Tasks

These assignments are inspired and governed by my rules for the game of Christian liberal arts education. You should be aware of them.

Small group membership. You will join a group of three (or four) students, choose a captain, and schedule your first meeting before the first written assignment. Further team and group responsibilities and guidelines are available in the leadership section of my rules of the game.

Office hour appointment. I consider twenty minutes spent with a student in person a much better investment for both of us than twenty minutes spent writing comments on an essay or in an e-mail. Moreover, with over 100 students in my classes every semester, it is easy for the semester to pass without me getting to know all of you, especially you quiet ones. So you will meet with me one-on-one at least once during the semester during my office hours. This is not an oral exam! It is an opportunity for you and me to get to know each other better, address concerns, tailor the course to your particular interests and needs, and get direct feedback on your work. Make an appointment on my office door. If you forget your appointment, grovel, apologize profusely, and make a new one on my office door. If I cancel your appointment unilaterally, make me grovel, please accept my apologies, and make a new one on my office door.

I have no agenda for these appointments, but common questions you can think about beforehand include:

  • How is the course going for you?
  • Do you have comments, criticisms, objections, or questions about specific topics, texts, or class sessions?
  • How is your faith?
  • How is it here for you at Westmont right now?
  • Can I help you with any upcoming assignments?
  • Are there theological issues you would like to chase down on your own with additional reading or alternative assignments? (a.k.a., "Can I throw some books at you?")
  • How are things going for your small group? (h)
  • Do you have thoughts or questions about future work in theology, religious studies, other majors, or ministry?

Active attendance. You will attend class sessions and group meetings and participate in discussions. These times together are integral parts of the course. Our subject is best understood when lived and discussed, not just when heard and read. When you fail to attend, you frustrate not only your education, but that of your teammates and especially those in your group. I don't take roll or require that you speak in class. However, I do reserve 20% of your grade for course participation in whatever form it may take for you (including appointments).

The syllabus sometimes contains links to lecture outlines, but beware: I frequently make points in class that are not on the outline. Where I do skip points in an outline, you are not formally responsible, but you should still browse the whole outline to see how I would develop the topic if we had more time.

Memorization. Alone or as part of a written exercise, you will memorize the Nicene Creed.

Written exercises. You will write occasional exercises on lectures and readings. You can find each assignment from a link on the syllabus. These are like 'problem sets' meant to get you into readings and lectures before you forget the information (this doesn't take long, believe me), to keep you caught up, and to train you in how to study, understand, apply, and write about theology. You will review and discuss these with group members and occasionally in class. As you write, please refer to my suggestions for writing papers for helpful suggestions, cautions about Internet "research", ultimata regarding late papers and plagiarism, and so on.

I cannot grade all of these personally. Instead I will spot-check a sample of each exercises (as well as extra credit exercises), guaranteeing that each student will be graded on three or more of them. The others you submit will receive the average grade of your spot-checked exercises. (For instance, if you receive a B average on the exercises I grade, you will receive a B on every exercise I do not grade. So to be sure of a high evaluation, you will need to have consistently high performance.) The exercises will count as 60% of your grade (but see the final exam section below).

Peer review. You will peer review the written work and presentations of other students in your group, evaluating the writer's style, organization, use of sources, and strength of argument. Refer to my peer review guidelines and use my peer review form (in HTML or Acrobat). How well you perform your peer reviews will affect your own grade as the equivalent of one exercise.

In-class presentation. Each of you will give an in-class presentation on that day's reading. The point is to facilitate a productive discussion. Here you will

  • remind us of the reading,
  • provide helpful context and analysis,
  • make observations, and
  • raise questions for us to discuss.

Presentations may take several forms: Recitation of a text for discussion, lecture, or some other format (the choice is up to you, in consultation with me). A typical discussion text amounts to one tightly written, single-spaced page. You must submit your presentation to the other students in your group for peer-review in time to get their responses and make changes before you deliver it. Please distribute copies to your classmates on the day of your presentation. Each presentation will count as one written exercise. All participants, but especially presenters, will want to consult my list of pointers for presentations. As you write, please refer to my suggestions for writing papers for helpful suggestions, cautions about Internet "research", ultimata regarding late papers and plagiarism, and so on.

Reading. You should read all required material before the class sessions that follow them. If you fall behind, you must be caught up on readings before group meetings. Bring up misunderstandings at group meetings and in class. Assignments draw on lectures, readings, and discussions, so you are accountable soon anyway. Do not fall behind, or you and your teammates will be sorry!

Discussion Questions. Everyone who is not presenting that day will submit at least one brief question on each section of that day's reading (typed, not written out). These questions should be of the kinds you would pose in class or in presentations. I may spot check them in the same way I spot check written exercises, grading them '+', '-', 'U' (unacceptable), or '0' (absent). Your combined discussion question grades will count as one written exercise.

If student unpreparedness warrants, I will add the following paragraph, on reading notes, to the required course tasks. It is grayed out because at present it is not a course requirement. Keep it that way, OK?

Reading notes. Everyone who is not presenting that day will bring a 1 page (maximum) typewritten brief that (1) summarizes the reading, and (2) asks at least one thoughtful question for discussion. These should be in prose-outline form (see my rationale and example), well written. If your briefs do not conform to the requirements, I will hand them back and you will need to resubmit them. I do not normally accept late briefs, though I do accept briefs ahead of time for absences. I will collect these after class, and grade them '+', '-', 'U' (unacceptable), or '0' (absent). They will count as up to three written exercises.

Group reading report. There is a lot going on in "specialties" within this field that we will not all be able to cover in-depth. To give you an opportunity to go in greater depth in one of these specialties, each of your groups will report on an additional text to the whole class. This too will count as one written exercise. Since the rest of the class will not even be pretending to have done the reading, here you will need to summarize the author's argument at a more introductory level while leaving room to identify connections to the common material in our course and issues for informed and educational discussion (if only a "panel discussion" among you who have read the text with Q&A from the rest of us). Expect to write two tightly written, single-spaced pages. At the end, include a paragraph of 'credits' indicating which group members did what (writing, editing, fact-checking, etc.). Please distribute copies to the whole class on the day of your presentation.

Final exam. There may be a final exam on the required texts and lecture material. It would count as 20% of your grade. If we have no final, your written exercises will be worth 80% of your grade.

Optional extra credit. Are you on a scholarship or headed to graduate school, and obsessed with your grade? If you complete all other assignments in the course and you are passing the class based on the rest of your grade (and your good standing in class is not compromised for some reason), you can earn extra credit by submitting additional exercises I may create over the semester. Each acceptable and adequate exercise will add one-sixth of a grade point to your overall grade, to a maximum of one-third of a grade point. That means submitting two such exercises will raise your grade from, say, B+ to A-. What a deal! Extra credit assignments will be posted throughout the syllabus if and when I come up with them. You may be able to make arrangements with me for others; I am always on the lookout for creative and helpful suggestions.

Spot-checks on these assignments will be included in the average grade for your written exercises. They can bring that part of your grade up if they are well done, or down if they are poorly done.

You will not engage in academic dishonesty (as described in the student handbook). Students who do will fail the course.


"You know that we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness" (James 3:1). There is perhaps no more responsible position in the Church than teaching doctrine and preaching Scripture, whether behind a lectern, in a small group, or around a dinner table. In grading these assignments, I will resist grade inflation. I've found (as both a teacher and as a student!) that this way students are more likely to improve, and grades are just as high at the end of the course because of that improvement.

Having trouble understanding the reading? I may sometimes post introductions to readings in advance. Look up unfamiliar terms in a dictionary (for instance, the on-line New Advent Catholic Dictionary), or google them. If even these suggestions do not help, then I leave you with the advice of Thomas Cranmer:

"I cannot understand it." What marvel? How shouldest thou understand, if thou wilt not read nor look upon it? Take the books into thine hands, read the whole story, and that thou understandest keep it well in memory; thou that understandest not, read it again and again: if thou can neither so come by it, counsel with some other that is better learned. Go to thy curate and preacher; show thyself to be desirous to know and learn: and I doubt not but God, seeing thy diligence and readiness (if no man else teach thee) will himself vouchsafe with his Holy Spirit to illuminate thee, and to open unto thee that which was locked from thee (Preface to the Great Bible 6).

In other words, giving up on difficult material is not an option.

Course
Vision
Reading
Tasks
Schedule
MATERIALS
Rules of the Game
A Few (Strong) Suggestions on Essay Writing
Pointers for Presentations
Peer Review Guidelines
Review Form (PDF)