An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Spanish
Malahide Community School
Malahide, County Dublin
Roll number: 91325R
Date of inspection: 28 February 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Spanish
This report has been written following a subject inspection conducted as part of a Whole School Evaluation in Malahide Community 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 and subject teachers.
Malahide Community School is a co-educational post-primary school, on the outskirts of Malahide, with a current enrolment of 1,169 students. The school recently moved into a new building which provides a bright and airy environment for both teachers and students. It is evident that the school is very supportive, not only of Spanish, but of all languages. All except a small number of students study a modern European language in junior cycle and are strongly encouraged to continue their study of a language in senior cycle. Three languages are offered throughout the school: Spanish, German and French. This is excellent provision. Students normally only opt for one language but may take two languages if they so wish. Spanish was introduced into the school in 2002 and has proved to be a very popular option. It is to be commended that students’ preferences regarding subject choice, both at junior cycle and at senior cycle, inform timetabling.
The fact that most Spanish teachers have their own base classroom provides them with the opportunity of creating a rich environment for the teaching of the language, facilitating immediate access to resources and the display of students’ work, posters, maps and other visual stimuli for teaching and learning the language. Teaching resources are very good, with access to information and communications technology (ICT) in the classroom via a broadband-linked computer in situ in the classrooms. Other resources include CD players and tape recorders, together with ready access to overhead projectors, printers, laptop, a Hi-fi system, data projectors, video and DVD players. Teachers can book their class into one of the computer rooms through a pre-booking system. Storage facilities are also provided within the classrooms and teachers have built up a good supply of teaching materials for the language. A designated room has also been provided to store resources for all of the languages. It is reported that requests for extra teaching resources are very favourably met by management.
Time allocated for the subject is adequate for syllabus needs. Junior cycle and Transition Year (TY) classes have four class periods weekly and Leaving Certificate classes have five class periods weekly. While this is usually sufficient provision, it is noted that, as Spanish is timetabled against practical subjects, many of these classes are arranged as double lessons, which is not ideal for the teaching of languages. Some junior cycle classes have only two weekly contact times due to having two double periods. This can be problematic, particularly when one of the class groups is timetabled for two consecutive days, resulting in a gap of almost five days between lessons. It is recommended therefore that in future timetabling for Spanish, efforts be made, as far as possible, to provide single-lesson periods spread over the week to provide continuity for the learning of the language. As lesson periods on Wednesdays are shorter than other days of the week, timetabling for double lessons on this day of the week would, over the course of a year, limit the class contact time considerably.
There are four class groups for Spanish in first year, five groups in second year, three groups in each of third year and TY and two groups in each of fifth year and sixth year. Classes are, in general, of mixed ability. Two full-time teachers of Spanish are currently engaged in teaching the language and another language teacher, who previously has been involved in teaching French and German, takes some junior cycle classes. It is to be commended that this latter teacher has made huge efforts to undertake continuing professional development (CPD) in order to provide extra support for the teaching of Spanish. It is commended that management is actively supportive of CPD and strongly encourages teachers in this regard. Two post-graduate diploma in education (PGDE) students are also involved in teaching Spanish in the school this year, and some fifth-year classes are shared with the full-time Spanish teachers. While it is very positive that the school facilitates PGDE students, who can bring new perspectives and ideas to the teaching process, and it is evident that regular collaboration ensures that shared classes are well planned, it is suggested that PGDE students should, as a general rule, be timetabled for junior cycle classes rather than senior cycle classes. Given the growing interest in Spanish in the school and looking to projected numbers of students opting for the subject, it is recommended that management plans to appoint another full-time teacher of Spanish as soon as it is possible to do so.
Good work has been done in planning for appropriate provision for students with special educational needs. Regular communication between subject teachers and the learning-support team ensures that subject teachers are aware of students’ needs. Management applies to the State Examinations Commission for reasonable accommodations for those students who need them and facilitates these students further by providing similar accommodations during the mock examinations.
