ASSESSING STUDENTS' SUMMARIES

IN THE BUSINESS WRITING CLASSROOM

 

 

 

Presented to

WASC Self-Study Steering Committee

California State University, Fullerton

 

 

 

Prepared by

Linda Fraser, Ph.D.

Business Writing Program

Department of Marketing and Business Writing

California State University, Fullerton

714-278-3799

lfraser@fullerton.edu

Kathy Brzovic, Ph.D.

Business Writing Program

Department of Marketing and Business Writing

California State University, Fullerton

714-278-3621

kbrzovic@fullerton.edu

 

 

 

 

 

June 18, 1999

 

 

 

 

Assessing Summary Writing in Business Writing 201

Purpose

In the process of designing an assessment program for Business Writing 201, we have used assessment techniques that are beginning to help us understand the complexity of the assessment process, the challenges of integrating assessment into the curriculum, and the challenges facing our students when they are asked to analyze or synthesize information. Please note that this study is in process. Our conclusions at this point are tentative.

The American Council on Education, responding to a survey of American business managers, has asked educators to define the skills that will benefit new employees and to "analyze the learning experiences that facilitate these characteristics" ("Developing Tomorrow's Workforce").

Employees at every level of business must be able to state in a highly condensed form a plan or position held by a company, client, manager, or

coworker. Moving from this premise, we have sought a basic communication skill that would help us evaluate and facilitate this crucial ability.

 

Introduction

Using the classroom assessment techniques developed by Thomas Angelo and K. Patricia Cross in their outstanding text Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers, we have focused our study upon evaluating our students' ability to write summaries. As a writing strategy, the summary subsumes skills that are required across the business curriculum: basic reading (decoding), accurate analysis of a text or discussion, critical thinking to ascertain the writer's or speaker's purpose, and the translation of the information into concise sentences. In other words, it reveals the student's ability to work at many levels of the cognitive domain, (see Bloom's Taxonomy 201-207) from basic recall through to analysis.

In our BUAD 201, classes we have been experimenting with the one-sentence summary developed by Angelo and Cross. In this exercise, students are asked to answer the following questions: Who? Does What? To Whom? When? Where? How? and Why? The fragments are revised into a complete sentence in response to a short reading assignment or lecture

(Angelo and Cross 183-187). Cross and Angelo provide a sample one-sentence summary of their handbook on classroom assessment techniques:

The One-Sentence Summary

Who? Teachers

Does what? assess

To what or whom? their student's learning

When? regularly during the semester

Where? in their classrooms

In sentence form: Teachers assess their students' learning regularly during the semester in their own classrooms by using Classroom Assessment Techniques and any other appropriate tools and methods of inquiry so that they can understand and improve teaching effectiveness and the quality of student learning (Angelo and Cross 184).

The One-Sentence Summary Used in the Classroom by Instructor #1:

Excerpt used for the summary: "Bypassing in Managerial Communication" by Jerry Sullivan, Kameda, and Tatsuo Nobu. (See Appendix A.)

 

Note: The excerpt begins with an example of bypassing. Phil and a vice president meet in the hallway. The vice president asks that a report be given to production planning "soon." Phil interprets "soon" to mean two days. The vice president wants it tomorrow. When they meet again, the boss is angry: "I told you to get it done yesterday." The passage then asks the reader to "step back now from the role of Phil." It concludes with an explanation of bypassing.

Here is a One-Sentence Summary of "Bypassing in Managerial Communications":

Who? Supervisors and subordinates

Does What? fail to communicate

To What or Whom? with each other

When? regularly

Where? in the workplace

Why? due to "bypassing" (both

In sentence form: Supervisors and subordinates fail to communicate with each other on a regular basis in the workplace through ambiguous questions and directives due to "bypassing" (both parties believing in error that they understand and agree upon a plan).

The experiment was conducted in three classes (approximately 96 students). In one class students were given the following prompts:

Here is the typical response from that class. Approximately 24 out of 31 responses resembled this pattern:

Who? The vice president of operations

Does What? asks for the report

For/To Whom? for the production department

When? as soon as possible

Where? to him

How? by delivery

In sentence form: The vice president of operations asks for the report for the production department as soon as possible delivered to him because he needs the report immediately.

