An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Spanish
Saint Benildus College
Stillorgan, County Dublin
Roll number: 60261R
Date of inspection: 27 November 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Spanish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St Benildus College, conducted as part of a whole school evaluation. 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.
Provision for modern European languages in St Benildus College is good. Spanish, French and German are taught in the school and incoming first-year students choose their language option prior to entry into the school. It is most encouraging to see that all students, including students with special learning needs, study a language in junior cycle and most continue to study the language through to Leaving Certificate level. As language subjects are currently blocked together on the timetable, students do not have the opportunity to study two languages. In senior cycle, timetabling is carried out subsequent to students’ options being made, in order to accommodate the majority of student choices and this is good practice.
Spanish was introduced into the school in 2000 and the number of students opting to study the language has been increasing, both in junior and senior cycles. Currently there are two class groups for Spanish in each of the junior cycle years, one group in Transition Year (TY) and one group in each of fifth and sixth years. All classes are of mixed ability. Timetabling for the subject is very satisfactory in that all class groups have single lesson periods spread over the week. Junior cycle classes have four single periods per week, TY students have three single periods and fifth-year and sixth-year students have five single periods weekly. TY students continue to study their junior cycle language option.
There are two fully qualified teachers of Spanish teaching the subject, one of whom is full-time and the other part-time. This year a Higher Diploma student is also taking some Spanish classes. Teachers do not have their own base rooms, which is not ideal, but lack of space makes this option impracticable at present. The school has a languages room which used to be a language laboratory, and this affords language teachers the opportunity of displaying subject-related posters and students’ work. Some Spanish classes are timetabled for this language room. Teachers are provided with a tape recorder/CD player for their own use in the school and access to a video/DVD player is available in the languages room and in other designated rooms. It is to be hoped that, in the long term, the possibility of language teachers having their own base classrooms will be achievable, not only to facilitate immediate access to resources and necessary audiovisual equipment, but to create a culture-rich environment for the subject through the display of posters, maps, students’ project work and other language-related material. In the meantime, it is suggested that the possibility of allocating a suite of well-equipped classrooms, adjacent to each other, for language classes be investigated, so that teachers could have easy access to resources such as tape recorders, CD players, video/DVD players, overhead projectors and other material resources. Notice boards for languages, including one for Spanish, have been created and are in a prominent place along one of the corridors, so that students can keep up to date with language news. This is a very positive resource to highlight the importance of languages in general and to familiarise students with news items relating to the country. It is suggested that it could also be used to display some students’ project work.
Resources for Spanish are provided on a needs basis. A good bank of teaching resources, such as textbooks, flashcards, listening tapes and audiovisual materials, has been built up. Computer access is available for students by booking a slot in the computer room timetable and all classrooms have broadband access. To date, information and communication technologies (ICT) have not been utilised in the teaching and learning of Spanish in the school, but the teachers, having attended in-service relating to ICT, hope to develop this over time.
Management is supportive of the professional development of staff members. The Spanish teachers are currently members of the Association of Teachers of Spanish (ATS) and regularly attend meetings, with the result that news of ATS meetings and events are available to the team. Both teachers have attended professional development courses in Spain at various times and are very aware of the importance of maintaining language skills, which is to be commended. Both teachers are in contact with the Instituto Cervantes in Dublin and have access to its lending library, which is an excellent resource for teachers of the language.
The school does not have specific links with a school in Spain but a number of Spanish students attend the school annually. This raises the profile of the language and gives students of Spanish a real opportunity of learning more about the country and its culture. A successful school trip to Barcelona was organised last year for first-year students and this is being repeated this year. Two years ago the school availed of the opportunity of hosting a Spanish language assistant in the school and it is reported that this worked out very satisfactorily.
As part of the school development planning process, subject departments have engaged in subject planning. A long-term subject plan for Spanish, showing evidence of much good work, has been prepared and work on its further development is ongoing. Time is set aside for subject department meetings at the start of each year and at various times throughout the year as the need arises. It was evident that informal planning also takes place on a week-to-week basis, as classes which are shared with the Higher Diploma student are planned collaboratively. Minutes of formal meetings are recorded. It is suggested that details of any decisions taken at informal meetings should also be recorded to further inform subject planning. From time to time, the three modern European languages teams meet together to discuss common issues and this is a positive arrangement which could lead to a sharing of expertise and resources.
The long-term plan for Spanish includes a mission statement for Spanish, a homework policy, details of learning outcomes and assessment, the broad aims and objectives for both junior and senior cycles, text books used and the syllabus-based themes to be covered in both junior and senior cycles. Some details of the TY programme are contained in the overall subject plan. Notes from departmental meetings record the discussion of some good ideas such as the use of flashcards as visual aids to learning, encouraging increased oral participation in class, the use of standardised target language for classroom instructions, the importance of affirmation and the use of a variety of supplementary materials. Further development of all of these is encouraged. Planning takes cognisance of students with special educational needs and the good practice of utilising differentiated oral questioning and tasks is in evidence. It is suggested that there is scope for the further development of differentiated written and listening tasks within lessons, to enhance students’ individual achievement.
There was evidence of the use of a thematic approach to the teaching of the language in junior cycle with integration of the different language skills and this is good practice. It is important that junior cycle students have some form of listening and oral practice in almost all lessons. This approach, where both receptive and productive language skills are taught in an integrated manner around a theme or topic, rather than the tendency to focus on one particular skill, should be extended to all classes in senior cycle. Some practical suggestions for an integrated approach to language teaching, with particular reference to teaching for mixed ability and to the different approaches to the teaching of grammar are to be found in the NCCA’s Leaving Certificate Spanish: Draft Guidelines for Teachers. It is suggested that further development of the subject plan, over time, could include more detailed information on the teaching methodologies and strategies used to encourage collaborative learning and active learning tasks, as well as examples of differentiated tasks where relevant. A communal bank of resource materials, such as theme-linked listening comprehension extracts, differentiated worksheets and prompts for pair work and group work, could gradually be built up and listed in the plan alongside the relevant theme.
