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Running head: BACKWARDS DESIGN AND A TEXTBOOK APPROACH TO TEYL 1. Let us Move Forward Going Backward in TEFL: Potential Effectiveness of M

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Running head: BACKWARDS DESIGN AND A TEXTBOOK APPROACH TO TEYL 1 Let us Move Forward Going Backward in TEFL: Potential Effectiveness of M Backward Design Implementation in Teaching English in an Elementary
Running head: BACKWARDS DESIGN AND A TEXTBOOK APPROACH TO TEYL 1 Let us Move Forward Going Backward in TEFL: Potential Effectiveness of M Backward Design Implementation in Teaching English in an Elementary Classroom Submitted on December 11, 2017 in fulfillment of final requirements for the MA TEFL degree Natalia Sepúlveda Sáez Alberto Hurtado University Santiago, Chile Running head: BACKWARDS DESIGN AND A TEXTBOOK APPROACH TO TEYL 2 Table of Contents I. Abstract II. Introduction III. Conceptual Framework IV. Findings V. Implications VI. Conclusions...25 VII. References..27 VIII. Appendices.. 29 Running head: BACKWARDS DESIGN AND A TEXTBOOK APPROACH TO TEYL 3 Abstract This action research study investigated the potential effectiveness of backward design implementation in a context centred on a textbook-based approach to teaching young learners. The backward design educational planning approach, as designed by Wiggins and McThighe (2005) was employed for this action research. The study was conducted in a private school, located in the Piedra Roja area in Colina, Chile with a class of 29 girls in level 4 of elementary school. Data was collected via small-group interactions with students, lesson plans, students written work, teacher interviews, and whole-class observations. The research began with the evaluation of the new foreign language textbook and the design of lesson plans which followed the key elements of backward design. After the first semester of the school-year in Chile, March July, more consistency was exercised in designing the lesson plans and assessment tasks. Teacher interviews were conducted in regards to lesson planning and the use of the textbook in the English class. Participant and non-participant observations were conducted to evaluate if students learning processes were enhanced and more visible in both fourth-grade classes. The analysis of the data sources showed that the class responded relatively in a positive manner to the changes implemented. This was visible in their participation and work in both oral activities and written tasks. The results also indicated that the planning model was useful for developing strong and well-structured lesson plans. This planning design seemed to impact the learning of students for they were more active, motivated and participative in class. Nevertheless, the study also identified some difficulties concerning the mind-shift needed to modify pre-existing pedagogical practices, as well as the time needed to fulfill this approach in a demanding school context. Further research could include the intervention and implementation of backward design in varied levels and a higher number of teachers and students participating in the intervention. Running head: BACKWARDS DESIGN AND A TEXTBOOK APPROACH TO TEYL 4 Keywords: backward design, textbook, lesson plans, teaching, learning Introduction The action research project reported here was conducted in San José de Chicureo, a private school located in the Piedra Roja area of Chicureo, Colina. English plays a prominent part in the core foundation of this private institution s curriculum. For that reason, the number of hours dedicated to this subject is high in the elementary levels. The English department consists of a group of sixteen teachers: twelve instructors and co-teachers in Pre-k through 6 th grade, and four of them in levels 7 through 12 th. In level 4 of elementary school, English and Math are taught 4 to 5 times a week (7 hours in total), almost as high as the hours invested in Spanish or Language Arts (8). English instruction in this school begins as early as pre-school, where children learn English through fixed dynamic routines, physical movement activities and phonics instruction. The goals in the primary levels, first grade through to fourth grade, are to develop students motivation about learning English as a foreign language while developing speaking and writing skills. For this reason, the English department holds the responsibility to explore new methodologies and strategies to improve their practices and learning results so as to help students fulfill their potential. The language program follows the textbook series used in the primary levels, which is also the main resource to teaching and planning instruction. In 2015, in what is seemed an attempt to regularize how English was taught in private schools in the country, the Ministry of Education required that San José School, either adopted the English curriculum for elementary levels proposed by the ministry or adapted the programs according to the school s criteria. As a result, a group of three teachers, who had no experience in curriculum design, erroneously adjusted the English as a foreign language programs - proposed by the Ministry of Running head: BACKWARDS DESIGN AND A TEXTBOOK APPROACH TO TEYL 5 Education- taking into account the contents included in each level of the Family and Friends textbook series by Oxford University Press used in levels 1 through 4 in primary school. In 2016, due to a lack of stock in the first edition of the textbook series, Family and Friends, teachers at San José were forced to evaluate new language coursebooks. After a number of sessions reviewing different materials, the textbook offered by Pearson, BIG ENGLISH, was selected. The role of the textbook in schools has been to provide a framework to help teachers organize their practices. This resource tends to be helpful for it gives the guidelines and resources for conducting the English program. Administrators and teachers trust the textbook, especially in a private school where publishers present their best and most effective coursebook programs. The role of the textbook in the EFL class could also be rooted on the insecurities teachers have on their own content and pedagogical knowledge. Since the approach to teaching and planning lessons had always depended on the textbook, the need for change not just in the chosen course program, but in the methodology applied for teaching the foreign language was evident. The English department made adjustments over the last three years, such as adopting a more communicative approach, applying Marzano s dimensions of learning and integrating both whole-brain teaching strategies and visible thinking routines into the lesson plans. Still, lesson plans have not changed