An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Spanish
Meánscoil Iognáid Rís,
Drimnagh Castle, Dublin 12
Roll number: 60480G
Date of inspection: 1 May 2007
Date of issue of report: 8 November 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Spanish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Meánscoil Iognáid Rís, Drimnagh Castle. 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; a response was not received from the board.
Meánscoil Iognáid Rís is an all-boys’ school, founded by the Christian Brothers in 1954 and located in Drimnagh on the site of an historic castle. The school provides the following programmes: Junior Certificate, Leaving Certificate, Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) and an optional Transition Year (TY). The current enrolment is 630 boys, and numbers have remained steady over the years. Spanish is offered throughout the school and remains a popular option in both junior and senior cycle.
All junior cycle students study a modern European language in first year. Incoming students study either French or Spanish, a choice which is made for them by the school in order to ensure that both languages remain viable options on the curriculum. It is recommended that this arrangement be regularly reviewed, to ensure that students’ needs are best being met. Students who have a particular wish to study either language are accommodated where possible. The study of two languages is not an option due to timetabling arrangements, but it is to be commended that management encourages all students to study one language in junior cycle. Some students with special educational needs may choose to drop the language in second year and it is seen as important that the possible future implications of this be explained fully to both students and parents. Currently, eighteen students out of a cohort of 95 in second year and twenty-two out of a cohort of 145 in third year do not study a European language. It is good to note that, in general, students are encouraged to aim for the higher level Junior Certificate examination where possible. Spanish classes are of mixed ability in first year, and second-year and third-year class groups are streamed, but timetabled concurrently to facilitate movement of students. This year there are two class groups for Spanish in each of first, second and third year.
Senior cycle students study the six core subjects of English, Mathematics, Irish, Computer Studies, Physical Education and Religion and choose another four subjects from set bands of options. Both Spanish and French are included in the same options band.
The optional TY programme has one class group of students who are studying continuation Spanish. In both fifth year and sixth year there are two class groups studying Spanish. LCVP students who are not studying a modern European language for the Leaving Certificate examination are timetabled for a Spanish ab initio module which consists of three weekly periods for the two years of the LCVP programme.
Provision for Spanish on the timetable is very good and in line with syllabus recommendations. All junior cycle classes have four class periods of Spanish per week, the TY class has four periods per week and both fifth-year and sixth-year groups are allocated three single and one double class periods weekly. There are three qualified teachers of Spanish in the school, and another teacher who takes the LCVP language module.
Resources for Spanish are provided on a needs basis and management is supportive in this regard. The school recently installed a multimedia language laboratory which is used by language teachers at various times during the week. This opens up many interesting possibilities for the incorporation of information and communication technology (ICT) into language learning as students have access to networked computers during class time, allowing them to work on a variety of computer-based tasks under the supervision of the teacher. Satellite television is also accessible in the laboratory and this provides an opportunity to enhance students’ awareness of the culture of Spain by using authentic Spanish language television programmes as learning tools.
Each teacher has access to a CD player/tape recorder for use during lessons and these are stored in a central location. Classrooms are student-based, so that teachers move from class to class. Should a teacher who is not timetabled for the multimedia room for a particular lesson wish to avail of an overhead projector, video recorder or DVD player, these are available in specialist rooms, such as the demonstration room, which can be booked in advance. The multimedia laboratory is used as the main language room in the school and language teachers have availed of this to display posters, maps and other language-related material to help create a stimulating environment for language learning. The optimal situation where language teachers would have their own base classrooms or where several classrooms would be designated as specialist language rooms does not appear to be a possibility at present, but it is suggested that this be reviewed at a later date when looking at the long-term plans for the language. A base classroom would not only provide immediate access to a CD player/tape recorder and other necessary resources, but could facilitate the communicative approach to teaching the language through the use of visual stimuli. It would also support the integrated approach to language learning, where a tape recorder/CD player is immediately to hand for short listening exercises as part of an overall theme. In the meantime, it is suggested that the general classrooms could also be used to display students’ projects, Spanish posters and other language-related material to foster the development of cultural awareness.
