The context: What must be – or realistically can be – covered in an introductory Bible course? A colleague and I who team taught “Introduction to Christian Scriptures” decided to empower students to choose what they wanted to learn each Friday. “Friday Free-For-All” was a bit of a misnomer as the content was prompted by work the students completed earlier in the week, but we liked the alliteration.
The pedagogical purpose: The main pedagogical purpose was to encourage students to identify what they were interested in learning. A secondary purpose was to give the students a routine weekly pattern, separating by days and assignments the “so what?” questions about the Bible from the “what” information presented earlier in the week.
Description of the strategy: We covered one canonical unit each week: Monday introduced the historical background, literary structure, and theological themes. On Wednesdays students read and analyzed a smaller pericope we had chosen from within the larger canonical unit. There were sixty students in the class; in groups of ten, they read one of six texts and prepared observations on that text. Towards the end of class on Wednesday, we asked students to identify questions or concerns that arose from what they had heard earlier in the week. On Friday, we discussed those. For example, in the unit on the Pentateuch, ten students were assigned Exodus 34. On Wednesday, they discussed that text first with one another, and then with the rest of the class. When they wondered about God's punishing future generations for their parents' sins (Exodus 34:7), we asked them to read and reflect on Jeremiah 31:27ff and Ezekiel 18 where God explains that God will no longer do that, for Friday. That assignment led to a discussion on Friday on the nature of the Bible and how we read it (such as, do books that come later in the canon answer questions that arise from earlier ones?), and implications of God changing the way God deals with people (for example, does God change?).
Why it is effective: These Friday Free-For-Alls enabled students to play a role in selecting what they wanted to learn. As instructors, we still had control over the information the students were given on Monday and Wednesday, but Friday's homework was student driven. In some ways, designing the course this way was more work, especially on Wednesdays, when we had to quickly develop and disseminate homework for Fridays. Still, by waiting until we heard from the students what they were struggling with, or interested in, we were encouraged that our selections were tailored to the real students in the class.