About Michael Matthews

Born in the UK, but a Canadian citizen for the last 20 years. I've spent most of my life working in international education on three continents, but now live on the edge of Desolation Sound on the Canadian West Coast.

Tinkering (What should we teach, Part ii)

I had planned to write this post about the value of out-of-class education, but Pete Westwood, in his blog ‘A Wandering Mind’ (http://awanderingminddotcom.wordpress.com/) has posted a link, Tinkering School, which I highly recommend and which ties in with my theme of ‘What we should teach’.  In this TED talk the founder of the school, Gene Tulley, shows what can be achieved by young children if they are given the opportunity to use materials, tools and their own imagination if they are freed of the constraints of a formal curriculum or adult-defined goals.

As Pete writes, this sort of ‘tinkering’ is now a rare pastime for most children.   I suspect that this is largely because the increasing technological sophistication of our everyday lives has meant that most adults now spend little time ‘tinkering’ ourselves.  Many of our parents considered it normal to service the car, repair a bicycle, or build a woodshed, and we had the opportunity to watch and ‘help’, whereas today each of these things is more likely to be done professionally.  When modern technology fails it is not designed to be taken apart and fiddled with, but to be ditched and replaced.

Fortunately, if technology has created this problem, it also offers the solution.  Schools used to be the source of information and knowledge in a child’s life;  it was widely regarded as boring because there was no way of knowing which information or knowledge might be needed, so it all had to be learned.  The fun stuff happened outside of school.

However, just as technology has made possible the ‘just-in-time’ delivery chain used by modern industry, so it has also made it possible for information and knowledge to be accessed whenever and wherever needed.  This, potentially, frees up the school curriculum to focus more on those skills that we now know are at the heart of ‘real’ learning – the fun stuff that no longer happens at home!

The irony of this shown by the Waldkinder programme found in some schools around the world.  The details vary from place to place, but the key element remains the same:  Kindergarten children get to spend all or part of the school day in the woods and fields exploring and investigating the world around them.  This is just what four- and five-year-olds might have done in the past instead of going to school, but the important difference is the presence of a teacher who knows how to channel their curiosity and imagination into effective learning.

We live in an era when any one of us, including our students, can access any piece of information instantaneously on our ‘phone, so why do we still talk about traditional, content-heavy subjects as the ‘core’, as though subject content remained the most important element of education?  The need is no longer to know subject content, but to know how to find, select, modify, assemble and use that content to achieve a desired goal – exactly what students learn at Gene Tulley’s school.

Is Maths the new Latin? (What should we teach, Part i)

Maths may not be as important as we think.

Consider the following claims that were made for the study of Latin when I was at school (yes, as recently as that!):

  • ‘It’s an essential part of a proper education.’
  • ‘It’s a requirement for university entry.’
  • ‘It’s a difficult subject, and is a good indicator of overall student ability’.
  • ‘It’s the perfect tool for learning logic thought and intellectual rigour.’
  • ‘Even though it is of no use in everyday life, it forms the basis of all the Romance languages, and so lays the necessary foundations for other studies’.

However, coincident with (and possibly caused by) the rise of comprehensive schools, these ‘truths’ were questioned and the Roman emperor was seen to be without a toga.  The study of Latin then underwent a precipitous decline.  Though still a viable subject studied for its inherent interest by those with an affinity for it, few would now promote making Latin compulsory for all students.

Now consider the position of Maths in our curriculum.  A 2008 report for the British government, ‘The Value of Maths’, proclaimed that Maths ‘develops the fundamental skills of logical and critical reasoning, training the mind to be highly analytical and to deal with complex problems. It provides the basic language, structures and theories for understanding the world around us.’ These are precisely the claims that were made for Latin when ‘Greats’ (i.e. Classical Languages and Ancient History) was the most prestigious (and lucrative) degree at Oxford, supposedly equipping a steady supply of colonial masters with the structures and theories for not only understanding the world around them, but for ruling it!

Each of the claims made for Latin is now made about Maths, except that instead of being ‘the basis of all the Romance languages’ it is ‘the basis of all of the sciences’.  Indeed, Maths is held in such esteem that it is largely on the basis of Maths scores in international tests that national school systems are judged.  Of course, only a hopeless cynic (such as me) would suggest that this is because Maths tests are relatively easy to ‘standardise’ across languages and cultures, simply because they do not measure anything that requires the complex judgements that shape, and depend upon, our social structures.

