An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Spanish
St Paul’s Secondary School,
Roll number: 60902G
Date of inspection: 8 May 2007
Date of issue of report: 8 November 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Spanish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St Paul’s School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Spanish and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of this subject in the school. The evaluation was conducted over two days during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the acting principal, acting deputy principal and subject teachers. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
St Paul’s Secondary School for girls opened in September 1965 under the auspices of the Sisters of St Paul, an English religious order. The school caters for a large catchment area and this year has an enrolment of 783 students. Programmes on offer in the school include the Leaving Certificate, Junior Certificate, Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP), the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) and Transition Year (TY), which has recently changed from being an option to a core programme within the school.
Whole-school support for the uptake of languages is very good. All students take at least one language from a choice of Spanish, German and French in first year and most continue this language or languages for the Junior Certificate examination. Students may take two modern European languages if they wish at both junior and senior cycle. Although subject choices for first year are made prior to entry to the school, two information evenings are held to ensure that both parents and students are well informed about the subjects on offer. Students with special educational needs all study a second language in junior cycle. At senior cycle, students’ preferences dictate timetabling arrangements so that the majority of choices are accommodated and languages are prioritised within the option bands. This is excellent practice.
There are at present four fully qualified teachers of Spanish on the staff and this year a Spanish language assistant is being hosted by the school. Application for language assistants for all the modern European languages is made by the school on a regular basis and the school at present has a language assistant for Spanish, French and German. It is apparent from this and also from the school’s involvement in European ventures such as Euroteens, its representation at international conferences and its connections with other European countries, that there is a strong awareness of the European dimension within the school.
Teachers are encouraged to avail of any continuing professional development opportunities. All are active members of the Association of Teachers of Spanish and regularly attend meetings. Some of the team have at various times attended summer courses for teachers of Spanish in Spain, for which much credit is due. Good induction processes are in place in the school for Higher Diploma students and newly appointed teachers to the school. Two Higher Diploma students for Spanish are currently working in the school.
Uptake for Spanish is very healthy at both junior and senior cycle. There are currently four class groups for Spanish in first year, two in second year, three in third year and two in each of TY, fifth and sixth year. TY students who have not previously studied Spanish can opt for an ab initio module of the language. Timetabling provision for Spanish is good, with four single lesson periods allocated weekly to all junior cycle classes and continuation TY students, and one double and three single periods are timetabled for fifth-year and sixth-year classes. All junior cycle Spanish classes are of mixed ability, while senior classes for Spanish are set into higher and ordinary levels which are timetabled concurrently to facilitate change of level. Students who wish to change level must consult the Guidance Counsellor and parents must complete an acknowledgement form, all of which is good practice.
Teaching resources are allocated on a needs basis and applications for resources are usually treated favourably. Each language teacher has a tape recorder and access to a CD player. Tape recorders/CD players are stored in the staffroom area and video/DVD players, overhead projectors and screens are available on trolleys on each floor and can be booked in advance for use in class. Members of staff have access to ICT for their own use within the staffroom. A laptop is also available for class use. Some Spanish materials and resources are stored in a resources room off the main staffroom, with individual teachers regularly bringing in other resources from home as storage for all of them in the storage area would be insufficient. The Spanish team have built up an impressive bank of teaching resource materials such as videos, flashcards, magazines, charts, maps, worksheets, tapes and CDs, games and a variety of textbooks.
Teachers do not have their own base classrooms, but move from room to room for their various lessons. Resources such as overhead projectors, video/DVD players, CD players or tape recorders have to be brought to the different classrooms as required. In practical terms, this means that some excellent teacher-sourced materials which are kept in the storage area are not used as frequently as they might be otherwise. While fully aware that it is not always possible to allocate teacher-based classrooms for the teaching of languages, it is suggested that, in long-term planning for the subject, either teacher-based classrooms or some Spanish base classrooms for the teaching of Spanish would create many opportunities for the enhancement of the teaching and learning of the subject. As recommended in the Inspection of Modern Languages: Observations and Issues (DES 2004):
‘A base classroom or designated language room, where such is available, facilitates the creation of an authentic learning environment, the display of students’ work and immediate access to resources. It also helps teachers to create a stimulating learning environment and to foster the development of cultural awareness.’
At present teachers are unable to display students’ work, language posters, maps and other visual aids which are so necessary in a language classroom. In the context of mixed-ability teaching, having the necessary visual aids and teaching resources to hand and on display within the classroom could greatly help students’ retention and learning.
To date, access to ICT during language lessons has proved problematic as this depends on the availability of one or other of the two computer rooms which are usually taken up by other classes. The role of ICT opens up a wide range of possibilities for the teaching and learning of languages, so it is suggested that on-line access to ICT during class time and further development of the use of this facility should be considered when planning for the future of the subject.
