More Active Reading: How to Read a Textbook Chapter

Posted on by Brooke

A week or so back, I wrote here about exercises in “active reading.” There, I included links to a number of blank worksheets that students could use to help them read actively (Bull’s Eye organizer; Fish-bone organizer; K-W-L sheet; and more).

As an exemplar to the class, I “actively read” a scholarly essay: I wrote a short phrase next to every paragraph in the essay, and also filled in each of the worksheets. I then called attention to this in class and posted it to their Blackboard.

The next weekend, while supervising a local chess tournament, I came upon a kind of “active reading” poster in the middle-school library (Flickr):

THIEVES, an acronym for Title, Heading, Everything I want to know, Visuals, End-of-section material, So what?

This pretty much exactly corresponds to what I tell students about how to read the chapters from their textbook:

  • Read the chapter’s introductory paragraph. List the keywords in the margin of that paragraph.

  • Read the major headings (“Jeremiah and the Deuteronomists”; turn them into questions (“What do the Deuteronomists have to do with Jeremiah?").

  • Look at the graphics: photographs, tables, timelines, maps. What do they make you think of? What questions do they make you ask? Write these in the margins of the chapter’s first page.

  • Ask yourself: What sorts of things do you already know about the topics coming up in this exercise?

  • Read the concluding paragraph and any study questions or glossaries at the end of the chapter. Plan to search out the answers to these as you read the chapter.

  • Read one (1) major section in the chapter. For each paragraph, jot the main points into the margin, in your own words. At the end of the section, describe aloud what that section communicated to you. Repeat this for each section. This should take several sittings, probably one sitting for each major section.

  • Bring this chapter into conversation with your life. What difference does this information make? How does it challenge things you already knew or believed? How does it help answer or solve questions you have had in the past? What does it make you want to try to discover next?

This may seem time-consuming, but in practice it is an incredible time saver: with interactive reading, you can read the chapter once instead of several times, because you retain the content at a much higher rate than through passive reading. Also, by breaking the reading up over several sittings, the subject matter can “percolate” for you, making unexpected connections to your other studies or activities.

Students, do you already do any of these kinds of things when reading? Profs, do you offer any kind of guidance or instruction in active reading?

[More Active Reading: How to Read a Textbook Chapter was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2011/03/18. Except as noted, it is © 2011 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

What Would You Ask a Prospective Online Student?

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Not everyone is equally prepared for online learning, just as not everyone is prepared for a given degree program, or for several aspects of face-to-face learning. What would you ask of a prospective online student in order to help her determine her readiness?

I have been reading through some online quizzes that ask, “Is distance learning really for you?” Here is a sample:

The questions can be clumped into some more-or-less discrete categories:

  1. access to internet and minimal hardware and software

  2. minimal competence with an operating system, manipulating files, relevant applications

  3. comfort and experience with navigating tasks online (email, paying bills, renewing library books, search engines)

  4. comfort and skills with social aspects of internet (Facebook, blogs and comments, Google/Yahoo Groups)

  5. how much time one expects to spend on a course, and in what increments

  6. habits relating to organization and professionalism

  7. normal student skills like reading, writing, participating in discussion, interacting with faculty

  8. motives and expectations (why an online course rather than face-to-face?)

For me, some of the real biggies are those that pertain to the f2f classroom as much as to distance learning: How much time will you put in? Will you break that time into daily chunks? Do you have professional habits of time management and communication? Do you have experience with active reading? Do you have experience with several different kinds of writing? Why are you here? Some of this can be taught, but a lot of it amounts to disposition and attitude. Even a willing student who falls short in these areas will be struggling against likely long-term counter-productive habits.

The items more clearly related to the peculiarities of the online environment—knowing what to own and how to use it, navigating virtual space, translating existing social skill sets into unfamiliar venues—actually worry me less. Sure, the student has to recognize the need, and may have to get over a “fear hump,” but if that one hurdle can be negotiated, then it’s just a matter of learning a bunch of stuff.

This is, I acknowledge, my own idiosyncratic assessment: it’s how I think it would be for me to get started.

What would you want to ask of a prospective online student, to help her make a no-B.S. assessment of whether distance learning is for her? If you have been an online learner, what do you know now about “what it takes” that you didn’t know then?

[What Would You Ask a Prospective Online Student? was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2011/03/16. Except as noted, it is © 2011 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Closed Captioning for User-Generated Video (via ProfHacker)

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[Changed title, but not URL, to reflect distinction between subtitles and closed-captioning.]

