An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Spanish
Mercy Secondary School
Roll number: 68070E
Date of inspection: 22 November 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 February 2007
the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Spanish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Mercy Secondary School, Mounthawk, Tralee. 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 and subject teachers. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
Spanish is proving to be a popular option in the school and the number of students opting to study the language has been increasing quite dramatically over the past five years or so. There are three teachers of Spanish in the school, two full-time and one who is job-sharing. All incoming first-year students take at least one European language from a choice of Spanish, German or French and may opt to study two of these. This is excellent provision. They then choose their options for Junior Certificate prior to entry into second year. At present there are three class groups of Spanish in first year, four class groups in second year and three class groups in third year. First-year students are timetabled for either four or three periods per week, depending on whether the language has been chosen as a major or minor subject. Second-year and third-year classes have four periods of Spanish per week, which is recommended provision. Transition Year (TY) is optional in the school and students who wish to continue their study of Spanish are timetabled for two periods per week. Students who have not studied the language previously can opt to take a half-year module of beginners’ Spanish for one period per week.
Students who opt to take Leaving Certificate Spanish have five periods per week in both fifth and sixth years. There are at present two Leaving Certificate Spanish class groups in each of fifth and sixth years. In both fifth year and sixth year, there is also a class of Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) students who study Spanish as their language option. Timetabling of the curriculum for senior cycle is dependent on students’ options and management endeavours to accommodate the majority of students’ choices, which is commendable.
Resources for languages within the school are good. The school is equipped with an impressive multi-media language laboratory where each student has his or her own computer with headphones. Transition Year and first-year students of Spanish are timetabled for language classes in the language laboratory during the week. Other language class groups may book access depending on availability. It is also possible to book a class into one of the two computer rooms, again depending on availability, and this option has been availed of for Transition Year and LCA students of Spanish. It is suggested that, as students’ access to information and communication technology (ICT) during language lessons opens up a wide range of possibilities for the teaching and learning of languages, further development of the use of this facility for all year groups should be included when planning for the future of the subject. It is to be hoped that the problems regarding broadband can be sorted out in the near future to facilitate high speed internet access. Mention was made in the long-term plan for Spanish of specific in-service or other training in the use of ICT for the team of language teachers and it is recommended that this be continued and developed to ensure maximum benefit for students. The possibility of linking up with a partner school in Spain was suggested as a way of creating opportunities for collaborative learning and exchanges of cultural information through the use of ICT. More information regarding exchange programmes and partner schools can be had by contacting Leargas, the Exchange Bureau, at firstname.lastname@example.org or from their website www.leargas.ie.
No annual budget is allocated to Spanish as such, but requests for resources are favourably met and this system seems to be working well. Teachers do not have their own base rooms, which is not ideal, but lack of accommodation makes this option impracticable at present. A range of audiovisual equipment is available to teachers of languages and this can be brought to the classroom when needed. Teaching resources are stored in individual teachers’ lockers or in a general storage area in the school library. It is recommended that a designated lockable storage area be created for the team of Spanish teachers, so that the good bank of resources seen can be stored and shared to facilitate easy access for all Spanish teachers. It is to be hoped that, in the long term, the possibility of language teachers having their own base classrooms will be achievable, not only to facilitate immediate access to resources and necessary audiovisual equipment but to create a print-rich and culture-rich environment for the subject.
The school is supportive of the professional development of staff. In-service training has been provided for the whole staff on school development planning and individual subject planning is well advanced within the school. It is to be commended that management endeavours to incorporate planning time into staff meetings where possible, for staff to bring the process of subject development planning forward. It is planned to have an in-service day on differentiation in the spring of next year, which should be of great benefit to teachers. The school has organised school trips to Barcelona and Madrid in recent years and it is commendable that a member of the Spanish team has recently undertaken a language and methodology course in Spain. The school accepts a small number of students from Spain every year and this helps to heighten awareness of both the culture and language among students.
Preparation of a long-term plan for the teaching and learning of Spanish, in line with syllabus requirements, is ongoing and there is evidence of good work already done. It is suggested that the development of this subject plan could include more detailed information on the specific learning objectives for each year group, the teaching methodologies and strategies used to encourage collaborative learning and active learning tasks, as well as examples of differentiated tasks where relevant. This could be done in tandem with the building up of a bank of resources, which could be stored centrally as previously suggested. It would be important that the planning seen for the Leaving Certificate Applied programme be included in the overall plan for the subject. Some very good teaching strategies were seen during the course of the inspection and it would be beneficial if such strategies, together with the resources needed, could be discussed and shared among the whole team.
