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Methodological Shift

November 12, 2007

Perhaps I’ve been in the Ivory Tower of graduate life and funding grants for too long, but I’ve had a crashing realization in the last few weeks: undergrads really don’t know how to read.

This insight came to me after the first exams I gave this semester, where I basically gave the answers to the exam in the exam itself. All my students quickly finished their exams without realizing that if they had actually read it as a whole, they would have gotten much better grades. To me, this was a gimme. However, it became apparent as I graded that I couldn’t even use it as a “teachable moment” — students were just too stressed at their abysmal grades.

While this semester is basically shot and my students expect our interaction to remain unchanged over the last five weeks, next semester I plan on teaching differently. My job needs to be teaching students how to read.

Up till now, it has been about content, next semester it will be about methodology. Hopefully, my students will learn both along the way, but I will consider it a success if they only learn the latter.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. November 20, 2007 12:27 pm

    Hi, Jim, this is a bit late because I am only now catching up on blogs after the marking season.

    I firmly agree with both your conclusions:
    – students need to learn to read: it also helps students if we start from the familiar – and the Bible is familiar to most theology students – and move to the unfamiliar, reading it as something more real than a collection of mysterious and eliptical oracles or promises like a giant fortune cookie
    – it’s not about the content: after all there are books they can read for the content, so I try to “put” as much of the content as possible into a textbook and other reading (which students do an online test on) and use the class time to interact with the text (biblical and sometimes other ANE) to get an idea of the literary-intellectual context, and look at video and pictures to give then more of an idea of the physical context, and above all get them working with text themselves (often in small groups – somewhat clumsy with most lecture rooms but it does work!)

  2. jimgetz permalink*
    November 20, 2007 4:46 pm

    Tim,
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    Ideally I wanted to run this semester that way, but the sheer breadth of the material caused me to lecture more.

    Next semester I am teaching New Testament and plan on having the students read short dictionary articles on different issues rather than purchase a text book. They’ll have to know some basic facts on tests but my real focus is going to be on methods rather than details.

  3. November 21, 2007 9:16 am

    Hi Jim —

    I have my students read Bible Dictionary articles, both for basic content and as an exercise in learning to read — and learning to settle down and read the basics one has at hand rather than surfing all over the place looking for factoids. In fact for my Intro to Biblical Studies course, I insist they use ONLY their NRSV Study Bible and Eerdmans Bible Dictionary, plus a very few articles I post online.

    Thanks for your web page, and SBL blog entries — I wasn’t able to get there this year —

    Susan Jeffers
    Online adjunct at several schools, and happy…. minority of one in that regard, I suppose….

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