Yesterday, ProfHacker posted a blog entry about how to produce closed-captioning for your videos using the site Universal Subtitles. As ProfHacker points out, when you have created the subtitles, they exist only at the Universal Subtitles web site; but, you can download the subtitles as a file and upload that file to your video on YouTube. ProfHacker shows the process, step by step.

Embedded below is my first effort at closed captioning. The main glitch is that my videos often already have subtitles of varying kinds, because they are often language-learning videos. And, you cannot (I think) change where the closed-captioning sits: it is always at the bottom of the screen. Now, if your already-existing subtitles are YouTube “annotations,” you can always go into YouTube and move them around. But, if your subtitles were created with the video itself (as in iMovie or whatever), then you would have to actually go back and re-edit the video and upload the revised version (which would have a new URL on YouTube).

The take-away on this for me is that, when I produce subtitles in my videos (that is, subtitles that are not closed-captioning), I will want to keep them at the top or sides of the screen, so that there is room reserved at the bottom for closed-captioning. As you can imagine, the screen “real estate” will really be filling in at that point.

This is my video on how to sing Happy Birthday in Hebrew. In the few places where my subtitles and my closed-captioning collide, I have not tried to fix it (yet). Obviously, you will need to click the "cc" (closed captioning) button at the bottom of the video screen.

What experience do you have with closed captioning, whether needing it or producing it? What issues should I know about as I continue to closed-caption my videos?

[Subtitles for User-Generated Video was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2011/03/11. Except as noted, it is © 2011 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Frequency Lists for NT Greek and Biblical Hebrew

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(Welcome, ad hoc Christianity readers and listeners! I was just hearing from a colleague who notes that vocab-failure is the main cause of flunking a reading competency exam. Hope you find these helpful.)

I have created a pair of “frequency lists” for New Testament Greek and Biblical Hebrew: words are listed from most-frequent to least-frequent, according to parts of speech. I stop the lists at words occurring less than ten times. Proper nouns are excluded.

My purpose in creating them is to have a resource for drawing up vocabulary quizzes and varying kinds of audio-visual helps. I am posting them here in the event that anybody finds them useful.

Biblical Hebrew frequency list

NT Greek frequency list
[Update 2012-10-03: I have also broken down the Biblical Hebrew list into 20 sections, suitable for creating vocabulary quizzes based on frequency.]

Past a certain point, the elementary student is learning vocabulary from reading texts more than from vocabulary lists. Once that begins to happen, the vocabulary “sticks” better because it is associated with a lively context. Still, readers at any skill level can benefit from a check-in with vocabulary. And, as I say, I find such helps really valuable when, say, trying to create in-class dialogues that reinforce essential lexica.

To what sorts of uses might you put a frequency list?

[Frequency Lists for NT Greek and Biblical Hebrew was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2011/03/10. Except as noted, it is © 2011 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

“Active Reading” for Seminary Learners

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I did my first research paper as a Masters student. I know, I know. My wife, having come up through Jesuit secondary and undergraduate schooling, can’t believe it either. In any case, when we talk about the wide range of preparation with which students arrive at seminary, I do get it: in many undergraduate programs, the research paper doesn’t come up. And as for secondary school, anyone who doesn’t avoid hard work in high school simply isn’t trying.

When I did begin my Masters program, and the 50%-of-grade research/thesis paper met me right at the door first semester, I was well positioned to learn the ropes quickly. In my family of origin, curiosity had been rewarded, we all read like hell, and there was a normalcy to spending several hours at the library—or on a solo bike trip exploring the four points of the compass, or digging up the back yard—and talking about what kind of stuff you’d found out about. (You’d get a killer spanking for digging up the yard, but could still talk freely of your findings.) So I read up on “the thesis paper,” memorized every word of the professor’s instructions in the syllabus, and tried to “go and do likewise.” With great success, because while I was inexperienced with the form, I was pretty well prepared by a formation that was (might as well say it) atypical, and even—with regard to the factors relevant here—privileged.

This is all on my mind as I read articles about “active reading,” a mode of reading that is natural to me because what else do you do after reading except yammer about it in excruciating detail to an older sister (thanks, Jul, thanks, Kay), but which is not, it turns out, natural to everybody who experiences a call to be a leader in the church.

My “Intro to Old Testament” syllabus changes a lot, but often involves having the students read journal articles or essays in edited books. This semester, I am having them read only a handful or so, but I have developed a new activity for the reading: we are to identify the article’s thesis or central idea, the evidence that it incorporates into its argument, and the elements of its line of reasoning. My hope is that this will help them to think of their final paper in such structured terms. (They will also be writing the paper in four stages, offering each other peer review for the first three stages.)

