by Cindi May

New research by Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer demonstrates that students who write out their notes on paper actually learn more. …If we want students to synthesize material, draw inferences, see new connections, evaluate evidence, and apply concepts in novel situations, we need to encourage the deep, effortful cognitive processes that underlie these abilities.  When it comes to taking notes, students need fewer gigs, more brain power. "  

The benefits of No-Tech Note Taking

by Carol E. Holstead

I am convinced that while laptops have a lot of good uses in the classroom, note taking is not one of them.

More pedagogical insights

Other writing tips

Why can’t college graduates write coherent prose?

by Jeff Selingo

“If students are not being asked to read and write on a regular basis in their course work,” the authors wrote, “it is hard to imagine how they will improve their capacity to master performance tasks that involve critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing.”

What is exegesis?

1.    Introduction:  Indicate clearly the problem or question that you propose to address and why. (In the Guide noted above, the author includes point 3 here, though noting that it might be included as a separate point, as I have done below.)
EXAMPLE: "In this essay, I will address the question of the meaning of the word "apostle". I am interested in this question because of the importance of the term "apostle" in theological reflection."

2.    Method: Indicate clearly how you propose to do it and why.
EXAMPLE:  "Clearly, it is impossible to survey the meaning of "apostle" throughout all Christian history. I have chosen to explore the use of the word in the letters of Paul, since they are the earliest textual examples of Christian literature that uses the word."

3.    Survey of existing work (usually a survey of representative or key works, not an exhaustive survey): What are the main voices addressing the same topic and what have they said about the topic.
EXAMPLE: "There are three main lines of thinking regarding Paul's use of the word "apostle". They are..."

4.    Your work ("results" of your investigation): Using the method that you have adopted (cf. 2 above), indicate what you have found. (In the case of first-degree work, you might not need to do this, since you may have been asked simply to survey existing work on the subject.)
EXAMPLE:  "My examination of the use of the word "apostle" in Paul's letters confirms the results of the works just mentioned. Specifically .... However, I have also found that..."

5.    Discussion: Discuss your results in relation to the results of others in the field (cf. 3 above) or simply discuss points of convergence and divergence among existing authors in the field (first-degree candidates).
EXAMPLE:  "In light of my findings,it is clear that the main lines of interpretation regarding Paul's use of the term "apostle" are accurate. ..."

NB: Points 4 and 5 will need to be artfully interwoven or clearly separated. They can and often times do cover the same material.

6.    Conclusions: What conclusions do you draw from your exploration.
EXAMPLE: "The implications of Paul's use of "apostle" are clear. They are ... Nevertheless, as the earliest example of the use of "apostle", Paul's use does not evidence the subsequent important developments in the use of the term... For example ... In conclusion..."

Writing properly... today!

While there are many guides for writing well, perhaps the best one for writing today is Steven Pinker, The sense of style: The thinking person's guide to style in the 21st century (New York: Viking, 2014)

Using words properly

In order to get the words right, and to make the right effect on the reader, "one needs rules that one can rely on when instinct fails. I think the following rules will cover most cases:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous."

From George Orwell, "Politics and the English Language" (1946), published in George Orwell, Collected essays (2nd ed., London: Secker and Warburg, 1961), 366-367.

Formatting your paper properly
This editor from the University of Chicago Press can teach you a LOT about how to improve the format of your own papers. Read The top 10 edits to academic book manuscripts by Carol Saller (University of Chicago Press).

For all of my classes in which papers are required, you must follow the style provided by the Chicago Manual of Style, specifically as expanded for Biblical Studies by the SBL Handbook of Style 2nd edition.

FALL 2018

  • THO 3161 Introduction to the New Testament: Synoptic Gospels (Monday 9 AM - 12 PM)
  • THO 6318 Interpretation of the Bible (Wednesday 9 AM - 12 PM)
  • THO 9695 Séminaire de 3e cycle en théologie / THO 9295 Doctoral Seminar in Theology


Writing a critical review essay

"Are we living through a plague of hypersensitivity?"

What makes a good teacher?

by A. C. Grayling

If one were to analyze what goes into being an inspiring teacher ..., the list would include enthusiasm, charisma, a capacity to clarify and make sense, humor, kindness, and a genuine interest in students’ progress.

