An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Spanish
Cashel, County Tipperary
Roll number: 65300D
Date of inspection: 24 October 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 April 2007
the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Spanish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Rockwell College. 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 teacher. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teacher’s written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and the subject teacher.
Whole-school support for the study of languages in Rockwell College is good and the importance of language learning in the school is reflected in the fact that almost all students study at least one modern language to Leaving Certificate level. The practical uses of language learning are highlighted for students in a very real way by the fact that many Spanish, German, French and South American students spend a year or more at the school. All students study French and German in first year and can then choose to continue the study of either or both for the Junior Certificate examination. Spanish is offered as an optional subject in senior cycle. Senior cycle students choose subjects prior to timetabling so that the majority of student preferences can be catered for.
Spanish was introduced as a Transition Year (TY) subject into the school about four years ago and it was subsequently offered as a Leaving Certificate option. There is, at present, one class in Transition Year, one in fifth year and one in sixth year. No Spanish is offered in junior cycle at present, but it is reassuring to note that there are plans to introduce the subject into first year in the near future. Students sit the Leaving Certificate Spanish examination after only two years of studying the language and most opt to take the higher paper. Uptake of the language is growing in senior cycle and many of the international students who attend the school choose to study Spanish.
Timetabling for the language is adequate in that two lessons per week are allocated for Transition Year classes and five lesson periods (one double and three singles) are allocated for fifth-year and sixth-year classes. This would normally be sufficient allocation, but given that the Leaving Certificate programme is undertaken in only two years of studying the subject, more class time would be preferable when students have not studied the language to Junior Certificate level.
There is one teacher of Spanish who is a permanent member of staff. Resources for Spanish are provided on a needs basis from an overall language budget and this appears to be working well. It is of great benefit that the classroom for Spanish is teacher-based as this facilitates the creation of a stimulating learning environment where students’ projects, posters, maps, flags and other material relating to the language and country can be, and were, displayed. It is well equipped with resources which include a video/dvd player, tape recorder/cd player, a computer and storage for a range of teaching materials. The computer in the classroom is not as yet connected to the internet, but the teacher can access authentic Spanish material on the internet elsewhere in the school when required. Information and communications technology (ICT) is available to students during class time as the teacher can book the class into the computer room, and has done so with several groups.
At present the school does not have a particular link with a school in Spain, but ideas for the future of the language include plans to find a partner school through already-existing links and to make contact with the school via ICT as well as through student exchanges. This should create many opportunities for students and would be an excellent development.
The school is supportive of the continuing professional development (CPD) of staff. It is commendable that the teacher has recently completed a summer language course in Spain and has regular contact with the country. This is highly encouraged, not only as a way of maintaining and honing language skills, but also of keeping in touch with the latest films, books, news and culture of the country and its people. Contact has been maintained over the years with the Cork branch of the Association of Teachers of Spanish and this, too, is advantageous in order to meet other teachers of Spanish on a regular basis and to keep updated regarding in-service opportunities and developments in Spanish teaching.
There is evidence of both long-term and short-term planning for Spanish. A week-by-week outline plan of themes to be taught in each year group has been prepared in line with syllabus aims and objectives and this is to be commended. As part of the whole-school development planning process, work has been ongoing on long-term formal subject planning for Spanish in collaboration with the French and Irish teams. This is good practice, as much can be achieved by sharing expertise and ideas with other language teachers regarding teaching methodologies and strategies. To enable staff to engage in this very worthwhile process, management has organised dedicated time twice a year for formal subject planning.
It is suggested that further development of the subject plan should include details of teaching and learning strategies as well as specifying the necessary resources for each year group. Suggested areas for consideration, bearing in mind that the subject may also be taught at junior cycle in the near future, include the following: the investigation of further strategies to encourage active student participation; the use of visual stimuli to encourage oral practice; methodologies which encourage autonomous, rather than teacher-led, learning and the possibilities afforded by the appropriate incorporation of ICT into language learning.
Lesson planning incorporates a thematic approach with the integration of the different language skills and cognisance is taken of both language and cultural awareness, all of which is sound practice and is to be commended. Students’ interests and abilities inform planning. Lessons seen were purposeful and integrated into an overall scheme of work. Classes are of mixed-ability groupings and there was some evidence of differentiated questioning being used to accommodate differing levels in the lessons seen. Extra reading material was available to students in a large magazine rack in the classroom so that if students finished a task earlier than others in the class, they would have extra reading material to hand. This simple, but effective, facility could be expanded upon by building up a library of short Spanish novels (such as the Gran Vapor series), or collections of poetry either within the classroom or in the library so that students would be exposed to literary texts as well as journalistic texts. Even though students do not study the prescribed text (currently La Aventura de Saíd by Josep Lorman) as part of their programme, it would be a good idea to have a couple of copies available for students to read in their own time.