Elementary Maths does have a key role in early education.  In recent years the teaching of Maths in Primary schools has been transformed for the better by our increased understanding of how children learn.  An increased use of manipulative equipment, the recognition of different learning styles, and an emphasis on providing children with the experience of success and satisfaction rather than failure and stress has been shown to result in a better grasp of the underlying concepts of number and space.  Nevertheless, even where such strategies are successfully implemented the take up of Maths at the secondary level has continued to decline, and the majority of students drop it when they can.  Furthermore, many of those who do choose to continue with Maths do so only as a required qualification, rather than  because the subject itself is attractive. Even where Maths is compulsory, the most popular choices tend to be the most basic options.  Could this possibly indicate that, beyond numeracy skills and spatial awareness, more advanced mathematical concepts have little natural relevance for most people?  When did you last solve a quadratic equation or perform vector addition?

If success in international Maths tests really measures something more meaningful than how closely each educational system correlates with the tests, why is there no correlation between the ranking of the participating countries and the economic and social health of those countries?  Finland, the current international poster child for its performance on the tests, faces criticism at home for large classes, short hours, and a failure to respond to the socialisation and language needs of an increasingly multi-ethnic population.  Hungary, which consistently ranks at or near the top, is hardly a beacon of economic dynamism or social stability, and Singapore (another shining example of high Maths scores) is rarely suggested as a model of democracy and human rights.

Of course Maths should be taught schools, and taught well, but it should not be regarded as more important than other areas of learning, and the goal must be to enable students to achieve their potential and become balanced, fulfilled individuals.

In the Middle Ages the study of Latin met a very practical need by providing the means of communication for scholars throughout the remnants of the Roman Empire, i.e. most of Europe and beyond.  Its status as the mark of an educated person became so entrenched, however, that it outlived its actual usefulness.  Are we now witnessing the same phenomenon in the case of Maths?  In an age when the sum total of human knowledge has become accessible on a mobile telephone, and when there is likely to be an ‘app’ available to carry out any desired manipulation of that knowledge, is it really wise to seek to restore an earlier educational emphasis on academic Maths, rather than questioning how to equip the next generation in terms of values and judgement, rather than with skills that most will never have a use for?

(By the way, in case anyone is wondering, I was a Maths teacher.)

The Big Picture

Exactly one year ago my wife and I took up permanent residence on the edge of Desolation Sound.  Our house is surrounded by forest and looks out on an ocean inlet, but has limited internet connectivity, no TV reception, and picking up mail involves a 10 km round trip.  When we retired here I feared that I would lose touch with the field of education in which I had been thoroughly immersed for the previous forty years, particularly as the turnover of issues and ideas is supposedly so rapid in today’s high-tech, fast-response world.

However, over the past year I have come to realise that the underlying issues and ideas actually remain fairly constant.   The environment of education is certainly evolving rapidly;  schools and colleges must adjust to the arrival of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), the best use of smart phones and social media create more and more challenges for school policy makers, and brain research continues to extend our understanding of the physiology of learning.  Nevertheless, the major debate remains the same, and can be condensed down to the problem of how to reconcile three groups:

  • Educators, who by research, training and practice know that learning is a natural process, best accomplished in a supportive, stimulating, stress-free and non-competitive environment.  Assessment is important to determine the optimal teaching & learning strategy, but doesn’t work either as motivation or selection tool.
  • Parents, who want the best outcome for their own children, and whose concept of a ‘good’ education is usually shaped by their own school experience.   They are aware that resources such as college places and jobs are in short supply, and would prefer a curriculum that focuses on successful university entry over one that aims to produce compassionate, reflective and responsible citizens.
  • Politicians, for whom education is a pragmatic matter of cost/benefit, with the costs being measured in money and the benefits in votes.

All we have to do, of course, is to persuade the second group (parents) that the first group (educators) really do have expertise in how children learn, at which point the third group (politicians) will want to court the votes of the second group (parents) by meeting the needs of the first group (educators).  Got that?  Easy!!!

If anything, my year away from the day-to-day challenge of working in a school has given me a broader perspective and an unobstructed view of what is important.  I can only hope that, in the years to come, this blog will contribute to the debate.

‘Instead of a gun in every classroom, let’s put a teacher in every gunshop.’