significantly in terms of learning goals; they continue being the space where the worksheets, activities and course book pages to be covered are listed. Hence, the approach to teaching English at San José, especially in the initial levels of elementary school, became predictable and focused on coverage. During the beginning of 2017, the academic administration of the school required that a more interactive and communicative approach be employed in the elementary levels. The importance of planning for learning was stressed to all the teachers, and the English department was advised to use the textbook as a resource and not the solely focus of our English program. Considering the Running head: BACKWARDS DESIGN AND A TEXTBOOK APPROACH TO TEYL 6 aforementioned context and the fact that lesson plans were weak, researching about curriculum and unit design was crucial. Richards (2013) describes three kinds of curriculum approaches in language teaching: forward, central and backward design. The forward approach entails that the teacher first focuses on the content or syllabus, then he or she makes methodological decisions and, finally, the assessment is defined (p.13). A central approach is against pre-determined syllabi, defined objectives and learning outcomes. It prioritizes teaching, methodological principles and procedures. The chosen methodology must be aligned to the content, and the output is only considered at the end of the process (p.16). A third approach to curriculum is called backward design, it is backward because the process begins by carefully specifying the desired learning outcomes expected from students. Then, the instructor needs to determine the evidence or assessment of learning coherent with the learning outcomes set in stage 1. In the last stage of backward design, the activities included in the instruction plan must be coherent and focused on the learning outcomes expected since the beginning of the process (p.20). All in all, most of the teachers at the English department in San Jose school planned their lessons in a forward manner. This was concluded after careful observation, reflection, and informal conversations with different peers on the topic. Since, at least, two instructors work in each level, the approach a colleague takes to plan his or her lessons is shared and open to conversation in weekly meetings. Usually, the teachers tend to look at the textbook s syllabus, identify the main contents, and then calculate the number of hours and lessons they have before having to evaluate students. After that, they plan using both the textbook and any extra activities to help them fulfill the grammar-focused objective. The evaluation is generally designed a week prior the end of the unit and includes the contents that were actually covered throughout the unit. Considering that backward design has become a prominent framework in education due to its attractive premises and powerful promises (Cho & Trent, p. 105, 2005), the research project Running head: BACKWARDS DESIGN AND A TEXTBOOK APPROACH TO TEYL 7 was designed to integrate such a design in order evaluate its effectiveness in situated practice. Backward design or understanding by design is a planning framework, which aims for effective learning design and instruction so as to achieve students understanding. It also proposes to help teachers to disengage from teaching practices influenced by aimless coverage of content and isolated activities which lack connection from intellectual goals in the learners mind (McTighe and Wiggins, 2005, p.56). In order to develop a unit effectively one must follow a three-stage design process: 1) identify desired results (what should students know, understand and be able to do?), 2) determine acceptable evidence (how will teachers know if students have achieved the desired results?), and 3) plan learning experiences and instruction (what enabling knowledge and skills will students need in order to perform effectively and achieve desired results?) (McTigue & Wiggins, 2005, pg.17). The focus on the desired results or objectives was initially proposed by the educator, and curriculum and evaluation expert, Ralph W. Tyler (1949), who argued that if an educational program is to be planned and if efforts for continued improvement are to be made, it is very necessary to have some conception of the goals that are being aimed at (Flinders & Thornton, p.52). The foundation of the understanding by design was also built and supported by research in cognitive psychology and neurology, present in the work of Brandsford, Brown and Cocking (2000) who explain how people learn, understand, transfer, and perform in learning environments. Wiggins and McTighe (2006) argue that backward design is also compatible with other educational initiatives, such as Teaching for Understanding (visible thinking routines) by the Project Zero team at Harvard and the Dimensions of Learning proposed by Marzano (p.8). These two initiatives have previously been adopted at San Jose school. Hence, backward design was assessed as suitable for implementation given its coherence with what the school s academic aspirations were orientated toward. Studies on backward design support its effectiveness in different areas. For instance, Graff (2011) on the subject of teachers preparation found that learning this approach made a difference Running head: BACKWARDS DESIGN AND A TEXTBOOK APPROACH TO TEYL 8 to in-service teachers pedagogical development and helped them to be prepared for planning and curriculum (p.160). Kelting-Gibson (2005) conducted a study to compare lesson plans designed with backward design and the traditional model. The study concluded that preservice teachers who applied backward design outperformed the other teachers in terms of selecting instructional goals and linking materials and resources to the instructional goals (p.33). Another study by Linder, Cooper, McKenzie, Raesch & Reeve (2013) on the application of understanding by design for the production of scholarly articles in a faculty writing group at Suffolk University showed the positive impact UbD had in and out of their classrooms. One of the authors described its effect stating that my courses are well-purposed and that student learning can be evaluated along various dimensions (p.222). The authors explained that employing backward design not only had helped them to reflect upon their teaching practices, but also had enabled them to accomplish goals in their own personal academic lives (Linder et al., p.228). The class in which this study was conducted is fourth grade A, an elementary class of twenty-nine girls. Fourth graders in a private school like San José spend seven hours a week learning English as a foreign language. This class was chosen for three different reasons: the