Talking in their mither tongue

30th May 2008 at 01:00
Jackie Cosh finds out how one primary is raising the profile of the Scots language - as well as attainment in reading and writing
Jackie Cosh finds out how one primary is raising the profile of the Scots language - as well as attainment in reading and writing

"The weans o' Nethermains Primary Scuil want tae git better it yaisin their mither tongue". So reads a letter sent recently to the parents of Nethermains Primary in Denny.

To help them with this task, they have had assistance from author and Scots language specialist Matthew Fitt. Matthew has written 14 books as part of the Itchy Coo imprint, a project set up with a grant from the Scottish Arts Council. Itchy Coo aims to provide lively and contemporary titles in the Scots language, from nursery to Higher level.

Matthew has been visiting the school on a weekly basis since August, working with the children and assisting the teachers to develop teaching material for different ages. He lets the children know that it is OK to speak Scots, that it is a real language and one to be proud of.

Mary Connolly, the headteacher, was keen to develop the Scots language. "The children use words and phrases not used in other areas of Scotland. I wanted to raise the profile of the Scots language, and at the same time raise attainment in reading and writing. It has worked. As the pupils learn descriptions in Scots, they transfer these descriptions over to English, so their English language improves too."

The benefits to the children have been huge - their confidence has been boosted; their body language is more positive; boys are showing more initiative in choosing books; and it is sowing the seeds for an interest in foreign languages.

Matthew began the set of sessions by discussing languages with the pupils and asking them whether they knew that Scots was a language. The sessions moved on to the children discovering new Scots words, using a different theme each time, and using resources such as the Katie Beardie poems, and his own Itchy Coo books.

Key to his approach is the fact that Scots is integrated into the curriculum, so at the end of each session he would leave work for the teacher to continue with when he wasn't there.

Caroline Winning, the P6 class teacher, says: "Matthew spoke of how in most schools Scots is covered around the time of Burns night, or St Andrew's Day; then it is forgotten about. So instead of having time set aside for Scots, we include it in teaching whenever possible. The idea is to encourage the children to think of speaking in Scots as natural."

In the P6 classroom a Scots table is laid out with activities for the children to choose from. This may be a poem where they have to investigate the meaning of words, a book to read, or a piece of writing to work on, using the language.

"In class time, if we are having brainstorming sessions, the children will now suggest Scots words, and it is resulting in more children contributing and speaking up," says Ms Winning.

"We have had a school assembly which was all in Scots, and we have brought in extra resources such as Oor Wullie and The Broons books. There aren't set sessions in Scots. Instead, we want Scots to permeate through the school."

But the activities are not limited to the older children. "There are different themes for different stages," explains Ms Connolly. "In the nursery, the children can recite simple rhymes in Scots. The P3s have been working on a Katie Morag project which is linked to learning about the environment.

"All the children can play games in Scots, and there are Scots skipping rhymes which they recite. We encourage them to speak in Scots, and we have brought in extra resources for developing their knowledge of Scotland."

The staff are now concentrating on developing a whole-school approach, bringing the different threads together. They are working on a Scots dictionary, with each class taking a different theme, such as weather, animals and so on, and with the help of their parents, the children are making translations from English to Scots.

"Matthew suggested that we work with parents as much as possible," says Ms Connolly. "If we can get them interested, and can tap into their knowledge, the children will be able to discuss Scots at home, and learn from their parents."

Matthew Fitt continues to link up with Caroline Winning on a consultative basis and will train her further. He has also suggested that the school provide training for people in the wider area.

"We are planning workshops for parents to learn Scots, and we also have a full set of fairy tales written in Scots, which the children can take home and read with their parents," says Ms Connolly. "Already, parents are coming back and saying that it is making them remember Scots words their parents used to use."

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