An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Spanish
Christian Brothers’ Secondary School
Roll number: 64923L
Date of inspection: 5 March 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Spanish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in CBS Tramore. 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, deputy 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.
Overall provision for languages in CBS Tramore is good. Spanish was introduced into the school four years ago and has grown in popularity ever since. Other language options provided for students up until now have included French and German, but as the uptake in German has declined in recent years, at present there is only one class of German in fifth year. It is to be hoped that this is only a temporary situation and that German will continue as a language option for students, along with the other languages. A ‘taster’ timetable is provided for first-year students for the first couple of months to help inform their choices for junior cycle. Students then choose two options out of a possible eight subjects. In senior cycle, Spanish is also now offered as one of the options available to students. It is to be commended that the option blocks are informed by a survey of students’ preferences and that management endeavours to facilitate all students’ choices in subsequent timetabling.
The study of a language in junior cycle is optional and, this year, approximately three-quarters of the student cohort in first year and two-thirds of the students in second year study a European language. It is a matter of some concern that the other 29%-30% of students in first and second years do not study any foreign language. As this could restrict their future range of academic and career choices, it is recommended that, in future, all students be encouraged to study a European language. As the European Union (EU) considers foreign languages to be among the basic skills or key competencies required by all its citizens, it would be desirable that all students would have the experience of learning a European language at least until Junior Certificate.
The school has one recently appointed, fully qualified, teacher of Spanish. As teachers in the school have their own base classrooms, this has facilitated the creation of a pleasant environment for the teaching of Spanish, with the display of Spanish posters in the classroom and immediate access to resources. Resources for Spanish are very good, with a CD player/tape recorder and TV/ DVD player in situ in the classroom. Overhead projectors are also easily accessible. Both students and teachers have access to information and communication technologies (ICT). There are two computer rooms in the school and these can be booked and used by subject teachers during lesson time. Besides this, a laptop is provided for each teacher and all classrooms have internet access. Teachers can reserve a data projector for use in the classroom. Two classrooms have been equipped with interactive whiteboards and teachers can arrange to swap rooms to avail of these. All junior cycle students complete the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL). All of this is to be commended.
Timetabling provision for Spanish is good. Each year group in junior cycle has four lesson periods for Spanish per week, made up of one double and two single periods, and the fifth-year group has five lesson periods, made up of one double and three single periods. As Spanish is timetabled against practical subjects, each class group has one double period per week, which is not ideal for language learning. However, as the remaining single periods are spread over the rest of the week, this seems to be working satisfactorily. The Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) class group has three single periods for Spanish which is in line with syllabus requirements. Transition Year (TY) is optional within the school, currently with only one class group, so students study a European module with a teacher of each of the three languages timetabled during the year for the class. The group includes students who have already taken Spanish for the Junior Certificate examination and students who have not previously studied Spanish. It presents a challenge for the Spanish teacher to ensure that students who are going to continue the study of Spanish maintain and improve their language skills.
It is reported that the school is well advanced with the process of school development planning and that management provides approximately four days per year for subject planning. This has enabled the Spanish teacher to liaise and plan collaboratively with other language teachers in the school. This is encouraged, as it not only facilitates the sharing of ideas and professional expertise among the languages team but provides a context for taking a coherent whole-school approach to the teaching of languages in the school. The school encourages and is supportive of the professional development of its staff. Whole-school in-service on special educational needs has been provided in the recent past. It is reported that the learning-support teachers in the school liaise with subject teachers on a regular basis regarding students’ special educational needs.
The school hosts international students from time to time and currently has several Spanish students attending the school. While the school does not have a partner school in Spain, international trips are organised annually for students and, last year, teachers organised an educational trip to Barcelona. It is suggested that developing links with a school in Spain could provide many benefits for students of Spanish. It is also suggested that, now that numbers for Spanish have increased, the school should re-apply for a Spanish language assistant. It is strongly recommended that contact be made with the Association of Teachers of Spanish (www.atsireland.com) in order to keep in touch with in-service possibilities and the latest developments in the teaching of Spanish in Ireland.