I came across this gem on Facebook while I was still spluttering over the crass statement by Wayne LaPierre, the Vice-President of the NRA, that ‘The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.’ The NRA advocates putting armed guards in every school as the way to prevent further mass shootings such as the pre-Christmas massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School at Newtown, Connecticut. (It probably also recommends keeping buckets of gasoline in the house in case of fire.)

I was delighted by the image of every potential gunshop customer being challenged at the point of sale to reflect upon, explain and justify their reasoning in deciding that they needed a gun. The teacher would, of course, only accept properly thought-through answers, would pick up on any logical inconsistencies, and would use astute questioning to guide the ‘learner’ to a proper understanding of the implications of his or her actions. Imagine the effect on sales! (Perhaps others shared this same image, which is why the share price of both Smith & Wesson and Remington plummeted.)

This set me to pondering on just how much expertise teachers bring to their profession. Inexplicably, the public view of teaching seems to be more in line with George Bernard Shaw’s jibe: ‘He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches’ or Woody Allen’s modification ‘Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. Those who can’t teach, teach gym.’

I would argue the opposite.

Teaching a concept or skill actually requires a far more profound understanding than simply using it, which is why ‘peer-teaching’ is such an effective classroom strategy. Nor does the ability to teach arise automatically from mastery of the subject – witness how the most capable students can flounder when asked to ‘peer-teach’ an item. Naturally gifted mathematicians or linguists do not necessarily make the best teachers of Maths or Languages – quite the opposite. It is often the struggle for mastery, including the analysis of the skills needed, reflection on the difficulties, and the development of strategies for overcoming them, that builds the framework of understanding of the learning process and empathy for the learner that makes for effective teaching. This can be observed very well in sports. The number of top coaches who a) did not reach the highest levels as players in their sport and b) were teachers before they became coaches is far too high to be a coincidence. In international rugby alone the list includes Graham Henry (NZ All Blacks), Declan Kidney (Ireland), Stuart Lancaster (England), Brian Ashton (England), Eddie O’Sullivan (Australia) and Bill Dickinson (Scotland). From soccer can be added Jose Mourinho (Real Madrid), Roy Hodgson (England) and Rafael Benitez (Chelsea). Dig into your own favourite sport and you will find many more. In Shaw’s words, they could not do, so they taught, and I would suggest that it was the skills they learned while qualifying and practising as teachers, combined with the insights gained by having to think about their chosen sport (rather than rely on natural genius or instinct) that enabled them to become such effective communicators and transmitters of skills.

Outstanding teachers are as rare as outstanding ‘doers’. They are also far more valuable, given the number of lives that they help shape. As Shaw and Allen might have said if they had gone for accuracy rather than wit:

Those who can teach make it possible for others to learn how to do (and that applies to gym teachers as well!)

The world as we know it may be ending…

Not because of the Mayan calendar, which I suspect is even less reliable than the ‘long range’ weather forecast for the next nine days, but because of what happened yesterday: The International Baccalaureate posted a message on its official Facebook page which read:

The Cheltenham Ladies’ College tops 2012 International Baccalaureate league table’

Oh dear.

The post had a link which led to the website of ‘Best Schools UK’.  Some years ago this companycontacted me to ask whether I would like my school’s IB results included in the league table they were publishing. As I was on the Governing Board of the IB at the time, I knew that no such league tables were sanctioned, and I declined to participate, despite the warning (still posted on the Best Schools website) that ‘For those schools who refuse to supply data, we have to assume they are lower graded schools.’ I also contacted the appropriate person in Geneva who subsequently ensured that ‘Best Schools UK’ were aware that they could not use any official IB logos etc. in their publications. Now, it seems, things have changed so much that the IB actually assists in disseminating these league tables, thereby appearing to give them their official blessing.

I have nothing against Cheltenham Ladies College – indeed, there is plenty of evidence that it is a fine school for those fortunate enough to afford the annual fees of approximately $37,000 (Day) or $54,000 (Boarding).  I also would not want to diminish the admirable achievement of the 18 IB students (out of a class of approximately 150) who earned an average of 41 points on their diploma. Rather, my problem is with the endorsement by the IB of the concept of league tables.