The school does not have any particular links with Spain, but students are encouraged to go on exchange holidays to the country through an organisation run by a past teacher of Spanish. It is to be commended that all Spanish teachers have links with Spain and endeavour to keep in touch with the country. The school encourages involvement in continuing professional development as is seen by support expressed for one of the Spanish teaching team who is involved in doing a Spanish-related Masters degree. As no contact has been established with the Association of Teachers of Spanish, it is strongly recommended that membership of this professional organisation be taken up, in order to receive information regarding developments in the teaching and learning of Spanish.
The school has been involved in whole-school development planning for several years and has availed of in-service and support from the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI). Policy review and preparation is well advanced and, at present, work is being carried out on the preparation of a homework policy. Subject department planning is ongoing and it is to be commended that time is set aside regularly to enable teachers to work collaboratively on this process.
There is evidence of both long-term and short-term planning for the teaching and learning of Spanish. A subject co-ordinator has been appointed and it is reported that teachers meet four or five times a year to work on the long-term planning for the subject. Minutes are kept of these meetings and this is good practice to ensure that the process moves forward. The French and Spanish teams meet from time to time to discuss common issues and this is a positive arrangement which could lead to a sharing of expertise. A plan for Spanish has been prepared, showing evidence of good collaboration on the part of the team. It is suggested that further development of this subject plan could include the specific learning objectives for each year group based on syllabus content, together with suggested teaching methodologies and strategies used to encourage active learning.
It is evident that much work has gone into collecting resources and accessing authentic materials for the teaching and learning of Spanish and these are included in the subject plan. Resources for the teaching of Spanish include a variety of textbooks, magazines, listening comprehension tapes and CDs, computer software and a selection of Spanish films and DVDs/videos. A large number of these are stored in the multimedia room.
It is important that planning for the subject should be based on syllabus content rather than textbook content, and both the Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate syllabuses for Spanish recommend a thematic approach to teaching and learning, with the integration of all four language skills around different themes. While the Spanish teachers have adopted such an approach at junior cycle, there is a need to develop a similar approach in planning for senior cycle. Examples of teaching methodologies for incorporating this approach can be found in the NCCA Leaving Certificate Spanish Draft Guidelines for Teachers. It is recommended that this approach, where both receptive and productive language skills are taught in an integrated manner around a theme or topic, be extended to all classes in senior cycle, rather than the tendency to teach the language skills in isolation. It is also recommended that junior cycle classes in particular should have some listening exercise in almost every lesson. It is suggested that as subject planning progresses over time, a bank of resources could be built up around the different themes for each year group, so that teachers can pool their resource materials.
The current choice of course book may be having some impact on the teaching approach used in senior cycle. Not all teachers of senior cycle are using the same course book with the students – it is strongly recommended that research into available course books (preferably with accompanying CDs or tapes) for the Leaving Certificate course be undertaken by the subject department team and decisions taken regarding which will be used by all teachers. While not all course books will be suited to both higher and ordinary level, consideration could be given to using the same core textbook with supplementary material where necessary. Where no basic textbook is currently being used, much work has gone into the preparation of teacher-sourced materials from a variety of sources. While this is to be commended, it is important to ensure that the totality of material chosen comprehensively covers the syllabus content and that students are exposed to a wide enough range of suitably challenging authentic reading and listening material.
Some suggestions were made regarding extra reading material which could be obtained to build up a library of suitable literary-style texts for students. Series of books specifically aimed at this age group, such as the Barco de Vapor or the Gran Angular series, of which the current prescribed text La Aventura de Saíd is one, not only provide further reading opportunities, but give students an insight into the life of young people in Spain. When planning for resources, the availability of dictionaries in the classroom could also be of benefit to senior cycle students.
