Out of the playground and into the text of the curriculum

10th May 1996 at 01:00
Pupils in primary 6 at Ancrum Road school in Dundee gave their verdicts on the texts used during a month-long exploration and celebration of the Scots language.

"The Twa Corbies", the gruesome ballad of two scavenging crows musing over the corpse of a dead knight, received unanimous approval. But the lengthy twists and turns of Burns's Tam o'Shanter received a mixed response. "I didn't understand it," Kirstin McPherson said. Tony Anderson disagreed: "I thought it was really good."

Tony has a naturally soft Scots tongue, with a Dundee accent, and was therefore apparently comfortable with the language.

Yet in reply to a question whether he thought it would be acceptable to call an older person an "auld wifie", he replied: "No. In Dundee it would be kind a' cheeky to say that. I think I'd get into deep trouble." Kate Armstrong, his teacher, was not so cautious. She reassured Tony that if there was sensitivity to the right tone and in the right context, "it's more accepted now that everyone speaks differently".

One of the aims of the Scots language programme, devised and taught throughout the school by Ms Armstrong, has been to help them realise that Scots is not simply the language of the playground or of ageing relatives but one that can be valued, and spoken, in much wider contexts.

Ms Armstrong worked in half-hour slots over a four-week period with each year group. Primary 1 children were introduced to individual Scots words, as well as to poems, songs and rhymes. Yins, twas and fowers, as well as being fundamental to number work, gained new status as constituents of classroom language. A story about "The wee spuggie an' the muckle great worm" offered much scope for enjoyment and creativity.

Pupils from primary 5 upwards tackled writers ranging from Burns to William Soutar and Joe Corrie. In primary 7, they were exploring concepts of accent and dialect, birth and upbringing.

"We owe it to children to explain why it is many of us speak so discernibly different," Ms Armstrong says. Song, dance, poems and music were "a speiled oot" at a concert for parents and pupils.

Ms Armstrong expects the experience to live on. "Certain things go into the classroom agenda as a subtext. In the younger classes, for example, children are still coming up to us with a new Scots words they have discovered, like giving an apple to the teacher."

The reaction from parents has been mixed. One child reported: "My mum asked what are you doing speaking like your grandad." Another said: "My mum's pleased, but my auntie in Inverness couldn't understand me. She has a funny accent."

Ms Armstrong, herself a published writer, points out: "Some children don't even know what a kirk is."

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