An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Subject Inspection of Spanish

 REPORT

 

Castletroy College

Newtown, Castletroy

County Limerick

Roll number: 76073G

 

Date of inspection: 11 and 12 December 2007

Date of issue of report: 22 May 2008

 

 

 

Subject inspection report

Subject provision and whole school support

Planning and preparation

Teaching and learning

Assessment

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

 

 

 

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Spanish

 

 

 

Subject inspection report

 

This report has been written following a subject inspection in Castletroy College. 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 was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.

 

Subject provision and whole school support

 

Castletroy College, which is under the aegis of Limerick VEC, is a co-educational community college, which opened its doors in September 2000. It is situated on a spacious site on the outskirts of Limerick city. Provision for languages in the school is very good. Incoming first-year students can choose to study one of Spanish, French or German. All students must study a modern European language for both Junior Certificate (JC) and Leaving Certificate (LC). Only those students who have specific recommendations that they should not study a language do not take a language for LC and all students take a language for JC. Students are encouraged to study for the higher level examination for as long as possible and this is commended and encouraged. As languages are timetabled together in the same block, students can only study one language. While cognisant of timetabling limitations, it is however suggested that, in order to widen students’ options, the possibility of studying two languages in junior cycle should be investigated and accommodated where possible. Transition Year (TY) is optional in the school with approximately 70% of students availing of the option. Students make their choices for Leaving Certificate subjects in the February of Transition Year, or third year if not taking TY, and timetabling is carried out following a survey of students’ choices. This is good practice.

 

Spanish was offered as a subject in the school from the outset and numbers of students opting to study the language have grown hugely. At present there are four class groups in first and third years, three class groups in second year and three groups in each of fifth and sixth years. Transition Year has two class groups this year. Timetabling for the subject is very good in that all classes have single lessons spread over the week, with junior cycle and TY having four class periods and fifth and sixth years having five class periods. All classes are of mixed ability and students with special educational needs are integrated into classes. School management has organised whole-school in-service on teaching for mixed ability which is to be commended. It is notable that due to the special interest of a staff member in the Assessment for Learning (AfL) project, in-service has been provided for the whole staff on formative assessment techniques. This is greatly encouraged.

 

There are four fully qualified teachers of Spanish in the school.  The teachers are very aware of the importance of continuing professional development and it is commendable that all teachers have undertaken summer language courses in Spain over the years. All are members of the Association of Teachers of Spanish (ATS), with management actively encouraging this by paying the annual subscription.

 

Links with Spain are strong as the school has in the past had a partner school in Spain as part of a Comenius project and links have been established which have enabled students of Spanish to partake in exchanges with Spanish families. This is of enormous value to students. This year the school has availed of the opportunity to host a Spanish language assistant and it was evident during the evaluation that her input is of benefit to the students.

 

School development planning is well established within the school and subject departments are assigned time every six weeks to work on the subject planning process. This is of great benefit to the team and has enabled teachers to prepare a comprehensive subject plan which is evidence of much good work and collaboration. It is evident that the team members work well together and share resources and ideas for the teaching and learning of the subject.

 

Resources for Spanish are very good. All but one of the Spanish teachers has her own base classroom, which facilitates the creation of an authentic learning environment, the display of students’ work and immediate access to resources. In the context of mixed-ability teaching, having the necessary visual aids and teaching resources to hand and on display within the classroom greatly helps students’ retention and learning. These classrooms are very well equipped. All language teachers have their own tape-recorders/CD players, and video recorders/DVD players are located in most of the base classrooms. Overhead projectors are also in situ in many of the classrooms. Mobile units with data projectors are also available.

 

Access to information and communication technologies (ICT) both for teachers and students is good. The school has a language laboratory and four multi-media laboratories, one of which is mainly used for languages, and these, together with the computer room, can be booked by teachers in advance. Storage for resources is very good, with ample space in each classroom for a supply of teaching and learning resources. Teachers have been discussing the possibility of a suitable communal storage place for teaching resources for Spanish, to provide easy access for all teachers of the language and this would be a worthwhile development. All classrooms have wireless internet access and teachers have been allocated laptops for their own use, which can be used during lesson time. The school has an e-portal system for administrative purposes at present and plans are ongoing to provide a virtual learning environment (VLE) within the school, so that students may be able to access materials at home. It is suggested that a bank of Spanish listening material could be built up and made available to students through this very useful resource.

 

 

Planning and preparation

 

The comprehensive long-term subject plan for Spanish shows evidence of good work and collaboration among the team. Included in the plan are the minutes of subject department planning meetings and the issues raised, a list of online resources and available ICT, State examination information and a breakdown of students’ results, the term-by-term curriculum content for each year group, a list of textbooks used, assessment details, school tour and exchanges information, health-and-safety issues and professional development undertaken by the team. The plan also includes strategies for providing for students with special educational needs, including reasonable accommodations at mock examinations and details of differentiated teaching strategies.

