An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Spanish
Coláiste Dún Iascaigh,
Roll number: 76063D
Date of inspection: 18 October 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 February 2007
the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Spanish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Dún Iascaigh. 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, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
In Coláiste Dún Iascaigh, the fact that students can choose to study any one, or two, modern European languages from Spanish, German and French from first year is commendable. However, in the school, the study of a modern language is optional in junior cycle and it is quite worrying that many students opt not to study any modern European language at any stage of their post-primary education. It is a matter of concern that, at present, approximately 50% of both first-year and second-year students study no modern language. This could have major implications for their choices regarding third-level study. Students choose their subjects from a set of subject choices prior to entering the school in first year, so a large proportion of students are opting not to study a modern language, never having had any experience of studying one. It is recommended that management consider the possibility of introducing a ‘taster’ course in first year, which includes the study of at least one modern language, so that students can make informed choices regarding subject options in junior cycle. It is also recommended that the study of at least one modern language be strongly advocated for all junior cycle students, as the European Union (EU) recommends that all citizens of the EU should be able to speak ‘mother tongue plus two’ languages. Students with special educational needs may choose to take a modern language but very few take this option.
The guidance counsellors play an important role in advising students regarding subject options. In senior cycle, subject options are decided once students have made their choices and it is commendable that timetabling endeavours to accommodate the majority of choices. The Transition Year (TY) programme is optional in the school and there is, at present, one TY class where continuation Spanish students are in the same class as ab initio students who are taking a beginners’ module of the language. The teacher is managing this situation admirably, but it is a difficult task to combine two such disparate levels in one class. While bearing in mind the constraints of timetabling, it would be preferable, if possible, to have continuation Spanish students in a different class, at least for some part of the week, from students who have not studied the language before.
The take-up of Spanish among language students has been increasing in the school and there are at present two classes in first year, one in each of second and third years, one in Transition Year, one in fifth year and both a Leaving Certificate and a Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) class in sixth year. Students opting for the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) who have not previously studied a language, study Spanish as a module for LCVP. It was reported that they have two single periods per week for one year followed by a school-based examination. Double periods are timetabled for all other language year groups as they are timetabled in the same grouping as the practical subjects. Fifth-year classes are timetabled for two double periods and one single period per week. Sixth-year students have two double periods and two single periods weekly for Spanish. All junior cycle classes have one double period and two single periods per week. Although the amount of time allocated to Spanish classes is suitable for all year groups, the distribution of time throughout the week and the allocation of one, and sometimes two, double periods to all year groups is not ideal. Single periods, spread evenly throughout the week, are more beneficial for language learning, particularly in junior cycle. It is therefore recommended that, where possible, the timetabling for languages be reviewed and amended to include more single periods, rather than double periods, for all year groups.
There are two qualified teachers of Spanish in the school and one other teacher with Spanish, who has taken the LCVP class in the past. Teachers do not have their own base rooms, but store their resources in lockers in the workroom adjacent to the staffroom. It is suggested that, where the provision of a base room for language teachers is not possible, the provision of a larger, communal storage space for Spanish resources would be of benefit so that, as the subject plan for Spanish develops, the teachers can build on and share their bank of resources. There is no annual budget for Spanish as such, but requests for resources are usually met favourably and granted where possible. Each teacher has her own tape-recorder/CD player which she takes into the different classrooms with her. There is no designated language room in the school, so that when a teacher wishes to use an overhead projector, DVD or video player, these are brought to the different classrooms. Access to either of the two computer rooms is possible for language classes through a booking system and this has been availed of by language teachers.
The school has been involved in the process of whole-school development planning and it is commendable that time has been assigned for staff to work on individual subject planning during monthly staff meetings. The school is also supportive of staff who wish to undertake continuing professional development. While there are no ongoing exchanges or links with a Spanish school, a couple of school trips to Spain for Transition Year and fifth-year students have been organised in the past.
There is evidence of good long-term syllabus-based planning for Spanish. Individual planning for lessons is good, based on a thematic approach in line with syllabus requirements. Planning for lessons is informed by the needs and interests of the students and cognisance is taken of both language and cultural awareness, all of which is commendable. Examples of differentiated teaching were seen in some classes and this is excellent practice, especially in mixed-ability settings where there is a wide range of ability. It is recommended that this be further developed in all classes as a means of engaging all students at their own individual levels and maximising achievement levels.