Due to the recent appointment of the Spanish teacher, the development of a long-term plan for Spanish is at the initial stages. To date, planning has commendably focused on identifying the particular needs of the different class groups and strategies to respond to these needs. The importance of students’ oral competence and a review of grammar have been prioritised to date. There is evidence that learning outcomes are regularly evaluated and students’ individual progress recorded, thus informing planning to date. Planning incorporates a thematic approach with the integration of the different language skills. During the evaluation, recommendations were given for the development, over time, of a comprehensive long-term plan for Spanish. The School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) subject planning templates are useful in this regard when used in conjunction with ICT to facilitate updating and review.
It is recommended that the long-term plan for the subject should include the syllabus-based curriculum content for each year group (to ensure full coverage of syllabus content), including TY and LCA, with details of the learning outcomes for each of the language skills related to the different topics. The plan could then be further developed to include a list of possible teaching resources relating to the different topics (which can be updated regularly); suggested active-learning strategies which have proved successful for the various topics; and differentiated tasks and worksheets for the varying abilities of students. This planning process could be carried out in tandem with a gradual building up of the bank of teaching resources, particularly visual aids, games, supplementary listening and reading material and cue cards or other props to facilitate pair work and group work. It would be important to ensure that all of the language skills are catered for equally and that students are exposed to a wide enough range of suitably challenging reading and listening material. Planning for lesson content should also aim to provide students with sufficient practice in the skill of productive writing, which needs to be developed throughout the students’ study of the language and should be incorporated in some form into every theme or topic. As part of the collaborative planning process for languages, it is suggested that, in particular, strategies to deal with the current situation in TY could be highlighted.
Planning for individual lessons is good. It was evident that thought had gone into the preparation of both teaching resources and lesson content. In almost all of the lessons observed, a variety of activities were introduced and these included some effective active-learning methodologies such as pair work, group work, brainstorming and games. Further expansion of such strategies is recommended, to maximise individual student participation and opportunities to use the target language.
Planning for resources for Spanish is very good. An annual budget is allocated to the Spanish department and the teacher’s contacts with Hispanic countries have provided a supply of authentic teaching materials, including television programmes, magazines and newspapers. Suggestions for further teaching resources include extending the supply of supplementary reading material to include short novels, including the current prescribed text La Aventura de Saíd, to give students an insight into the cultural life of young Spanish people as well as providing literary-style reading material. A good range of age-appropriate Spanish novels, such as the Barco de Vapor or Gran Angular series, is available from the specialist language bookshops. It is also suggested that more supplementary listening materials should be made available to senior cycle students. The possibility of storing a selection of listening-practice material on the school’s e-portal system, which students could then access, could perhaps be investigated.
There was evidence of good teaching and learning in the lessons observed. Students were obviously interested and engaged in classroom activities and were fully engaged at all times. The classroom atmosphere was pleasant and teacher-student rapport was very good, with the judicious use of humour from time to time. Spanish was used frequently throughout lessons and it was evident that students were used to hearing the language. However, it is recommended that the teacher’s very good language skills be put to optimal use by using the target language for all classroom instructions and communications, thereby encouraging students themselves to communicate more in the language. Authentic colloquial language was introduced and encouraged and, rather than using translation to explain the meaning of words and phrases, quite often the meanings of words were explained through drawings, mime or gestures. Language content in all lessons observed was appropriate to syllabus content and, while taking account of students’ ability and level, was suitably challenging.
Classroom activities were varied, particularly in junior cycle lessons. These included listening exercises, one-to-one questioning, brainstorming, and active-learning activities such as jumbled word-games, the use of mime, pair work and group work. Students responded well, particularly when actively engaged. Resources used included part of a Mexican ‘soap’ or telenovela series, textbooks, cue cards, worksheets and sun diagrams. In one lesson the content and aims of the lesson were written on the board for students to see. It is suggested that this good practice could be further extended to include the projected learning outcomes of the lesson, so that students can then evaluate their own learning.