 

It is recommended that, over time, further development of the subject plan could include a list of thematically linked resource materials, with the aim of providing students with sufficient practice of the four language skills around the different syllabus-based themes. A bank of material resources such as visual aids, listening tasks, role-plays, cue cards for pair and group work could be related to the different themes and shared among the team. Given the increasing opportunities which ICT brings to the learning of Spanish, and the development of a VLE in the school, some of the growing number of online resources for Spanish could also be included in this bank of material. It is also recommended that, in due course, a bank of differentiated tasks and worksheets for the different ranges of ability in each year group could be built up and shared among the team. Further development of the long-term plan for senior cycle should take priority.

 

Some very good teaching strategies were seen during the course of the inspection and it would be beneficial if such strategies, particularly those which encourage collaborative and active learning, could be discussed by the group as part of the subject planning process. It would also be of benefit for the team to discuss how best to prepare students for written production tasks, from first year to sixth year. Types of productive writing exercises can vary from simple role-play exercises or e-mail writing exercises for junior cycle students to debate topics or opinions on current themes by senior cycle students. If incorporated into a thematic approach, students will already have the necessary ‘tools’ to enable them to put their ideas into writing. Care should be taken that students are given the necessary practice to develop this skill.

 

The plan for TY Spanish includes details of student project work. Students complete a project on some aspect of Spain which they choose themselves and prepare and deliver a PowerPoint presentation. This emphasis on independent learning and active learning rather than on examination-orientated activities is in line with the ethos of TY and further development of such teaching methodologies is to be encouraged. It is also recommended that increased use of the target language in the preparation and presentation of these projects be considered.

 

It is commendable that planning for resources includes providing extra reading material for students. It is suggested that this could be supplemented by some age-appropriate, short, Spanish novels, such as the Barco de Vapor or the Gran Angular series, to provide students with an insight into the cultural life of young Spanish people as well as providing literary-style reading material. Some copies of the optional prescribed text, currently La Aventura de Saíd, could also be provided as part of the library of reading material available to students.

 

Short-term planning for lessons was, in all instances, good. The incorporation of music and songs into some of the lessons worked very well and visual aids and realia were at times used effectively to present vocabulary and to facilitate oral practice. Lesson content was suited to students’ ability and was sufficiently challenging. Planning for active learning methodologies was in evidence and this is commended and encouraged as good practice. Good planning for the input of the Spanish language assistant into lessons ensured that her contribution was useful and relevant to the theme, while at the same time giving students an insight into the life and culture of Spain.

 

 

Teaching and learning

 

There was evidence of good teaching and learning of Spanish in the lessons observed. The target language was used consistently and effectively as the language of communication in all lessons and students were obviously used to hearing and using the language. It was evident that students had been taught the language for general classroom communication from the outset, and visual reminders of some of the relevant phrases were provided on posters on the wall of some classrooms, which is useful practice. It is suggested that students should be expected to use the Spanish alphabet in all classes. The tendency, in one instance, to repeat instructions in English for junior cycle students was discouraged as unnecessary, as students showed good understanding. It is commendable that in most lessons efforts were made to explain the meaning of words through Spanish synonyms, sign language or visual aids rather than translating into English. The good linguistic skills of all members of the Spanish team showed evidence of their commitment to continuing professional development.

 

A thematic approach allowed for the integration of the different language skills in line with syllabus requirements. All teachers demonstrated a good awareness of students’ individual learning needs. One-to-one questioning of students was used to good effect in all lessons and there was evidence of the effective use of differentiated questioning techniques for students of differing abilities. It was noted, however, that in some lessons the setting of differentiated written and listening tasks would have enhanced students’ individual achievement.

 

Overall lesson pace was good and activities were suitably varied so that the students’ interest was maintained throughout the lessons. Classroom activities included games, songs, pair work, listening tasks, oral practice, reading comprehension and written exercises. In one instance it was suggested that too much time was spent on one activity and that this could have been shortened to provide for more varied activity, but in general, the inclusion of the different language skills in all lessons was appropriate. Students responded very well to active-learning tasks such as pair work, group work and role play, and it is recommended that similar activities be further developed for all classes. It would be of benefit to students to include at least one time-limited group/pair work activity in every lesson, so that each individual student has the opportunity to actively use the language during the lesson.

 

Visual stimuli such as drawings, attractively presented worksheets, songs and realia were used very effectively in some lessons to encourage oral practice and to revise vocabulary. The use of an overhead projector was used in one lesson to present vocabulary and it was suggested that this could also be used to present pictures and attractively presented visuals. Expanded use of visual resources in all lessons is encouraged as a means of facilitating learning, encouraging target-language use and aiding retention, particularly in classes of mixed ability.

