• Why Can't They Get It?

    How I used Dr. Guffey's supplemental exercises to bolster students' use of the direct pattern

    by Janet Mizrahi
    University of California, Santa Barbara

    Every time I teach basic business communication, I assign a straightforward, direct pattern e-mail as the first graded assignment. After teaching the course for nearly 13 years, you'd think I would no longer be surprised when nearly half the students fail to grasp this most basic writing strategy. But I always am!

    Last spring quarter, I was determined to change the way I approached the assignment to generate better results. I decided to support student learning with additional scaffolding and was delighted to discover that the prep had already been done—in various assignments I found in this newsletter's past issues! Here's what I did.

    First, I assigned reading, which I require before I discuss any topic. I use Dr. Guffey's Essentials of Business Communication in combination with Aplia quizzes. I love Aplia! I spent years frustrated by students' refusal to read. But since I began giving credit for completing the Aplia quizzes—which really force students to examine each assigned chapter—I found that they actually do the reading and don't even complain about the online quizzes.

    Next, I discussed the direct and indirect patterns in class. I based one portion of my lecture on the textbook's explanation, using graphic support I downloaded from the book's instructor site. Then I turned my discussion to the first graded assignment, in which students write me an e-mail using the direct pattern. The task's purpose is to set up a quarter-long team research assignment, but this assignment is done individually. It requires data analysis and self reflection.

    I made the change at this stage of the learning process. In the past, I had only conducted in-class practice as time allowed. This time, however, I dedicated one full class session to practice. I took students to the computer lab and began with a quick refresher to emphasize the three elements in the direct pattern. Then we moved to the Bonus Case Study that appeared in the April, 2012, issue of the Business Communication Newsletter, "Poorly Organized E-mail."

    As a group, we discussed the e-mail's weaknesses. I made sure to elicit each of the problems (conveniently listed below the case.) Then I gave students a limited time to compose an improved version. I moved from student to student and offered suggestions as they wrote. After about 15 minutes, I projected the rewritten e-mail so students could compare their own versions to the suggested solution. At this point, I transitioned to the next portion of the lesson: another direct pattern e-mail, which I also found in the Business Communication Newsletter Web site.

    The archives offer several choices of direct pattern case studies (November, 2005, August, 2007, and August, 2008) and are available by clicking the "Archived Newsletter" tab on the left of the newsletter's home page. I chose the 2007 version "Parking Ticket Unfair!" because I knew my students could identify with the scenario. This time, though, I didn't discuss how to construct the e-mail. I let the students think it through, encouraging them to apply Dr. Guffey's 3-X-3 Writing Process before composing. Again I made my way through the students, offering suggestions as they wrote. At the end of the session, I projected the suggested solution, and students reviewed the model.

    Now it was time to nudge my birdies out of the nest to see how they'd fly on their own. They turned in their assignments several days later. The upshot? Many more "got" the direct approach this time. I believe the additional scaffolding and modeling helped more students understand and then apply the strategy to their own work. A few still stumbled and did not clearly state the assignment's purpose concisely in the first sentence. Most, however, ended with the appropriate concluding thought.

    I was pleased enough with the outcome that I planned the extra workshop session when I teach the course again in the fall. I hope I'll be pleasantly surprised again!