An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Spanish
Blackrock Road, Cork
Roll number: 81008W
Date of inspection: 16 March 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 June 2006
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Ashton School. 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 teacher’s 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 of the school 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.
Ashton is a mixed school with a total enrolment of 523 students, 278 of whom are boys and 245 are girls. Enrolment numbers have remained steady over the last twenty years. Spanish is currently offered as a Leaving Certificate option to fifth and sixth-year students and all students who opt for Transition Year take a ‘taster’ module of the language for one term. Spanish is not offered at junior cycle. At present there are thirteen students taking Spanish in fifth year and seventeen in sixth year. Of these, twelve students in fifth year and three students in sixth year are taking the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme and are timetabled for one extra class of Spanish. Students sit the Leaving Certificate examination after two years of studying the language and the numbers opting to do so have grown over the past few years.
The school introduced Spanish into Transition Year as part of the Post-Primary Languages Initiative four years ago and it was subsequently offered as a Leaving Certificate option. The possibility of introducing the language into junior cycle has been considered by management but the current junior-cycle choices and timetabling arrangements make this option difficult. In first year, all students take French as a core subject and German is offered as a ‘taster’ subject. In the first term of first year, students take ‘taster’ modules for all subjects offered as options in second and third years. In second year, French continues to be a core subject for the Junior Certificate examination and students may study German as an optional subject. In senior cycle, option blocks are decided by the school and reviewed regularly, but with little need for change. Parent-teacher meetings are held for each year group annually. The student journal is used as a means of communicating with parents when necessary.
It is of great benefit that language teachers have their own designated classrooms as this facilitates the creation of a stimulating learning environment where resources can be stored within easy access and students’ projects, posters, maps and other material relating to the language and country can be displayed. Resources are supplied on a needs basis and this arrangement seems to be working well. The classroom used for teaching Spanish is well equipped, with the use of an overhead projector, whiteboard and tape recorder. A data projector is available if required. Depending on availability, two very well-equipped computer rooms are available to language teachers when required and Spanish classes make use of this facility from time to time. There is wireless access to broadband throughout the school.
School development planning within the school is well established and regular subject meetings have formed part of this collaborative planning. On the day of the evaluation it was noticed that there was a high level of absenteeism in the classes visited and this may have been due to a couple of factors relating to school activities in the days prior to the visit. However, it is suggested that the issue of non-attendance could be investigated and addressed as part of the school development planning process.
There is evidence of both good long- and short-term planning for Spanish. It is of great credit to the Spanish department that this planning enables students to reach the standard required for the Leaving Certificate examination in the short period of just over two years. Detailed planning for lesson content was in evidence, as too was an overall long-term plan for the Leaving Certificate course. It is suggested that, while cognisance be taken of examination requirements, long-term plans for the subject should be informed by the syllabus. Planning is in line with curricular requirements and the pace and content of lessons take student performance and needs into account. The four main language skills are integrated into an overall thematic approach and many of the methodologies seen reflect optimal practice for language teaching. Planning for assessment includes both oral and aural assessment for all levels throughout the course, which is sound practice.
Lessons seen were purposeful, well structured and integrated into an overall scheme of work. Preparation for each lesson allowed for a variety of student activities, which ensured that students were fully engaged at all times. The fact that the classroom used for Spanish classes has a display of posters, maps, information about Spanish football teams and students’ projects on Spain all adds to the students’ awareness of Spanish culture and create a rich learning environment.
The use of the target language in all classes was exemplary, in that all classroom instructions, explanations, questioning and answering were in Spanish. Students were obviously well used to using the target language for general communication within the classroom, a strategy that markedly raises the overall level of fluency and promotes the use of simple, authentic language. Students addressed the teacher as ‘Profe’, giving a further touch of authenticity to the language of the classroom. When questioned about their reasons for choosing a particular word, students were able to explain in Spanish the reasons for their choice. Both pronunciation and intonation were of a high standard overall. Good attention was paid to language awareness and occasionally a spot check was taken around the class on some grammatical construction. At one point, comparisons were drawn between similar English and Spanish phrases in order to emphasise a grammatical point. This is a useful strategy to help develop students’ awareness of the links between the languages.
