‘How Do You Feel About the Language That You Use?': Promoting Attitudinal Change Among Scots Speakers in the Classroom

‘How Do You Feel About the Language That You Use?': Promoting Attitudinal Change Among Scots Speakers in the Classroom

Claire Louise Needler, Jamie Fairbairn
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-4075-6.ch008
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Scots is one of three indigenous languages in Scotland, alongside English and Gaelic. In recent History, it was considered ‘slang', or ‘bad English'. Following legislative and policy changes, Scots is now recognized as a language and is recognized as a valuable part of the cultural heritage and lived experience of many who reside in Scotland. Further, in 2014, the Scots Language Award was introduced, and Scots is now taught in some schools. This chapter outlines a school-university research partnership that aimed to investigate the influence of teaching Scots on pupils' self-esteem and wider achievement. Using Participatory Action Research and creative arts to explore attitudes to Scots in school, the research highlighted the transformative power of home language (Scots) education.
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Scots is een o the three indigenous leids o Scotland, alang wi Inglis an Scottish Gaelic. Lang syne it has bin thocht o as ‘slang’ or ‘bad English’. Efter legislative an policy chynges, Scots is noo widely kent as a leid in its ain richt, an a weel regairded pairt o the cultural heritage an the lives o mony fowk fa bide in Scotland. In 2014 the Scots Leid Awards cam in, and Scots is noo learned in a fair puckle schuils. Ess chaipter ootlines a schuil-varsity research pairtnership, ettlin tae jalouse if learnin Scots can heeze up the self-regaird o the bairns and gie them anither opportunity tae achieve. Usin Participatory Action Research as weel as creative airts tae fin oot mair aboot attitudes tae the mither tongue in schuil, the research shone a licht on the transformative pooer o hame leid (Scots) lear. (Abstract in Scots)



This chapter describes Participatory Action Research (PAR) in a secondary school in Scotland, United Kingdom, in which the research team (PhD student and teacher) worked alongside staff and pupils. The methodology created space and time for key moments of transformation to occur when conventional pedagogical approaches were disrupted. Each participant had the potential to be or become an agent of change, and the interaction between pupils, teachers, researcher, authors and artists, and senior management created opportunities for new ways of learning and thinking about the Scots language and its place within a formal learning environment, which in turn can both reflect and change wider societal attitudes.

This work has developed from a school-university partnership between The Elphinstone Institute, Aberdeen University and Banff Academy, both in the North-East of Scotland, where Scots is spoken by more than 50% of the people, according to 2011 census data (National Records of Scotland, 2011). The Scots Language Award qualification has only been in existence since 2014. Banff Academy, teaches Scots within the Humanities Faculty rather than English or Modern languages, and the work is characterized by an underpinning of social justice and a rights-based approach. The research project investigated curricular innovations designed to boost pupil self-esteem, and work towards minimizing the attainment gap between pupils from wealthier backgrounds compared to those from areas of multiple deprivation. The practitioners used Participatory Action Research (PAR) and creative arts to explore how pupils felt about their home language, with a view to promoting positive attitudinal change and encouraging the pupils to view the Scots language as a valuable part of both their cultural heritage and also their daily lived experience.

During one year, the researcher visited the school weekly, and used a variety of qualitative research methods including participant observation, questionnaires, ethnographic interviews, and creative arts to explore how teaching the Scots language can begin to break down linguistic and cultural barriers that have long marginalized Scots speakers in the classroom and wider community. The research questions were based on earlier research on attitudes to Scots, (Durham 2014; Macafee & McGarrity, 1999) but co-produced through discussion with the pupils and classroom teacher. This led to an iterative research process which yielded rich, nuanced materials that offered multiple perspectives on the issue of home language teaching in formal education. This research project used linguistic ethnography as a framework to look closely and look locally, while tying observations to broader relations of power and ideology (Creese, 2010). What this means is that the research team looked closely and locally at Scots language practices in the classroom and school community, in relation to national educational and language policy frameworks. Research data from interviews with senior management elucidated the impact of power and ideology on the lived realities of Scots speakers. This manifested as a sort of “doublethink” where staff talk about the importance of the Scots language as an expression of identity, whilst still preferring that pupils use “proper English” in more formal situations. Lowing (2017) described this internalized hegemony as ‘schizoglossia’ when some middle-class Scots teachers struggle to voice their Scots language, even as they purported to value it and accept it as a valid language for use in school. Based on the introductory information, this chapter has the overall objective to investigate whether learning and teaching Scots, the home language of the majority of pupils, boosted the pupils’ self-esteem and wider achievement.

Key Terms in this Chapter

SQA: The Scottish Qualification Authority. The organization which delivers and administers the qualifications and courses for pupils across Scotland.

Curriculum for Excellence: Scotland’s Education Curriculum. At its centre are four fundamental capacities which reflect and recognise the lifelong nature of education and learning. The four capacities are aimed at helping children and young people to become: Successful learners, Confident individuals, Responsible citizens, and Effective contributors.

Pupil Voice: Involving pupils in schools’ decision-making processes to develop skills as critical thinkers.

Linguistic Ethnography: A methodology and a theoretical framework that draws out the connections between language use at a local level, and broader social and political forces.

Scots Language Award: A formal qualification taught in Scotland since 2014. There are two units; one on the history and development of the language, and one on use and communication.

EAL: English as an additional language.

Closing the Attainment Gap: A key policy of the Education Department of the Scottish Government to reduce the gap in educational outcomes between people from different socio-economic circumstances.

Scots: A Germanic language, related to English, spoken by more than 1.5 million people in Scotland, according to the 2011 census.

Scots Medium Education: Delivering education to children through the medium of Scots language.

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