Contacts with Spain are very good. The school organises an annual student exchange with a partner school in Santiago de Compostela and an annual trip to Seville for second-year students provides further cultural enrichment. Teachers and management are to be commended for providing such opportunities for students. It is noted that all teachers involved in the teaching of Spanish have regular contact with the country and most have attended language courses in Spain. This is greatly encouraged in order to ensure that language skills are maintained. Teachers are members of the Association of Teachers of Spanish and attend meetings on a regular basis. It is suggested that the Spanish department should apply to the Department of Education and Science to host a Spanish language assistant.
School development planning is well advanced in the school and the designated time provided for subject department planning has facilitated the preparation of a comprehensive long-term plan for Spanish. Currently the subject plan for Spanish includes: the department’s mission statement; a list of the extra-curricular activities to support Spanish; details of exchange visits; TY content; minutes of subject planning meetings; overall aims for the language; specific junior and senior cycle aims; curriculum content for each year group under the headings aims, objectives, content and assessment; department policy on homework and assessment; strategies to support students with special educational needs, and planning for the incorporation of ICT into teaching and learning. The plan shows very good attention to detail and is evidence of much thought and effort on the part of the team. It is good practice that all language teachers work collaboratively on the planning process as this provides an excellent opportunity for the sharing of expertise and ideas.
It is suggested that the development of this 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. It is also recommended that work continues over time on expanding the curriculum content for senior cycle to include more detailed themes, together with the resources related to these themes. A good bank of theme-linked teaching resources, such as flashcards, role-play prompts, games, songs, listening extracts, magazine or newspaper articles and differentiated worksheets could then be built up and shared among the team. The possibility of using ICT as a vehicle for the storage and dissemination of both written and aural material could be explored. Care should be taken when planning for lesson activities that equal emphasis is placed on productive skills as well as receptive skills.
It is also suggested that, as students’ access to ICT during language lessons opens up a wide range of possibilities for the teaching and learning of languages, further development of the use of this facility for all year groups should be included when planning for the future of the subject.
Planning for Spanish takes cognisance of students with special educational needs. It was reported that the learning-support team liaises with Spanish teachers regarding students with special needs to give information and practical advice on teaching methodologies, which is recommended practice. During the evaluation, there was evidence of the use of differentiated questioning techniques for students of differing abilities. However it is suggested that there may be scope for the further development of differentiated written and listening tasks, both within lessons and for homework, to enhance students’ individual achievement.
Planning for TY is in line with the ethos of the TY programme, with a focus on cultural content and the completion of a portfolio by students, which is then included in the yearly assessment. Some students undertake a project of their choice and design and display posters on a Spanish-related topic. As one of the aims of TY is the encouragement of autonomous learning, it is suggested that all class groups could benefit from the inclusion of project work where students choose the subject and present their findings to their peers. Students could be encouraged to present the project in whatever form they choose, for example, a PowerPoint presentation, the compilation of a tape or CD, drama or role plays, a photo exhibition or video extracts. Marks awarded for Spanish language content could provide an incentive to carry out the project in the target language as much as possible. Teachers are commended for including extra-curricular activities, such as school outings to Spanish films or to Spanish tapas bars, in the year’s programme. In one TY lesson observed, students, who were preparing for a forthcoming visit to a tapas bar by practising how to order food, had the opportunity to taste some typical Spanish dishes.
While some supplementary reading material is available to students, it is suggested that a collection of short Spanish novels, such as the Barco de vapor or the Gran Angular series, could also be acquired, to provide students with an insight into the cultural life of young Spanish people as well as providing literary-style reading material. Some copies of the optional prescribed text, currently La Aventura de Saíd, could also be provided as part of the library of reading material available to students.
Individual lesson planning was, in all instances, good. Teachers use the recommended syllabus-based thematic approach incorporating the integration of the different language skills. Lesson content, while suited to students’ ability and level, was sufficiently challenging. Planning provided for continuity of learning, with a systematic building up of vocabulary and language awareness. Planned lesson content provided a good variety of activities in the lessons seen. There was evidence of some active-learning strategies, such as group work and pair work and further development of these with all class groups is encouraged.
