An Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna
Department of Education and Skills
Subject Inspection of Spanish
Mercy Heights Secondary School
Skibbereen, County Cork
Roll number: 62490T
Date of inspection: 16 December 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Spanish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Mercy Heights Secondary School. 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. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Whole-school support for language learning in Mercy Heights Secondary School is good. The school offers two modern European languages, Spanish and French, in both junior and senior cycle. French is a core subject in junior cycle and students can also opt to take Spanish. The fact that students can choose to study two languages is commended. However it is suggested that the school should consider the possibility of giving some students the option of studying Spanish as their core language in junior cycle. This should be kept under review to ensure that it does not impact on the number of students studying two languages in junior cycle.
Uptake for Spanish is good and three teachers of Spanish meet the staffing needs for the subject. Teachers are rotated in relation to levels and programmes, and continuity from second to third year and from fifth to sixth year is the norm, which is good practice. Timetabling is sufficient to meet subject requirements. In first year, all students study the full range of junior cycle subjects, resulting in an allocation of three periods to Spanish rather than the usual four. Given that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages of this arrangement, this is satisfactory provision.
Students choose their Junior Certificate options at the end of first year. In senior cycle, Leaving Certificate option bands are based on students’ choices and this is good practice. However, students make their Leaving Certificate subject choices prior to taking the core Transition Year (TY) programme. While it is reported that changes of levels and subjects can be accommodated up to first term in fifth year, it is strongly recommended that Leaving Certificate choices should be deferred until students have had the experience of at least some of the TY programme which focuses on students’ personal, vocational and social development.
Provision for students with additional educational needs is good. There is evidence of a good awareness of students’ needs and interventions are provided for those students who need them. Communications between subject teachers and the learning-support team strengthen this support. Reasonable accommodations in certificate examinations are availed of as appropriate and provision for these accommodations is made by the schools during in-house examinations. This is good practice.
Material resources for the subject are good. A bank of teaching resources for the language has been built up over the years and is shared among members of the team. A language laboratory with individual tapes for students is available to all language teachers and good use is made of this. Classrooms are student based, with the result that teachers, when not timetabled for the language laboratory, have to carry equipment such as CD or DVD players to different classrooms. It is suggested that a secure storage cupboard in classrooms used by language teachers would enable teachers to have these resources to hand, ensuring that the different language skills can be integrated into all lessons. At present the disadvantage of having to carry the equipment to different classrooms could impact on the integration of listening practice into the topics being studied.
The school’s plans for revamping information and communication technology (ICT) provision in the school are greatly encouraged. Management aims to provide ICT in all classrooms. This could provide very good opportunities to have planning folders, including resource materials, on the school intranet. These teaching resources could also be made available to individual students to encourage independent learning. Further development of ICT provision in classrooms could create opportunities for forging links with schools in Spain, and this is also encouraged. Information on eTwinning and opportunities for other European links can be obtained through Léargas at www.leargas.ie.
Continuing professional development (CPD) is encouraged and provided for teachers. Recent whole-staff in-service has included very relevant practical inputs such as assessment for learning (AfL), providing for students with special educational needs and teaching for mixed abilities. Individual CPD has been undertaken in relation to Spanish and this is commended. It is seen as important to continue to maintain and develop teachers’ language skills. The Spanish teachers are encouraged to continue their membership of the Association of Teachers of Spanish, in order to maintain links with other teachers of Spanish and to avail of any in-service opportunities. As the school has not hosted a language assistant for Spanish in recent years, it is strongly suggested that this should be availed of at the earliest opportunity, as this would be of benefit to the department.
The school compares certificate examination results with national norms to inform planning and this is good practice. The number of students taking higher level Spanish in both Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate is above the national average and overall, results show evidence of very good learning outcomes. Students are encouraged to aim for higher level, and it is evident that teachers have high expectations of their students.
School development planning has been ongoing in the school and it is commended that subject department planning has been facilitated by management through the provision of planning time for subject departments. Regular meetings of subject departments are held and minutes recorded. A co-ordinator for Spanish is appointed on a rotational basis and a subject plan for Spanish has been prepared. The plan is evidence of good collaboration among members of the team and contains details of homework, assessment, record-keeping and reporting procedures; details of ICT; details of CPD undertaken; special needs provision; school policies including the mission statement; examination results in relation to national norms; a list of teaching resources; teaching methodologies; minutes of departmental meetings and a short breakdown of each year’s curriculum content. This is commended.