When planning for individual lessons it was evident that the students’ interests and learning styles are taken into account. Some good worksheets and materials for use in class had been prepared by teachers and overall preparation for lessons was very satisfactory. In several junior cycle lessons, planning included a variety of activities around a theme, linking listening exercises with oral questioning and written exercises. This is good practice.
A good range of classroom activities was seen during the evaluation visit and these included: students’ use of language software in the multimedia laboratory; individual teacher-student questioning; completion of worksheet exercises; teacher input; listening comprehension tasks; practice preparation for the oral examination and vocabulary testing.
All teachers demonstrated a good standard of spoken Spanish and there was evidence of the use of the target language to varying degrees in the lessons seen. In some instances a roll call in Spanish was used effectively to settle classes down and to begin the lesson. In some lessons where Spanish was used very successfully for classroom management and transactions, it was evident that students were more confident in speaking the language. However, in some lessons observed there was a tendency to over-use English for classroom communications or to translate all instructions and general phrases into English. It is therefore suggested that further development of target language usage in the classroom could be highlighted as one of the aims of the planning process. To this end, a CD and booklet set, containing expressions and phrases for the Spanish classroom, Usando el español en clase, has been sent to schools and further copies are available from the Post-Primary Languages Initiative at www.languagesinitiative.ie. It was good to see students using the Spanish alphabet in some lessons and this is to be encouraged in all classes. In one lesson seen, the repetition of a well-used Spanish phrase to remind students to aprenderlo de memoria ensured that students remembered both the phrase and their learning homework tasks.
The use of the whiteboard was clear and effective in lessons seen. Some visual prompts in the form of impromptu drawing on the whiteboard were also used in one lesson to explain the meaning of some vocabulary to students and this proved very effective as it obviated the need for translation into English. It is suggested that the role of visual stimuli could be greatly expanded in the teaching of Spanish. Pictures or photos could be used to introduce vocabulary or to act as a stimulus for oral practice in class, without the need for translation into English. While overhead projectors, hard copy or electronic picture flashcards or interactive whiteboards can be very useful in this regard, simple drawings, newspaper or magazine pictures, relevant objects or any other visual aid can also be used to encourage increased use of the target language in class.
In several junior cycle lessons the good practice of introducing a variety of activities such as listening exercises, oral questioning and worksheet exercises on the same theme reinforced students’ learning and ensured that the students’ interest was maintained throughout. In these classes students showed a willingness to speak the language. It is suggested that the introduction of pair work or group work into the lesson would have increased each individual student’s language output and involved them more in classroom activities. In planning for individual lessons, it would be of benefit to include some structured active-learning strategies, such as pair or group work, brainstorming or role plays in order to maximise the students’ active participation. These are best introduced when students are in first year so that students become used to this type of activity.
There was evidence of continuity of learning and a gradual and systematic building up of vocabulary and grammar in all lessons observed. Students are encouraged to note and learn key vocabulary and this is monitored in regular class tests. In one lesson visited, senior cycle students were revising vocabulary in preparation for the oral examination, using a revision book with sample questions and answers. It was good to note that the students were mostly expressing their own ideas in giving their answers. It is important to be conscious of the fact that such textbooks should be used as a springboard for the students’ own ideas and that the practice of oral skills in class should focus more on the individual students’ own ideas rather than on set answers. This should be reflected in written production exercises on similar topics. Again, some pair or group work in this lesson, perhaps using target-language cue cards as stimuli, could have lessened the need to translate phrases, maximised students’ output and increased the participation of individual students.
A lesson in the multimedia laboratory gave students the opportunity to work at their own pace on a variety of language-related tasks. This type of activity is very useful when used from time to time. The teacher circulated the room, monitoring students’ work and all students were fully engaged in the task in hand. It is suggested that short introductory and plenary sessions in such lessons would clarify expected outcomes, consolidate learning and ensure that students fully understand the language content.