Planning takes cognisance of students with special educational needs. It was reported that the learning-support team liaises with subject teachers regarding students with special needs to give information and practical advice on teaching methodology, which is recommended practice. In dealing with classes of mixed ability, the use of differentiation was evident for the assignment of homework tasks and this is good practice. While there was evidence of the use of differentiated questioning techniques for students of differing abilities, there is scope for the further development of differentiated written and listening tasks within lessons, to enhance students’ individual achievement.
Long-term planning for Spanish takes into account both cultural and language awareness. First-year, Transition Year and LCA students all undertake a project on some cultural aspect of a Spanish-speaking country. In one junior cycle lesson seen, students were collecting magazine photographs for their Spanish projects and their enthusiasm for, and knowledge of, Spain and its people were impressive. It was clear that they really enjoy learning Spanish. The teaching team organises Spanish food-tasting events from time to time and visual displays of cultural aspects of the country can be seen in some classrooms. There was evidence of audiovisual resources containing much information on Spanish life and culture among the resources seen for Spanish.
A selection of Spanish magazines and newspaper articles provides authentic and interesting reading material for lesson content. As it is now possible to obtain a good selection of Spanish reading material, it is recommended that a selection of short novels be made available to students, so that they can experience a wider variety of Spanish reading material. Some suggestions include the Barco de Vapor and Gran Angular series which are aimed at post-primary students of all ages and available in the specialist language bookshops. These could be kept in a ‘Spanish corner’ of the school library. It is also suggested that several copies of the prescribed text, currently La Aventura de Sáid by Josep Lorman, be included in this collection.
Short-term planning for the teaching of Spanish is good. The use of a thematic approach, integrating the different language skills, is evident overall. Mostly, listening comprehension exercises are integrated into the overall theme, giving the students frequent listening practice relevant to the current topic. In the one instance where this was not usually the case, recommendations were given to include listening comprehension exercises more frequently within the overall theme or topic, especially in junior cycle lessons. In general, planning for lessons ensured that the lesson content was sufficiently challenging, while suited to students’ ability.
Evidence of good planning for the incorporation of ICT into the learning of the language was seen through the use of a software package and a Spanish website. It was commendable that forward planning had included the preparation of a handout in the event of difficulty in accessing the website, as happened in some cases. For further information on websites for the teaching and learning of Spanish, teachers can contact the enlaces de interés section of the Association of Teachers of Spanish website at www.atsireland.com.
In most of the lessons seen, the use of the target language for normal classroom communication was good, but in the one instance where English was the main language used, strong recommendations were given that all classroom communication, including instructions, explanations and general conversation, should be in the target language. This is one of the main aims of the syllabus objectives as stated in the subject plan. The linguistic expertise of the teacher is one of the best resources that students can have, to hear and be encouraged to use the target language in real situations every day. In some other instances, while good use of the target language was in evidence, it was suggested that the tendency to translate instructions into English after using the target language was unnecessary. As previously mentioned, one of the members of the team had availed of a language course in Spain in the summer and had found this both useful and practical. Teachers of Spanish can avail of the opportunity to update their language skills and knowledge of current affairs by applying to the Consejería at the Spanish Embassy for a place on one of the very useful and practical summer language courses in Spain, which are geared specifically for teachers of Spanish. Further information on these courses can be obtained from the Consejería at email@example.com.
Classroom activities included: the use of visuals for revision and oral practice, pair work, group work, good use of questioning, an alphabet song, picture descriptions, teacher input, the use of ICT to access a Spanish website, finding one’s way around a plan of the Madrid metro, listening comprehension exercises, reading comprehension and letter writing. There was evidence of a variety of successful teaching resources, some teacher-generated, and these included: laminated metro plans and photos, flashcards, vocabulary theme posters, photos of famous Spanish people, a clock-face, cue cards, worksheets, magazine articles, Spanish software and website.
There were some very good examples of the use of active learning methodologies to maximise students’ engagement in oral work. Pair and small-group work were used in some lessons seen and it was evident that these students were used to this kind of activity. It is recommended that strategies to encourage active learning be further expanded and developed, and that this be incorporated into the formal planning process for the subject, so that the team can exchange and share ideas and resources.
Good use of graduated questioning to assess learning and practice new items of vocabulary was seen. In one particular lesson, higher-order, one-to-one questioning paved the way for the introduction of a topic and for a substantial reading comprehension exercise. Students were then asked to describe the picture accompanying the article and to guess the content of the article. This gradual introduction of some of the key vocabulary needed to understand the gist of a text is good practice in that the students have some inkling of the content and are better prepared to tackle the text.
