madeimportant contributions to both the unit plans and the lessons. Teachers pointed out that thebig idea, essential questions, and performance tasks were the components that promotedthe speaking skill and aroused students’ interest. In the skills gained category, teacherspointed out that they learned how to design unit plans by doing it. In the experiences gained447

EDUCATIONAL SCIENCES: THEORY & PRACTICEcategory, teachers stated that they gained a lot of experience to renew themselves andgave some examples. In the category support for the improvement, teachers shared theiropinions about the aspects that designing units supported them to improve themselves.The desire to use different methods, techniques, and activities and the need to see differentsamples of them encouraged them to improve themselves. In the differences that UbDbrought to the lesson plans category, the teachers generally put emphasis on the differenceusing the language authentically made. The authentic usage of language, which providedactivities about how the language was used in real settings, guided the teachers to completethe missing points in the course books and to improve students’ speaking skills.Big idea, essential question I did not expect that it would be so effective to show them to the students. Imean, I did not guess that we could continue the lesson by saying ‘Keep this in your mind and see if youcan find the answer in this lesson!’ and the students would be interested in in it. They did, which reallysurprised me! (T6, Woman, 40).Theme 2: The process of designing with UbD: Three main categories emergedunder the theme of the process of designing with UbD: The problems encountered,facilitative factors, and solutions to the problems.In the problems encountered category, the teachers mentioned t

a tool (Wiggins & McTighe, 2011). In fact, the focus of instruction is to lay a sound . On the other hand, we gathered data from the students through pre-test and post-test scores for English achievement. In this vein, we applied the English achievement tests both to the participating and non-participating classrooms