The first reading assignment is going on this week (Christopher Rollston’s “The Rise of Monotheism in Ancient Israel: Biblical and Epigraphic Evidence,” Stone-Campbell Journal 6 [2003]: 95-115; PDF available). Having allowed them to work through that one as best they can, I plan to introduce helps for “active reading” that they can use for articles assigned later in the course.

The following helps are available at the Glencoe Online “Teaching Today” site:

My idea is to model the use of some or all of these when we discuss the Rollston article, then assign them to demonstrate use of any one of them the next time we read a journal article or essay from an edited book. My hope is that the students who are already well positioned to read actively will find the activity something of a cake walk (while probably still benefiting from exposure to new processes in active reading), while the students who are relatively new to active reading might enjoy some breakthroughs in how they interact with reading: breakthroughs that just might pay off throughout their Masters work.

Instructors, do you ever assign activities to enhance active reading? Students, can you imagine profiting from assignments of this kind?

[“Active Reading” for Seminary Learners was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2011/03/01. Except as noted, it is © 2011 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Modern Hebrew Sketch Comedy

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The post I had written for today has been relegated to the back burner to reduce for a while: the broth is still too thin.

So in it’s place, I invite you to see what you are able to make of some Modern Hebrew sketch comedy. You’ll probably get the gist of it without any Hebrew whatsoever. For my part, I was able to get the gist and most of the detail (thanks largely to the Hebrew subtitles: dude’s talking fast). A little work with a dictionary did the rest…you might also consider Google Translate if you are able to type Hebrew characters.

Have fun, it’s a nice bit.

[Modern Hebrew Sketch Comedy was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2011/02/23. Except as noted, it is © 2011 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Stealth Students, or, Long-Fuse Effs

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(N.B.: Because I blog under my proper name, I drafted this post at least one full year ago—maybe a year and a half, or even two years—then saved it to post later. This way, it is clear that the post does not concern any of my current teaching sections, but rather a situation that simply crops up periodically. Any resemblance to current students, living or dead, is coincidental and regretted.)

Professors, do you occasionally find yourself perplexed to observe a student who repeatedly fails to accomplish the assignments, but never steps forward to talk about it? Even when you have called attention, during class time, with heavy eye contact, to the part of the syllabus that says they can’t pass under such circumstances? No contact, no drop slip, no…anything? Perversely, such a student usually continues to take the quizzes or exams, on which basis I theorize that they simply do not believe anybody would actually fail them for a course, and that my warnings are a part of simply keeping up appearances.

Students: have you been or known such a student? (Anonymous comments encouraged!)

Policy-wise, it isn’t a murky situation: the student will not pass the course. And between the syllabus and the verbal heads-ups, there aren’t any doubts about communication. But…what, if anything, do you do? Options include:

  • Do nothing to interfere with the student’s karma: it’s a free country;

  • Reach out to see what gives;

  • I guess I am out of options at this point.

What is your own habitual practice with those students who are failing to turn in the work, but who keep showing up to class and taking—usually failing—quizzes and exams? The ones who have never come to you to acknowledge that they aren’t handing in the assignments?

[Stealth Students, or, Long-Fuse Effs was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2011/02/21. Except as noted, it is © 2011 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Modern Israeli Music in Hebrew Class

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Second-semester Hebrew is always a pleasure to teach. Sure, the students have usually blunted their edge in the 5-6 weeks since fall session. But they get it back quickly, and things quickly assume the character of an advanced-level course. Any attrition has already taken place earlier in the first term, so there’s a “lean and mean” quality to the student population. And while there are enough new syntactical concepts coming down the pipe to keep them on their toes, morphology has somehow become “no big deal”: Oh, so that’s how we do the Niphal? And guttural still do their thing, and III-still gets bumped of by a suffix? Nûn still assimilating? ’Kay, whatevs.

For the first time, I’m helping the students work through a piece of modern Israeli Hebrew rock music: Rona Kenan, ’לחיות נחון.' (First semester we spent time on some common prayers and the Torah blessings from the Sabbath liturgy.) We began this week, and I was happy to see that the students were enjoying it.

I had distributed this to them a week or two before, inviting them to give it a listen and to jot down anything they thought they recognized. Here’s Rona Kenan:

Between them, students teased out a lot more than I thought they might. They had already noted:

  • Lots of זה and לא

  • Lots of forms beginning with ל (not having yet learned the infinitive, but correctly equating it with some infinitive forms that I had used informally in earlier sessions)

  • Words and roots like טוב, אהב, אכל, מאוד.

