No Throwing Snowballs

gloved hand holding a snowball

Good day, gentle readers:

I attended Catholic elementary school in the mid 1960s into the 70s. Times were simpler. When I came home with a poor result, I got yelled at—or worse. I was blamed, and rightly so. Not the teacher.

Another thing I remember is the quality of communication, written and spoken. It was clear, concise, and grammatically correct. I don’t recall my teachers saying “um” or “ah”, or ending a sentence with a preposition. I don’t recall waste-of-time pleasantries in teacher instructions. It was like “get busy” or “do your work”.

Nowadays, a PA announcement on a winter day might go like this:

“Please excuse the interruption. We know that everyone is busy completing work related to his or her learning objectives for the current reporting period, or that teachers are in the middle of explaining conceptually challenging concepts. That said, for the next 30 minutes or so, the weather appears inclement, with heavy precipitation forecast by several mobile-phone-based weather-reporting platforms including the Weather Network and Accuweather. During our upcoming recess, a break which you have no doubt earned through your diligent attention to grade-standards and upcoming standardized tests, students are asked to refrain from playing in a manner that may cause injury to other students or to supervising teachers, or cause damage to school-owned property. Further, we urge students to dress in a manner consistent with the temperature, and to pay special attention to the wind-chill factor. Thank you for your attention.”

Here’s what Sister Zita1, the Principal of Our Lady of Wisdom School said over the PA when “packing snow” was on the ground prior to recess:

“No. Throwing. Snowballs.”

That’s it. That’s all she said. Everyone understood2.

I love that.

To the point; no fluff. Communication so succinct that the message lands. Pardon the pun to Chemistry, but too many words dilute a message. The result: students remember nothing.

This is something that I do my best to emulate on handouts and in test questions. My students are in Grade 11 or 12. They don’t need pleasantries, convoluted explanations, obtuse instructions or unnecessary words. Further, clear communication sets a prime example for what we want from our students—the same. My lab reports3, or, more accurately, the answers to post-lab questions, are typically restricted to one side of a sheet of 8.5” x 11” paper, in a 12-point font. If work goes on to a second page, it is returned un-graded (read: 0) and with a line through it. There is, however, an  opportunity to re-submit, without penalty4.

That’s all I wanted to say.

May peace be with you . . .

  1. I will offer my opinion of lab reports in a future blog
  2. The penalty is the time that a student must take to re-do the work
  3. May she rest in peace
  4. And everyone knew what awaited the transgressor: the strap.