A good collection of teaching materials and resources has been built up for Spanish. These include textbooks, grammar books, aural practice tapes and cds, newspapers, magazines, videos, dvds and CD-ROMs. As students have such a limited time to complete the Leaving Certificate programme, the core textbook used by students uses a rather traditional approach to language learning but is useful for revision purposes. It was good to see a non-reliance on the textbook in the lessons seen and that a wide variety of authentic texts and resources are used. It is, however, suggested that when Spanish is introduced into junior cycle, the choice of textbook at senior cycle could be reviewed.
There is evidence of good teaching and learning of Spanish in Rockwell College. It is an impressive achievement that, after only two years of studying the language, students reach a standard which enables the majority to successfully take the higher-level paper in the Leaving Certificate examination. The use of the target language for classroom communication and management is well established, a strategy which is to be encouraged as this markedly raises overall fluency and promotes the use of simple authentic language. Enthusiasm for the language and culture of Spain is very evident and this is transmitted to students of the language.
In the lessons seen, there was a good variety of activities, including teacher presentation, one-to-one questioning, tape work, worksheets, conversational role play by native speakers, the use of word flashcards, group work and written exercises. The pace of lessons was overall good. Attention was paid to individual students’ learning needs. Questioning was effectively used to elicit students’ responses and to assess students’ learning. Strategies used to foster active learning included some pair work and group work. It is recommended that strategies to encourage active learning such as these be further expanded and developed to maximise individual student participation and to encourage autonomous learning.
In some instances it was suggested that the inclusion of oral work in pairs before the introduction of a written exercise would have worked well. In one particular lesson for students who have just started the study of the language, the content was challenging and students were fully engaged throughout. The lesson was well paced and activities varied. It was suggested, however, that the addition of some oral questioning in pairs, before starting the written exercise, would have given individual students more opportunity for oral practice.
The presence of native Spanish speakers who spend a period of time at the school is of great benefit to the teaching of Spanish, and it is commendable that some of these students are asked, on occasion, to participate in carefully planned Spanish lessons. A good example of this was seen in one lesson where the theme was about bullfighting, which is a ‘live’ topic in Spain at present. A dialogue relating to the topic was read aloud by two Spanish students and this was followed by a question-and-answer session where students had prepared questions about bullfighting. The inclusion of the two native speakers enhanced both the linguistic and cultural content of the lesson. Vocabulary and phrases were noted on the board in preparation for a written homework exercise. It was suggested that a sondeo or questionnaire about the students which followed this, could have been used instead to develop the topic further by eliciting students’ own responses to bullfighting and providing practice for expressing opinions. This, in turn, could have led to a students’ debate on the subject in subsequent lessons, leading in turn to a more comprehensive written production exercise, where the vocabulary already encountered could be fully exploited and actively used.
In another lesson, flashcards with words were used to present and practise vocabulary. It is suggested that picture flashcards or other visual stimuli would be of more benefit for the introduction, exploitation and revision of vocabulary in class and would encourage oral practice. The use of visual stimuli such as pictures, photos, diagrams, or cartoons is to be encouraged as some students learn and respond visually rather than linguistically. The use of an overhead projector can also be very useful when presenting diagrams, drawings and photos for language practice. Students could also be encouraged to ask for clarification on reading comprehension by asking the teacher questions in the target language.
Students on the whole displayed a good standard of both oral and written Spanish and responded well to questioning. Work seen in copybooks was generally well organised and of a good standard. Students are encouraged to be systematic in their learning and keep a hardback copybook to carry on from year to year for revision purposes.
It is commendable that the classroom environment was at all times pleasant and conducive to learning. A rich learning environment has been created in the classroom by the display of students’ projects, maps, flags from Spanish-speaking countries and posters. There was excellent teacher-student rapport and a good-humoured atmosphere prevailed. Students’ efforts were consistently affirmed, to which they responded positively. It was evident that they enjoyed learning the language.
There is evidence of good assessment practices in both the school and in the Spanish department. Students’ progress is systematically recorded. In-house exams are held at Christmas and in the summer. The Spanish department also carries out exams at mid-term and at Easter. Regular vocabulary and grammar tests are held in class and results recorded. A short report is sent home to parents every four weeks to inform parents about students’ participation. In Spanish both oral and aural testing form part of formal school assessment and this is good practice. It is recommended that this good practice be extended to all year groups when Spanish is introduced into junior cycle.
Homework is regularly assigned, corrected and monitored. Corrections in copybooks are often comment-based which facilitates improvement and progress. Cognisance is taken of state examination results, which are analysed and inform planning. Students are encouraged to aim for the higher level examination but may choose to take the subject at ordinary level if they so wish.
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:
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.