  • Phrases like מִכֹּל, אני רוֹצָה, ביום, בלילה.

Together this week, we took time to work completely through to the 0:21 marker:



זה חשוב לאהוב


ולמדוד את הטוב מזמן לזמן


לא לבקש מה שאי אפשר לקבל

One of the students had earlier gotten turned onto some other pieces (like Shrek and a little Les Mis), and she shared these links with her colleagues.

So, thanks, Rona! The students got a heads-up on the infinitive, and we all got a timely mid-winter change of pace.

How are your classes this term? Are you doing anything to mix it up a little this February?

[Modern Israeli Music in Hebrew Class was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2011/02/18. Except as noted, it is © 2011 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Biblical Hebrew Aleph-Bet Series: Complete!

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I will certainly re-draft the series at some point in the future, probably after using it once in Fall 2011. But as a first draft, the entire series is now complete. The seven-part series comes to a total of about eighty (80) minutes. At the series’ end, the student not only will have discovered, through reading, the Aleph-bet and vowels, but will already be reading Hebrew with a considerable degree of fluency.

In the series, the entire Biblical Hebrew Aleph-Bet, with vowels, has been taught strictly through use: the student learns by reading and speaking real Hebrew words from the beginning. Hebrew characters have been taught in “clumps” organized phonetically: gutturals, labials, sibilants, and so on. Along the way, the learner also begins to use “weak” and “strong” dagesh, and the shewa.

This final video unveils the system of matres lectionis, and also—finally—the names of the already-learned vowels and consonants.

The Aleph-Bet series is part of a larger series, which I call “A Foundation for Biblical Hebrew.” The other items in this larger series will be two: one is a series of videos that teach communicative domains (greetings, talking about weather and seasons, classroom coping phrases, colors, numerals, describing things, adverbs of time, dining out, and so on). The other will be a series that includes some 400 pictures depicting biblical Hebrew nouns, adjectives, and verbs. The point is to establish a strong foundation for communicative learning of Biblical Hebrew.

As always, I welcome feedback. Especially, if you are able to put the videos in front of learners who do not already know the Hebrew Aleph-Bet, or who learned it a zillion years ago and have forgotten, I would love to hear about their experience with the video series.

[Biblical Hebrew Aleph-Bet Series: Complete! was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2011/02/09. Except as noted, it is © 2011 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Aleph-Bet Learning Video 6: י, ל, נ, ר

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The remaining letters of the Biblical Hebrew aleph-bet are covered in this sixth learning video. By this time, the learner is quite familiar with

  • vowels and consonants

  • composite shewa with gutturals

  • simple shewa, including “vocal shewa

  • final forms

  • “begadkepat” letters

The learner is also reading a great many Hebrew words with a considerable degree of fluency.

At this point—the moment the entire series means to prepare—the learner is ready to learn an “Aleph-Bet song” and actually understand what she is learning.

A seventh, final video will introduce the system of matres lectionis, and will also teach an Aleph-Bet song.

[Aleph-Bet Learning Video 6: י, ל, נ, ר was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2011/02/01. Except as noted, it is © 2011 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Fifth Aleph-Bet Learning Video: ז, ס, צ, שׂ, שׁ

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The fifth Biblical Hebrew learning video is available. Beside the sibilants, it introduces the “strong” (or doubling) dagesh.

The sixth video will finish the aleph-bet with י, ל, נ, ר. It will also include the simple shewa (the first video, on the guttural consonants, covered vocal shewa). A follow-up seventh video will explain matres lectionis, and also teach the ordering of the Hebrew consonants with song.

[Fifth Aleph-Bet Learning Video: ז, ס, צ, שׂ, שׁ was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2011/01/31. Except as noted, it is © 2011 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Fourth Aleph-Bet Learning Video

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Okay, the fourth video is up. It includes the letters דּ/ד, ט, תּ/ת, and also summarizes the “weak dagesh.”

This one had room for many more of the “Some Hebrew words” at the end. I also began ordering the words from short to long.

The next one, besides adding the sibilant consonants, will also introduce the “strong dagesh.”

[Fourth Aleph-Bet Learning Video was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2011/01/25. Except as noted, it is © 2011 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Hey, the Teaching Carnival is Back

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The Teaching Carnival had been (once again) defunct for a while, but look: it has been back and thriving since September 2010. The current teaching carnival is 4.05, hosted by Sara Webb-Sunderhaus.