The school is well advanced in the subject development planning process and has availed of whole-staff in-service opportunities offered by both the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI), and the School Learning Support Services (SLSS). Members of senior management have attended summer schools organised by the SDPI. It is to be commended that time is regularly assigned to enable teachers of subject departments to collaborate in the subject planning process.
There is evidence of very good long-term and short-term planning for Spanish, resulting from ongoing collaboration among the team. A co-ordinator for Spanish is assigned, regular meetings are held and minutes of meetings are recorded, all of which is good practice. It is suggested that the role of co-ordinator be rotated to fully avail of the expertise of everyone on the team.
The comprehensive long-term plan for the language includes the aims for the subject, suggested effective teaching methodologies, the yearly curriculum for each year group, exam data in relation to national norms, homework policy, course materials being used, and planning for students with special needs, newcomers and resources. A suggestion was made that the grammar content for each year group should be included in the long-term plan. To build on the good work already carried out, it is suggested that using the curricular content already contained in the long-term plan and the teaching resources which have been built up around the different themes or topics could be included within the plan for each year group. These could then be stored in such a way that individual teachers could easily access them when needed.
It is further suggested that the good ideas for teaching methodologies mentioned in the subject plan, such as activity-based learning, learner-learner interaction and the use of the target language for real communication should be further investigated and discussed among the team. Sharing practical ideas on good teaching strategies such as active-learning methodologies used in specific contexts and with particular class groups would further enhance the good practice seen during the evaluation.
As the school has no library at present, students do not have ready access to a variety of supplementary Spanish reading material. It is therefore suggested that a collection of Spanish reading material be acquired over time and made available to students, to provide them with an insight into the cultural life of young Spanish people as well as providing literary-style reading material. This could include short Spanish novels, such as the Barco de Vapor or the Gran Angular series, of which the current prescribed text La Aventura de Saíd by Josep Lorman is one.
Individual short-term planning for lessons is good. All lessons seen had been well prepared and planning provided for a variety of classroom activities. Lessons, which were thematically based, allowed for the integration of the different language skills and included many active-learning strategies. An awareness of the active involvement of individual students when planning lesson activities was in evidence in some of the lesson planning seen and this is to be encouraged as very good practice. It was evident that students’ interests, age and learning styles informed planning. There was a high level of both cultural and language awareness in all instances and planning for the contribution of the Spanish language assistant to the lessons seen was appropriate and productive.
There was evidence of planning for differentiation in some of the lessons seen, where students of differing abilities and levels were given different tasks related to the same theme. This is good practice and is an area which the team could consider when planning for resources as part of the subject planning process.
The school does not have a partner school in Spain as such, but students in first year have been in contact with students in a school in Murcia via e-mail. Students are also encouraged to visit the country through home-stay visits. During the evaluation, a strong sense of the culture of Spain was in evidence.
As the Transition Year has recently become a core programme in the school, there is scope to review both the present ab initio course and the continuation TY programme for Spanish. It is recommended that, as a team, Spanish teachers review the content of the TY year, perhaps with input from the students themselves, with the aims and objectives of the TY programme in mind and to encourage student autonomy and active learning.
There was evidence of very good teaching and learning of Spanish in St Paul’s. The high standard of teachers’ linguistic skills in the target language was used to good effect for most classroom communications and interactions in the lessons seen. In one or two instances it was suggested that the temptation to translate instructions into English should be avoided in order to encourage students themselves to use Spanish more for classroom communications. Teaching classroom metalanguage to students in first year should set the tone for maximum use of the target language in the classroom. In all lessons, the use of authentic communicative language was encouraged and it was notable that students were helped to express their own ideas in the target language in a meaningful way.
Lesson activities were varied and thoughtful preparation and classroom management ensured that the good examples of active learning exercises seen, such as role play, pair work, small group work and brain-storming, were effective learning exercises. Further development and expansion of such exercises is encouraged in order to facilitate the active participation of each individual student, particularly when involved in oral practice. Other activities viewed included vocabulary revision and consolidation in preparation for both listening and writing exercises, effective one-to-one questioning of students; the use of a sun diagram to brainstorm phrases and vocabulary; using visual aids such as pictures and photos to encourage discussion; worksheet exercises for grammar consolidation and oral practice; input by the language assistant or the teacher followed by individual student questioning.
Some lessons benefited from appropriate input by the Spanish language assistant, whose participation was in all cases well planned by the teacher in advance of the lesson. Working in tandem with the teacher in some lessons, this interaction provided a ready source of linguistic and cultural knowledge for the topics being studied. Most of the lessons seen included themes of real cultural interest and it was evident that students were fully engaged by this. Materials and resources used were authentic and topics were of great interest to the students.