Where students with special educational needs opt to study Spanish there is evidence that good planning has been put in place to adequately cater for these students. It was noted that planning for lessons incorporated some excellent strategies to promote active learning and this is commended and encouraged.
Planning for resources has ensured that an adequate supply of authentic reading and listening material is available for the teaching and learning of Spanish. Excellent examples of teacher-generated resources were seen and commended. As part of the subject planning process, it is suggested that one area for development could be the building up a bank of reading material, including short literary texts, so that a supply of varied reading material could be available to students on a regular basis. Suggestions included the Gran Angular and El Barco de Vapor series of short novels specifically aimed at this age group, of which the current prescribed text La Aventura de Saíd, is one. It is also suggested that the teachers, who already work collaboratively, could, as part of the planning process, include specific teaching and learning methodologies in the plans for each year group.
Planning for assessment includes oral and aural testing at all levels, which is recommended practice. Planning also includes ICT access for some groups and it is suggested that this could also form part of the formal subject planning process, as this is an area which opens up many possibilities for language teaching and learning.
There was evidence of good teaching and learning in Spanish in all lessons seen. The content of the lessons was sufficiently challenging and was suited to students’ ability levels. Teachers employed a variety of teaching methodologies to engage students and the pace of lessons was usually good. A thematic approach ensured the integration of the core language skills. Aural and oral practice, related to the relevant theme, formed part of every lesson seen and prepared the way for either reading comprehension or written production. There was good evidence of strategies to encourage active learning, which is to be commended. Excellent use was made of a wide range of resources, many of them teacher-generated. Such resources included the overhead projector, pictorial flashcards, worksheets, word-matching exercises, aural tape exercises, role-play cue cards, examination papers, textbooks appropriately used, blackboard drawings and authentic reading texts. Activities included teacher input, role plays, one-to-one oral questioning, vocabulary introduction and consolidation using flashcards and student recall, games, aural practice, pair work, a class survey about birthdays and reading comprehension questions. The blackboard was used effectively to note vocabulary and new phrases in preparation for tasks such as listening comprehension or written production exercises.
The use of visual prompts was effective and is to be encouraged, not only as a way of successfully engaging students whose preferred learning style responds more immediately to visual stimuli, but also to generate more authentic target language use in the classroom. In one particular junior cycle lesson, an excellent example of teaching through, and to, the different intelligences was seen where students practised the same theme in ten different ways, including listening comprehension, oral practice using flashcards, a class survey and a role play. Such use of active learning methodologies acknowledges that students learn in different ways and these methods are an effective response to the challenges this presents in the classroom. It was obvious that students responded well to being actively engaged in the learning process. It is recommended that effective active methodologies such as these be continued and expanded. Care should be taken, however, that the learning objectives for each lesson are sufficiently challenging for all students. In a class of very mixed ability, it is suggested that setting differentiated tasks would help ensure that all students are at all times purposefully engaged.
Teachers’ use of the target language for classroom communications was good, which is to be commended. On the whole, students are used to hearing and speaking Spanish. While all teachers’ instructions were in the target language, it is suggested that students should be encouraged to use the target language more for classroom communication. As classes at senior level are small, it is recommended that greater advantage be taken of small class size to promote a more extensive use of the target language while students complete lesson tasks. At junior cycle, classroom dialogue in the target language was lively and productive. However it is suggested that, particularly at junior cycle, when preparing for examination-type aural and reading comprehensions, more use could be made of questions in the target language in class, perhaps assigning the examination questions in English for homework. While familiarity with, and practice of, examination papers is an important element in the learning process, they could be used more as a tool to provide both written and oral practice in the target language. In this way students will have more opportunity to both hear and use the target language.
There was evidence of continuity of learning with previous lessons and the purpose of the lessons was at all times clear. It is suggested that, although students were aware of the purpose of the lessons, the good practice of actually sharing the learning outcomes with them at the outset of the lesson could be expanded to all classes, thus increasing students’ ownership of their learning. Themes were developed in a sequential way and, in many instances, oral revision of previously learned material at the beginning of the lesson paved the way for the presentation of new material, which is sound practice. In several instances, the good practice of revising specific vocabulary orally, prior to an aural comprehension task, ensured maximum student achievement. Appropriate attention was paid to grammar and pronunciation. Homework exercises were assigned in all lessons. A suggestion was made, however, that in one instance, it would have been beneficial to relate the homework task more closely to lesson content so that the wealth of vocabulary encountered during the lesson could have been further exploited in a written production exercise.
