An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Spanish
Cobh, Co. Cork
Roll number: 62180E
Date of inspection: 21 February 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 June 2006
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Muire, Cobh. 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 principal and subject teachers. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Spanish is studied throughout Coláiste Muire from first year to sixth year. It is a popular option, with two-thirds of first-year students and about half of both second and third-year students studying the language in junior cycle. Spanish is offered as a continuation subject in Transition Year (which is optional). Uptake for the language is also strong at Leaving Certificate level, where almost half of fifth-year and sixth-year students are studying Spanish in senior cycle. The number of students that study Spanish is growing every year.
The school offers exemplary support for languages. All students take a language in junior cycle. Students can opt to take either Spanish, German or French in first year. Students usually opt for just one language, but they may study two languages within the options if they so choose. Affording students a choice of languages and the possibility of studying more than one language is excellent practice, as is outlined in the features of good practice in the Access to languages section of the Inspection of Modern Languages: Observations and Issues (DES, 2004). At senior cycle, students’ needs are accommodated when planning the timetable so languages are timetabled according to demand. All Spanish classes up to fifth year have four periods per week and in fifth and sixth years they have five periods, which is optimal provision. The school offers the Leaving Certificate, Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate Vocational Programmes. All students, including those with special educational needs, are encouraged to take up a language and most students do take a language up to Leaving Certificate level.
At present there are two main teachers of Spanish, with a third teacher taking one class of first–year students. This year the school has the advantage of hosting a Spanish language assistant and there are currently two Higher Diploma students taking first-year Spanish classes. The school has been actively involved in school development planning and has progressed to working in the area of individual subject planning, which is highly commendable.
Teachers have their own well-equipped classrooms, which is recommended practice. This enables them to build up their classroom-based resources to which they have immediate access and to create an authentic learning environment by fostering the development of cultural awareness. Extra resources for the language are available when needed. Teachers apply to the board of management on a yearly basis for resources required for their teaching of the language.
The school has long-standing links with a school in Madrid and hosts students from the Spanish school annually. These students spend three months in Cobh, attending classes and living with local families. It is evident that these close links between families in both countries and the presence of Spanish students within the school have greatly added to the general interest and enthusiasm for the language among the Irish students. Exchanges are arranged during the summer for individual students and many Irish students have gone to spend part of the summer holidays with Spanish families over the years. This very real contact with the language and people provides a wonderful opportunity for the students of Spanish, giving them more exposure to the language and culture of Spain, thereby increasing motivation and enhancing linguistic skills.
The school has a well-equipped computer room with internet access and Spanish teachers can avail of this for their classes. While not timetabled for the room as such, they can book a slot on the computer-room timetable, which they do from time to time. This is an area which has the potential to be developed, especially as the board of management is at present considering upgrading the school’s ICT facilities. Internet access on a computer within the language classroom could open up a wide range of activities which would enhance language learning, especially in light of the existing link with the school in Madrid.
Management is supportive of teachers who wish to attend in-service courses or to upgrade their skills and Spanish teachers have shown ongoing commitment to their own professional development. It is suggested, however, that the Spanish team should become members of the Association of Teachers of Spanish, of which there is a local Cork branch, in order to avail of any in-service training, news updates and information on the latest developments within the subject.
Both short-term and long-term planning for Spanish were evident from classroom observation, discussion with teachers and the study of relevant documentation. There is evidence of good individual planning for lesson content, in line with curricular requirements. Students’ age, ability and needs inform planning for individual classes and the pace of lessons takes student performance and needs into account. Lessons seen were purposeful, well structured and integrated into an overall scheme of work. Thematic approaches were used where the four language skills are integrated and cognisance is taken of both language and cultural awareness - all of which is sound practice and is to be commended.
As part of the overall school development planning process, individual subject planning is currently underway within the school and there is evidence that long-term planning for Spanish is being undertaken at present. Committing these plans to paper is excellent practice as the whole process of collaborative planning can then move forward to include all aspects of the teaching of Spanish within the school. It is suggested that these plans should include teaching and learning strategies as well as specifying the necessary resources for all levels as illustrated in the existing first-year plan. It is evident that teachers are used to sharing ideas with regard to teaching methodologies and this is to be commended, but formalising these in writing within a subject plan would enhance this dialogue and help to build up the resource bank of teaching materials within the department.
There is evidence that teachers have worked with the Spanish language assistant to plan how best his work could consolidate and link into students’ class work. The added bonus of introducing a lunchtime club for Spanish gives students a further opportunity to practice their linguistic skills and to learn more about the life and language of Spain. Planning provides for regular assessment of students in the four skills, which is sound practice and is commended.
There is evidence of good teaching and learning in Spanish throughout the school. Attractive learning environments have been created in the designated classrooms, with displays of students’ work, Spanish projects, maps of Spain and posters, some of which proved useful during lessons as visual aides-mémoires. This is commendable and should be further developed. Teachers have access to audio-visual equipment and have storage space in their classrooms for their resources. The layout of the classrooms allows for flexibility and is conducive to pair and group work. Teachers can move about freely to give individual attention and to monitor group work.
The use of the target language throughout the lessons is well developed and students are used to hearing and using Spanish. This is to be commended. However, it is suggested that this could be further developed to include explanations and all classroom language, so that students respond automatically using the target language. Students show enthusiasm for the language and in all classes students were fully engaged in the learning process. In all of the lessons, the language level and content were suited to the students’ age and ability and activities were varied so that students’ interest was held throughout. Tasks were suitably challenging in most cases and the aims of the lessons were clear. It is suggested that the aims of the lesson are shared with the students at the outset in order to facilitate student self-evaluation and to promote student autonomy.