Students are encouraged to have vocabulary notebooks and keep a record of key vocabulary. There was evidence of a good building up of vocabulary and continuity with previous learning. Good attention was paid to grammar in all lessons. Students are also encouraged to use dictionaries both in class and at home. Following an aural exercise, as well as checking students’ understanding through questions in English, the teacher used one-to-one target-language questions to provide oral practice, and this is good practice. In another lesson, the use of brainstorming to revise previously learned language elements around a certain theme was successfully used, as students themselves provided the necessary vocabulary. This is a good strategy which can also be extended to provide the groundwork for written production exercises.
In one lesson where students were watching part of a telenovela, and which was then followed by oral questioning and discussion of the different characters, it was suggested that the inclusion of more opportunities for individual student participation rather than teacher-led one-to-one questioning would have been of benefit. Care should be taken to ensure that, although of obvious interest to students, the content of the telenovela provides sufficient opportunity for learning and that it is appropriate to the age and level of the students. When questioning students, it is suggested that more use of individual questioning of named students, rather than open questions to the class as a whole, would help to ensure that all students are actively involved.
The display of some Spanish posters and visual prompts on the walls of the classroom helps to create a stimulating learning environment for the language and to foster the development of cultural awareness. It was suggested that this could be further developed, with maps of Spanish-speaking countries, students’ project work, photographs, postcards and charts of key vocabulary which could act as aides-mémoires for students. It was also suggested that the use of visual aids such as photos or flashcards could have been of benefit in one or two of the lessons observed, as some students relate more readily to pictorial prompts rather than the written word. In the context of mixed-ability teaching, having the necessary visual aids on display within the classroom could greatly help students’ retention and learning.
In all lessons, classroom management was very good and it was evident that an atmosphere of mutual respect prevailed. The teacher had high expectations of students, to which they responded. Students demonstrated a good level of oral skills and a review of copies showed good attention to detail.
Ongoing assessment of students’ progress is carried out both formally at Christmas and pre-summer for non-state examination classes and in spring for state examination classes, and informally in class. Assessment for Spanish includes aural assessment for all year groups. It is recommended that oral testing also be included as part of the formal assessment of every year group, both in junior and senior cycle. Regular records of students’ achievements and progress are kept by teachers who enter these into the school’s e-portal system, and progress reports, which include details of punctuality and absences, are issued to parents. Students’ attendance is recorded on computer at the beginning of every lesson.
The school has a homework policy which informs classroom practice. Homework was assigned in all Spanish lessons observed and students’ copies showed evidence of regular monitoring of students’ work with good attention to detail. The good practice of including constructive comments when correcting copies was also in evidence, enabling students to see how they can improve their work. Students are encouraged to correct their work, which is good practice.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
A post-evaluation meeting was held with the teacher of Spanish, the principal and deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, October 2008
School Response to the Report
Submitted by the Board of Management
Inspection Report School Response Form
Area 1 Observations on the content of the Inspection Report
The Board of Management welcomes the very positive report on teaching and learning of Spanish at the school. It reflects the high standards and dedication of the subject department. The report was very fair and balanced and it is a comprehensive overview of the quality of teaching and learning of Spanish at CBS Tramore. The Board of Management wishes to congratulate the Principal and teaching staff of the Spanish department.
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 will continue to provide the necessary support and resources that will facilitate the Principal and Staff in the implementation of the findings and recommendations of the Inspection Report.
All suggestions and recommendations as per report (Page 6 & 7) will be implemented as a means of building on existing strengths and to address areas for development.
The Board also wishes to acknowledge the courteous and professional manner in which the Inspector carried out the subject inspection and is of the opinion that the inspection process and outcomes will greatly benefit the school in its SDP.