Promoting Scots Language at Fife College

In September 2017 Fife College was given Scottish Book Trust funding to promote the Scots language in the College. This was inspired by Matthew Fitt’s Authors’ Live event, where he discussed his new translation of Chairlie and the Chocolate Works.

The class selected for the project was Start Here for Qualifications. This is a level 4 group composed of young adults predominantly aged between 16 and 21. Most of the students enrolled on this course come to the college with no previous academic qualifications.

The starting goal of the project was to produce a website of student recordings of children’s books written in Scots. There were many underlying aims:

  • To increase an interest in reading and literature in general
  • To increase an interest in the Scots language
  • To encourage active participation in learning
  • To create a learning resource for Childcare and English as a Second Language (ESOL) students
  • To encourage young parents to read to their children
  • To increase my own knowledge and use of the Scots language
  • To explore how the Scots language could be embedded in the college curriculum.

Through the generosity of Scottish Book Trust we hosted two events. The first was a visit from Stuart McHardy.

Scots Workshop with Stuart McHardy

Stuart gave a presentation in Scots to the students, discussing the origins and use of the Scots language and flagging up contemporary writers in Scots such as Mark Thomson and his poem ‘The Dealer’. We also did a communal performance of the twa brithers, which Stuart has kindly provided underneath.

Stuart’s visit was an eye opener to me. I grew up in Northern Ireland rather than Scotland and did not live in an area with a strong Ulster Scots heritage. My main association with Scots was the poems my children learn each January, so I did just think of Scots as being twee and associated with children. Stuart showed me that Scots was a language for all age groups, that many of my students were much more fluent in the language than I realised and that Scots was a language not just a dialect. For the students the visit made them realise that they were native Scots speakers rather than people who spoke slang. You could see the affirmation in their faces and they loved the gory stories Stuart regaled them with. This is a group with a limited attention span. Usually ten minutes of speaking does them. They listened to Stuart for 1 hour 40 minutes with no interval!

Going forward, Stuart’s visit, in conjunction with further training I received from TRACs (Traditional Arts and Culture Scotland) Gifting Every Child project, would encourage me to seek out Scots materials aimed at young adults. Stuart also directed the college towards future sources of funding and support.

Puppet Making and Storytelling with Sylvia Troon

The second event was a puppet making workshop followed by a story telling session led by Sylvia Troon during Book Week Scotland. We invited English as a Second Language students to join both events. We have many Polish students who come from a long tradition of puppet making, and their creations were amazing! All the students participated and everyone had a puppet at the end of the day. Sylvia then gave a story telling performance in Scots using her own puppets. This was a great way of consolidating my students' experience of Scots language storytelling and introducing the non-native English speakers to another of Scotland’s languages. Everyone was entranced, native and non-native speakers alike. Like Stuart, Sylvia was full of ideas, offered long term support and introduced me to the local storytellers’ circuit.

Scots Language Quiz

We were also fortunate to have the input of ONFife, Fife’s Cultural Trust’s library service. They held a Scots language quiz for the students.

This was something we were to later develop for the whole college as part of the college’s Diversity Festival in March. In January ONFife came to the college to host a mini Burns Supper for both my Scottish students and the English as a Second Language group. We had a further visit to Kirkcaldy Galleries to view a first edition of Burns’s Kilmarnock poems and Burns’s The Merry Muses of Caledonia. When my students realised the F word made an appearance in the poems I had never see young adults descend on a poetry book so quickly!

We are also in discussions with ONFife to see if the students can be recorded speaking Scots for the new Dunfermline Carnegie Library & Galleries permanent display which opens in May 2017.

Stories in Scots Webpage

On our visit to Kirkcaldy Galleries for our Scots language quiz we arranged for the students to become library members and take out on loan their choice from a selection of Scots language books for children. The students practised reading them and then we borrowed film equipment from the college to record our readings. At this stage one student, Craig, really came to the fore. He showed a real talent for technology and for putting the students at ease in front of the camera. I was sacked from the film crew and even sometimes asked to leave the room during recordings. All the students stepped up to the plate and read their chosen book or poem to camera. The students are not natural readers so reading in front of a camera was very much out of their comfort zone. The recordings were placed on an iportfolio page to produce a beautiful resource to be used by the college childcare and ESOL students. The webpage was launched at the college’s Diversity Festival on 8 March 2017.

My head started to explode thinking of all the great ways there are to promote the Scots language in classrooms all over Scotland

The webpage had been our stated aim, but, inspired by Sylvia and Stuart’s visits we took the project a step further. In the run-up to Christmas we held a fundraiser for Bethlehem craft workers and used a plaster cast nativity set which the students painted to decorate our stall. We then painted backdrops and wrote a Scots Nativity Play based on William Lorimer’s New Testament in Scots. The students chose their parts, adapted the language to a form of Scots they were comfortable with and then read the play to tape. This will be played back on the iportfolio page using the students' ‘puppets’ as illustration.

We used the work done for the nativity play to introduce a new SQA unit to the Start Here for Qualifications course - National 4 Scots Language: Understanding and Communicating. The students had learnt the song, "A littlin’s been born in a stable;" sung to the tune of "Ma Bonnie" as the closing song for their nativity. This was the poem used for the understanding Scots Language assessment. For the written assessment, the students created a mini Scots language children’s book telling the story of the nativity and illustrated with their puppet photographs.

Expected outcome of the project: Students created a website populated with short films of themselves reading Scots language children’s books.

Unexpected outcomes of the project:

  • Validation of the students’ Scots vocabulary
  • We made long-term contact with two knowledgeable, creative, generous professionals
  • We became aware of the wider Scots speaking community
  • We encouraged a reading phobic class to help write and edit a Scots Nativity play
  • We discovered amazing talents in young adults who failed at school
  • We built up relationships with non-native speakers
  • The class became members of Fife libraries
  • We introduced a Scots language unit to the college curriculum
  • My head started to explode thinking of all the great ways there are to promote the Scots language in classrooms all over Scotland.

Take a look at the students' iportfolio page with readings of children's stories in Scots.

Watch Matthew Fitt's Authors Live and download learning resources to help you explore Matthew’s Scots translations of Dahl’s stories in your classroom.

Have a look at the gallery below for more pictures from this fantastic project




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Rosemary Richey

Rosemary Richey is a lecturer in the department of education at Fife College.