The Teaching Carnival is a carnival of blogs in higher education. Because many of us who blog in biblical studies are also teaching in institutions of higher ed, I would love to see (and try to embody) some more explicit overlap between “Hebrew Bible” and “Higher Education.” The blogging going on out there about teaching and learning with undergrads and with grad students is amazing. Carnivals come and go, but in my experience, the bloggers in higher ed form a stable blogging community characterized by mutual support and penetrating reflection on learning, teaching, and academia.

If you can, try to put down that article on narrative in the ancestral tales, or that Akkadian hymn to Ishtar (just for a while!), and enjoy a visit some of our fellow educators in the Teaching Carnival or in my “Other Academic Blogs” blog roll (right sidebar, below my regular blog roll).

[Hey, the Teaching Carnival is Back was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2011/01/21. Except as noted, it is © 2011 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Third Aleph-Bet Learning Video (גּ/ג, כּ, כ, ק)

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The third video in my Hebrew Aleph-Bet series is up. This series teaches the Aleph-Bet by leading the learner through active use, beginning immediately by pronouncing open syllables with all of the biblical Hebrew inventory of vowels (and composite shewas). Consonants are not learned in order, but according to their place of articulation:

  • א, ה, ח, ע (“pronounced in the throat,” i.e., glottals and pharyngeals);

  • בּ, ב, ו, מ, פּ, פ (“pronounced at the lips,” i.e., labials and modern waw);

  • גּ/ג, כּ, כ, ק (“pronounced at back of hard palate,” i.e., velar and not-careful-uvular);

  • דּ/ד, ט, תּ/ת (“pronounced behind upper teeth,” i.e., dentals except sibilants and sonorant/liquids); also weak dagesh;

  • ז, ס, צ, שׂ, שׁ (“sibilants”); also strong dagesh;

  • י, ל, נ, ר (“sonorant grab-bag,” i.e., all that remains); also simple shewa;

  • use of ה, ו, י as matres lectionis.

Each video concludes with a series of biblical Hebrew words, using only the consonants learned to that point.

Thank you for checking them out, and let me know what suggestions you have for improvement.

[Edit: Here are videos one and two]

[Third Aleph-Bet Learning Video (גּ/ג, כּ, כ, ק) was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2011/01/20. Except as noted, it is © 2011 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Second Aleph-Bet Learning Video

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I have made available the second video in my series on learning the Aleph-Bet through active use. The first video covered א, ה, ח, ע, and all of the vowels. This second video covers בּ, ב, ו, מ, פּ, פ.

I plan to edit them at least once when they are all finished, so please offer any feedback that you think would be helpful. להתראות!

[Second Aleph-Bet Learning Video was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2011/01/19. Except as noted, it is © 2011 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Aleph Bet Learning Video

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Next year, I will be teaching Hebrew using an almost completely immersive approach. Preparing for that, I have begun recording and editing a series called, “A Foundation for Biblical Hebrew.” This series will include:

  • A handful of short videos introducing the Aleph-Bet through usage;

  • Eight or nine short videos each introducing words that can be used in daily life (greetings and pleasantries; coping phrases; classroom words; useful adjectives; adverbs of time; body parts; numerals; colors; seasons and weather);

  • About 350 slides showing photographs or clip art of biblical Hebrew words (nouns, adjectives, verbs) that are very common in the Bible, or that are very useful for daily modern conversation.

Production values will be, er, moderate, but the videos will be freely available on my YouTube channel (“AnummaBrooke”), and the slides—in whatever format I decide to produce them—will be “open access.”

If you are able to take ten minutes to view my efforts, thank you, and I welcome feedback!

[Aleph Bet Learning Video was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2011/01/17. Except as noted, it is © 2011 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Links for SBL10 Workshop Presentation

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“‘To Those Far and Near’: the Case for Community at a Distance.”

The Background:

A Community of Scholarship, Emory’s Candler School of Theology.

Episode CXXVIII of the Endless Thread, Pharyngula.

Losers of Friday Night on Their Computers, Twitter search. [link fixed]

SBL Annual Conference 2010 (#sbl10), Twitter search. [link fixed]

Intro to OT Online Group Paper (concluding summary), Wetpaint.

Dissecting Community: Example from Sociology:

Community, Infed (Informal Education).

The Project:

Bible and Teaching Blogs via feeds, NetVibes.

Collaborative Wiki on the Hendel Affair, Wetpaint.

[Links for SBL10 Workshop Presentation was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2010/11/22. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

"Good Morning, Eager Young Minds."