Where visual aids such as photographs or pictures from magazine articles were used to encourage discussion and questions from students, this worked very well. Further use of such visual aids is recommended to encourage use of the target language in class. In some instances it was suggested that picture flashcards could have been used to good effect for vocabulary introduction or revision. In several lessons seen, the use of ‘props’ such as cue cards, role-play cards or pictures when doing pair-work exercises could have been of help to students and increased achievement levels. In one lesson Barcelona was the starting point for the theme of holidays. Some photos of the city had been taken by the teacher and these were introduced in an interesting way to enliven discussion on the topic. A wall map of Spain in the classroom would have been very useful in this particular lesson, but the teacher improvised by drawing an impromptu map on the board.
Good board work was in evidence in all lessons, with grammatical notes, key vocabulary and sun diagrams all clearly displayed for students to make notes. Commendably the meaning of key vocabulary was often explained in the target language or by using families of words to help students guess the correct meaning, rather than simply giving the English translation.
Teachers’ instructions were clear and it was evident that students were well used to contributing to classroom activities, such as pair work and group work. In one instance it was suggested that oral tasks be kept separate from writing tasks when assigning pair work so that students concentrate fully on one language skill at that particular moment. By setting a time limit for such learner-learner interaction, the pace of the lessons was good and the students’ interest was maintained throughout.
In several instances, teachers had shared the content of the year plan with the students, which is good practice. This allows students to take ownership of their own learning and can measure their progress. It was suggested that where this was not already the case, lesson content and aims could also be shared with students at the outset of each lesson to further engage students in the learning process.
In all lessons seen there was excellent teacher student rapport. In all instances the classroom atmosphere was very pleasant and conducive to learning. It was obvious that students were interested in and enjoyed learning the language. Students’ efforts were regularly affirmed and errors corrected sensitively, to which students responded positively. All teachers showed an awareness of whether students fully understood the lesson content and made efforts to make the learning relevant to students’ every-day lives. The students’ active participation in the lessons seen was of a high standard. Good understanding and a high standard of both oral skills and written work was in evidence overall. Copybooks seen showed an appropriate standard of written production work and students demonstrated a good level of oral skills when questioned.
Both formal and informal assessment is carried out regularly in the school. In-house examinations are held for second-year and fifth-year students at Christmas and summer, first year students have formal pre-summer examinations and state examination classes have in-house examinations in November and pre-examinations in the spring. TY students have assessments after each 15 week module and pre-summer examinations in the core subjects, all of which are followed by reports to parents. Informal continuous assessment in class is ongoing and records are kept of students’ progress and communicated to parents through annual parent-teacher meetings, post-examination reports and via the student journal. Parents can contact teachers by appointment when necessary.
Junior cycle students of Spanish have common tests, which is good practice. It is commendable that both aural and oral assessment are included in the formal assessment of most year groups and it is recommended that this good practice be extended to all year groups. At present first year students and TY students do not have an aural examination as part of their end-of-year assessment.
Homework is regularly assigned, monitored and corrected. Copybooks seen showed some good examples of formative comments and graded corrections, which is to be encouraged, not only as a means of facilitating improvement and progress, but to further motivate students. At present the homework policy is being reviewed as part of the whole-school planning process and support systems are in place to deal with non-completion of homework should this occur.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Provision for the uptake of languages in the school is excellent and there is a strong awareness of the European dimension within the school.
· Uptake for Spanish is very healthy at both junior and senior cycle.
· Time is regularly assigned to enable teachers of subject departments to collaborate in the subject planning process and there is evidence of very good long-term planning for Spanish, involving ongoing collaboration on the part of the Spanish team.
· Planning for the contribution of the Spanish language assistant to the lessons seen was appropriate and productive.
· Individual short-term planning for lessons is good.
· The target language was used to good effect for most classroom communications and interactions in the lessons seen. Continued development of this is recommended.
· The pace of the lessons was good and a good range of effective teaching strategies and classroom activities ensured that the students’ interest was maintained throughout.
· Students responded well to questioning, showed good understanding of lesson content and demonstrated a high standard of language skills overall.
· Formal and informal assessment is regularly carried out, records of students’ progress kept and results communicated to parents.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that, in long-term planning for the subject, either teacher-based classrooms or some Spanish base classrooms for the teaching of Spanish should be considered for the reasons given within this report.
· Further development of the use of visual aids and ‘props’ such as cue cards, and expansion of the good active-learning strategies seen, is recommended.
· It is recommended that the Spanish team review the content of the TY plan with reference to with the aims and objectives of the TY programme.
· It is suggested that a collection of Spanish supplementary reading material be acquired over time and made available to students.
· As ICT provision expands this will open up a wide range of possibilities for the teaching and learning of languages, it is suggested that development of the use of ICT should be considered when planning for the future of the subject.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Spanish and with the acting principal and acting-deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.