A further planning priority should be a comprehensive review of the TY programme to give fuller details of the programme content and the teaching methodologies employed during the year. At present much emphasis is placed on the teaching of grammar during the Transition Year and, while this is an important aspect of language learning, it is suggested that the approach taken to this could be more in line with the ethos and aims of the year. As the teaching approaches used during this year should aim to enhance the students’ educational and social development and encourage the development of critical thinking and creative problem-solving skills, it is suggested that the team investigate more active teaching and learning methodologies to encourage students’ independent learning. More information on the aims of TY can be obtained from www.transitionyear.ie. This year’s TY class is shared among two teachers and part of the year’s work includes a module on cultural aspects of Spain and South America, including the use of Spanish film. It is suggested that the inclusion of student project work on some aspect of this module could provide an alternative mode of assessment. It would be of benefit to include details of the resources and methodologies used in this module in the overall plan for the year.
Individual lesson planning was evident for all classes observed. All lessons had a clear structure, were syllabus appropriate and part of a coherent plan. Teachers’ expectations were high, while lesson content was suited to students’ level and ability. It is suggested, however, that the active participation of individual students in the lessons could be maximised by planning for a variety of student activities in individual lessons.
Resources for the language include some supplementary reading material for senior cycle students and this is to be commended. It is worth noting that some very good student-friendly short novels, such as the Barco de Vapor or the Gran angular series, of which the current prescribed text La Aventura de Saíd is one, are available in the specialist language bookshops.
Good use of the target language for classroom instructions was observed in all lessons and it is suggested that this could be further developed to include all classroom communications and interactions. All efforts made to maximise the use of the target language for meaningful communication in the classroom are of benefit, as it is through regularly hearing and using simple authentic Spanish that students will enhance their oral and aural skills. Training students to always use the Spanish alphabet during lessons is also encouraged.
Activities in lessons included one-to-one questioning, teacher input, worksheet exercises, listening comprehension and a dictation exercise. In one lesson, the use of a photo was used to encourage oral practice and further use of similar visual aids is encouraged. In some lessons, the use of visual stimuli would have obviated the need for an English explanation. A variety of textbook material was used in the lessons and throughout good attention was paid to language awareness. In one lesson, it was suggested that it would have been more beneficial to practise verb tenses in an integrated way, within a context, rather than in isolation. Board work was clear and key words were automatically noted by students.
Teachers demonstrated good linguistic skills and appropriate attention was paid to students’ pronunciation. One-to-one questioning was effective and students responded well. In some lessons, however, too much time was spent on teacher-student questioning. Introducing some pair or group work into the lesson would have provided more opportunities for students to be actively engaged. All lessons would have benefited from more active learning strategies to maximise each individual student’s oral participation.
Resources used included a variety of textbooks, worksheets and listening tapes. It is suggested that further authentic resource materials such as newspaper articles, magazines or extracts from television news programmes could be used to supplement the teaching resources already being used. It was good to note that all students are required to have a dictionary and are used to referring to it when necessary. In several of the lessons observed, students supplied their own questions or phrases from prompts written on the whiteboard. This worked well. In another lesson where students were revising vocabulary related to weather forecasts, it was suggested that a short brainstorming exercise would have involved all students. In this particular lesson, a combination of both reading and listening exercises around the theme of weather reinforced learning. Letting the students hear the extract again after correction was good practice and again, helped reinforce learning. It was suggested that questioning students in the target language about the listening extract before correcting the English answers, would provide more opportunity for target language use.
Classroom management was very good in all lessons. In some classes, students have been assigned particular seats to facilitate pair work and it is suggested that, if this is to continue, the seating plan should be changed regularly to ensure a greater variety of student interaction. Classroom atmosphere was at all times pleasant and conducive to the learning process and teacher-student rapport was good. Students were engaged throughout the lessons and demonstrated good understanding of lesson content. Some affirmation of students’ efforts was seen in all lessons and this is greatly encouraged, as students responded well to this. A review of students’ written work showed some good productive writing exercises, particularly in junior cycle. Oral responses were, in general, good and students responded well to questioning. It was evident that appropriate learning was taking place in all lessons.
Whole-school assessment of students is carried out through in-house examinations at Christmas and summer for first-year, second-year and fifth-year students. “Mock” examinations for State examination classes are held in the spring. Records of students’ progress are maintained and parents are kept informed through annual parent-teacher meetings and progress reports following formal assessment. In Spanish, common tests are used for the different class groups in each year and this is good practice. Aural testing forms part of formal assessment for all year groups, as is recommended practice. At present only sixth-year students have an oral assessment, in preparation for their Leaving Certificate oral examination, although the Spanish team is considering introducing oral tests for first-year students. This is strongly encouraged and it is recommended that some form of oral testing should form part of the assessment for all year groups.
Regular assessment of students’ progress in Spanish is carried out in all classes through vocabulary, verb and phrase tests and a homework policy for Spanish has been prepared. It was evident that both assessment and homework issues are discussed and evaluated by the Spanish team and reviewed when necessary. Homework is regularly set, monitored and corrected. Some copybooks showed evidence of formative comments by the teacher and this is encouraged as a support to learning. While some good examples of written work were seen, it was recommended that with some groups, more emphasis could be placed on the students’ presentation of work. It was suggested that, in all classes, students should be required to write out corrected versions of their work in their copybooks. Students are assigned listening homework tasks from time to time and this is commended and encouraged.
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.
Published October 2008