Classroom management was good, ensuring a positive and effective learning environment. Instructions were at all times clear and students’ learning activities were well managed, in that the students were given the necessary ‘tools’ and instructions to fulfil the tasks. At all times teachers affirmed students’ efforts and students responded positively to this. There was evidence, in all instances, of very good student-teacher rapport. Teachers and students engaged in lively dialogue and the atmosphere in all classes was cheerful, friendly and conducive to learning. Students’ engagement and participation in classroom activities was at all times focused, with a noticeable enthusiasm when actively involved in learning games and paired tasks.
Although teachers do not have their own classrooms, they are to be commended for their efforts to make the classroom environments more stimulating by the display of posters and maps. In one class, pictures of relevant vocabulary items were displayed on the walls and were used during oral practice to prompt students. In another junior cycle classroom, the alphabet was phonetically displayed on the wall and acted as an aide-mémoire for the students, all of which is useful practice.
Students demonstrated a good level of understanding of lesson content and responded well to questioning in the target language. Activities and tasks within the lessons observed indicated that students have acquired an impressive level of proficiency in the language. Written production exercises in copybooks showed evidence of good attention to detail and also that, overall, a good standard, commensurate with students’ ages and levels, has been achieved.
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. Spanish classes sit common examinations where there are two or more classes in the same year group, which is good practice. It is to be commended that the Spanish department has introduced formal oral assessment for all year groups, including those in junior cycle. Aural assessment also forms part of each year group’s examinations. Informal class assessment is ongoing as regular vocabulary and grammar tests are set and students’ progress recorded.
The school has a homework policy and Spanish teachers regularly assign, monitor and correct homework. In the copybooks seen there was evidence of comment-based assessment, which is good practice, encouraging students to higher achievement levels. It is suggested that the practice of writing these comments in the target language could be extended to all classes. Assessment of students’ work is in line with the marking schemes of the State Examinations Commission, and this too is commended. Students are encouraged to be systematic in their note-taking so that they can refer back to these notes when required.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Incoming first-year students have a choice of three different modern European languages.
· Teachers and students have access to ICT during class time when required, depending on availability.
· Good resources are available for the teaching of Spanish.
· Subject planning is well developed as part of the whole-school development planning process.
· Both long-term and short-term planning for the subject is syllabus-based, well documented and includes many strategies to actively engage students.
· Some excellent teacher-generated teaching resources, including visual aids, were used very effectively to encourage students’ participation and oral production.
· A wide range of teaching strategies and student activities facilitated the learning process and ensured that students’ interest was maintained throughout the lessons.
· There was good use of the target language as the language of the classroom.
· There was continuity of learning, and lesson aims and expected outcomes were clear.
· Oral and aural assessment form part of the formal assessment for junior cycle students as well as senior cycle students.
· Homework is regularly assigned, monitored and corrections are comment-based to encourage and inform students.
· Good classroom management facilitated a pleasant and productive atmosphere conducive to the learning process and where students’ efforts were consistently affirmed.
· There was evidence of very good teacher-student rapport.
· Students were fully engaged and actively involved in all tasks.
· Teachers are to be commended for their efforts to create a print-rich environment in the various classrooms seen.
· Overall, students demonstrated a good level of proficiency and responded well to questioning. Their copybooks showed that a good standard of learning, commensurate with students’ ages and levels, has been achieved.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· All students should be advised to include a modern language among their junior cycle options.
· It is recommended that, if possible, a ‘taster’ course which includes one or more modern languages be provided for first-year students before they make their subject choices in junior cycle.
· Where possible, double periods should be replaced with single periods for language lessons. Two double periods per week for the teaching of any language is unproductive and is not recommended.
· If the provision of base classrooms for the teachers of Spanish cannot be achieved, it is recommended that a lockable, communal storage area be provided to facilitate the development and sharing of necessary teaching materials and resources.
· Suggestions for further development of the long-term plan for Spanish, over time, include: the development of differentiated materials for mixed-ability teaching; the sharing of teaching and learning methodologies in tandem with the resources used for each year group and the further incorporation of ICT in the teaching of 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.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Inspection Report School Response Form
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 of Management considered the report at their recent meeting. It was agreed that the partners will consider the recommendations in due course.