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This is the first day of the new term. My classes this time around are:

  • “Introduction to the Old Testament”: yes, we are reading backwards again. We’ll also continue with viewing lectures as pre-recorded downloads outside of class. New this term is the Wikipedia assignment, in which students will make a series of course-related edits to relevant Wikipedia articles. Also new is a plan to prepare for in-class discussion with threaded, asynchronous, online discussion between sessions.

  • “Elementary Hebrew 1”: as in recent years, we’ll be starting with about ten hours of oral/aural exercises, using no texts of any kind. I’ve got a small surprise planned for today, if I can manage to walk to a store between classes.

  • “The Old Testament in the New Testament”: a new seminar, beginning in tee minus 150 minutes. The meat and potatoes of the course will be student presentations, with each student presenting a “method” article on some aspect of literary allusion as well as a “content” article on NT allusions to the OT. Something new: all presentations will be offered from a standing position and must have some A/V (multimedia) component. The idea is to raise the energy level up from “somnambulant rap session” to…I don’t know, something where blood continues to flow to brains.

And, yes, each of these meets today! The seminar meets once each week, the Intro course twice, and Hebrew thrice, so Tuesday is the big day of the week this term.

How about you (both profs and students): what’s on the menu for Fall 2010? What’s new, and what’s old?

["Good Morning, Eager Young Minds." was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2010/09/07. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]


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Faculty retreat today and tomorrow, and I don’t yet know whether there will be wireless to be had. If there is, I’ll post a bit.

In the corners of the retreat time and space, I need to continue work on syllabi, mainly the daily/weekly schedules. Just think: right now, the details of the rest of 2010 in the lives of scores of women and men remains a cloud of probabilities, like Schrödinger’s Cat. In a few days, that cloud of probabilities will have been resolved into a determined state, like…Schrödinger’s Cat with the lid up.

[Retreat was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2010/08/30. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Ask a Biblical Scholar Anything

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This is an idea about which I could not be more enthused (hat tip to Pharyngula).[1] Ten biologists collaborate together to answer any questions that a layperson might pose them. The front page provides some relevant caveats; for example, if the question is quite basic, they might gently point a reader to the standard textbooks, rather than be roped into doing someone’s homework for them.

I especially like that the site builds a searchable growing repository of questions already answered. This should be a helpful resource, not only for inquirers, but for the team members to consult when dealing with new questions.

The idea of a similar, “Ask a Biblical Scholar Anything," site has seized my imagination. In my experience, answering questions about the Bible and biblical studies for genuinely curious laypeople is a delight. Part of that delight comes from my sense that only a few people have a resource in their lives to field such questions; when I make new acquaintances, they often have a short list of questions about the Bible that they've waited to unload, or that they've bounced off of others without receiving satisfying responses.

Some desiderata that come to mind are:

  • As with AaBA, there would need to be a fairly large team: at least eight, I think. The good news is, I suspect recruiting new team members wouldn’t be all that hard, such that the team could grow (or shrink) according to traffic. The idea is that nobody should have to spend more time on it than they want to, with a very low minimum expected commitment.

  • Team members should have terminal degrees in biblical studies, or else be candidates in a terminal degree program.

  • The team members would have to have a shared understanding that “biblical studies” is a non-confessional literary and historical enterprise, relying for its claims on the shared public evidence of the biblical texts and such extra-biblical evidence as variant manuscripts, ancient Near Eastern texts, material remains, and so on (rather than on private revelation and confessional dogma). Theologically, it’s about the theology in the texts rather than one’s theology of the Bible. This understanding would need to be communicated on the front page of the site.

  • There would have to be a standard rubric for recognizing and dealing with poor-faith inquiries coming out of the culture wars. This would, at the same time, have to allow for good-faith inquiries coming from those whose frame of reference has been distorted by the culture wars. (In English: What about spamming inquiries from folks like Answers in Genesis? What about well-meaning inquiries from folks whose minds have already been addled by AiG?)

I’m not in any hurry on this—believe me!—and it is the very beginning of the school year, with all its busy-ness. Still, if anyone who meets the second criterion above would be interested, let me know, and we can begin to look into it. If enough scholars were interested that the work load were low, it could be a real service.

BACK TO POST By the way, P.Z. has been having a hell of a time. He won’t be grateful for your prayers, but if you’re in a position to give to Red Cross, donate blood, or otherwise render service to heart patients, he’d be pleased.

[Ask a Biblical Scholar Anything was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2010/08/26. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]