Where did these students' summaries go wrong?

  1. The students' summaries answer "how" he "asks" for the report and "why" he "asks" for the report.
  2. The example summary answers "how" they "failed to communicate" and "why" they "failed to communicate."

 

The One-Sentence Summary Used in Classroom by Instructor #2:

Essay used for the summary: "Intel's Good-News Adjustment Letter" by Louis E. Boone, David L. Kurtz, and Judy R. Block. (See Appendix B.)

Note: The essay begins by telling the readers that they are about to be presented with a case "study in poor public relations" and it ends with a lesson about how a well written adjustment letter can "establish a fair solution and reestablish goodwill" (217).

Here is a One-Sentence Summary of "Intel's Good-News Adjustment Letter:"

Who? Intel Corporation

Does What? apologizes

To Whom? To owners of its pentium chips

When? on December 21, 1994

Where? in newspapers nationwide

How? by issuing an adjustment letter

Why? because its dismissive response to consumer complaints

about a flawed Pentium chip created such an uproar that

it led to a precipitous drop in sales.

In sentence form: Intel Corporation apologized to owners of its Pentium chips on December 21, 1997, in newspapers nationwide, by issuing an adjustment letter because its dismissive response to consumer complaints about a flawed Pentium chip created such an uproar that it led to a precipitous drop in sales.

In this case, the students were not given any prompts. Approximately 13 out of 20 students responded using the following pattern:

Who? Intel

Does What? Apologized

To Whom? to owners of Pentium processor-based computers and

the pc community

When? December 21, 1994

Where? in newspapers

How? by publicizing the apology and offering to exchange

Pentium microprocessors

Why? in order to establish a fair solution and to reestablish

goodwill

In sentence form: Intel apologized to owners of Pentium processor-based computers and the pc community on December 21, 1994 in newspapers by

publicizing the apology and offering to exchange Pentium microprocessors in order to establish a fair solution, and to reestablish goodwill.

Where did these students' summaries go wrong?

This isn't a bad approach. The student doesn't falter until the "How?

To apologize by "publicizing the apology" is redundant. The student lifts phrases and demonstrates a dependency on the final line of the text. This sets the student off on the wrong track. The "Why?" segment is taken directly from the essay and summarizes the adjustment letter which follows, not the main idea of the essay: the public relations gaff, all that Intel had refused to do.

Conclusion

The one-sentence summary provides an instructive road map to both teacher and student. It gives the student a clear set of directions to follow along the road to higher-level analytical thinking skills. And it gives the teacher a clear indication of the various points at which students tend to veer off the road in their attempt to comprehend, summarize, and analyze the material they are presented with.

As most teachers know from experience, students may have a general idea of where they want to go, but they don't always know how to get there. The one-sentence summary provides us with something we can actually point to. This is where you missed the turn. Or, you bypassed the "how" and went straight for the "why." Or, you've been going around in circles by doubling back to the verb.

In general, this technique allows us to assess reading comprehension, analytical skills (cause/effect, methods, processes, critical thinking), syntactical confusion, and basic writing abilities. The exercise signals to the student the importance of a complete and deeper reading of the text, and encourages them to consider larger issues.

Works Cited

Angelo, Thomas a. and K. Patricia Cross. Classroom Assessment

Bloom, Benjamin S., ed. Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: Book 1

Boone, Louis E., David L. Kurtz, and Judy R. Block. Contemporary

Developing Tomorrow's Work Force: Taskforce on High Performance Work

Sullivan, Jerry, Naoki Kameda, and Tatsuo Nobu. "Bypassing in

The One-Sentence Summary Technique developed by Angelo and Cross

Build a one-sentence summary by filling in the blanks:

Who? _________________

Does What? _________________

To Whom? _________________

When? _________________

Where? _________________

How? ________________________________

________________________________

Why? ________________________________

The fragments are revised into a sentence:

__________________________________________ __________________________________________