An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Spanish
Coláiste Choilm, O’Moore Street
Tullamore, County Offaly
Roll number: 65610S
Date of inspection: 21 March 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 Coláiste Choilm. 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 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.
Coláiste Choilm is a Christian Brothers’ boys’ secondary school in Tullamore town. It currently has an enrolment of 430 students and numbers have been increasing steadily over the last ten years. Plans for a new school have been sanctioned and it is hoped that building will commence within the next few years. Besides the Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate programmes, the school offers an optional Transition Year (TY) programme and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). Three teachers of Spanish are currently teaching the language in the school. This year the school has availed of the opportunity to host a Spanish language assistant, and endeavours to do so on a regular basis.
Whole-school support for the teaching of Spanish is very good. Uptake levels are high, particularly in junior cycle. It is to be commended that all students are strongly encouraged to take a language, particularly in junior cycle. All students in first and second year and the majority of students in third year study a modern European language. Incoming first-year students take a ‘taster’ module of both French and Spanish until November of their first year and then choose which language they wish to continue for the Junior Certificate examination. There are two class groups of Spanish in each of the junior cycle years and one class group in each of TY, fifth and sixth years. Both Spanish and French are offered as options at senior cycle and, again, uptake for Spanish is good. Option choices at senior cycle are based on students’ preferences, which is good practice.
Teachers of Spanish have their own base classrooms, which enables them to display students’ project work, maps and other subject-specific materials, thereby creating an enriching environment for the study of the language. Individual subject areas are allocated an annual budget and, when necessary, further resources are made available. Classroom resources for Spanish include CD players, DVD players, tape-recorders, televisions and video-recorders, which is excellent provision. Overhead projectors are also readily available.
At present, apart from TY students who use the computer room from time to time to work on their projects, access to information and communication technology (ICT) for class use is limited. It is hoped, however, that the planned new building will include a multi-media laboratory for languages, thereby creating opportunities for the incorporation of ICT into teaching and learning. As this is an area which presents exciting opportunities for language learning, this is to be strongly encouraged.
Timetabling for Spanish is very good. All lessons are of single-period duration, spread throughout the week, which is the optimal arrangement for language learning. Students in first year have two periods of Spanish and two periods of French until November and subsequently have four periods of their chosen language option for the rest of the year. Spanish is timetabled for five single periods per week in both second and third year, which is good provision. TY students have two periods of Spanish per week and fifth-year and sixth-year students have five single periods of Spanish per week. Although not currently timetabled for this year, it was reported that students who opt to take the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme, and who are not taking either Spanish or French for the Leaving Certificate examination, complete an ab initio module in either language in order to fulfil the language requirement for LCVP.
As part of the school’s development planning activities, designated time is regularly set aside for subject department planning.
Long-term planning for Spanish is ongoing and there is evidence of good collaboration and co-operation among the team of Spanish teachers. Time is set aside for subject-planning team meetings, records of the meetings are kept and a subject co-ordinator is in place. It is suggested that this role could rotate from year to year among the Spanish teachers, so that all members of the team can bring their expertise to the role.
A syllabus-based plan for Spanish has been developed and contains an outline of the term-by-term curriculum content for each year group, together with the grammar content to be covered. In line with syllabus guidelines, planning places emphasis on the different language skills. In order to further progress this very worthwhile work, it is recommended that the plan be expanded to include specific details of the topics and themes to be covered by each year group, together with suggested resources and teaching strategies which individual teachers have used for each of these. This is particularly pertinent at senior cycle, where the teaching of the language does not hinge on one particular textbook.
Individual teachers have built up folders of resource materials, gleaned from a variety of sources, including the internet, Spanish textbooks, newspapers and magazines. Other resources which have been gathered over the years include a variety of musical CDs, aural listening tapes, Spanish videos and DVDs. In some cases, these resources include some good visual aids, such as flashcards, maps and wall posters, to encourage increased use of the target language and to further motivate students who may not respond so readily to written stimuli. Further development of such visual aids is recommended. While good collaboration exists among the team regarding the sharing of these resources, it is suggested that, over time, a collective bank of theme-based teaching materials could be built up and included in the long-term plan for the subject. Individual resources for each topic could be pooled and shared, leading to discussion about the various teaching methodologies that worked well with particular classes. By sharing specific strategies, for example, active-learning methodologies, the teaching and learning of Spanish could be greatly enriched.
While the non-dependence on textbook content is to be commended, care must be taken that all four language skills are equally catered for, and that students are exposed to a wide variety of suitably challenging reading material. In this context it is suggested that a collection of short Spanish novels, such as the Barco de vapor or the Gran Angular series, could be built up, 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.
