Not just street credibility

1st March 1996 at 00:00

Anthology only Pounds 4.95 Teachers' Pack (including one copy of the anthology) Pounds 55 Nelson Blackie and Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum

There are teachers in classrooms today who remember when Gaelic and many Scottish dialects, colourful communications in the playground, were "educated" out of them as soon as the bell rang. English was cultured as the correct way to speak in class. No teacher would allow a pupil to believe otherwise. And it is not too long ago when those who lapsed into the language of the street were leathered with a loohgelly to help them learn.

In those days, too, silent reading on a Friday afternoon while the teacher did the register was an opportunity to savour the classics, not flick through lighthearted literature in Scots. Anyone caught with a sneaked-in copy of Oor Wullie or The Broons, would have been for the chop.

How times have changed! Aided and abetted by the Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum, with the encouragement of the Scottish Office and in line with the 5-14 programme, pupils can now in-dulge in the above at their desks without fear of sanction. The latest classroom pack- age to cause a stir is The Kist A' Chiste.

Gaelic and a variety of forms of Scots, including the Doric, have been finding favour in many quarters. But busy teachers have been hampered by the lack of resources, particularly in primary and lower secondary. The Kist A' Chiste, an anthology of more than 100 texts and a teachers' pack of materials, goes some way to fill that gap. There is an interesting selection of poetry, prose, drama, songs, photographs and comic strips (including The Broons and Oor Wullie) in all the main dialects of Scots, plus 14 texts in Gaelic, with translations.

The pack is the result of a unique partnership with the education authorities, schools, colleges, universities and other experts in Scots and Gaelic. The anthology has been selected and written by teachers from Lerwick to Langholm, from Campbeltown to Crail, in the attempt to make the text accessible and acceptable to as many as possible. The pieces have been picked from the works of celebrated and less well known authors and from pupil contributions. Burns and MacDiarmid have their place, for example, alongside Neil Gunn. There is the historical, as in George Mackay Brown's The Nor'-Wast Men; and the hysterical in Adam McNaughton's Jeely Piece Song. Pupils' material from school magazines is given prominence.

The teacher's pack, which includes a copy of the anthology, contains: pupil materials - photocopiable activities, with tasks carefully graded for a range of abilities and levels, all tied in to 5-14 and including guidance on assessment; audio tapes with a reading of each of the printed texts in the anthology, and a handbook - 40 pages of advice on how to make the best use of the materials, with histories of Scots and Gaelic, with a draft letter for parents.

The editors stress that The Kist A' Chiste is not designed to teach pupils to speak Scots or Gaelic, but it will provide a useful way to increase awareness of these languages and, hopefully, not only redress the historical opposition to them within education, but also assist them to survive for generations to come. Using the pack, even occasionally, has the potential to boost pupils' general language skills. The range of themes covered in the anthology should also allow teachers to relate the text to topics within environmental studies.

This is a well thought-out, attractively presented package, for use with pupils in upper primary and early secondary, which should be given a place in the resource base of every Scottish school.

John Muir is primary adviser in Caithness and Sutherland.

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