An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Spanish
Coláiste Éinde, Threadneedle Road,
Galway, County Galway
Roll number: 62981P
Date of inspection: 19 October 2007
Date of issue of report: 12 March 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Spanish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Éinde. 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 teacher, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teacher. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and the 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 on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Coláiste Éinde is a co-educational secondary school situated on the outskirts of Galway city, in spacious grounds overlooking Galway Bay. The school has a current enrolment of 605 students, made up of 428 boys and 177 girls. The school offers the Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate programmes, together with the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) and a Transition Year (TY) programme. At present it does not offer the Leaving Certificate Applied option and it is suggested that this is an area which could be regularly reviewed to ensure that all students’ needs are being met.
Provision for languages in the school is very good. All incoming first-year students have a taster course for the first six weeks and then choose their subjects for Junior Certificate. Students can choose Spanish, German or French. Senior cycle students make their choices regarding subjects for Leaving Certificate prior to timetabling to ensure that most students’ choices are accommodated. This is sound practice. All students are encouraged to study a language to Leaving Certificate level, and students with special educational needs have the opportunity to study the language of their choice, which is to be commended. Subject teachers liaise with the special educational needs team to discuss these students’ needs. At present there is one teacher of Spanish in the school. This year the number of first-year students opting for Spanish was greater than the one timetabled class group, so it is planned that the subject will be offered in another option band in subsequent years. This is greatly encouraged in order to accommodate all students who wish to study the language. The number of students opting for Spanish has increased in recent years at both junior and senior cycles.
There is one class group for Spanish in each year. Timetabling for the subject in general is good, with junior cycle classes having four single class periods spread over the week and senior cycle classes having five single periods, again with a good spread over the week. Classes for Spanish are of mixed ability throughout the school. Transition Year (TY) is optional in the school, and this year’s particular group, due to a small uptake in TY, is made up of students of German and French as well as Spanish. This situation creates huge challenges and much credit is due to the teacher, who, in order to ensure that all students maintain their different language skills in the three languages, has utilised some creative teaching methodologies. This TY class has three class periods weekly, two of which are on the same day, which is not ideal. It is suggested that, should a similar situation occur again, a collaborative review of the TY programme for languages should be carried out by teachers of all three languages, in consultation with management, as part of the planning process.
The Spanish teacher has his own well-equipped base classroom, which facilitates the creation of a rich teaching environment. Resources for the teaching of the language are excellent, with a video recorder, DVD player, overhead projector, tape-recorder and CD player in situ in the classroom. A laptop computer and data projector are available on request and at the time of the inspection were in use during the lessons observed. The school has a language laboratory and it is hoped that this will soon be converted into a multi-media laboratory. Teachers have access to computers in a workroom and the school has created e-portal access for all teachers and students. The school has wireless broadband. Teachers can book their classes into the computer room when required and this has been availed of for the teaching of Spanish.
The school has taken up the opportunity of hosting Spanish language assistants in the past and it was reported that this worked out very well. The Spanish teacher keeps in regular contact with Spanish native speakers with a view to maintaining his very good linguistic skills. Commendably, he also remains in contact with the Association of Teachers of Spanish (ATS) and attends meetings regularly in order to keep abreast of developments in the teaching of Spanish nationally and to avail of any in-service opportunities. It is worth noting that information regarding ATS activities is available on their website (atsireland.com) and members should provide e-mail contact details to receive updates. School management encourages continuing professional development and assists with expenses incurred through attendance at in-service courses. At a whole-school level, it is to be commended that school management has availed of whole-staff in-service sessions from the Second Level Support Services (SLSS) and the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) to support teachers in their work.
European links within the school are strong. The school has undertaken a Comenius project and annual exchanges are ongoing with France and Germany. A school trip to Barcelona was organised last year. The possibility of finding a partner school in Spain is being considered and should prove to be a positive development.
Whole-school development planning is well established within the school and management is to be commended for allocating time for formal subject planning. Designated time is set aside approximately three times per year for this process. Work on long-term planning for Spanish is ongoing and, currently, the subject plan includes details of the curriculum content for each year group, details of assessment, issues relating to the action plan, textbooks and available resources. Subject planning for languages is carried out collaboratively, with all of the modern European language teams working together. This is good practice as it provides for a sharing of expertise and ideas. It is evident that good work on long-term planning for Spanish has already been carried out and the following suggestions are to assist in the further development of the subject plan.