The very existence of such tables assumes that schools are in competition with each other, and that it is important to identify which ones are ‘better’ than the others to the extent of ranking them in order and declaring one the ‘best’. Furthermore, it assumes that the appropriate measure of school quality is the crude average examination score, regardless of the nature of the school or the demographic profile of the students. Is it really the case that when a young lady at Cheltenham earns 41 points, this is a ‘better’ result than when a boy from a Nepali hill village, or a Chicago housing project, earns 24 points?

If schools are to be judged and ranked solely on the examination scores, the accolades will inevitably go to schools which are highly selective (academically, economically, or both), which are well-resourced, and which limit the access to the IB to those who will do well. Does the IB really want to declare that such schools are intrinsically ‘better’ than schools which are non-selective, or which serve low-income populations, or have a preponderance of second-language students, or give open access to the IB? It is fundamental to the philosophy of the IB that the significant achievement is the gaining of a diploma; this is the indication that the demanding criteria, both academic and non-academic, have been met. Over the years there has been a creeping emphasis on the points score, particularly from the UK, but I would have hoped that the IB itself would at least have kept its distance from the travesty of the league tables.

Perhaps the Mayans saw this coming…

“The world is full of suffering, it is also full of overcoming it.” Helen Keller

Before this week I, like most people in the world, had never heard of Newtown, Connecticut  The lives of the teachers, students and parents of Sandy Hook Elementary School had no special significance beyond their immediate family circles.  I wish that were still the case.

I imagine that the atmosphere at Sandy Hook during the final lead up to the Christmas holidays was the same mix of excitement, enthusiasm and anticipation as in schools all over the world.  Anyone who has worked in schools would have felt at home.

No more.  Henceforth, the name ‘Sandy Hook’ will be a short-hand prompt for despair and outrage.  Each of us will feel the guilty conflict between our horror at the realisation that it could so easily have happened in our own community, and an awful feeling of guilty thankfulness that it did not.

When faced with a natural disaster such as famine, flooding or earthquake, we know how to respond:  we try to mobilise resources and send help;  we contribute to the Red Cross; we hold collections for blankets, food, clothing, or simply money.  But this week there is no help we can send; there is no outside support we can offer.  There is simply a school community that has been devastated because of a personal narrative that turned violent, and in which they have played no part except that of victims.

However, though we cannot offer help, we are not helpless.

We have been told that right now is not the time to debate the issue of gun control, and it is a safe assumption that the gun lobby will soon move into high gear to argue that the easy availability of firearms had no direct bearing on this tragedy.  We will also hear the usual defence of personal liberties and constitutional protection of the right to bear arms.  In addition, non-Americans like me will be told that this is a domestic debate in which we have no legitimate voice.

My response is that I claim a voice because I have worked in schools; I claim a voice because I know and have taught American children;  I claim a voice because I have enough working brain cells to recognise that the correlation between easy gun ownership and sky-high levels of gun crime is not a coincidence, and that a constitution written two hundred years ago for a society in which the survival of the nation was under threat may not provide a perfect blueprint for today;  I claim a voice because I view what happened at Sandy Hook in the same way I view apartheid, or the suppression of free speech, or the oppression of women, or the exploitation of children, i.e. as a violation of the standards to which the human race should aspire.

President Obama has promised ‘meaningful action’.  I hope that my voice will be added to the voices of millions around the world, rising to a deafening volume that cannot be ignored, and that will strengthen his resolve to prevail against those who will want to resist any action.  The US claims the right to exert influence beyond its borders in support of human rights, and when it considers a government is failing to protect its people.  It is time for them to hear that the rest of the humanity claims the reciprocal right.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery…

[subscribe2]I see that the International Baccalaureate is running a competition for student films promoting academic honesty, using the tag line ‘Be a content creator, not a content imitator’.  The decline in academic honesty is universally regarded as one of the major problems that we face in education, to the extent that it probably belongs in the Monty Python ‘Three Yorkshiremen’ sketch:

1st Yorkshireman: ‘In my day we were beaten if we copied answers from an encyclopaedia!’

2nd Yorkshireman: ‘A beating would have been luxury to us; when I was at school we were expelled if we copied the teacher’s notes off the blackboard!’

3rd Yorkshireman: ’We used to dream of being expelled; we had our hands cut off if we made a neat copy of our own work!

Rarely, if ever, do we question the assumption that using the product of someone else’s thinking is bad, despite clear indications that it is regarded as a natural thing to do by students who have grown up with cut-and-paste word processing, internet downloading and music file-sharing.

