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Darts approach to reading is 'great fun'

Staff and pupils at Bunsgoil Ghaidhlig Ghlaschu, the Glasgow Gaelic Primary, have moved this term to the Woodside campus of Scotland's first 3-18 Gaelic-medium school. While not a big move geographically, it is an important move for the school.

Coincidentally, the book Lena Walker's Primary 6 class is reading today is about a big move, from Edinburgh to Skye.

"They are reading the first few pages of Morag Stewart's Leabhar-latha no Dh..., which introduces them to the main characters," explains Ms Walker.

"Then, instead of reading on, we're going to get inside the minds of these characters using an exercise called thought tracker."

But first, working in pairs, the children read the passage and write down those words, such as goill and bhleigeart, that are unfamiliar to them.

Then Ms Walker leads them gently to their meanings. "I would never just tell them what a word means.

"The whole idea is about getting them to be much more interactive in their reading."

Young Kieron explains some of the most useful tactics. "You can read ahead or back from a bit you're not sure about and you can use something called mind's eye. This means you see the characters and what they're talking about, like a picture inside your head."

In the thought tracker exercise, some members of the class are happier than others when they discover which character they have drawn. It is not hard to get inside the mind of Anna, the main character, but there are few clues, the pupils say, to what is going on in the feline mind of her pet.

This is important because the exercise is not a work of pure imagination, explains Ms Walker. "We always ask them to find evidence for what they believe their character is thinking."

This approach to reading is a big improvement on how things used to be done, say the pupils. "We would read a bit, then the teacher would ask us questions and we would try to answer them," says William. "It was quite hard. This is a lot more fun."

A particularly enjoyable part of thought tracker comes at the end of the exercise, when the children take it in turns to act out the scene, with voice-overs provided by the contents of their thought bubbles.

Although focused on Gaelic novels, the Darts techniques are very easily adapted, says Ms Walker, and can be used with any text and, indeed, any language. "You might focus on characters in one lesson and structure in another. As the kids progress through a novel, they get a real in-depth experience."

As a final exercise, the pupils are asked which type of reading lesson they like best. The vote is not just convincing, it is unanimous. Everyone in Ms Walker's class prefers the Darts approach.

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