Writing a research paper

In a critical review essay, there are very clear steps to be followed:

  • Summarize in your own words the text (book, chapter, article, paragraph, etc. ) that you are reviewing by identifying main points, issues highlighted, etc.
  • Establish the place that the text has in the larger scholarly field of study regarding the same field (i.e., who else has said what on the subject being addressed by the text)
  • Assess the text's contribution to the field
  • Identify outstanding issues or questions in light of the text and its place in the field.

Footnotes and bibliography are required only to indicate engagement with other texts where cited.

A critical review has no set length and can and should be only as long as it needs to be to address the above points.

L. Gregory Bloomquist

sola Dei gratia

Exegesis is “the process of careful, analytical study of biblical passages undertaken in order to produce useful interpretations of those passages. … In practice this means asking of the text all the questions whose answers might give insight into the text’s meaning.”

The full process follows steps like these:

  •  Establishing the text
  •  Ensuring a proper translation
  •  Determining the historical context
  •  Determining the literary context
  •  Determining the form of the passage in question
  •  Determining the structure of the passage in question
  •  Providing a careful analysis of the words involved in the passage
  •  Determining the biblical context of the passage (relation to other Biblical texts)
  •  Connecting the text to broader theological issues
  •  Determining what others have said about the text and how it has been used
  •  Applying the text

From D. Stuart, “Exegesis,” Anchor Bible Dictionary (ed. D. N. Freedman; Garden City: Doubleday, 1992) 2.682–8.

No exegetical paper, however, is a mere checklist of these steps. They must be interwoven into an artfully crafted essay in a way that shows that the above steps have been clearly synthesized in the mind of the exegete.

For further information, see

  • Gordon Fee, New Testament Exegesis
  • Pontifical Biblical Commission

Learning Tools and Insights

Studying for the test by taking it

Benedict Carey

We now know that testing, including self-testing, is an especially powerful form of study.

Freedom within the disciplines: On the perils of goal based education
by Francesca Aran Murphy
[M]any young people now see authors as salesmen who would never do anything other than praise their products. For the most part they have been trained to imagine their courses and textbooks as forms of indoctrination that they have to pretend to buy into if they want to make their grades. They are inclined to envisage their professors as propagandists and their textbooks as propaganda books.

Are college lectures unfair?
 by Annie Murphy Paul
"[S}tudents over all perform better in active-learning courses than in traditional lecture courses. However, women, minorities, and low-income and first-generation students benefit more, on average, than white males from more affluent, educated families."

A Nobel alternative to student evaluations.
 by Meg Bernhard
Carl E. Wieman, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist and professor at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education suggests evaluating professors based on an inventory of their teaching practices. The ultimate measure of teaching quality, he argues, is the extent to which professors use practices associated with better student outcomes.practices.

Why flunking exams is actually a good thing.
 by Benedict Carey
Testing might be the key to studying, rather than the other way around. As it turns out, a test is not only a measurement tool. It’s a way of enriching and altering memory.

What's the point of a professor?

by Mark Baurlein

You can’t become a moral authority if you rarely challenge students in class and engage them beyond it. If we professors do not do that, the course is not an induction of eager minds into an enlarging vision. It is a requirement to fulfill.

Why technology will never fix education

by Kentaro Toyama

While technology helps education where it’s already doing well, technology does little for mediocre educational systems; and in dysfunctional schools, it can cause outright harm.

Submitting essays: The jeopardy of just-in-time

If you think that only submitting something on time is what matters, think again!

Four ways to spot a great teacher
by Dana Goldstein
This article, though addressed to primary and secondary education, has valuable insights for university-level education. “So how can a parent identify superb teaching? Clearly, great teachers begin by loving children. But beyond that, a growing body of research points to some basic tenets of top-notch instruction—including these four actions and mind-sets parents can look and listen for when they visit a classroom, meet an educator or review their children's schoolwork.”