A survey by the Duke University Centre for Academic Integrity found that 70% of High School students acknowledged cheating at least once within the previous year.  Over 30% admitted to regularly using the internet to plagiarise material for an assignment.   There are literally thousands of websites offering ‘help’ with essay assignments, including the purchase of complete essays on any title under the sun.  To combat this, many schools use a commercial service called ‘Turnitin’ that matches student work against a database of over 22 million essays and texts from around the world, searching for indications of copying.  However, students in Virginia were recently successfully in preventing their school from introducing the Turnitin service.  They argued that it was an infringement of their rights and the presumption of innocence if their work was checked for cheating..

Our concept of plagiarism (along with many other features of our education system) is rooted in the medieval university, where a scholar’s livelihood depended upon jealously protecting his (never her) work from theft by colleagues and competitors.  For those engaged in original research, for whom the potential financial or reputational rewards may be significant, this concept is as valid today as ever.  However, I wonder whether it really applies in the field of education.  It does not sit well with our emphasis on the value of collaboration as opposed to competition, nor does it fit with the shift from the memorisation of large bodies of knowledge to the mastery of skills of research, scanning and synthesis.  Of course, we have successfully devised rules for the proper attribution of sources, but these are patently artificial and hard to enforce, hence the need for services such as Turnitin.

Students are not blind to the extent to which adults use the work of others without attribution.  How many teachers go online for teaching ideas, but do not add a footnote to their presentations citing the source?  How many executives fail to meticulously cite every source of their ideas?  It is ironic that it is the IB that is leading a crusade for academic honesty, given that the Director General himself fell foul of the standards of academic honesty of the Chatauqua Institution in New York State when he ‘drew heavily upon and quoted extensively from a speech given earlier in the year [and] neglected to cite his source or reveal the quotations for what they were.(Public statement given by Chatauqua Institution spokesperson, August 6th, 2010).

To make matters worse, the IB was later found to have ‘plagiarised large chunks of its marking guides from Wikipedia’ (Times Educational Supplement, October 8th, 2010).  If the IB has difficulty meeting its own standards of academic honesty, what chance do its students stand?

It cannot be seriously argued that young people are less ethical or moral than they used to be.  Instead, the problem may be that different generations do not share the same definition of what is ethical.  From a student’s perspective, it may be ethical to make use of publicly and freely available information in answering a question, but unethical to contribute to the destruction of the environment by driving an unnecessarily large car.

The fundamentals of ethical behaviour, of course, do not change, and it is notable that there is a great deal of commonality between different cultures on the principles, as opposed to the details, of what constitutes ‘good’ behaviour.  Unfortunately, it tends to be the details that are most evident, not the underlying principles, and details do vary, not only from culture to culture but over time.   Plagiarism is a good example of such an ethical technicality;  if this is as widespread as is reported, are we in fact setting the wrong sort of assignments?  Many of our assignments would be easily recognised by an earlier generation of students, and do not reflect the changing reality of the highly connected world that our students inhabit.

Perhaps we need to focus on what it is we want to achieve with an assignment.  If we want to assess a student’s understanding, let that student do all the research they want at home  and then assign a manageable in-class essay, or an in-class preparation of an oral presentation, ideally with unlimited time (within reason) asking for a synthesis of the ideas.  If the topic is well chosen and the specifics are not known beforehand, then it should be possible to distinguish between the sources of information and the student’s mastery of those sources.  On the other hand, if the intent is to challenge the ability of a group to analyse and solve a problem, does it matter where the ideas come from?

There are not any easy answers (oh, what a surprise), and I would love to hear from readers about their creative, original, derivative or borrowed  ideas.

Plagiarism presupposes that a ‘right’ answer exists, and that the answer is more important than the process of achieving it (hence the value in stealing someone else’s answer).  If, however, we are serious in our claimed emphasis on process in education, should it not be the quality of process that we observe and assess, regardless of answer?

Breaking the rules governing use of unoriginal materials is clearly wrong, but if those rules are seen as artificial then we run the risk that they will be regarded as technicalities rather than as matters of principle, to be broken when convenient  (much as adults regard speed limits).  Perhaps we should redraft the rules to better reflect the type of world we are trying to promote, in which knowledge is shared and effort is collaborative, and the ethical test relates to whether the outcome is beneficial to society.  Isaac Newton is quoted as saying that ‘If I have seen further than others, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants’, and one of my own teachers was fond of proclaiming that very few people were ever fortunate enough to have as many as two truly original, creative ideas in their lives.  Perhaps the IB should recognise that being a content imitator is a necessary part of being a content creator.

