Q It’s hard to believe but my 14-year-old son is taking a national curriculum SATS paper on Shakespeare’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ in less than two weeks and he still hasn’t read it. His English teacher has given the class only three pages of extracts, on which he says the questions will be based, and some sample questions. I want my son to have at least seen the play. Can you recommend a video or DVD? AIt
is all too believable, I’m afraid. There will be many teenagers answering the compulsory Shakespeare paper without having read the whole play they are studying, though they might well have seen a film version of it.
The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, which is in charge of the tests, issues the extracts on which the questions will be based well in advance. In this case, there will be one of 157 lines and another of 123 lines. The authority says it does not want the exam to become “a test of memory and learning by rote”, so the extracts are also supplied on the exam paper.
To judge by the way the test is constructed, your son could get top marks without bothering to read or watch the whole play, but your desire to get him to do so is admirable. He might even enjoy it.
The 1993 film version of Much Ado About Nothing directed by Kenneth Branagh is still available on DVD, but critics say that it is more about Branagh, who also stars as Benedick, than it is about Shakespeare. If you have a computer, you can download a sound recording of a Globe Theatre performance that was commissioned by National Strategies, the body that provides curriculum support material. The free MP3 audio file, which includes interviews with the main characters, is available at www.standards. dfes.gov.uk/secondary/ keystage3/subjects/english/ shakespeare. QI’m
a second-year law student. Have you any idea what I could do with my old text books? AA
charity that would love to hear from you is Book Aid International (020 7733 3577; www.bookaid.org). It was founded in 1954 by Hermione Countess of Ranfurly, the wife of the then Governor-General of the Bahamas, when she noticed the desperate shortage of books in local schools. Now it supplies schools and libraries mainly in sub-Saharan Africa but also on a smaller scale to Palestine and Sri Lanka. The good news is that you don’t have to pack and post the books because the charity’s network of volunteers will collect them. Books have to be in near-new condition to justify the shipping costs. QI’m
revising for my AS-levels and I have a problem getting all the information down in the right order and making it read well. I think it’s really going to let me down. Can you recommend a book or website that might help? AYou
may have suffered from the vogue in the education world for “scaffolding”, a framework that tells pupils what to put in each paragraph. Teachers are encouraged to provide these “writing frames” alongside the essays they set. It’s fine to begin with, but there’s evidence that some teachers continue to use them, leaving students ill-equipped to organise their thoughts in the exam hall.
The latest of a number of excellent books on the subject is How to Write Essays by Don Shiach (Howtobooks). There is also a lot of good advice on the internet. Try www.bized.co.uk/ reference/studyskills/essay.htm.
Write to Liz Lightfoot, The Daily Telegraph, 111 Buckingham Palace Road, London SW1W 0DT (email email@example.com).