A learning secret: Don’t take notes with a laptop
by Cindi May
"New research by Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer demonstrates that students who write out their notes on paper actually learn more. …If we want students to synthesize material, draw inferences, see new connections, evaluate evidence, and apply concepts in novel situations, we need to encourage the deep, effortful cognitive processes that underlie these abilities.  When it comes to taking notes, students need fewer gigs, more brain power. "

You really can 'work smarter, not harder'
by Nanette Fondas
"Learning is more effective if a lesson or experience is deliberately coupled with time spent thinking about what was just presented, a new study shows. In “Learning by Thinking: How Reflection Aids Performance,” a team of researchers from HEC Paris, Harvard Business School, and the University of North Carolina describe what they call the first empirical test of the effect of reflection on learning. By “reflection,” they mean taking time after a lesson to synthesize, abstract, or articulate the important points."
Letter grades deserve an 'F'
by Jessica Lahey
"Letter grades are a tradition in our educational system, and we accept them as fair and objective measures of academic success. However, if the purpose of academic grading is to communicate accurate and specific information about learning, letter, or points-based grades, are a woefully blunt and inadequate instrument. Worse, points-based grading undermines learning and creativity, rewards cheating, damages students' peer relationships and trust in their teachers, encourages students to avoid challenging work, and teaches students to value grades over knowledge."
Why students need to fail
by Moira MacDonald
Whether we tip-toe around the word failure and prefer to call it something else or shout its name out loud and embrace it for all it can teach, failure can prove its value only when it drives us on to something better. Proponents of productive failure believe that’s exactly what it does. Accepting failure and harnessing it may be a key to the innovation that, we’re told, success will be built upon in a globalized economy. But before that can happen, we have to let failure in the door, and give it the time and space to do its best work."
Teaching academic integrity
by Michael W. Kerwin
James Lyons, retired dean of student affairs at Stanford University, has become a beacon for academic integrity. At one of his first jobs at a college before he went to Stanford, Lyons wanted to strengthen the school's honor code. Administrators initially tried to keep him busy handling campus parking infractions. One day, a student sauntered into Lyons' office, ticket in hand, and said he hadn't parked illegally. So Lyons tore up the ticket. The student was stunned. Lyons simply said, "We're an honor code school, so I believe you're telling me the truth."

University of Ottawa professor finds students take revenge on professors in evaluations (originally published in the Ottawa Citizen and available here thanks to the author of the article)
by Don Butler
University of Ottawa professor Tracy Vaillancourt — the Canada Research Chair in Children’s Mental Health and Violence Prevention — "has found that students who received poor grades were 10 to 19 times more likely to make negative comments about their evaluator than those who received high grades."
Live and learn: Why we have college
by Louis Menand
"It’s possible ... that the higher education system only looks as if it’s working. The process may be sorting, students may be getting access, and employers may be rewarding, but are people actually learning anything? Two recent books suggest that they are not. They suggest it pretty emphatically"
Students should check their sense of entitlement at the door
by Elaine Clift
"Whether it's rude behavior, lack of intellectual rigor, or both, [professors] are all struggling with the same frightening decline in student performance and academic standards at institutions of higher learning. A sense of entitlement now pervades the academy, excellence be damned. Increasingly, students ... have no clue what is expected of them at the higher levels of academic discourse and what will be expected of them in the workplace. Having passed through a deeply flawed education system in which no one is paying attention to critical thinking and writing skills, they just want to know what they have to do to make their teachers tick the box that says "pass." After all, that's what all their other teachers have done."
Why frequent testing for retrieval of information is a helpful way to learn.
by J. D. Karpicke and J. R. Blunt
An important new study, published recently in the journal Science, found significant advantages in retrieval testing (i.e., testing what a student has learned based on "the active, cue-driven process of reconstructing knowledge"). Specifically, the study found that students "who read a passage, then took a test asking them to recall what they had read, retained about 50 percent more of the information a week later than students who used two other methods: ...repeatedly studying the material ...[and] ... having students draw detailed diagrams documenting what they are learning." From the NY Times, Science, January 20, 2011
New book lays failure to learn on colleges' doorsteps
by David Glenn
A new book, entitled Academically Adrift, blames students' lack of progress on weaknesses in the curricula and concludes that "four years of undergraduate classes make little difference in their ability to synthesize knowledge and put complex ideas on paper."