An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Spanish
Roll number: 71840V
Date of inspection: 6 November 2007
Date of issue of report: 22 May 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Spanish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Chiaráin. 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 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.
Coláiste Chiaráin, Croom is a co-educational school under the patronage of Co. Limerick Vocational Educational Committee (VEC). Currently, school enrolment, which has grown significantly in recent years, is 645. The school offers the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP), the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme and the Transition Year (TY) programme as well as the Leaving Certificate and Junior Certificate programmes.
The present school was built in 1987 and the building is at present inadequate for the number of students attending the school. Accommodation is mostly made up of prefabricated classrooms and language teachers move from classroom to classroom for the different classes. Management has plans for a new school building on a green-field site and it is to be hoped that this very necessary development will, in years to come, provide language teachers with their own base classrooms to facilitate easy access to necessary resources and to create a suitable classroom environment for language teaching.
Provision for languages at the school is excellent. Four languages are offered throughout the school and incoming first-year students choose two languages which they continue to study through junior cycle. Students with special educational needs have the opportunity to study either one or two languages.
Spanish was introduced into the school about five years ago, and the number of students opting for the subject has been growing steadily. Curriculum provision within the school, coupled with appropriate timetabling, facilitates this growth. This year for the first time, there is a class group for Spanish in fifth year and numbers for the subject in junior cycle should provide for a greater number of students taking the subject to Leaving Certificate level in years to come. This year there are three class groups for Spanish in each of the junior cycle years and one class group in Transition Year. All junior cycle and TY students have four class periods per week, which includes one double period in the case of TY students. Fifth-year students have five single class periods each week.
Students make choices regarding their Leaving Certificate options at the end of third year and management endeavours to accommodate most students’ choices. It is very encouraging that students have the opportunity to study two languages to Leaving Certificate level if they so wish. As all students avail of the TY option, it is suggested that, for a number of reasons, it would be preferable to delay Leaving Certificate choices until the end of Transition Year. As part of the aim of TY is to support students in making informed career choices, it would be better to defer subject choices until they have had the benefit of the TY programme.
There are two teachers of Spanish in Coláiste Chiaráin, one of whom is fully qualified to teach the language to Leaving Certificate level. Given the increased interest in Spanish in the school, management recognises that there is an urgent need to appoint another qualified teacher of Spanish in the near future.
The school has applied for, and previously availed of,
the services of a Spanish language assistant and it is reported that this worked
very well. It is to be commended that the professional expertise of the Spanish
department has benefited from the attendance of one of the Spanish teachers at
a number of summer language courses in
School trips to
A range of resources which support the teaching of Spanish is evident within the school. Teachers have access to tape recorders/CD players, and mobile units with video/DVD players are available through a booking system. Management is planning on introducing interactive whiteboards into some classrooms and this would be an excellent resource for language teaching. Judicious use by teachers of information and communication technologies (ICT) as a teaching and learning tool enlivens the classroom atmosphere. A data projector is available to teachers of Spanish and it is school practice to encourage individual teachers to purchase a laptop and use it in the preparation, presentation and evaluation of lessons. Students, teachers and parents have access to an e-portal system, where students can complete homework electronically and students’ progress reports can be accessed by both parents and teachers.
The school has engaged in whole-school development planning and it is to be commended that time is regularly assigned once a month for subject planning. The modern language teams meet on a regular basis and this is encouraged as a way of sharing professional expertise and resources. Minutes of planning meetings are recorded, which enables the process to move forward.
The long-term plan for Spanish shows evidence of much good work and includes the aims and objectives for the subject, details of assessment, planning for students with special needs, cross-curricular planning, a list of some of the available resources and effective teaching methodologies, and curriculum content for the current year groups. Suggestions were given for the further development of the plan, which should be syllabus based rather than textbook led. At present the subject plan contains an outline of the curriculum content for each year from first year to fifth year, and it is recommended that further development of the plan for senior cycle Spanish is timely as more students take the subject to Leaving Certificate level. It is suggested that the content for each year group could be expanded to include themes to be studied, together with such resources as visual, listening, reading, cue cards for pair work, which have been built up for each theme. All grammar content should also be included in the plan. By working collaboratively teachers could, over time, build up a communal bank of resources for each theme, which would be listed on the subject plan for each year group. These resources could be stored in a language room or area and accessed by both teachers.
