Fish for the right word

24th June 2005 at 01:00
Maureen McTaggart finds a resource pack about Jamaican schooling reawakens old memories

Jamaica Talks pound;35 from the Learning Trust, Ethnic Minority Achievement Service Tel: 020 8820 7329 www.learningtrust.co.uk

She didn't have a bell or a Mister Softee-type chime, but we knew she would be there. Miss Minnie's salt-fish fritters were the best in Portland and every lunchtime pupils from Fellowship All Age School would rush to the gate to savour her wares.

But when we arrived in the UK in the 1960s, the only people we could reminisce with about this memorable feature of school life were other Jamaicans.

So when I sifted through the 32 pictures in the Jamaica Talks teacher resource pack, created by teachers in Hackney, I smiled when I came across the school-gate vendor. This was the sort of thing I would have loved to share with my new London friends and teachers.

Jamaica Talks is an A4 resource pack with a book, photo-cards, CD-Rom with pupil and teacher resources and a DVD with videos about primary school life in Kingston. The short video for pupils and teachers is vibrant, lively and funny. The long version includes footage of teachers' views on schooling in Jamaica and an exchange of ideas.

These conversations with Jamaican teachers reveal aspects that English teachers might not understand, such as the respect Jamaican pupils show for teachers and each other - and how a pupil's silence in class and vocal boisterousness outside it are not necessarily symptoms of a troublesome attitude. That's how they are in Jamaica.

The non-professional production of the video gives it an immediacy and life but there is a downside - sometimes you can't quite hear what people are saying. However, it would kick-start a great classroom discussion of patois, particularly the excellent classroom recitation of the killing of Miss Marie's turkey by Kate's half-starved dog.

The CD has the full text of the teacher's book and all the photo-cards (a boon for reprinting), plus additional photos, stories, poems, lesson plans and suggested class work.

I wish Jamaica was talking back in the 1960s. I'm sure my classmates would have listened too and then I could have told them it is not just fritters and fishcakes that we have in common.

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