It is recommended that further development of the subject plan expand the curriculum content for each year group, basing the content on the relevant syllabus rather than the textbook being used. Using the integrated approach evident in the lessons observed, where both receptive and productive language skills are taught in an integrated manner around a theme or topic, the plan should include details of the themes to be covered by each year group, highlighting the specific learning outcomes that students should acquire in each of the language skills. Over time, the plan could include a list of possible resources relating to each topic or theme (which can be updated regularly) and the teaching methodologies and strategies used to encourage collaborative learning and active-learning tasks. Resources and materials could then be stored thematically and could include visual aids, games, supplementary listening and reading material and cue cards or other props to facilitate pair work and group work. As good teamwork is already in evidence within the Spanish department, the sharing of good practices observed during the evaluation and ongoing discussion of successful teaching strategies will further enhance the teaching and learning of the subject.
Many opportunities are provided for Spanish students through co-curricular activities such as Spanish drama productions, Spanish films, music and cooking. The TY programme enhances students’ involvement in their own learning through individual student projects which they present as part of the programme.
During the evaluation, planning for individual lessons was good. There was evidence of planning for students of differing abilities, including the good practice of providing differentiated tasks for students in class. It is suggested that this could be extended to homework tasks. Opportunities for co-operative learning were provided during lessons, and these included pair work and role plays.
Good teaching and learning was in evidence during the course of the evaluation. The use of the target language as the language of the classroom was good and it was evident that students are well used to hearing and using the language. Lesson aims were shared with students at the outset of lessons which is good practice. It is suggested that this could be extended to include specific learning outcomes, perhaps through the use of ‘can do’ statements which can be very motivating for students. There was evidence of continuity with previous learning and lesson pace was suited to students’ abilities. Instructions were clear and classroom management effective in all instances. Pair work was well organised, providing further opportunity for students’ active participation.
Questioning strategies, used to introduce and practise linguistic items and to assess students’ understanding, were effective. It was recommended in one instance that questions be addressed to individual students rather than globally, to ensure full participation. Learning was well organised, with students noting new items of grammar and vocabulary systematically. A review of students’ homework copybooks showed a good standard of work.
In some lessons good use was made of visual aids. In one lesson, flashcards were effectively used to introduce new vocabulary and in another lesson, a data projector was used to provide background images. Where visual aids were used to introduce new vocabulary, it was suggested that students should have more time to practise the vocabulary orally and in a variety of different ways before being introduced to the written version. The expanded use of visual aids is encouraged as a means of facilitating learning, encouraging target language use and aiding retention. There was evidence of subject-related posters and examples of students’ work displayed on the walls of the classrooms, helping to create a Spanish atmosphere in the classroom and highlighting Spanish culture. Further development of this is encouraged.
Students responded very well to active-learning tasks such as pair work and role plays, and it is recommended that similar activities be further developed for all classes. It would be of benefit to students to include at least one time-limited group/pair work activity in every lesson, so that each individual student has the opportunity to actively use the language during the lesson. Where pair work was used during the evaluation, a suggestion was made that a plenary session at the end of the lesson would have been useful to point out common errors or to highlight difficulties which had arisen during the pair work. It was also suggested that it would be important to follow up global correction in class with intermittent checks on individual students’ work.
Repetition was used effectively to familiarise students with new language structures. The AfL technique of allowing sufficient ‘wait time’ for students to answer was in evidence and this is encouraged as good practice. Students were well prepared for role-play tasks through preparatory work in the language laboratory and the use of slides.
The classroom atmosphere was in all instances very positive, with very good student-teacher rapport. Students responded well and were fully engaged in lessons. It was evident that the teachers’ enthusiasm for the language is shared by the students. Teachers were consistently affirming of students’ efforts. Students are well able to converse in Spanish and demonstrate appropriate skills and knowledge.
Comprehensive assessment and reporting procedures are in place in the school, with twice-yearly in-house examinations and reports to parents. Certificate examination classes have pre-examinations in the spring. An annual parent-teacher meeting is held for each year group and good records are kept of individual students’ progress.
Informal assessment of students is ongoing in Spanish through class tests, vocabulary tests, class interactions and homework tasks. In-house examinations for Spanish include aural, written and reading assessment. Sixth-year students are provided with mock oral examinations as part of their pre-examinations. It is recommended that, in order to reflect the aims of the relevant syllabuses, the assessment of students’ oral skills form part of the overall assessment for each year group, in junior cycle as well as senior cycle. This could be carried out either through short individual oral tests or by awarding an overall mark for the individual student’s oral contribution during the year.
Homework is regularly assigned and monitored. Homework assignments include listening and learning tasks as well as written tasks, which is good practice. It is suggested that students should be required to keep a corrected version of their productive writing exercises to facilitate revision purposes. Teachers are encouraged to use formative assessment in the form of constructive comments on students’ productive writing tasks.
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 principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, May 2010