In one senior cycle lesson where students were using ICT to access a Spanish language website prior to preparing a letter, students were actively and independently engaged throughout. It was suggested that more teacher input at the beginning of the lesson and a plenary session at the end of the lesson would have clarified problems encountered and suggestions were also given that students be given the ‘tools’ they need to type Spanish accents. Sharing lesson outcomes with students and ‘rounding off’ the lesson with a summing-up session not only helps to give a structure to the lesson but helps students clarify lesson aims and quantify their own achievements.
Mostly, lesson content was challenging, yet within the scope of the students’ ability. Good attention was paid to pronunciation in most of the lessons and this is to be encouraged. Activities were varied and students were at all times engaged and interested. The use of various visual stimuli, especially chosen to appeal to the particular age group of students, worked very well in both senior cycle and junior cycle lessons and it is recommended that this good practice be expanded to all class groups. The availability of an overhead projector in the classroom would have been of benefit, particularly in one particular lesson where a map of the metro was being introduced prior to students’ role-plays.
It is commendable that teaching strategies which demonstrated an awareness of the theory of multiple intelligences, such as the use of song for practising the alphabet, asking students to move around the room to complete a task, and visual prompts for language practice were in evidence. Teacher-student rapport was excellent and students’ interest levels were high. Active learning strategies were well managed and students participated well in all activities. Classroom atmosphere was, in all cases, pleasant and conducive to learning.
Exercises in copybooks showed evidence that a very good standard overall, commensurate with students’ ages and levels, has been achieved. Productive writing in senior cycle was of a high standard and junior cycle copybooks showed evidence of some very good work. In one instance, homework exercises in junior cycle copybooks showed that there was a tendency to over-rely on translation exercises and it was suggested that a variety of different types of homework exercises should be assigned more often, so that students learn to use Spanish phrases rather than translated English expressions. Students are encouraged to note grammar and vocabulary in a hardback copybook or folder to carry through from year to year in both junior and senior cycle, which is good practice.
Students demonstrated a good level of understanding of lesson content. Activities and tasks within the lessons observed indicated that students have acquired a good level of proficiency and clearly enjoy learning the language.
The school holds in-house summer examinations for all year groups other than third-year and sixth- year students, who have mock examinations in the spring. Reports are issued to parents twice-yearly, at Christmas and summer for non-examination classes, and in November and after the mock examinations for third-year and sixth-year classes. At Christmas, reports to parents are based on class tests. Parent-teacher meetings are held annually for each year group. Common tests are set for Spanish within the different year groups, which is good practice. Modes of assessment in senior cycle reflect the objectives of the curriculum, in that aural, written and oral skills are assessed. Assessment for all year groups includes aural testing but, at present, oral testing does not form part of the formal assessment of students in junior cycle. It is recommended that the good practice of including oral testing as part of the formal assessment be extended to students in junior cycle.
Ongoing assessment of students of Spanish is carried out during the rest of the year with frequent vocabulary and grammar tests. Homework is regularly set, monitored and corrected. In one instance, it was suggested that more emphasis should be placed on ensuring that homework tasks are satisfactorily completed and corrected by the students themselves. There was evidence of some helpful target-language comments in homework copybooks and it is recommended that this be further developed, to help students take responsibility for improved achievement.
The following are the main strengths 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 at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Inspection Report School Response Form
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
In developing Mercy Mounthawk, the Board of Management has been intent on providing a range of subject choice and the best provision for subjects, as is possible in our context. We are therefore encouraged that the report acknowledges that the ‘provision for the study of languages at the school…is very good’ (p.7).
The Board is also pleased that the involvement of the school in subject planning, school planning and professional development of staff, is recognised as being ‘well advanced’ (p.3).
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.
The report notes that ‘teachers do not have their own base rooms, which is not ideal, but lack of accommodation makes this option impracticable at present’ (p.3). The Board concurs with this assessment. We have applied each year, since amalgamation, for additional rooms and with the publishing of the Area Development Plan for North Kerry in January 2007, which recommends that the school be ‘upgraded’ to cater for current numbers, the Board will continue to press for extra space. We hope for a favourable response from the DES to our continuing efforts which would allow us to address the issue of base rooms.
Existing documentation for the Leaving Certificate Applied has been included in the overall subject plan.
At post-inspection meetings, Spanish teachers have included the recommendations regarding the expansion of the use of target language and oral testing in the subject plan for the coming year.