As already mentioned, unusually, students make choices regarding their Leaving Certificate subjects at the end of third year rather than at the end of their TY year. This can sometimes lead to an examination-focused subject content for TY, but it was evident that the plan for TY Spanish, where the approach taken to teaching the language differs from that in Leaving Certificate years, is appropriate and is in line with the ethos of TY. Students work on a project, learn more about the culture of South American countries and Hispanic traditions and organise a multi-lingual table quiz as part of the Languages Week in the school. Such activities, which give students a greater insight into the culture and richness of a country and its people, are to be strongly encouraged.
Resources for the language are good. The school runs a book rental scheme to which most students subscribe. While the subject department does not have a regular budget for resources, requests are usually met with favourably by management. In planning for further resources, and bearing senior cycle students in mind in particular, it is recommended that a library of Spanish reading material be made available to students in order to ensure that they have access to a wide range of reading material. Some very good Spanish short stories and novels are now available from the language specialist bookshops, including the current prescribed text, La Aventura de Saíd by Josep Lorman.
Individual planning for lessons is good and, at times, includes the use of teachers’ own laptops to present stimulus material relating to the relevant themes. During the evaluation a Spanish adaptation of the ‘Who wants to be a Millionaire’ quiz game was used effectively to revise learning at the end of one lesson. Most students have purchased laptops from the school and, in the study of Spanish, it is reported that these are used mostly for project work and research, rather than during lessons. Students can complete homework electronically by using the virtual classroom and e-portal, but in practice most homework is completed in copybooks which are more easily monitored. It is suggested that it may be opportune to evaluate school policy with regard to ICT provision, which creates the expectation that all students have a laptop computer, in terms of the efficient and effective use of this resource in the context of teaching and learning.
In some lessons there was evidence of very good use of the target language as the language of the classroom but in other lessons target language content was limited. In some lessons, while basic instructions were given in Spanish there was a lost opportunity to use more authentic communicative language in the classroom – for example, when taking the roll call, to enquire about students who were absent. It is recommended that efforts be made in all lessons to maximise the use of the target language for meaningful communication in the classroom, as it is through regularly hearing and using simple authentic Spanish that students will enhance their oral and aural skills. In some lessons, the good practice of avoiding the use of English to explain the meanings of words was observed. Visual aids, such as flashcards, magazine photographs and pictures on PowerPoint, were used effectively to present and practise vocabulary. This is greatly encouraged. Further use of visual aids could include picture stimuli to facilitate pair work and group work.
Classroom activities observed during lessons were varied and in all lessons a thematic approach ensured the integration of both productive and receptive language skills. This is good practice. In some lessons, well-managed active-learning activities such as pair work and role play were in evidence and students responded well to these. It is recommended that these and other active-learning methodologies such as group work, brainstorming exercises, games and debates be expanded and developed to increase the opportunities for each individual student to practise his or her language skills. It was suggested that some time could be spent at the beginning of lessons encouraging students to practise previous learning through a short question-and-answer pair work session. Board work was used effectively in all lessons to reinforce learning and to highlight grammar or vocabulary.
In all cases the lesson pace was good and the lesson content suited to the level and abilities of the students. Appropriate emphasis was placed on correct pronunciation and good attention was paid to language awareness. One-to-one questioning of students was used to good effect, although it was suggested that this activity could have been shortened in some lessons to give the students more opportunity to work in pairs or in groups. Good evidence of graded questioning when teaching vocabulary was seen, with lower-order questions leading on to higher-order questioning. It was suggested in one senior cycle class that directed questions should be aimed at individuals rather than to the whole group, and in another lesson that increased use of students’ names would have been more appropriate during oral work. In some lessons the good practice of using questions in the target language as well as English comprehension questions when doing listening comprehension exercises was observed and it is suggested that this be extended to all class groups.
In all lessons seen, classroom management was very good, with clear instructions and well-managed activities. Efforts were made to actively involve those students who did not naturally volunteer responses and students’ contributions were affirmed with encouraging comments such as excelente or perfecto. Students were fully engaged in all activities and it was evident that they were enjoying learning the language. At present students have set places in the classroom and it is suggested that this could mitigate against student activities such as pair work and group work where it would be more beneficial for students to work with different partners or groups. Teacher-student rapport was very good in all classes and the classroom atmosphere was conducive to the learning process. Students showed good understanding of lesson content and responded well to questioning. Some good written work was seen in students’ copybooks and it was evident that students are regularly assigned productive writing exercises, which is good practice.
Regular assessment of students’ progress is carried out through in-house examinations at Christmas and in the summer. Class tests are also carried out in October, February and at Easter. State examination classes sit pre-examinations in the spring. Reports are regularly sent to parents and annual parent-teacher meetings are held for each year group. The student journal can be used for communications with parents, and parents can make an appointment to meet teachers should the need arise.
Informal class tests are carried out regularly in Spanish classes and records kept of students’ progress. In first year, students sit common tests and it is suggested that this should be extended to all year groups. It is commended that both oral and aural assessments are carried out as part of the formal assessment for all year groups. The school has a homework policy and in Spanish classes, homework is assigned and corrected regularly. Students very often correct their own and each others’ work in class. The teachers then monitor and sign the copybooks. It is suggested that more regular monitoring of copybooks in some classes would be of benefit to students. It is also suggested that the ideas of the NCCA Assessment for Learning (AfL) initiative be investigated with a view to increasing students’ self-evaluation.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Provision for languages at the school is excellent.
· Curriculum provision within the school, coupled with appropriate timetabling, facilitates the growing uptake of Spanish.
· Management is aware that the growing numbers for Spanish will necessitate the appointment of another fully qualified teacher of Spanish.
· Teachers are commended for their organisation of co-curricular activities for the language.
· The long-term plan for Spanish shows evidence of much good work. Suggestions for its further development, particularly for the growing senior cycle, are contained in the body of this report.
· The plan for Transition Year is appropriate and in line with the overall aims of TY.
· Individual planning for lessons is good, emphasises the integration of the different language skills, and includes some strategies for active-learning.
· In lessons observed, visual aids, including PowerPoint presentations, were used effectively.
· Appropriate emphasis was placed on correct pronunciation and language awareness.
· In all lessons, good classroom management and positive teacher-student rapport contributed to the pleasant classroom atmosphere.
· Students showed good understanding of lesson content and responded well to questioning.
· Appropriate formal and informal assessment is carried out regularly. Commendably, assessment procedures include both oral and aural assessment for all year
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that efforts be made in all lessons to maximise the use of the target language for meaningful communication in the classroom.
· The active participation of students through active-learning strategies should be expanded and developed.
· It is suggested that more regular monitoring of copybooks in some classes would be of benefit to students.
· Teachers should renew membership of the Association of Teachers of Spanish to keep up-to-date with recent developments in the teaching of Spanish nationally.
· It is to be hoped that, in the long term, language classrooms will be teacher-based.
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.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations of the content of the inspection report
Colaiste Chiarain enthusiastically supports the Subject Inspection process, as conducted by the Department of Education & Science, as a key element of our commitment to excellence and ongoing improvement and evaluation. We are constantly striving to improve and enhance the quality of our educational provision and we regard this process as being very helpful in meeting this goal.
The report on the quality of teaching and learning of Spanish in Colaiste Chiarain is broadly reflective of how seriously we approach this particular language and furthermore illuminates our unique approach to the teaching of continental languages across the curriculum.
We consider the report to be detailed and comprehensive and a fair representation of the quality of teaching and learning in Colaiste Chiaráin. We are particularly pleased with the very positive affirmations contained therein, and is,both individually and collectively, a genuine endorsement of the work done by both the teaching staff and the management of the school.