Why Group Papers?
Group Papers Prepare Students for Team Ministry. No one person does effective ministry alone. Group papers prepare students for the day-to-day realities of team ministry: working together towards a common goal, taking responsibility for work that is not one’s own, and trusting others to complete tasks that students believe they could do more effectively alone. Group papers allow participants to celebrate their strengths and shore up their weaknesses. For example, it is easier to address the toxic tendency to micromanage others in seminary rather than after.
Group Papers Create Accountability. Students who know that others are directly relying on their work have a greater incentive to work ahead and produce quality work. Each member of the team holds the others accountable, keeping everyone on track.
Group Papers Build Relationships. In his book The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis argues that friendships result from working together towards a common goal. Group papers present students with a concrete chance to grow in fellowship with one another as they prepare for a lifetime of ministry.
Timeline for Group Papers
Step 1: Group Formation (4–6 Weeks Out)
Resist the temptation to pair up with your best friends. Seek instead to build a team with as much diversity as possible. When you include more perspectives in your group, your learning will increase. You will also find yourself better prepared to relate to a variety of people in ministry. A group with one MDiv woman in her 40’s, one MAC man in his 30’s, and one MAET woman in her 60’s is better than a group of three MAC men in their 20’s.
Tip: If you do not know anyone in your class, send an email out through Sakai or ask the professor to have everyone who needs a group stay after class. Even better, approach a stranger! When serving in ministry, you will need to recruit people to work with you whom you do not know well.
Step 2: Facilitation & Delegation (3–5 Weeks Out)
Have your first meeting together as a group, using the following as a draft agenda.
- If the assignment involves choice, decide on a topic or subject.
- Form an outline. Once you have this skeleton, each group member can work on fleshing out a different part.
- Delegate. Decide which sections will be completed by each individual and which sections you will work on as a group. For example, you may choose to write your conclusion collaboratively, with everyone in the room, while one section of the body is written by an individual. Each group will fall on a continuum between dependence and independence
- Determine a deadline for a rough draft. This will prepare you for the step 3.
- Agree on a common collaboration tool. (See tip below)
- Continue to meet as a group as necessary to compare notes and collaborate.
Tip: Once you have formed a group, you can set up an appointment with the Scribe! A writing assistant can help you navigate any of these steps. Remember that all group members must be present during any meeting with the Scribe. Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you cannot find a time when the Scribe is open that works for your group.
Step 3: Evaluation & Revision (1–2 Weeks Out)
Have each group member read the whole document, preferably out loud. Even better, read it out loud together as a group.
Provide constructive feedback. Point out what your fellow group members have done well! See best practices below.
If necessary, delegate an editor to write transitions between sections, eliminate redundancies, and make sure the document flows as one cohesive unit. This may include standardizing usage and grammar between sections.
Repeat this step as many times as necessary.
Step 4: Submit Your Work
- Delegate a group member to turn in your paper.
- Celebrate! Continue to talk to your group members and encourage them as you study together at Covenant Seminary!
Best Practices for Providing Constructive Criticism
As you work on a group paper, you will find yourself both giving and receiving feedback—some positive, some negative. This constructive criticism—helpful evaluation—will improve both the paper and its writers.
Start with the Positive. Make sure your teammates know what they have done well. Don’t just insert an encouraging comment right before a criticism; genuinely praise others’ contributions as early and as often as possible. When you do need to suggest a change you will have already established trust. You may find it helpful to make a list of all the strengths in a paper and then list all the weaknesses. Performing this group exercise allows participants to point out their own flaws.
Seek Permission. “Can I ask you a question about this sentence?” or “Could I suggest a different way to organize this paragraph?” is often more effective than “I am confused by this sentence” or “This makes no sense.” Asking questions about others’ work is often a better way to reach clarity than simply making statements. Also seek permission before making changes to others’ sections in a group document.
Stay with Specifics. State the problem as clearly and specifically as possible. For example, “I don’t see how these two sentences support each other—could you explain their connection to me?” rather than “this paragraph seems scattered.”
Say It in Person. If at all possible, wait until you see someone to provide critical feedback. Tone is hard to read over email or in a group document. Make sure you can express care and respect through your body language and tone by sticking with in-person comments.