In general, good teaching and learning was observed in Spanish lessons during the evaluation. While there was evidence of target language use in all lessons observed, in some lessons the target language was used for all classroom interactions and instructions and this had a noticeable effect on the standard of students’ oral skills. In these lessons it was evident that students were keen to speak Spanish and their pronunciation was of a high standard. It is recommended that every effort be made to maximise target language usage in the classroom, as it is through regularly hearing and using simple authentic Spanish that students improve their oral and aural skills. It was good to note that in some classrooms a display of posters with classroom phrases and instructions on the walls of the classrooms acted as aides mémoires for students. It is suggested that teachers should insist that students use the target language for classroom communication where possible. Some good examples of using drawings, actions or Spanish synonyms to explain the meanings of words were seen in several lessons. This is good practice, as using paraphrases or synonyms in the target language to explain the meanings of words and phrases enhances the students’ linguistic skills and is more effective than merely giving the English meaning.
Resources utilised in the course of lessons included worksheets, listening exercises, textbooks, drawings and flashcards and teacher-generated dialogues. It was evident that visual stimuli worked well in the lessons seen and it is recommended that the use of visual aids such as flashcards, photos, drawings, maps, newspaper or magazine pictures, realia and posters be further developed as a means of introducing and practising vocabulary and of facilitating oral practice.
In all lessons, teachers used the whiteboard to note down key vocabulary and grammar points and this was clear and well set out so that students could note down key information and vocabulary. Students are encouraged to keep vocabulary notebooks, which is good practice. Explanations were clear in all lessons and students were made aware of what was expected of them. It was evident in several lessons where students were giving opinions on various topics that they were, commendably, encouraged to express their own ideas rather than learn off set phrases.
Lessons had clear aims and in one instance these aims were shared with students at the beginning of the lesson. It is suggested that this very useful strategy could be expanded to all classes, as students can then evaluate their own learning and become more involved in their own learning.
Before listening-comprehension exercises, key vocabulary and phrases were revised or introduced so that students were given the necessary ‘tools’ to answer the relevant questions. When giving students examination-type aural exercises where listening comprehension questions are in English, it is suggested that, when correcting the exercise, teachers should also use target-language questioning to give students further practice at hearing and speaking Spanish.
In all lessons, good attention was paid to the teaching of grammar. In one instance it was recommended that more attention be paid to verb endings when practising oral work. It was also noted in several lessons that more emphasis could have been placed on correct pronunciation and intonation. It was suggested in one lesson that students should have more opportunity to practise the pronunciation of new vocabulary as a group before having to use it individually in one-to-one questioning. In all lessons, students demonstrated a good level of understanding and knowledge appropriate to their level when questioned.
Classroom management was good at all times and student-teacher rapport very good. Teachers were affirming of students’ efforts, to which students responded positively. A positive, pleasant atmosphere was noted in all lessons. Students were fully engaged in most lessons seen and participated in all classroom activities. Teachers circulated the room when students were engaged in tasks, helping and supporting them in their work. Where teachers had their own base rooms, good efforts had been made to display language-related posters, pictures, maps and some students’ work. In one room, which is used for the teaching of three languages, posters of all three languages were on display. It is suggested that a separate wall could be assigned for each language to avoid confusion on the part of students. Further expansion of the display of students’ project work is also encouraged as an incentive to learning.
Formal and informal assessment is regularly carried out in Spanish. In-house examinations are held at Christmas and summer, and ‘mock’ examinations are held in the spring for state-examination classes. Informal class tests are ongoing and good records of students’ progress are maintained by teachers. Term reports to parents, annual parent-teacher meetings for all year groups and communication through the students’ journal inform parents of students’ progress. Certificate examination results are analysed each year, by management, to inform planning.
Formal assessment for all class groups includes an aural test, which is good practice. Oral assessment is carried out in senior cycle classes as part of the assessment of students’ progress. It is recommended that the Spanish team considers introducing oral assessment as part of the formal assessment of every year group, including those in junior cycle.
The school has prepared a homework policy and this is included in the specific Spanish subject plan. In all lessons observed, homework tasks were assigned. Copybooks showed that students were achieving a good standard of work. In most classes there was evidence that students’ copybooks were monitored on a regular basis. Where this was not the case, it is recommended that care be taken to ensure that each individual’s copybook or workbook is corrected regularly, with attention to detail, and that students are encouraged to retain a corrected version of their work for revision purposes. This is particularly important with written production exercises. In some instances there was evidence of teachers using comment-marking to aid students’ improvement and this good practice could be extended to all classes.
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 November 2008