Questions and real learning

I’m actually missing one of my classes from last semester.

I wasn’t too sure about the old testament class at first… I actually only took it because I would need it at the catholic college and new testament didn’t fit my class schedule.

And the instructor from the start gave a feel of having a not particularly supernatural interpretation of things.

But, the class ended up being one of my favorite classes, maybe ever.

It skipped the law books, and focused more on the history books and prophets, and included some of the apocrypha… which made it much less intimidating than it could have been.

And the instructor really knew his stuff… actually being on the translation committee for some random translation that I’d never heard of, and google pulls up many many places where he’s cited in various scholarly things. The main copy he was teaching from was in hebrew, not english.

And nobody stumped him…. no matter what they asked, if not the exact verse he at least knew the chapter and what part of the chapter it was found in. But, he stuck really close to the material, point blank admitting places where there wasn’t a clear answer because the text just didn’t give us that information, though usually offering the primary theories that have been offered while clearly stating they were just that.

But what made me so impressed even more than the instructor was the format.

He assigned certain chapters to be read by a particular class period, generally keeping the reading a bit ahead of where discussion was.

And then, on thursdays, we had to turn in three questions from the reading. Any questions at all… not graded on content, just marked as completed or not.

He would collect them as we came in the door, and sit there and read through them before the class started, and then, the entire class period was spend holding that stack of papers and going through and answering each question.

The ones that were connected with the plot of the story he would set into another stack as he worked through them, and tuesday’s class would be more explaining along the plot of whatever we’d read before the thursday before and working the answers to those questions in as they came up.

And then thursday repeated the process.

So the first week or two, the questions were obviously just written to be putting something down to show they’d at least halfway done the reading.

But after everyone figured out that they really mattered and would be answered by someone who really knew what he was talking about… the questions got really good! We were actually learning things we didn’t know or didn’t understand well, instead of just going through the plotline of the wandering through the desert for what for many of us was probably the dozenth time.

And I think it even changed how I was reading, from glossing over random mentions of things as just being some weird old testament ritual or whatever to really wondering what that was all about.

And so I find myself reading sometimes, and wishing I just had this as an ongoing permanent class. I suppose this is supposed to be what bible studies are supposed to be about… but then, I don’t think I’ve ever been in one with someone who was really good with the information we were going over, usually it’s more of a fellow student and we’ll all figure it out together approach.

I’m wishing he taught new testament too… but he doesn’t. I actually suspect he’s probably jewish just from inklings in the class, so maybe that’s a better thing as far as being a wider difference.

But he also had an interesting grading system. More traditional, based on essay tests for all except the 15% that the questions counted for. And sticking closely to the average work earns a c system thats usually stated, but not often practiced.

But how the tests worked was that he would give the questions a week ahead of time, then during the class period before he would review… aka give you the base details of the answers he wanted, pretty much setting the baseline guaranteeing you a c. But then, every little extra detail you added in from the discussion in class or just from reading that hadn’t been mentioned in the review session would give you extra points above the c level.

I was rather proud of the A I got on one of the tests… but also thrilled that he took the time to email me when he graded it to let me know I’d gotten an a rather than my waiting to see when we got the tests back.

The only thing that kept me from a 4.0 on the second semester in a row was a B+ in that class. And I’m totally ok with that.