An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Spanish
Waterford, County Waterford
Roll number: 65010R
Date of inspection: 25 April 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 October 2006
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Spanish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Newtown 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, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teacher. The inspector reviewed the teacher’s planning documentation and written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and subject teacher. 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.
Spanish is offered as an option in senior cycle at Newtown School and the number of students within the school opting to study Spanish has been growing over the past few years. This year the language was offered for the first time, as a pilot exercise, to incoming first-year students, who may continue to study it for the Junior Certificate examination. It has proved to be a popular option and it is strongly hoped that, depending on timetabling considerations, the possibility of continuing to offer the language in junior cycle will remain. Initially the subject was offered as the language component for the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) for students who had not previously studied a European language in junior cycle. It was then extended to Transition Year (TY) as an optional subject. As some students opted to continue to study the subject, it is now included in the option choices for the established Leaving Certificate examination.
At present, students who have not previously studied a European language may take up the subject as the language component for LCVP and proceed, after fifth and sixth years, to take the Leaving Certificate ordinary-level Spanish examination. In each of the current fifth and sixth years, there are two class groups for Spanish, one for LCVP students and one for established Leaving Certificate students. There is one class group in Transition Year with three class periods allocated per week. First-year students have four class periods per week and both fifth- and sixth-year students have five class periods of Spanish per week, which is good provision. In fifth and sixth years, there are a small number of students whose timetables allow them to attend lessons for both classes of Spanish.
First-year students are offered ‘taster’ courses at the start of the year so that they may experience each subject before making subject choices. Students have the option of studying French and/or German and it is to be commended that they have the choice of studying up to two European languages. However, the options are such that a number of students choose not to study a European language in junior cycle and this is a matter for some concern. As the European Union considers foreign languages among the basic skills or competencies required by all its citizens, it is recommended that all students be advised to study a European language in junior cycle. In fifth year, timetabling for senior cycle is arranged after students have made decisions regarding subject choice and management endeavours to accommodate the majority of students, which is good practice. In line with the ethos of the school, students are taught in mixed-ability groupings throughout the school, with the exception of Gaeilge and Mathematics.
Management is to be commended for providing language teachers with their own well-equipped base classrooms, adjacent to audio-visual equipment, in a designated languages area. This is a very positive arrangement as it facilitates the creation of a stimulating learning environment through the display of visual stimuli and fosters the development of cultural awareness. The Spanish room is bright and spacious with a selection of posters and maps on the walls. It is recommended that the already-attractive learning environment be further enhanced by the display of more culture-rich posters, students’ projects and visual aids to learning the language. There is a personal computer with internet access in the classroom and this is an excellent facility which enables both teacher and students to avail of material from Spanish websites and to use the very valuable software programs for language teaching seen during the evaluation visit. Budgeting is organised on an end-of-year basis, when subject departments meet to review their resource needs for the forthcoming year.
The school is not currently involved in the school development planning process, although management reported that staff will be engaging in subject planning in the forthcoming year. A review of school policies has been undertaken in the past. Management is fully supportive of continuing professional development for staff and also encourages participation in State examinations work, which is of benefit to both students and teachers.
Good planning for lessons is in evidence and incorporates a thematic approach, with appropriate integration of the different language skills in line with curricular requirements. Classes are of mixed ability and planning takes cognisance of students’ ability and levels. Long-term planning for senior cycle is well established and the process of developing a long-term plan for junior cycle is now in progress, given that this is the first year of junior-cycle Spanish. It is recommended that this written plan should be syllabus-based and should include the various strategies used in class to foster and encourage active student participation and oral practice.
It is commendable that planning for lessons includes maximising the opportunities for the use of the target language in an authentic and communicative way. Planning includes the use of strategies such as drawing, games, role-plays and group work to encourage student activity and participation. It is suggested that the use of visual stimuli to encourage oral practice be continued and developed.
Choice of resource material reflects a high level of cultural awareness and the occasional use of a wall-map of Spain to pinpoint places mentioned during lessons ensures that students become familiar with the country as well as the language. A good range of resources has been built up for the teaching and learning of Spanish, including sets of worksheets, software in the form of CD-ROMs, tapes, videos, authentic texts sourced from websites and a variety of textbooks and reference books. It is to be applauded that the Leaving Certificate class studies the optional prescribed text, La Aventura de Saíd, as the study of a literary text in the target language not only provides students with a richer linguistic experience, but also gives a deeper insight into Spanish life and culture.
There was evidence of high-quality teaching and learning of Spanish in the school. Activities seen included aural exercises, teacher input, pair work, group work, board work, question-and-answer sessions and oral work in preparation for a written-production exercise. Good attention was consistently paid to pronunciation and intonation, resulting in a good level of spoken Spanish in general. Grammar points were explained clearly and in detail, with students fully engaged at all times. Teacher-student rapport was excellent and classroom interactions were relaxed but productive. Learning activities were well managed and instructions were clear. Students’ efforts were affirmed, to which they responded positively.
In most lessons seen, classroom communications and transactions, such as roll-taking, discussing who was absent and why, conversation about weekend activities and everyday chat were conducted in the target language and this is excellent practice which should be continued and developed. Particularly for those students who are studying the Leaving Certificate course in the short period of two or three years, maximum use of the target language within the classroom is an invaluable way of building up their range of vocabulary as well as their oral and aural skills. It was notable that the use of the Spanish alphabet is encouraged in class and it is suggested that target language use could be further extended to explain items of vocabulary.
Language content and level were sufficiently challenging. There was continuity with previous lessons and the pace in all lessons seen was good. Awareness of individual students’ needs was in evidence, with extra explanations given sensitively. Some suggestions were given for further teaching strategies which could be utilised, but this does not deflect from the general good standard seen. Where pair or small-group work was introduced into the lessons, students worked well and were obviously used to using the target language. Activities were varied to provide speaking, listening, reading and written practice. The difficult task of preparing students for the Leaving Certificate examination in the short space of three years is being managed successfully and much credit is due in this regard.
Senior-cycle students keep all of their work for Spanish in a hard-back folder and it is suggested that a separate copybook for written production exercises could be used to facilitate revision and correction. The folder could then be kept specifically for reference, incorporating vocabulary, grammar and worksheets. Homework was assigned and corrected, consolidating classroom learning. Records are kept of students’ progress, attendance and homework.
It is notable that from time to time students from Mexico come to spend a gap year at the school. The advantages of this arrangement extend to Irish students of Spanish as well as being a valuable experience for the Mexican students. The presence of such students within the school not only provides the Irish students with an opportunity to practise their language skills but also gives an insight into Mexican life and culture.
All subject departments carry out assessments of students’ progress during an assessment week in November. This varies from subject to subject and assessment can be conducted within class time or can be specially timetabled by arrangement. State-examination classes have mock examinations in the spring and there are end-of-year examinations for all other classes. Parents receive progress reports at the end of the Christmas and spring terms and a full academic report at the end of year. Third- and sixth-year students receive additional full academic reports.
Assessment for Spanish students includes oral and aural components as well as written assessment, which is to be commended. It is planned to continue this practice for the present junior-cycle students and this is recommended practice in order to ensure the development of the students’ linguistic competence and confidence. Assessment tests are also carried out in class on a regular basis and results noted.
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 teacher of Spanish and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.