Lessons progressed at a good pace and the content was challenging, while suited to the students’ capabilities. There was clarity of lesson purpose and instructions given were clear. Attention was paid to individual students’ learning needs and key concepts and new vocabulary were explained effectively. In one lesson, students were practising the language needed for expressing opinions and the level of language in the ensuing discussion was impressively high. Suggestions were made about strategies to encourage greater learner autonomy and self-directed learning, where the onus would be more on the students themselves to research and prepare vocabulary needed for discussions and productive writing. Activities were varied throughout the lessons and included teacher input, one-to-one questioning, dialogue writing, pair work, group work, a cloze procedure exercise, overhead projector presentation with gradual unmasking of the relevant phrases, productive writing and worksheet exercises. Homework exercises were set and corrected and revision of lexical items at the beginning of each lesson ensured that there was continuity with previous learning. Spanish classes are of mixed ability, with students taking ordinary and higher levels together in the same class. While this potentially problematic situation was dealt with very successfully, it is suggested that differentiated worksheets could be useful to ensure that all students are actively engaged when giving individual attention to those students who need it.
In one lesson, students were preparing for the oral examination and worked their way through various themes which were presented to them. While some of the revision work involved one-to-one questioning by the teacher, most of the work was done by the students themselves through well-managed pair work. In this way maximum use was made of the time available. Teacher questioning was clear and the range of questions elicited good responses from the students. A high level of individual attention was paid to students during the pair work and students’ attempts were affirmed throughout. A useful ploy at this stage of revision might be to note the most common mistakes on the whiteboard in order to highlight the pitfalls prior to the oral examination. This could be done sensitively, without denting the individual student’s confidence by interrupting him/her, but by taking five minutes at the end of class to let students make note of the main points.
Good work has been carried out in building up a resource bank of material for the teaching of Spanish. Resources used include authentic materials gleaned from various Spanish websites, newspaper articles, video clips, aural tapes, textbooks, grammar books and lyrics of Spanish songs, among others. Spanish books are available to students in the school library and some suggestions were made about other possible reading material, in order to build up this resource. There is good emphasis on cultural awareness in the teaching of Spanish in the school. Throughout the lessons seen, mention was made of the life and customs of Spain where possible and classroom discussion included the students’ opinions on bullfighting which is a live issue in Spain currently. Places mentioned were pointed out on the map of Spain on the wall and it was obvious that students were familiar with the geography of the country.
The atmosphere in all classes was pleasant and student-teacher rapport was excellent. Learning activities were well managed and there was a sense of purpose throughout. Students were fully engaged in all activities and showed a high level of understanding of lesson content.
Students’ progress is monitored regularly through monthly assessment tests and formal examinations are held at the end of first and third terms. Monthly summary reports are sent to parents along with termly formal reports. In Spanish, ongoing assessment is carried out with regular vocabulary and grammar tests. Modes of assessment reflect the objectives of the curriculum, in that aural, oral and written skills are tested regularly. Students have built up an impressive range of vocabulary and show a willingness and ability to communicate effectively in Spanish. In the limited time available for the study of the Leaving Certificate course, students have made excellent progress and, overall, show a high level of competence in both written and spoken Spanish.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
· The use of the target language in the classroom is exemplary, reflecting best practice for language teaching.
· Lesson planning incorporates a variety of activities to include all four language skills.
· Resources used include a good selection of authentic material from a variety of sources highlighting cultural issues and topics.
· Having a designated classroom has facilitated the creation of a rich learning environment for Spanish.
· Students show a willingness and ability to communicate effectively in the language.
· Good attention is paid to grammar, pronunciation and intonation.
· Effective strategies to encourage student activity are utilised.
· While students showed a high level of competence, some suggestions to encourage greater learner autonomy and self-directed learning were made.
· Both long- and short-term planning is in evidence and it is suggested that this could be more syllabus-based.
· Student-teacher rapport is excellent.
· During lessons seen there was clarity of lesson purpose and instructions given were clear.
· Pair- and group-work were well managed and productive, resulting in a high level of student participation.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The preparation of ab initio students for the Spanish Leaving Certificate examination in just two years following Transition Year is a daunting task. While the school is to be praised for offering a choice of three languages in senior cycle, it is to be hoped that management will again investigate the possibility of offering the subject in junior cycle.
· The introduction of differentiated worksheets or exercises would be useful in the context of classes with students of mixed ability.
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.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
The school and board are very pleased by the positive comments contained in the report.
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 board are undertaking a review of option subjects in the school to see if it is possible to
introduce Spanish at an earlier stage.