Spanish classes are of mixed ability throughout the school. Planning for the integration of individual students with special educational needs is aided by liaison with the learning-resource teachers, who make relevant information available to subject teachers. It is recommended that, as part of the subject-planning process, the teaching team investigate ways of using differentiated resource material to cater for the wide range of ability in Spanish classes, thus enabling students to work and achieve at their own individual level.
In general, short-term planning for the lessons seen was good. In line with curricular requirements, a thematic approach was used to good effect and there was evidence of integration of the different language skills. In most cases, this included planning for a variety of student activities throughout the lesson, with the result that students remained focussed and engaged throughout. Where this was not the case, more detailed planning for a wider variation of activities and for individual student involvement during the course of the lesson would prove beneficial. In several lessons, students were working on past examination papers. While written examination papers provide useful and necessary practice for students in third year and sixth year, it is suggested that alternative ways of approaching these could be investigated. Texts linked to a particular theme could be used as a stimulus for target-language practice as part of the thematic content, rather than simply as comprehension exercises.
It is recommended that planning for lessons should incorporate more active-learning strategies, for example, pair work, group work, brainstorming, role plays, debates or games, so that students not only increase their use of the target language but become more actively engaged in the learning process. When planning for lessons, care should be taken that students have adequate and appropriate practice in written production skills. There was evidence that planning for lessons takes cognisance of both cultural and language awareness.
Planning for TY includes a module on business Spanish and students carry out a project with a Spanish-based theme. Cultural content is an important element of the year’s work and emphasis is placed on activities which are not solely examination-orientated, in line with the aims and objectives of TY. Activities such as Spanish table quizzes are arranged from time to time for various year groups, and these, together with the Spanish language assistant’s input on Spanish life and customs, all add to the quality of the students’ learning experience.
It was good to note how careful planning and collaboration between teachers and the Spanish language assistant has resulted in a meaningful input from the assistant into both linguistic and cultural elements of selected lessons. Good teamwork was in evidence in several lessons where the assistant provided an authentic Spanish voice to enhance lesson content. Care should be taken, however, to make the most of the opportunity of having a native speaker in the school, by ensuring that input on cultural aspects of Spain is carried out in the target language.
It is to be commended that all of the Spanish teachers have availed of summer language courses in Spain over the years to maintain their linguistic competence, and regularly attend meetings organised by the Association of Teachers of Spanish (ATS). It is also commended that a school trip to Spain for junior cycle students of Spanish is organised from time to time, as this not only gives an invaluable insight into the country and its people but can greatly add to the students’ interest in the language.
There was evidence of good teaching and learning in the lessons seen. The aims and objectives of lessons were clear, and lesson content and pace were in line with students’ abilities. In some cases, lesson outcomes were shared with students, and it is suggested that this strategy be further developed with all class groups to enable students to evaluate their own learning. There was evidence of good use of the target language in most of the lessons seen and it is recommended that this be further expanded to include all classroom instructions and communications with all class groups. Continuity of learning was in evidence as most lessons commenced with a revision of previously learnt vocabulary or grammatical structures.
Activities seen in lessons included one-to-one questioning, whiteboard work, teacher input, worksheet exercises, pair work, preparation of examination-type questions, grammar revision, aural exercises, vocabulary introduction and revision and a presentation on Semana Santa customs. Where activities were varied throughout the lesson and students were actively engaged in tasks, they were enthusiastic and fully engaged in the learning process. Pair work was well managed and timed, so that students were fully engaged in the task in hand. In one instance, less time could have been spent on one-to-one questioning and some student-centred tasks introduced to keep students fully focussed on lesson content. While good use was made of the whiteboard in all lessons, care should be taken that all students take note of the relevant vocabulary. Students are encouraged to keep vocabulary notebooks and folders with grammatical structures from year to year. It is, however, suggested that students in each year group should have their own grammar books, as this would facilitate revision. In several instances, when working on productive skills, students were encouraged to come up with their own ideas and express them in simple authentic language. This is good practice and is to be encouraged.
In all lessons, classroom management was effective and instructions were clear. In several instances, a roll call in Spanish at the start of the lesson served not only as a quick check on attendance but settled students quickly into the lesson. The noticeably good rapport between students and teachers was conducive to a pleasant and positive atmosphere. Students, on the whole, showed enthusiasm for the language and participated fully in all learning activities. In most lessons, the teacher made a conscious effort to affirm students’ achievements, and this is encouraged, as it was evident that students responded positively to this affirmation. In several instances, the good practice of modifying one-to-one questioning of students to suit their ability level was noted. Students showed a good level of understanding of lesson content and it was evident that appropriate learning was taking place.
