Teaching Practices

Below are a few examples of assignments and activities I have used in my classes. The first and third examples relate to my efforts to help students develop good writing skills as well as a deep understanding of the course content. The second example describes an exercise I developed to encourage students to apply their learning to new case studies while also critically analyzing theories we had examined in class.

Women and Religion: Thesis Paper Series
The central assignments for my spring 2013 Women and Religion course were a series of short “thesis papers” leading up to a longer final essay. The short papers are an opportunity for students to practice and hone good writing skills, and I responded to each paper with detailed hand-written and typed feedback that tracked the progress of individual’s writing skills across assignment series. The first two thesis papers were guided by writing prompts that connected to particular content and analytical pieces of the course. The third thesis paper topic was chosen by students, and after receiving my feedback, those papers were expanded for the final paper assignment. Here are the prompts and logistics related to this assignment series: Thesis Paper Plan – Women & Religion – Spring 2013

Problem of God: Theories of Religion Application Exercise and Essay
In this course, we dedicated one month to learning how important thinkers (E.B. Tylor & J.G. Frazer, Freud, Durkheim, Marx, and Geertz) have interpreted the concept of “religion.” To help students grasp the complexities as well as the shortcomings of these theories, I devised an exercise that had them apply the thinkers’ theories to interesting contemporary case studies. To begin, I divided the students into small groups and assigned each group a short article on a particular topic (e.g., Westboro Baptist Church, the Creation Museum in Petersburg, KY, the funeral of Reverend Moon, the Flying Spaghetti Monster movement, the American presidential inauguration, etc.). I then told the groups to imagine that one of our thinkers (pre-determined by me) time traveled to an event related to their group’s topic. I asked the groups to consider what the thinker would see, how he would interpret the event according to his theory of religion, and what he might find that would challenge his theory. After spending most of the class period actively working to address these questions, the groups reported out to the whole class, sharing their findings with their peers.

The exercise helped students grasp the strengths and weaknesses of the theories we had studied and apply what they had learned in the course to the world around them. They ultimately learned through their own analyses that no single theory can account fully for the all the complexities associated with the concept of religion. An additional benefit of this activity was that it gave students an opportunity to practice a skill I would eventually ask them to demonstrate in an essay question on the midterm exam.

Problem of God: In-class Writing Workshop Exercises
1. Before asking my students to begin their final papers, I incorporated an activity into the class that asked students to analyze the introductory paragraphs from three essays written by former Problem of God students in a previous semester. I did not tell them which paragraph I thought was the best or precisely how they should write their own paragraphs. Instead, I distributed copies of all three samples, and as a class, we discussed the strengths and weaknesses of each. This was an opportunity for me to present the students with models of good (and not-so-good) writing and to lead them through the critique process with the aim of encouraging them to become better critical readers and writers. Here are the paragraphs I brought in to ground the exercise in real, relatable texts: Essay Introduction Analysis Exercise – Problem of God – Fall 2012

2. In my fall 2012 Problem of God course, I implemented a peer-review exercise.  My goal was to allow students to get feedback on their essay drafts while also fostering the development of editing skills, which I hoped would prompt a reflective feedback cycle that would give students insight into their own writing processes and skills. The outcomes of this exercise are detailed on the Student Feedback page of this portfolio.