The SDPI subject planning template has proved useful in planning for the subject. However, it is recommended that using an electronic version would greatly facilitate its further development and review. The subject plan, which should be syllabus based, could be expanded to include not only more details of the individual themes to be covered by each year group, together with the grammar content and planned assessment, but also the specific teaching resources and methodologies linked to these themes. Much work has been done on planning for teaching resources, such as listening comprehension exercises, related to specific themes for the different year groups and it is recommended that these resources be listed in the plan. Further development of the plan, over time, could give more detailed information on the specific learning objectives for each year group, teaching methodologies and strategies used to encourage collaborative learning and active learning tasks, as well as examples of differentiated tasks where relevant. As the plan develops, a bank of theme-related resources, such as differentiated worksheets, could be built up. Some very good teaching strategies were seen during the course of the inspection and great benefit is to be gained from sharing and discussing different strategies and resources with other language colleagues. It was suggested that regular contact should be maintained with other teachers of Spanish in the local area, with a view to sharing resources and ideas.
Individual lesson planning was of a high standard and allowed for a variety of activities which ensured that students were at all times engaged and interested. Integration of the different language skills around a theme provided a good variety of oral, aural, reading and writing activities. All lessons had a clear structure, were syllabus appropriate and part of a coherent plan. Lesson content was suited to students’ level and ability, while taking account of their interests. As classes are of mixed ability, lesson planning allows for differentiated tasks with some year groups. This is commended and it is suggested that, over time, this could be further developed to ensure that all students can achieve to their own level.
An excellent supply of resources has been built up over the years for the teaching and learning of Spanish in the school. Storage of resources is facilitated by the fact that the teacher has his own base classroom with ample cupboard space.
There was evidence of excellent teaching and learning in the lessons seen. The use of the target language for all classroom interactions was exemplary; with the result that students’ accents were very good. Beginning each lesson with the roll call in Spanish set the tone and provided an opportunity for the teacher to engage students in conversation in the target language. Throughout lessons, emphasis on pronunciation was good, yet corrections were carried out sensitively so as not to dent students’ confidence. Explanations of vocabulary were carried out in the target language, sometimes with the aid of visual aids, and very little English was spoken throughout. Students were obviously used to hearing and using the target language on a regular basis.
The pace of lessons never flagged and activities were varied, so that the students’ interest was maintained at all times. A range of methodologies was used to good effect and these included one-to-one questioning, describing picture content, listening comprehension exercises, teacher input, handouts, pair work, role plays, word-association exercises, and a jumbled-sentence exercise. In one lesson, the lesson aims were written up on the whiteboard for the students to see and this is a good strategy which could be expanded to all class groups, in order to provide students with a clear focus for learning. A good range of resources was in evidence and included handouts, cue cards for role play exercises, visual aids using PowerPoint, a map of South America, tape exercises, an overhead projector, and magazines. Classroom posters, and items within the classroom itself, were used to remind students of grammar details and to clarify the meanings of words. It is suggested that the good practice of using pictures and other visual aids to aid learning be expanded and further developed.
One-to-one questioning of students was used to good effect, and where a student had difficulty answering, while allowing sufficient time for the student to answer, the other students were then invited to supply an answer by using the phrase ¡Ayúdale un poco! The use of differentiated questioning, ranging from higher-order to lower-order questions, was in evidence and efforts were made to ensure the participation of all students. Teacher expectations, while realistic, were high and students responded positively to this. Some minor suggestions were given to further encourage autonomous learning, for example, giving TY students more choice regarding the content and form of the project they complete during the year. In one lesson dealing to environmental issues, it was suggested that by giving key words rather than full phrases to students, they could then have been asked to supply their own phrases. In all lessons seen, appropriate emphasis was placed on language awareness and grammar.
The use of well-managed pair work and group work, role play tasks and other active learning methodologies gave each individual student more opportunity to speak the language during lessons. Students responded very well to these exercises. There was evidence of a good gradual building up of vocabulary, with repetition of new material being practised in a variety of ways. All class groups are encouraged to keep hardback vocabulary notebooks to record and retain new vocabulary, which is very good practice. Good preparation work for listening comprehensions exercises was in evidence, with vocabulary being revised or presented orally beforehand. The use of target-language questioning as well as giving examination-type comprehension exercises to test students’ comprehension was good practice and gave more opportunity for oral practice.