In several classrooms a visually-stimulating environment has been created for the teaching and learning of the language through the display of students’ work, maps, posters and flags. Such stimuli not only provide an authentic learning environment for the language, where cultural awareness is fostered, but are also useful classroom tools for oral practice. Further development of this is encouraged.
Whole-school assessment of students is carried out through in-house examinations for second-year and fifth-year students at Christmas, while first-year, third-year and sixth-year students have class-based assessment, and reports on progress communicated to parents of all year groups. Summer in-house examinations are held for first-year, second-year and fifth-year students, and state-examination classes have mock examinations in the spring, all of which are followed by reports to parents. Ongoing assessment of TY students is class-based and, at the end of the year, each student is interviewed by an interview panel which includes an external assessor, to assess the overall year’s work of each individual student. There is evidence that management evaluates students’ outcomes in the context of national norms.
Formal assessment of students’ progress in Spanish includes oral testing at senior cycle and aural testing at both junior and senior cycle, which is in line with syllabus requirements. It is, however, recommended that oral assessment of all junior cycle and TY students also be carried out as part of the formal assessment of students’ progress. At present students in the same year group do not have common tests and it is recommended that the setting of common tests be investigated as part of the subject-planning process. Common tests for each year group would facilitate the evaluation of students’ achievement across a year cohort and also avoid the unnecessary duplication of work by teachers.
Ongoing informal assessment of students’ progress is carried out by Spanish teachers and results systematically recorded. In-class vocabulary and grammar tests are regularly carried out and one-to-one questioning gives teachers feedback on the oral competence of individual students. Homework is assigned regularly and it is to be commended that this also includes aural practice. Ensuring that all students complete homework tasks has been problematic, so it is suggested that this is an area which could be specifically targeted by the team of teachers, and possible strategies to address this problem investigated. While some students’ copybooks showed evidence of careful monitoring, a more consistent and regular monitoring and correcting of homework copybooks is recommended in order to motivate students to complete assigned tasks. Ensuring that the amount of homework assigned for any particular year group is appropriate and realistic, using comment-marking in order to provide students with constructive feedback as encouraged by the Assessment for Learning approach (AfL) which can be accessed on the NCCA website or the date-stamping of homework to monitor the completion of work could be some of the possible strategies employed.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Whole-school support for the teaching of Spanish, including the provision of resources and timetabling arrangements, is very good.
· Teachers of Spanish have their own base classrooms, which enables them to create an enriching environment for the study of the language.
· Information and communication technology (ICT) for class use is limited. However, it is hoped that the planned new building will include a multi-media laboratory for language lessons, thereby creating opportunities for the incorporation of ICT into teaching and learning.
· Long-term planning for Spanish is ongoing and there is evidence of good collaboration and co-operation among the team of Spanish teachers.
· Individual teachers have built up a good bank of authentic resource materials including some teacher-sourced visual aids.
· In general, short-term planning for lessons is good and in line with curricular requirements.
· Planning for a variety of student activities was evident in most lessons. Where this was not the case, more detailed planning for a wider variation of activities and for individual student involvement would prove beneficial.
· Planning for lessons takes cognisance of both cultural and language awareness.
· It is to be commended that all of the Spanish teachers have engaged in continuing professional development.
· There was evidence of good teaching and learning in the lessons seen.
· Good use of the target language was in evidence in most of the lessons seen.
· Some active learning methodologies were used to good effect.
· Classroom management was effective and instructions were clear.
· The good rapport between students and teachers was conducive to a pleasant and positive atmosphere.
· Students, on the whole, showed enthusiasm for the language and participated fully in all learning activities.
· Students showed a good level of understanding of lesson content and it was evident that appropriate learning was taking place.
· Appropriate formal and informal assessment of students’ progress is ongoing, records kept and outcomes communicated to parents.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that the subject plan for Spanish be expanded to include specific details of the topics and themes to be covered by each year group, together with suggested resources and teaching strategies.
· It is recommended that use of the target language be further expanded to include all classroom instructions and communications with all year groups.
· It is recommended that planning for lessons should incorporate more active-learning methodologies.
· Further development of the use of visual aids such as flashcards, maps and wall posters is recommended.
· More consistent and regular monitoring and correcting of homework copybooks is recommended.
· The good practice of including oral testing as part of formal assessment should be extended to all junior cycle and TY classes.
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.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of management welcomes the report on subject inspection of Spanish and is heartened by the positive findings and acknowledgements contained there in.
As a Board we are very satisfied that the report is indicating that the Spanish Subject Provision is overall very good.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection
activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.
As part of our School Development Planning it is envisaged that the Spanish Subject Department will take into consideration the recommendations of the report with a view to further enhancing the provision of Spanish in Coláiste Choilm.