A New Year and a New Start

January is usually a time for resolutions, and it’s already February—but really, a good idea, the inspiration to do something different or better, or the opportunity to take a new path can happen any time of the year.

For my part, I try to do something new or different at least once a semester in one of my classes. I know…I know…. Our classes are full and overloaded, and we seem to continually add to our curriculum without ever taking anything out. Who has the time to do something new with so much already to be done?

But our students know when our material isn’t fresh or when we are not at our most energetic. If you are looking for an opportunity to recharge and refresh, why not consider the following?

Join the Association for Business Communication

Have your students participate in the annual writing contest. Read the newsletter. Join a committee. So many opportunities….

Attend an Association for Business Communication regional conference or international conference

Network, learn what your colleagues are doing in their classes, present your latest project, or just socialize with like-minded researchers and professionals. Did I mention that the annual conference in October is in Dublin? (That’s Ireland, not Ohio.)

Try a new teaching tool, such as Socrative

It’s an interactive app that lets students and you immediately assess student understanding in class. Plus, your students can use their phones or computers for purposes actually related to your course.

Introduce a new game

Are you teaching teamwork, conflict resolution, or negotiation? Try “Divide the Loot.” Students are given a set of conditions and then must work in teams to divide a pot of money equitably. Or try “Hanabi,” a card game where team members have to collaborate to create a winning fireworks display. Or try “You’ve Been Sentenced,” a board game that can help students understand parts of speech and sentence structure.

Find a real client

There’s nothing like a real client to get students interested and invested in a writing assignment. Many companies, both nonprofit and for profit, will welcome students’ research about a communication issue in their workplace.

This is a short list. Of course, trying all of these ideas at once might be overwhelming, but if you are looking for something new, why not try one or two?

If you have ideas to share, please do. We would be excited to hear what you are doing in your classes to keep your material fresh, current, and engaging.

Get Your Grammar On!

Yes, it is March 4, which can mean only one thing: It’s National Grammar Day! Founded by Martha Brockenbrough, who also founded The Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar, the day is, of course, devoted to the celebration of all that is good and right about grammar.

Here at UW-Eau Claire, we celebrate with t-shirts, signs, cookies, and a College of Business Facebook grammar contest that awards incredibly cool prizes.

Seriously, though, for many of us teaching grammar is a struggle. In part, the struggle comes from the fact that learning (and yes, teaching) grammar is perceived as drudgery because grammar is seen as a set of rules one must learn and follow. If we continue teaching grammar in a way that reinforces this perception, our students will continue to struggle.

I would advocate that instead we teach grammar for what it is: A beautiful, flexible, adaptable tool for ensuring that business writing is clear, precise, and audience focused. I love to teach grammar in this way because I know that my students understand the why and the how of grammar and feel empowered as a result. As one of my students exclaimed after we learned to punctuate patterns of phrases and clauses in ways that subordinated, coordinated, or emphasized ideas: “Mind blown.” They also laughed at my “drop the mic” move upon combining phrases and clauses to convey three different meanings. In other words, teaching grammar, punctuation, and usage as rhetorical strategy is much more meaningful to students than teaching these topics as rules.

For example, my strategy for teaching punctuation is as follows:

  1. Teach the definitions of the following phrases and clauses:
    • Independent clause
    • Dependent clause
    • Relative dependent clause
    • Prepositional phrase
    • Verbals (infinitive, gerund, participial)
  2. Provide students with a list of punctuation patterns (e.g. dependent clause followed by an independent clause; two independent clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction, an independent clause with an embedded relative dependent clause, a prepositional phrase followed by an independent clause)
  3. Provide students with a set of ideas and ask them to combine them using one of their patterns.
  4. Punctuate sentences and discuss what the punctuation accomplishes rhetorically (e.g., the writer is giving equal weight to ideas or subordinating ideas).

Of course, including a few jokes and keeping the discussion light also helps. This week’s best joke came from a student. After I announced we would take a few moments at the end of class to look at dangling participles and how they affect meaning, one of my students said, “Are you telling us that they will just ‘hang out’ until we get to them?” It’s nice that they get into the spirit.

 

Developing Students’ Team Skills

Everywhere I turn this week, I seem to encounter the topic of team skills in the classroom and in the workplace.

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers’s Job Outlook 2015 survey, teamwork and leadership tied as the skills most employers surveyed look for on a résumé. (Written communication and problem solving are second and third.)

I also recently met with our college’s career liaison, who just returned from visits at several internship sites. Employers consistently cited teamwork as the area in which interns need the most practice and development—using a calendar to coordinate a meeting, coordinating and participating in virtual meetings, speaking up during a meeting, being accountable to the team, and listening and taking notes.

As with learning any skill, students must learn team skills and practice them again…and again…and again in many contexts.  Students cannot learn all the skills they will ever need in one business communication or organizational behavior class, and expecting them to intentionally transfer the skills from these classes to other classes without our help may be expecting too much.