 

Where listening comprehension tasks were set, good preparation of key vocabulary prior to the listening exercise was in evidence and this is good practice. Good attention to detail reinforced learning and appropriate emphasis was placed on grammar in all lessons.  The presence of the language assistant in a team-teaching setting provided an excellent resource for emphasising correct pronunciation and intonation. The use of games and songs in some lessons provided an opportunity to use the target language in an interesting way and students obviously enjoyed these activities.

 

In one lesson the imperfect tense was practised in context by using the theme of what students used to do at Christmas when they were small. The teaching and practising of grammatical concepts in such a thematic and integrated way is excellent practice, reinforcing language awareness while using the language meaningfully. The topical theme of a Spanish Christmas featured in several of the lessons observed and, with the help of the language assistant, provided a good opportunity for students to learn more about life in Spain. In all of the lessons seen a strong sense of Spanish culture was in evidence.

 

Teacher-student rapport was excellent in all lessons observed and the classroom atmosphere was very pleasant and conducive to the learning process. Management of classroom activities was good and students were at all times interested and engaged. Students’ efforts were consistently affirmed, to which they responded well. It was evident that good learning was taking place. Students were responsive and, when questioned, demonstrated good oral skills. Good work was in evidence in students’ copybooks and it was clear that students were achieving to an appropriate standard.

 

The fact that teachers have their own base classrooms facilitates the display of Spanish-related posters, flags, news boards and other visual aids. Some examples of students’ work were displayed on the classroom walls and it is recommended that this be increased in all classrooms as a way of increasing students’ ownership of, and pride in, their work.

 

 

Assessment

 

Regular assessment of students’ progress takes place in Spanish, both formally and informally, and records of each individual student maintained. Class tests are given on a regular basis, usually at the end of each topic, and vocabulary and grammar testing is carried out regularly. Results of these tests are communicated to parents through the students’ journal.

 

In-house school examinations are carried out at Christmas and the summer, with mock examinations for State examination classes being held in the spring and all of these are followed by reports to parents. Parent-teacher meetings are held once per year for each year group. Common tests are given to all Spanish junior cycle classes with common marking schemes which is good practice. It is suggested that this should be extended to fifth and sixth years where students are taking the same level of State examination. It is strongly commended that oral and aural testing forms part of the formal assessment for all year groups.  

 

Assessment for TY is carried out informally. Spanish teachers carry out assessment of TY students each term through a written exam which includes grammar and reading comprehensions, together with tests of aural and oral skills. Particular emphasis is placed on oral work and project work during TY.

 

In accordance with the school’s homework policy, Spanish teachers give regular and appropriate homework tasks to students. It is recommended that, in order to develop students’ writing skills, all teachers ensure that a variety of written production tasks are regularly assigned, corrected and monitored for all year groups. It is also suggested that, in order to consolidate learning, all students should be required to correct their mistakes in their copybooks and keep a corrected version for revision purposes. The further application of AfL strategies, such as formative marking of copybooks in the target language, would aid student improvement and is encouraged.

 

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

·         Whole-school support and provision of resources for the teaching and learning of Spanish is very good.

·         Spanish teachers work well as a team and show a commitment to professional development.

·         Access to information and communication technologies (ICT) for the teaching and learning of Spanish is good.

·         The subject plan for Spanish is evidence of much good work and collaboration. Ideas for its further development, particularly at senior cycle, are contained within the

      body of this report.

·         Short-term planning for lessons is good and a thematic approach allows for the integration of the different language skills.

·         Planning for team teaching with the language assistant is very effective.

·         Planning includes strategies for providing for students with special educational needs.

·         Planning for active-learning methodologies was in evidence and this is commended and encouraged as good practice.

·         There was evidence of good teaching and learning of Spanish in all lessons observed.

·         The target language was used consistently and effectively as the language of communication in the classroom.

·         Overall lesson pace was good and classroom activities were varied.

·         The use of visual aids in several lessons enhanced learning.

·         Teacher-student rapport was excellent and the atmosphere in all lessons was very pleasant.

·         Classroom management was good and students were at all times interested and engaged.

·         It was clear that students were achieving to an appropriate standard.

·         Appropriate formal and informal assessment of students’ progress takes place on a regular basis, results recorded and communicated to parents.

·         Commendably, oral and aural testing forms part of the formal assessment for all year groups.

 

 

As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:

·         Further development of active-learning strategies in all lessons is recommended.

·         The Spanish team should plan for differentiated written and listening tasks.

·         Further expansion of the use of visual aids is encouraged.

·         It is recommended that teachers ensure that appropriate written tasks are regularly assigned, corrected and monitored for all year groups.

 

 

 

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.