The fish ladder

Following on from my last post, and from Momster‘s comment, there is no doubt that learning would be better served by ongoing communication between teacher, parent and student, ratter than a periodic summary report card.  However, whereas in an ideal world, that would be the only consideration, in the real world the twin spectres of university admissions and job applications hang over the whole educational process, particularly in the final years.  We have fallen into the habit of regarding education as a selection process in which the weakest must be filtered out by a series of increasingly difficult obstacles.  Rather like salmon fighting their way up the rapids in autumn, those who overcome each barrier are permitted to go on to the next stage, until the survivors reach the ultimate goal of the spawning bed (that’s the salmon, of course;  nobody would want to liken university life to a spawning bed!)

The unpalatable truth is that much of the activity in schools is directed to providing the means for universities and employers to select their candidates without needing to invest any resources in preparing them, and all too often they still complain about the quality of that preparation.

Universities have always complained that their students arrive without sufficient academic skills – back in the fifteenth century the colleges of Oxford were appalled by the lack of grasp of Latin grammar among those entering the university.  However, they did at least put their money where their mouth was, by providing facilities, funds and staff for a school with the sole purpose of ensuring a steady supply of young men with the necessary mastery of Latin.  (By the time I graduated from that same school five hundred years later the founders would once again have been appalled by the standard of my Latin).

Perhaps that model could be revived, with universities providing the funding for ‘pre-admission’ programmes, thus letting them take direct charge of the final preparation and selection of students, and freeing the schools from the contradiction of trying to educate and weed out at the same time?  I realise that this is, in effect, what already happens in those systems where universities admit far more students to the first year than they can accommodate in the second  (Canada and Switzerland spring to mind), but would it not be better for all concerned, and especially for the schools, if the whole process was a little more honest and transparent?



Works hard, but could do better.

It’s a safe bet that in any given month somewhere in the world teachers are writing, or preparing to write, reports.  It is an even safer bet that, regardless of the reporting system used in their school, the majority of teachers are complaining about it, and that many are considering a career change to something that less demanding, such as coal-mining.

When term-end exams were regarded as a meaningful and sufficient way of measuring learning, it made sense to issue a report card that simply summarised the results of those exams, together with a couple of words from the teacher to personalise the exercise (as in the title of this post).  However, although we now recognise that exam results are at best inadequate and at worst irrelevant as a measure of learning, we stick with the termly report card to which they gave rise.  Furthermore, as report cards were conceived as a simple summary of objective results, our efforts to force them to serve the completely different purpose of an anecdotal commentary on a progress actually makes things worse.  A student’s learning is a complex and constantly evolving process, and any attempt to generate an accurate ‘freeze frame’ account is doomed to failure.  Generalities are of little value, and specifics are likely to be unrepresentative, no longer applicable, open to misinterpretation,  or all three.  Hence the stress on teachers, who feel obliged to fill the yawning space allocated, yet who know that everything they write will be scrutinised, analysed and given meaning and significance that was never intended.  Small wonder that what used to be an end of term chore of a couple of hours is now a two week (or longer) wordsmithing  nightmare.

Report cards are the bane of teachers’ existence, and school administrators are caught between the preference of the faculty not to have to work late into the night after a full day of teaching and the demand from parents for detailed information on the progress of their children.  They could be forgiven for wanting to scrap report cards completely.

So why don’t they?

Technology has given us the means of communicating with parents and students in a way that properly mirrors what is happening in school, i.e. an ongoing commentary made up of small observations that, when taken together, provide a realistic narrative of the development of the student.  Of course, many Elementary (and some Secondary) teachers already do this for themselves in the form of running records, class notes etc., but they tend not to be shared with parents or students.  If a permanent three-way conversation were to be established, parents and student would gain a much clearer understanding of the complexity and inherent messiness of learning, as well as a more meaningful picture of the student’s progress.

Of course, tweeting parents regularly would add to the daily workload, but at least it would be work that had a clear purpose, and could be structured sensibly into the working day, instead of the present artificial exercise that ruins the lives of teachers for a month, and then ruins the lives of many students for the weeks following!