Instructors may say they do not have time to teach team skills students should have learned in earlier courses. But helping students practice and transfer their skills does not have to be so time consuming that it takes away from other course content. Further, promoting the transfer and development of team skills may eventually save the instructor and other students time as assignments and processes become more efficient.

Here are some strategies I use for building students’ team skills in my Advanced Business Writing class. If you have others to add to the list, be sure to let us know.

  1. Flip your classroom so that students work in teams during class time. Working in a flipped class lets instructors observe teams and provides instructors several teachable moments for developing team skills. If you’re interested in flipping, you may find our Flipping Your Classroom post helpful.
  2. If students are doing group work in class, visit the groups and ask questions related to both the students’ assignment and their team processes. What is working well? What needs to improve? If students have a conflict, what can you do to help them resolve it? Students may not know what is working or not until an instructor presses them for information, or they may know that a conflict exists but not know how to resolve it.
  3. If students are working in teams in class, require that they spend the last five minutes of class setting an agenda and goals for the next meeting and assigning individual responsibilities to be completed before the next class period. Have students spend the first few minutes of the next class reviewing the agenda and making sure everyone knows the goals for the day.
  4. If students are doing their teamwork outside of class, require that they establish agendas and goals for their meetings, as well as individual assignments for team members when the team is not meeting. Require students to submit the agendas, goals, and individual assignments as part of their project grade. If grading all of them becomes too cumbersome, tell students you won’t grade all of them but that you will randomly select dates on which you will grade them.
  5. Incorporate accountability checks throughout the team project. Many of us have students complete team member evaluations at the end of a project, but if the project is long, students don’t think about the accountability portion until the end or may not be aware that they are not doing their part until it’s too late to change. If you have your team evaluations in Qualtrics or other online survey method, distributing and scoring the evaluations is fairly quick.
  6. Encourage students to meet virtually via Skype, Dropbox, Google DriveGoogle+ Hangout, Google Docs (and Google Sheets, Google Slides, and Google Forms), or other technology.
  7. Provide students with resources they can read quickly to help with team issues. Here are links to some of the articles that have arrived recently in my various social media feeds:
    1. What to Do if Your Team Is Letting You Down
    2. 15 Characteristics of Extraordinary Teams
    3. Encouraging a Team-Working Environment
    4. 27 Ways to Refocus a Team
    5. How to Survive Virtual Group Work

So tell us…What are your best strategies?

 

End-of-the-School-Year Resource Roundup

Yes, indeed, the end of another school year has arrived, and I am already thinking ahead to the next academic year. In planning ahead, I’ve also reflected on the past year and realized I have gathered a LOT of online resources related to business communication. I’m guessing many of you are like me in that you never really leave the classroom and are always thinking about the next semester, class, or lesson.

The articles below appeared in the news feed generated by my Zite app, and I then saved them to Pocket. (Zite and Pocket, by the way, are probably my two favorite apps.) You can also find more resources by following me on Twitter (@pjglentz) or viewing my teaching board on Pinterest. If you have any “must have” resources you’d like to share with us, please do!

Corporate Culture

Design & Typography

Email

Employment

Grammar

Interviews

Leadership & Teamwork

Persuasion

Presentations & Oral Communication

Research

 Rhetoric

 Technology & Communication

 

Celebrate Grammar!

Did you know that Wednesday, March 4, is National Grammar Day? If you’re looking for a lighthearted way to talk about grammar in your classes, you may want to observe this exciting holiday. Mignon Fogarty (Grammar Girl) hosts the 2015 National Grammar Day celebration. You can learn more about the history of the day and find tips for celebrating by visiting her Quick and Dirty Tips: National Grammar Day site.

Here at UW-Eau Claire, we have t-shirts and buttons we wear in honor of the day, a College of Business Facebook grammar contest (with really cool prizes), cookies decorated with punctuation marks, and an open house in our Business Writing and Presentations Studio. It’s a fun way to reinforce the importance of good grammar, and it’s just a great day all around. In my classes, we will also enjoy chocolate and a few grammar cartoons.

Do you celebrate National Grammar Day? If so, what do you do?

Quick Grammar Reviews for the Business Writing Classroom

To help students settle into my courses and achieve success before they move on to more difficult concepts, I like to have a few quick grammar, mechanics, and punctuation reviews at the ready.

One of the easiest topics to review is capitalization. Yes, standards for capitalization vary among organizations and style guides, but a basic set of standards is something most students can easily understand and use.

Here is a Capitalization Exercise that addresses some common capitalization issues.  You are free to use it or adapt it for your classes. All we ask is that you cite us as your source. The guides for capitalization come from Rentz, K. and Lentz, P. (2014). M: Business Communication, 3e. New York: McGraw-Hill.

If you’re looking for more ways to review grammar topics, check out these previous posts from our blog: