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 two or three students to review one another's written work. 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 the same time spent writing comments on an essay or in an e-mail. So you will meet with me one-on-one at least once during the semester during my office hours. This 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.

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.

Written exercises. You will write occasional exercises on lectures and readings. Some of these will be individual written assignments; others will be group assignments. 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.

If I cannot grade all of these personally, I will instead spot-check a sample of each exercises (as well as extra credit exercises), guaranteeing that each student will be graded on a minimum number 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.

Peer review. You will peer review the written work 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 (and I) will give several in-class presentations 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 two tightly written, single-spaced pages. 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 have the same value as discussion questions as the questions in class presentations. We will read some of them at the beginning of some class times to train our class discussion. I will spot check them in the same way I spot check written exercises, grading them '+' (adequate), 'U' (unacceptable, equivalent to absent), or '0' (absent). Your combined discussion question grades will count as 20% of your final grade.

If I find these questions inadequate to feed a productive discussion, I will change a student's requirement from discussion questions to reading notes:

Reading notes. A student who is not presenting or submitting discussion questions 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 I may spot-check them and grade them as '+', '-', 'U' (unacceptable), or '0' (absent). They will count as up to three written exercises.

Late work. Work that is late will be penalized unless I have excused it. If more than a week late, you may just want to move on rather than getting bogged down.

Other extra credit assignments. 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 might be able to earn extra credit by presenting on additional days or submitting additional exercises I may create over the semester. These may involve other readings not assigned to the whole class. 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)