Celebrating Scottish history and language at all levels

24th March 2006 at 00:00
Boroughmuir High in Edinburgh is one school which is pro-active in teaching Scottish literature and history and Scots language.

Scottish poetry, in English or Scots, is taught at all stages from S1 to Advanced Higher and recently, with the aid of a visiting storyteller, the English department focused on the S1-S2 pupils' local dialect and vocabulary through traditional street and playground games such as "bools" (marbles) and "peevers" (hopscotch).

"The idea was to engage not necessarily academic pupils and make them feel confident about their own vocabulary and expressions," says the principal teacher, Ailsa Stratton.

"We target Scots language as part of our emotional literacy programme and in this project we encouraged the pupils to compare their games vocabulary with that of their parents.

"It caught their imaginations and they were excited and enthusiastic. You could see their confidence growing," she says.

The focus on literature and language includes teaching aspects of the history of the Scots language, such as the Scandinavian influence on traditional Scots vocabulary and the gypsytraveller influences on local Lothian and Edinburgh dialects. It links this to how language changes and may yet change through influences such as mobile phone text messaging.

"We stress that all influences enrich our culture at different levels, including Asian and most recently east European. Teaching Scots language or literature has to be inclusive," says Ms Stratton.

"Pupils often don't realise that what they speak is a language and not bad English. They're used to speaking and hearing Scots but not to seeing or reading it in a literary tradition."

Both Ms Stratton and the principal teacher of history, Roberta Campbell, are keen that Scottish elements are maintained and developed in the curriculum, though neither supports compulsion.

"Teachers and pupils should never feel they are being forced into it," says Miss Campbell. "That would be negative for both. It's about confidence and it has to be all-encompassing, not an add-on."

She sees a cross-curricular approach as one way forward. For example, history and English departments could collaborate on a citizenship project that might include local language and heritage.

Both principal teachers approve of the professional choice the SQA affords them. "The difficulty is, there is a fine line between introducing and encouraging Scottish texts and making that somehow mandatory," says Mrs Stratton.

"There is already a lot going on," says Miss Campbell. "Our associate primaries do a lot of work on Scottish topics and we are trying to slot into ones they have not covered. You need an overall view.

"If that is what the petition is encouraging, it sounds positive."

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