A brush with Basil

31st October 1997 at 00:00
AUDIOPACKS. The Sherlock Holmes Collection. GREAT EXPECTATIONS. The Crucible By James Simms. Collins Pounds 19.99 each.

The art of pure listening, to plays and stories on radio for example, is fast disappearing in the world of the flickering screen. One reason, therefore, to promote these Audiopacks is their missionary role - ironic as that might seem.

The recordings are superb. Basil Rathbone, the definitive Sherlock Holmes, reads "The Final Problem", "The Red-Headed League", "A Scandal in Bohemia" and "Silver Blaze". The unabridged Crucible enthrals, as ever, while Paul Scofield's unique voice delights expectations with Dickens - quality, one hopes, to stimulate the pleasures of listening, imagining, and maybe wanting to respond.

The tapes link with the teacher's resources (around 50 photocopiable A4 pages) to help students (especially the reluctant) engage with texts defined by the revised national curriculum as "more demanding". True, the less able are well catered for, at key stage 4 in particular, but parts of each pack could benefit a wider audience.

For example, the resources provide a range of active learning strategies, for groups and individuals, separated into writing, speaking and listening (should this have come first?) and home study. Based on each act of The Crucible, individual Holmes stories, and chapter-clusters in Dickens, they focus on customary areas such as plot, characters and themes.

Their style will tickle connoisseurs of those "ways into text" championed in the wider world via the Cox Report and now beloved of study text editors. You know the formula - "hot seat" Elizabeth, Pip decides to write a letter to Joe, record an interview with Merryweather. You can transform genres, write alternative endings, design book covers. You can also frustrate local libraries with knotty research questions.

Formulaic perhaps, but the variety of activities allows for teacher-student negotiated selection and avoids tedium. By key stage 4 yet another frozen tableau leaves you cold, pleading for a "compare and contrast" essay. James Simms also includes tasks that target real audiences (Year 7 for book reviews) and eschews the jokesy.

But should more substantial use of the recordings have featured in the process work? Many ideas, such as selecting extracts for trailers, analysing speech characteristics, or courtroom sounds in The Crucible, are spot-on. More would help, likewise with "global" assignments on the complete texts.

Each study section (of acts, chapters, stories) concludes with five illustrated worksheets, especially and non-condescendingly appropriate for the "reluctant reader".

This kind of series, billed as a "multi-sensory approach to text", is not new, of course. Audiopacks (if a tad pricey) has enough attributes to survive, improve and thrive.

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