An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Spanish
Saint Angela’s School,
Ursuline Convent, Waterford
Roll number: 64990D
Date of inspection: 23 March 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 June 2006
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St. Angela’s School, Waterford. 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 one day, 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, deputy 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.
Saint Angela’s School is a privately-owned secondary school for girls, under the trusteeship of the Irish Ursuline Union. Spanish, which is offered in both junior and senior cycles, can be chosen as an optional second language in first year, French being a core subject for junior cycle. German is also offered as an option where there is sufficient demand. Management is to be commended for affording students the opportunity to study two or more European languages. Students also have the possibility of taking Spanish ab initio in Transition Year (TY) and continuing it as a subject for the Leaving Certificate examination. In TY, students can opt to take the language ab initio for three terms or as a continuation subject for one term. A high level of commitment and work is required from these ab initio students if they wish to continue the subject in fifth and sixth years. At the end of TY the students take an end-of-year examination, after which they are advised on whether to continue with the subject for the Leaving Certificate examination. In fifth year there are set options regarding the choice of Leaving Certificate subjects, but these are flexible and efforts are made to match choices to students’ requests where possible. This year, while Spanish is offered in one fifth-year option, students had a choice of two options into which it could be placed. Spanish is usually taught in mixed-ability groupings in all years. A co-ordinator for Spanish has been assigned and a list of duties documented. These duties include choosing teaching materials, preparing book lists, advising students with regard to exchange visits to Spain, looking after the Spanish assistant, purchasing relevant resources, attendance at open nights and welcoming native Spanish students, of whom there are a number attending the school.
Spanish is a popular option within the school and is fully supported by management. Timetabling allows for sufficient class-contact time for all groups in both junior and senior cycle. Resources for the teaching of Spanish are provided following a needs-assessment meeting held by the Spanish teachers at the beginning of each year. At present, work is ongoing to update the Spanish section of the impressive school library. Suggestions were made as to the sourcing of authentic reading material.
As classrooms are class based, language teachers do not have their own designated rooms but move to different classrooms for lessons. Plans for a new building are in the pipeline and the possibility of having a multi-media classroom in this new building was discussed. It is hoped that specialist language rooms or, at least, teacher-based classrooms can be designated within this much-needed new building for the teaching and learning of languages. 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 student work and immediate access to resources. It also helps teachers to create a stimulating learning environment and to foster the development of cultural awareness.
Language classes can book access to the computer rooms when they are not otherwise being used. There are wireless personal computers in some classrooms and it is planned to expand this to more classrooms. It is commendable that planning for the teaching of Spanish includes accessing authentic material from a number of very useful websites which are listed in the subject plan.
The school encourages and facilitates the continuing professional development of its teachers. In this regard, it is useful to be aware of the summer language courses in Spain, run by the Consejería of the Spanish Embassy, which provide an excellent opportunity for teachers of Spanish to maintain their linguistic skills and to keep abreast of new developments in both the language and teaching methodologies. The school has had a policy of subject planning for many years and this has been expanded and incorporated into the school development plan. It is to be commended that time has been dedicated to enable staff to work collaboratively on the development of their subjects. Meetings have been held and minutes kept to record decisions and progress, which is good practice. As a result of this, good work has been done in preparing a policy for Spanish and work is ongoing for the preparation of an overall long-term plan for Spanish.
There are formal end-of-year examinations for all students. Reports are sent to parents at Christmas and in the summer, while Transition-Year students receive reports at the end of each of three ten-week modules. Third-year students have house examinations in November and pre-examinations with external marking in February, after which reports are issued. Fifth-year students also have house examinations in November. Sixth-year students have pre-examinations in February, with external marking, and reports are issued at Christmas and following the pre-examinations. First- and second-year students have formal examinations at the end of last term only and progress is otherwise monitored by continuous assessment. With the exception of Transition Year, there is a parent-teacher meeting for each year group once a year.
A well thought-out Spanish policy is in place and collaborative work is ongoing on the preparation of a documented subject plan for the teaching and learning of the language, which is laudable. There is evidence of good overall planning for each year and it is recommended that this be documented within the subject plan, which should be largely informed by the syllabus rather than textbook content. It is important that the good work already being carried out in class be incorporated into the plan. It is suggested that this planning process could include the sharing and documenting of teaching strategies and methodologies, the building up of a bank of resource material which could then be stored communally for easy access and the currently planned updating of Spanish books and literature available to students. A further area for development in future years could include the integration of ICT into the teaching and learning of Spanish.
Planning for individual lessons seen was good. While students at junior cycle use a particular course book, this is supplemented by extra material in the form of magazines. It is suggested that further supplementary material would be useful to avoid an over-dependence on the textbook and to provide students with a wider learning experience. Planning for the integration of the different language skills was in evidence, allowing for a variety of student activity throughout the course of the lesson. A thematic approach informs individual lesson planning, which is in line with syllabus and curricular requirements. Planning for senior cycle utilises resource material from a variety of sources, which include Spanish news programmes recorded on video, magazine articles, current newspaper items, novels, games, crosswords and Spanish music. This greatly enhances the learning experience of the students and is to be commended.
