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?
  • 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 10% 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. 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 55% 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.

Exegetical Sermon. Each of you will render a theological interpretation of one of the passages from Genesis, Jeremiah, Luke, or Hebrews we will be examining. I'd prefer a sermon, but by my permission this may take the form of an analysis, commentary, exposition, hymn, story, or some other literary, rhetorical, or artistic format. You will need to support the moves you make with marginal references to theological resources and our course materials, but the work should stand on its own. Sermons will be worth 15% of your grade.

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!

Homework/Discussion Questions. On days when we are concentrating on a biblical passage, everyone will fill out a homework form (available here) on that passage. Every class session also involves discussion of secondary readings; everyone who is not presenting on a given day will submit at least one brief question on that day's reading. Homework forms have space for these; on days when we are not doing homework on a biblical passage, use your own paper. These questions should be of the kinds you would pose in class or in presentations; you should be prepared for me to ask you to read them in class. Your combined discussion question grades will count as 20% of your 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.

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.

Homework Form
Rules of the Game
A Few (Strong) Suggestions on Essay Writing
Pointers for Presentations
Peer Review Guidelines
Review Form (PDF)