Listening comprehension exercises were used in several of the lessons seen, with students answering questions on the theme at hand. In one instance students studied a copy of the tapescript in advance of the listening exercise and, while this is sometimes useful for a particularly difficult text, it is suggested that in order to train students to listen for the key words needed to understand the content, it would be more beneficial for students to study the written version of the tapescript after, rather than before, attempting the listening comprehension exercise.
While written production tasks are given from time to time to students, it was noted from students’ copybooks that there is scope for increasing this type of assignment in senior cycle particularly. As productive writing is a skill which needs to be developed throughout the student’s study of the language, it should be incorporated in some form into every theme or topic. 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 to ensure that students are given the necessary practice to develop this skill.
The purpose of lessons was clear and, in some instances, this was communicated to the students at the outset, which is to be encouraged as a way of clarifying learning outcomes and increasing the students’ ownership of their own learning. Students showed good understanding of lesson content in general. Overall, teachers had a good rapport with students and were affirming of students’ efforts. In the lessons seen, students were well behaved and responded positively to directions from the teachers. Classroom management was good and instructions were clear. The teacher’s sense of humour added to the positive classroom atmosphere in one or two instances.
Students have in-house examinations at Christmas and prior to the summer holidays, while examination classes have ‘mock’ examinations in the spring. Each year group has an annual parent-teacher meeting and there are regular reports to parents. Parents may contact teachers by appointment when necessary. Spanish classes sit common examinations in first year, which is good practice. Informal class assessment is ongoing as regular vocabulary and grammar tests are set and students’ progress recorded.
At present, except for fifth-year and sixth-year students who have a short oral examination during class time, formal in-house assessment of students of Spanish consists solely of a written examination. It is strongly recommended that, in order to reflect the objectives of the Spanish curriculum, students’ listening skills should be assessed as an integral part of the assessment process for Spanish in every year group. It is further recommended that the formal assessment of oral skills should also be introduced where possible, both in senior and junior cycle.
Homework is assigned and monitored on a regular basis. The positive practice of requiring students to write out a corrected version of their mistakes was evident, consolidating learning. In some cases there was evidence of formative comments in the target language in students’ copybooks which is good practice as this gives students the tools to improve on their performance.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Spanish is offered throughout the school and remains a popular option in both junior and senior cycle.
· Provision for Spanish on the timetable is very good and in line with syllabus recommendations.
· The recently installed multimedia language laboratory opens up many interesting possibilities for the incorporation of information and communication technology (ICT) into language learning and was put to good use during several lessons seen.
· The display of Spanish posters and other language-related materials in the multimedia laboratory provides a stimulating environment for language learning, and it is suggested that, in the absence of teacher-based rooms, this be extended to the general classrooms used for language teaching.
· There is evidence of both long-term and short-term planning for the teaching and learning of Spanish. A subject plan for Spanish has been prepared, showing evidence of good collaboration on the part of the team.
· A good range of classroom activities was seen during the evaluation visit.
· In some lessons Spanish was used very successfully for classroom management and transactions.
· Good attention was paid to vocabulary building, language awareness and grammar.
· Students were fully engaged in all tasks and showed a good level of understanding overall.
· Classroom management was good and instructions were clear.
· Overall, teachers had a good rapport with students and were affirming of students’ efforts. Students were well behaved and responded positively to directions from the teachers.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· Increased use of the target language as the language for classroom communications with all year groups is recommended.
· It is recommended that a thematic approach to language teaching, where both receptive and productive language skills are taught in an integrated manner around a theme or topic, be extended to all classes. Care should be taken that each of the language skills, particularly the productive skills of speaking and writing, are equally catered for.
· Contact should be established with the Association of Teachers of Spanish, in order to receive information regarding developments in the teaching and learning of Spanish.
· The incorporation of active-learning methodologies and the increased use of visual stimuli into lessons could greatly increase students’ participation and are recommended.
· In order to reflect the objectives of the Spanish curriculum at all levels, students’ listening and oral skills should be assessed as an integral part of the formal assessment process for Spanish.
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.