In the lessons seen, there was evidence of cultural awareness not only of Spain but of other Hispanic countries. Students demonstrated a good knowledge of South American countries in one particular lesson. Spanish magazines are available to students as the teacher has collected a ‘library’ of reading material which students can borrow. It is suggested that some short Spanish novels, including the current Leaving Certificate literary option, La Aventura de Saíd by Josep Lorman, and other age-appropriate novels from the Gran Angular series, could be added to this bank of reading resources. The Plan de lectura para el aula produced by Ediciones SM gives a short synopsis of each novel in the Barco de Vapor series and is available from specialist modern languages bookshops.
The learning environment was enhanced by Spanish-related posters and pictures displayed on the walls of the classroom. It is suggested that the display of more of the students’ own project work would add to the students’ learning and sense of achievement. Class management in all lessons was very good and the atmosphere within the classroom was at all times very positive and pleasant. Students showed good understanding of instructions, which were clear and always in the target language. Students participated in all activities with enthusiasm, were fully engaged throughout, and it was evident that they enjoyed learning the language. Teacher-student rapport was excellent. Students were achieving to a good standard and, when questioned, demonstrated good communicative skills.
The school has a homework policy, both for first-year students and for the general body of students. Teachers carry out class assessments every six weeks and in-house examinations are held at Christmas and in the summer. Pre-examinations are held for students sitting the State examinations. Regular reports on students’ progress are sent to parents following each assessment and parents can also access the e-portals for more information on subjects. Annual parent-teacher meetings are held for each year group.
Assessment of students of Spanish is ongoing through regular class tests and oral questioning. Weekly vocabulary tests are held and records are kept of students’ progress. It is commended that informal assessment for all year groups includes both oral and aural assessment and it is recommended that both be included in the formal in-house assessment at Christmas and in the summer. Homework is assigned, corrected and monitored regularly. The positive practice of requiring students to correct their mistakes in their copybooks was evident, consolidating learning. Mention is made in the subject plan of focusing on the presentation of students’ written work and this is encouraged as a means of increasing grammatical accuracy in written production tasks. There was some evidence of formative comments in the target language when correcting students’ copybooks and this is a good practice which could be further developed.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Whole-school support for the learning of languages is very good.
· All students, including those with special educational needs, are strongly encouraged to study a language to Leaving Certificate level.
· Uptake for the subject is growing and it is to be hoped that all students who wish to study the language can be accommodated.
· Timetabling for the subject is, in general, very good.
· The Spanish teacher has his own well-equipped base classroom and has built up a good bank of teaching resources.
· The use of ICT in the teaching and learning of Spanish is facilitated by management and availed of by the teacher.
· Long-term planning for Spanish is well established and carried out in collaboration with the other language teams. Suggestions for further development of the subject plan are contained in the body of this report.
· Individual lesson planning was of a high standard and allowed for a variety of activities which ensured that students were at all times engaged and interested.
· There was evidence of excellent teaching and learning in the lessons seen.
· The use of the target language for all classroom interactions was exemplary.
· All lessons had a clear structure, were syllabus appropriate and part of a coherent plan.
· A range of methodologies was used to good effect and included a variety of active-learning strategies.
· Class management in all lessons was very good and the atmosphere within the classroom was at all times very positive and pleasant.
· Teacher-student rapport was excellent.
· Students participated in all activities with enthusiasm, were fully engaged throughout, and it was evident that they enjoyed learning the language.
· Students are achieving to a good standard and, when questioned, demonstrated good communicative skills.
· Appropriate formal and informal assessment of students is ongoing, records are kept and parents are informed of students’ progress.
· It is commended that informal assessment for all year groups includes both oral and aural assessment.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· A collaborative review of the TY programme for languages should be carried out as part of the planning process.
· It is suggested that the good practice of using pictures and other visual aids to aid learning be expanded and further developed.
· An increased emphasis on the presentation of students’ written work is encouraged as a means of increasing grammatical accuracy in written production tasks.
· It is recommended that oral and aural testing for all year groups be included in formal in-house assessments at Christmas and in the summer.
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.