researcher would be in charge of this class all year as the homeroom teacher so she would be able to connect with students and parents easily, she taught as a regular English teacher in second and third grade, and she wanted to implement this new approach to innovate and give them the opportunity to experience a better teaching approach from their teacher. In the class, there are two new students, two students exempted from evaluation in the class due to learning language difficulties, and a number of students who have learning, attention and socio-emotional difficulties. After a meeting in collaboration with the school specialists and the class regular teachers, we agreed on the fact that this class is energetic, cheerful, participative, but they are passive learners and have difficulties when working collaboratively. Pedagogical challenges were determined and all teachers manifested their commitment to help them work better in teams, design process- Running head: BACKWARDS DESIGN AND A TEXTBOOK APPROACH TO TEYL 9 oriented projects, and use visible thinking routines to help them become active learners. This action research is relevant especially to English as a foreign language teachers who want to design meaningful learning experiences for their students, but who struggle with planning and the integration of a textbook. Therefore, in light of the difficulties experienced by the researcher in the first cycle of primary education at San Jose School, a study where a new approach to planning and incorporating the course book is essential if any improvement is sought. Thus, the research aims for improving teaching practice by asking the following question: what is the potential effectiveness of backward design implementation in a textbook-based approach to teaching in level 4 of elementary school? Conceptual Framework and Methodology All the research in the world means little if you cannot see it at work in your classes, with your students. (McTigue and Wiggins, 2005, p. 321) In education, becoming reflective and inquiring teachers is crucial for our professional growth. Anderson (1998) claims that educational research is an attempt to address questions or solve problems for the purpose of description, explanation, generalization and prediction (p.6). Additionally, Smeyers argues that the starting-point is a particular educational reality that is unsatisfactory to the parties involved (2008, p.692). Thus, research in education allows us to address, understand, and find meaning to problems that are identified through reflection. A qualitative research methodology will be employed in the study with an action research or participatory action research approach. Plante, Kiernan, and Betts asserted that qualitative research provides systematic, context-based, descriptive observations of phenomena (1994, p.52). In the field of foreign language learning, qualitative research has become fruitful because of its broad, deep, and unrestricted nature. This approach allows the researcher to place emphasis on a wider range of Running head: BACKWARDS DESIGN AND A TEXTBOOK APPROACH TO TEYL 10 classroom and teacher variables in the interest of understanding complex environments. Chaudron (1986) highlights that language teaching and learning involve so many previously unrecognized or inadequately described variables and phenomena [that a] qualitative method plays a great role in applied linguistics research (Chaudron, 1986, p.710). This could be transferred to the foreign language classroom where so much remains hidden and unexplored. This method will allow us to look deeper into students attitudes, reactions, as well as teachers assumptions, beliefs and perceptions. As a consequence, a qualitative method will give teachers the possibility to improve their practices acknowledging the learners experiences rather than solely measuring their scores, time spent on activities, number of hand-raising, or syntactic complexity of teacher and student talk (Chaudron, 1986, p.712). Action research, in the field of education, is an approach to research which aims to improve teaching practices. Costello (2011) affirms that this approach brings together theory and practical knowledge (p.17). It is relevant to teachers because it gives practitioners tools to examine and assess their work by, at the same time, creating their own theories of practice (McNiff and Whitehead, p.1). In order to conduct such a research, the teacher researcher needs to identify a problem or issue of his or her interest. The researcher plans an intervention, observes and acts accordingly throughout the process of the research to verify or disprove the methods or strategies applied in his or her plan. Since the researcher is also a participant, he or she needs to use the null hypothesis to ensure he or she acknowledges all possible perspectives of classroom phenomena. In seeking to understand the potential impact and effectiveness of backward design implementation in a fourth-grade class, a variety of data sources needed to be collected. Triangulation was catalyst for the data collection in this action research for it strengthened the author s viewpoint and discovery component. According to Barbour (2001) triangulation addresses the issue of internal Running head: BACKWARDS DESIGN AND A TEXTBOOK APPROACH TO TEYL 11 validity by using more than one method of data collection to answer a research question (p.1117). Its relevance relies on the multiple angles and sources it examines in relation to the research context and in the context of the school from the perspectives of the teachers, the students and the artifacts involved. On that account, the data sources that were used included a series of targeted teacher interviews, a range of small group interactions, whole class observations, students written work and field notes. Understanding teachers beliefs and assumption was important to determine whether a new approach to planning and the new textbook could represent a problem to some of the teachers working in the early primary levels. Thus, the first round of interviews intended to collect data in regards to their ideal lesson plan and the use of the textbook. During the process of the action research, it was indispensable to report whether they felt comfortable with this new approach and how their students reacted towards a different approach to teaching and evaluating their work. Collecting data from small group interactions was relevant to the research so as to compare teachers opinions, but also to analyze their responses concerning their experiences in the English class. Class observations served as a way to collect additional data on students participation, and the attitudes or behaviors that reflected learning
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