AAR/SBL 2019: Day 2

Yesterday was ‘Pedagogy Day, Part 1’. Today will be ‘Pedagogy Day, Part 2’. I attended two-and-a-half sessions yesterday. In the morning, I attended ‘Academic Teaching and Biblical Studies/Teaching Biblical Studies in an Undergraduate Liberal Arts Context’. I benefitted a lot from this session. Nicholas A. Elder’s ‘Top Five’ assignment gave me new ideas for how to evaluate my students’ reading homework. I’ve tended to go with the ‘answer these questions as you read’ route, but as you might imagine, I can tell many of my students do keyword searches to find the relevant section of the (digital) textbook, and then they respond to it without evidence that they’re reading through the text. Elder’s ‘Top Five’ asks students to list their top 5 observations. It means they have to show their own thinking in their own words. Depending on the length of the reading, I might require that these reflections come from different parts (if it’s as short as a Bible Odyssey article, then no worries, but if it’s a third of a book chapter, then I’ll need them to spread it out a bit). Also, if someone isn’t doing there work, they can just email a friend for ‘answers’ because ‘answers’ will be subjective.

Jackie Wyse-Rhodes talked about ‘visual pedagogy’ or ‘visual exegesis’, a.k.a., drawing out a text. I’ve done a lot of this and I’ll share more on this topic later. What comforted me was to see teachers using technics with college students that I use with high schoolers. Kara Lyons-Pardue shared an exercise where she gets students to summarize a Bible dictionary entry in their own words and then share their findings with the class. I’m thinking of ways I might adopt and adapt that assignment for my New Testament class next semester. Then there were several other interesting talks on everything from helping students summarize key information about a book of the Bible to using Star Wars to teach source criticism to using the different perspectives on a news topic as reflected in comparing how different newspapers present it as a way of introducing the different ‘Jesuses’ of the Gospels and much more. But I can’t say a lot about everything because this is a blog!

The middle of the day was spent, in part, at a session titled ‘Death to the Term Paper!’ I had to leave about half-way through but I enjoyed the first part. My big ‘take-away’ is this: many people who teach what I teach realize most of their students won’t go on to be employed in religious studies/scholarship. So, we need to ask, ‘Is teaching them to write a 15 page paper on this topic the best skill we can teach them?’ This wasn’t revelatory for me because I don’t assign long papers for a couple reasons: (1) I teach 9-12 graders and creating a rubric for a research paper that covers that diversity is insane and (2) my English Department colleagues have the privilege of teaching them to write long papers, building class upon the other, so I’ll stay in my lane.

The last session of the day—another under the umbrella ‘Academic Teaching and Biblical Studies’ but with an emphasis on ‘Teaching Tips for Teaching the Hebrew Bible in Its Setting’ was full of good ideas. There was more on drawing from Justus Ghormley. Kristin J. Wendland showed us how she explains the temple-cult to her students by going outside and doing a giant role play with her class. Jennifer J. Williams explained how the topic of ‘identity’ in Ezra-Nehemiah as it related to Persian rule can serve as a gateway for talking about ‘identity’ using the biblical text. This last one stood out to me as in line with how I teach the Hebrew Bible. And while all of the sessions were informative and useful, Julie Faith Parker’s ‘Adieu Sumeria: A Cuneiform Introduction to the Sophisticated Land Abraham Left Behind’ was the most fun and unique.

Parker showed us how she emphasizes the importance of realizing how big a deal it would be to leave Ur for somewhere like Canaan. She presented the south Mesopotamia as the Manhattan of Abraham’s day. In order to teach students about the writing and technology, she teaches them to write some words in Cuneiform using clay and a chop stick. She taught us how to write ‘god’ in Akkadian. Then she passed around a little ‘cylinder seal’ so we can see how they function (comparing them to how all of us have phones in our pockets now) and I made this:

Pretty cool, huh? Well, today it’s off to a couple more pedagogy based sessions. On Monday I plan on attending a discussion of Matthew Larsen’s Gospels Before the Book which is a book I’ve been reading. And then, as quick as it came, the conference will be over!

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