Where Scots is Finding its voice

14th September 2007 at 01:00
A YOUNGSTER is talking fluently in a tongue that is wholly familiar, yet seems strange in an edu- cational setting.

"Matthew Fitt, a Scots writer, came in and told us he wis gonnae work wi us. We had a richt guid laugh. Nane o' us kent that Scots wis a language."

Nor did many of the teachers and parents at West Lothian's Letham Primary, says Angela Mackie, one of two teachers who have, for the past year, been introducing their P7 pupils to the delights and occasional difficulties of Scots in the classroom.

"When we told the parents we were doing a pilot project on Scots, one or two weren't sure about it. We reassured them that the children would be well aware of the difference between Scots and standard English. By the next parents' evening, they were happy with what we were doing."

One of the main reasons was the positive response of the pupils, says Muriel Angus, whose P7 class also took part in the project. "It really motivated their reading and writing. They often didn't see it as work. I remember one girl saying: 'I'm no' a big fan o' writing but I like this.'

"It also made them realise that where they come from, their own background, is as important as anybody else's."

The project had its origins in a passion for language, shared by a number of people and organisations. These included author Fitt, two lecturers at Glasgow University, and staff in a joint initiative run by the Scottish Book Trust, the Scottish Poetry Library and the Scottish Storytelling Centre.

These three organisations came together two years ago, with the help of Scottish Arts Council funding, to form Literature in Learning, whose aim, explains the co-ordinator, Cathrin Howells, is to bring children and writers together in creative and educational ways: "We have been focused on schools in this first phase, and the Letham project is one of a number that we have run a lovely one, and one of only two that are all about Scots."

Until the project began, Scots language at Letham had briefly come to the fore around Burns Night and St Andrew's Day, explains Angela Mackie. This was different: "Matthew came in regularly in the first term, which the kids really enjoyed, and Muriel and I were also working each week with our classes."

Talking in their native tongue came easily to the kids, but reading and writing were harder. "They persevered. We did a lot of oral work to start with, on things the kids could relate to, such as parts of the body.

"We had songs such as 'Head, shoulders, knees and toes' which became 'Heid, shouders, knees and taes'. Then there was the 'Shoogly woogly' song. There was a lot of fun and hilarity."

The children enjoyed reading Fitt's books, such as A Moose in the Hoose and The Eejits. "I had a few challenging children last year, one in particular who just wouldn't put pen to paper before this," says Ms Mackie.

"He worked his socks off. It was a language he was used to and he could put in all sorts of things of his own. He was in his element."

The project gave the children a feeling of ownership. "I found the children responded better, because you were speaking to them in their words. It gave you more of an insight into them as individuals."

The children's response and the educational benefits mean that both teachers are keen to make more of Scots in the classroom at whatever stage they teach. "I've got Primary 1 this year and I'll be doing Scots with them," says Muriel Angus. "I can just imagine how they'll enjoy it.

"I think it's time we realised that Scots has its own culture and its own heritage. If we are not giving credit to that, what does it say about us as a people?"

* www.literatureinlearning.org.uk


A Year of Scots at Letham Primary: Muriel Angus and Angela Mackie will give a presentation at the SECC on September 19, 9.30am. Teachers interested in other sessions at the festival can find the full early years and primary programmes at www.scottishlearningfestival.com

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