Some very good teaching strategies were utilised throughout the lessons, including oral questioning in the target language, listening and comprehension exercises, brainstorming exercises, provision of worksheets, vocabulary-matching exercises, pair work and group work. There was good use of the board to consolidate grammar and vocabulary items and students noted these down. In one lesson there was a very good example of inductive grammar learning where students identified rules for verb endings from an extract on inter-railing. This particular lesson included a good variety of activities so that the momentum of the lesson never flagged, ensuring the full attention of all students. The lesson started with a short five-minute conversational session on what the students had done during mid-term followed by a short brainstorming session on vocabulary for travelling which was then written on the board. This led on to the reading of a specially-chosen short text which was then followed by a listening comprehension exercise on a discussion about inter-railing. Students role-played the conversation in groups and then, in pairs, picked out the verbs to prepare for some grammar work. The verbs were then written on the board for students to identify the various tenses which had been used. Homework relating to this work was then assigned. The employment of this range of activities, including strategies for active learning, is excellent practice and ensures student involvement throughout the lesson.
There was continuity between lessons and most lessons started with a quick revision on what had gone before. Homework was assigned and corrected, sometimes orally, in class. Students’ copybooks showed evidence of good work being achieved and, in most classes, regular monitoring of copies was evident. It is recommended that all students are required to write a corrected version of their work into their copybooks to facilitate revision and progression.
Attention was paid to both grammar and pronunciation in all classes. Mistakes in pronunciation were corrected sensitively and without over-emphasis. A delicate balance was maintained in order to ensure that students did not lose confidence in using the target language. Oral questioning was used to good effect although, in one class, the use of one-to-one teacher-student questioning could have been shortened to allow for pair or group work in order to maximise student activity and participation. Exercises such as teacher-student one-to-one oral questioning, where only one student at a time is actively involved, have a limited time span. The emphasis could have moved from the teacher questioning of individual students to pair work at an earlier opportunity to maintain students’ interest. The NCCA publication Leaving Certificate Spanish: Guidelines for Teachers gives practical examples of teaching strategies which enhance student participation in the classroom.
It was evident that teachers were conscious of the progress of each student and attention was paid to individual students’ needs. Students’ efforts were affirmed and encouraged, with the result that the nature of classroom interactions was positive and conducive to learning. Similarities were drawn between Spanish and Gaeilge during one lesson, to demonstrate more clearly the usage of two different verb-forms. This is sound practice and helps to develop a keener sense of language awareness.
A range of resources was utilised during the classes. Use of textbooks was selective and supplemented by authentic and thematic materials taken from a variety of sources. Tapes were used frequently to ensure students had sufficient aural practice on the various themes being studied. This is invaluable and necessary for students at all levels. It was reassuring to note that teachers were not overly reliant on textbooks, but had prepared worksheets and handouts to suit the task in hand. Students are encouraged to keep special copybooks to note down new items of vocabulary in order to consolidate learning and this is good practice. Key concepts and new vocabulary were presented clearly and in a variety of ways. It is suggested that the use of more visual stimuli would be of great benefit when presenting new material, in order to maximise the use of the target language and to engage student interest by visual means. Some further suggestions were made on how to use a variety of questioning techniques to present and familiarise students with new lexical items. It is also suggested that a range of conversational ‘playing cards’ for pair and group work could be developed in order to facilitate the preparation for the students’ oral examination. It is recommended that the Spanish team, as part of the subject planning process, endeavour to build up a range of visual teaching aids which could include the use of the overhead projector and flashcards.
The teaching of Spanish in Coláiste Muire emphasises cultural awareness. The Transition Year Spanish class holds a Spanish day every year, when Spanish dishes are prepared and tasted and this has proved very popular. Activities such as this give students an insight into Spanish culture and greatly add to their interest in, and familiarity with, the country. In one class visited, links were drawn between Cobh and Sevilla and pupils discussed, in Spanish, the similarities between the buildings in both places. This awareness of Spanish culture and close links with the people of Spain can only enhance the students’ learning experience and is to be applauded.
The atmosphere in all classes was pleasant and student-teacher rapport was excellent. An atmosphere of mutual respect was fostered and interactions were positive at all times. Learning activities were well managed, time was used efficiently and classroom management was good.
Students showed a high level of understanding of lesson content and when questioned, showed a willingness and ability to communicate effectively in the target language. It was obvious that they enjoy studying the language and for this, great credit is due to their teachers.
Students’ progress is regularly assessed, with bi-annual examinations in December and prior to the summer for all but State examination classes, which have pre-examinations in February. There are also mid-termly class examinations, the results of which are recorded. Reports on students’ progress are sent to parents twice a year and there are annual parent-teacher meetings. Common tests are used where applicable. Ongoing assessment of students of Spanish is carried out during the rest of the year with regular vocabulary and grammar tests. Modes of assessment reflect the objectives of the curriculum, in that aural, written and oral skills are assessed in every year except third year. This is excellent practice and is highly commended. It is suggested that, in spite of time constraints, efforts should be made to include some oral assessment for third-year students.
Transition Year students produce a Spanish project during the year and present this as part of their final assessment at the end of the year. It is clear that students have a good grasp of the language and are progressing well according to syllabus requirements. They have a good standard of spoken Spanish and clearly enjoy the language.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the principal and with the teachers of Spanish at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.