This year the school is hosting a Spanish assistant and team planning has successfully maximised the opportunities this offers to both students and teachers. Good collaboration was in evidence within the Spanish team and it was reassuring to see that thoughtful planning has ensured that both teachers and students are benefiting from having a native speaker on the staff. As there are a number of native Spanish students attending the school, a Spanish food day was organised in conjunction with the Home Economics department, where typical dishes were prepared to give the other students an opportunity to taste Spanish cuisine. As teachers realise the importance of keeping up links with the country, every encouragement is given to students showing an interest in visiting Spain. Arrangements have been made in the past for students to spend some of the summer holidays in Spain.
There was evidence of good-quality teaching and learning of Spanish in the school. The use of the target language was well advanced in most of the lessons seen, where students were obviously used to hearing Spanish spoken in the classroom setting. In most lessons, students had sufficient opportunity to use the target language and activities were varied to provide listening, reading and written practice. Activities included oral practice using cue cards, oral presentations by students, tape-listening exercises, pair work, reading comprehension followed by an exercise in productive writing, questioning in the target language and information-retrieval exercises. Where strategies for active learning such as pair work were employed, students worked well and were obviously used to working in pairs. It is suggested that lesson planning could allow for further activities to encourage active student participation, such as small-group work, brainstorming or role-plays.
In most lessons, transactional communications and instructions were in the target language, which is recommended practice. In some junior-cycle classes seen, this could be further developed by encouraging the students to use the target language when asking questions. Strategies have been developed in most classes to maximise opportunities for individual students to use the target language and it is recommended that this be continued and developed. It was suggested that students in a junior-cycle class could be encouraged to use the alphabet regularly in the target language for spelling, with an added emphasis on pronunciation and intonation. In most classes, students demonstrated an admirable ease with and willingness to communicate in the target language.
The introduction of an interesting and colourful magazine article, in the second half of one junior-cycle lesson seen, was a good strategy to engage students’ interest and vary activity. The theme of the article linked in with the theme of the lesson, consolidating learning and expanding vocabulary. Individual students also had the opportunity to use the language through organised pair work.
In another senior-cycle lesson, the strategy of using cue cards, each with the name of a particular topic, was employed to provide the opportunity for individual students to speak about the topic for a specified length of time, followed by questions from the rest of the class. Good or useful vocabulary was noted on the board. This was a very effective way of revising vocabulary and practising oral skills where all students were learning from the other students’ inputs. By giving an immediate personal response to the topic, students had to ‘think on their feet,’ which is a most useful preparation for real-life situations. Students then worked in pairs, while the teacher circulated to give support and advice. Corrections to errors made were written on the board without interrupting the flow of language. Later in the lesson, the mistakes were subsequently pointed out without highlighting individuals, or denting students’ confidence. It was especially useful to use this strategy to point out the most common errors and pitfalls in preparation for the forthcoming oral examination. In all lessons, good attention was paid to language awareness, with grammatical points highlighted and clarified. Students showed a good understanding of grammar and kept note of new items of grammar in a hardback copybook which was retained from year to year for revision purposes.
Resource material chosen for lessons took cognisance of the students’ lives and interests. Themes chosen were topical, interesting and relevant to the students. Reading comprehension prepared for productive writing exercises and differentiated tasks were then set for a class of mixed-ability students, which is very good practice.
It was particularly noticeable that cultural awareness was an integral part of many of the lessons seen. At the beginning of one lesson, there was a brief discussion in the target language about a recent Spanish news item and later in the lesson there was further discussion about places in Spain that were mentioned in a newspaper article which the students were studying. This is good practice as it serves to increase student awareness of, and interest in, the country and its people.
Students responded well and with enthusiasm to questioning. Learning activities were well managed, classroom interactions were pleasant and students’ efforts were affirmed. Good student-teacher rapport was in evidence and this contributed to a relaxed but productive atmosphere in all classes. Students were fully engaged and it was obvious that they felt a sense of security in the classroom setting. Although teachers do not have their own designated language classrooms, it is commendable that there were displays of students’ work relating to Spanish in most of the classrooms seen.
Some suggestions were given regarding further strategies to increase student participation and active learning, but overall these were only to enhance the good quality of teaching seen. While contact is maintained with the Instituto Cervantes and the Consejería of the Spanish Embassy with regard to in-service training courses, it is recommended that contact be established with the Association of Teachers of Spanish in order to avail of both the latest developments regarding the teaching and learning of Spanish and information regarding further in-service courses.
Records are kept of individual students’ progress and regular reports are issued to parents. Assessment of students may take the form of an oral, an aural or a written examination. It is recommended that, in order to reflect the objectives of the syllabus, assessment for all year groups should include oral, aural and written elements. The standard of written work seen in students’ copybooks reflected the good standard of oral work witnessed in class and corrections included marks and useful suggestions for improvement, which is to be commended. The positive practice of requiring students to correct mistakes in their copybooks is well established and consolidates student learning. When questioning students the standard of oral skills was high.
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 teachers of Spanish and with the principal and deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.