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Dr. Michael Newheart

Dr. Michael Newheart
January 2008

A Professor of New Testament Language and Literature, Dr. Michael Newheart teaches exegesis, the critical analysis of Biblical passages.  As he explains to his students at Howard University’s School of Divinity, the writer of an exegesis presents the literary context of a passage, identifies its structure, and then analyzes it section by section, paying attention to every theme, phrase, and word.  That’s the same sort of attention Dr. Newheart gives to the preparation of his syllabi.  Line by line, Dr. Newheart spells out his expectations in his syllabi so that students know how to succeed.  As a result, he won CETLA’s 2007 Syllabus Award in the Humanities category. (Click here to see the criteria for CETLA’s Syllabus Awards.)

Dr. Newheart’s award-winning syllabus prepares students for BSNT-202 Introduction to the New Testament II.  After stating the objectives of the course, Dr. Newheart describes the course requirements in detail:  an exegetical paper (in three drafts), a project (with a preliminary proposal), reading assignments, use of the Blackboard course management system, and class attendance.  He also reiterates University policies regarding disabilities, cheating, and plagiarism as well as his own policies regarding late papers and incomplete grades. 

However, what sets Dr. Newheart’s syllabus apart from many others is his “Guide for Writing a New Testament Exegetical Paper” and his rubrics for scoring successive drafts.  Dr. Newheart not only provides step-by-step instructions, but also offers examples for each step, recommends sources, and poses questions for self-evaluation.  In addition, he appends an outline of the paper and a rubric for scoring each draft.  Why so much detail?  “The ability to do biblical exegesis is one of the most valuable skills to be learned in divinity school,” he explains.  He tells his students, “At the end of this process…you will have followed the same steps which New Testament scholars follow as they do exegesis.  Furthermore, you will have gained the skills necessary for preaching and teaching the New Testament in your church, as well as for further study in the New Testament.”

While Dr. Newheart emphasizes the need for critical analysis, he also welcomes a creative response.  A poet and artist, he invites students, in his syllabus, to submit as their term project “a play, dramatic monologue, series of songs, poems, or paintings” that reflect a “deep reading” of the Bible.  A Quaker and advocate of meditation, he also lists “silence” and “body movement” as classroom activities.

Dr. Helen BondHow have students responded to Dr. Newheart’s syllabus and activities?  In their written course evaluations, students have praised Dr. Newheart’s creativity, organization, and explicitness.  When asked what they liked about the course, some wrote, “The detail given in the syllabus regarding the exegetical paper,” “The breakdown of how to exegete the scripture,” and “Exegetical paper explanation.”  Some commented, “Good organization” and” The class was very well structured.”   Still others appreciated the “thorough rubrics for assignments” or the “artistic teaching style.” 

On an email questionnaire in 2007, Dr. Newheart credited CETLA’s ID01 Designing Syllabi workshop with helping him improve his syllabi.  However, Dr. Newheart deserves the credit because of his dedication to his students’ learning.  “I would love to leave a legacy of critical analysis, creative imagination and compassionate action,” he says.  Judging from his syllabus and student evaluations, he already has.



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