In brief

13th February 2004 at 00:00
Homework: The evidence

By Susan Hallam

Bedford Way Papers (Institute of Education, University of London) pound;9.99

The bell goes and the teacher is gathering his papers together when he suddenly remembers something. "Hang on!" he cries. "Homework tonight!"

The children groan, as the teacher hurriedly leafs through the textbook. In the end he says: "Page 19, do numbers one to 34. Now off you go."

Any discussion of homework, or attempt to measure its effectiveness, is bedevilled by the various attitudes that teachers have to setting it. As Susan Hallam writes in this research review: "The amount they set, whether it is collected in, and the type of feedback given will all have an impact on the motivation of the pupils to complete it and the seriousness with which it is viewed at home."

It's not surprising, given this blizzard of variables, that "the research findings are often inconclusive or contradictory in nature". Nevertheless, she turns up much that is useful and interesting, and the book provides good background for schools reviewing homework policy and practice.

What is certain is that homework is most effective when it's thoughtfully planned and taken seriously. Quoting John MacBeath and Mary Turner's 1990 study, Learning Out of School, Hallam lists nine reasonable points raised by children about homework. These include: "Homework should be clearly related to classroom work"; "There should be recognition or reward for work done"; "There should be guidance and support."

As she says: "These are sensible and reasonable demands. The challenge for educators is to find ways of satisfying them."

Kindergarten Education: freeing children's creative potential

By Betty Peck

Hawthorn Press pound;12.99

One of the many stories of life in her kindergarten that Betty Peck tells is about the day she and her children found gardeners taking away the fallen leaves from a tree. "I stood there and shouted, 'Give us back our leaves', in the most powerful voice I could muster. Then the children began, 'Give us back our leaves!' The men were bewildered, and they emptied the sacks, and we cheered."

She then lists the many things you can do with leaves in an early-years classroom, and goes on: "To be in leaves, to feel them, to know you can count on them to know how to change and fall, to feel needed in their effort to return to earth, is pure joy."

That is the kind of book this is: deeply sincere in its child-centred beliefs and just tipping over at times, to the British ear, into a preciousness that you have to forgive.

Periodic assaults on the principle that "play is children's work", by everyone from anxious parents to target-obsessed governments, demand that the message be constantly repeated. Betty Peck, who has lived the kindergarten ideal for many years, provides much sustenance and practical guidance. "What do you think education is?" she writes. "Certainly not sitting with paper and pencil. It's leaves!"

gerald haigh Reading Sex and the City

Edited by Kim Akass and Janet McCabe

IB Tauris pound;12.95

It's obvious: Miranda is Jo; Carrie is Amy with heels; Charlotte is Meg.

The concept of Stephanie as Beth is a little harder to grasp but, by the final episode, we might have to learn to cope.

The Little Women theory of Sex and the City - surely a PhD in waiting? - is absent from this first collection of essays and research papers on Manhattan's Fab Four and their fans, but there's plenty of interest. Anyone aware of the obsessive commitment to the show among teenage girls who have just finished choosing between Jo and Amy (is there any choice?) will be relieved to find that it offers more than the sexual frankness, silly frocks and crippling shoes of wealthy white New Yorkers (Susan Zieger's chapter on "Sex and the Citizen in Sex and the City's New York" underlines the bland and conservative nature of the melting-pot that Carrie and friends inhabit).

Deborah Jermyn's research with women viewers suggests that the appeal lies in storylines which, one respondent points out, "portrays relationships (not necessarily the purely sexual ones) in a real and modern way" and in which, Jermyn says, "the primary focus and narrative core lies in a set of female friendships".

The lure of the female quartet endures in children's fiction from Louisa M Alcott via The Four Marys to Hilary McKay's Exiles, so it can't fail on TV.

For those born too late for The Golden Girls, Sex and the City delivers a sisterhood that transcends the search for Mr Right. And the surrogate sisters are not bad role models: they enjoy their food. Only Miranda has tried dieting (with a boyfriend), and that ended in Krispy Kremes.

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