How We Learn

A new approach to general education

A strong general education teaches its students to engage with a variety of disciplinary perspectives while studying their subject of choice. This intention is at the heart of a Torrey Honors experience. Our focus on reading, discussion-based learning, and academic mentorship challenges students to engage deeply with a variety of subjects. We approach interdisciplinary learning as an opportunity to foster independent thought and intentional community, and in our classes students cultivate both innovative critical thinking skills and careful sensitivity to the thoughts and experiences of others. 

A rigorous course load

The rigor of our course load is on par with that of the best universities in the country. Torrey students read roughly one to two books and spend anywhere from three to nine hours in discussion per week. Our students are academically successful, but we place consistent emphasis on finding ways for academic rigor to aid the growth of our students' personal, spiritual, and community-related maturities. The difficulty of our courseload is aimed at more than forcing our students to work hard. Our classes challenge our students to see their course work as an opportunity to express love for both God and neighbor.

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Community-based discussions

Teaching is accomplished in Torrey in three hour discussions (known as "sessions") instead of traditional lectures. In each session, a faculty member (or "tutor") sits in a circle with ten to fifteen students. She or he asks an "opening question," and the class spends three hours exploring the text under the guidance of both the tutor and the opening question. This model challenges our students to learn by interacting with each other instead of textbooks. We believe that the pursuit of learning is best realized in the community we cultivate together, and that we need one another in order to fully see and submit to Christ, the truth.  

Mentors

Each Torrey student receives four years of personalized mentorship from one of our faculty members. In this one-on-one relationship, mentors work collaboratively with their students to strengthen their students' reading, writing, speaking, and thinking skills. The emphasis is always on student growth, and so mentoring is personalized to the needs of each student. As a result, our mentorship model invites our students to seek both academic and personal counsel from their mentors. Students often find that the relationships they form with their mentors last for many years after graduation.

Cohort groups

Every Torrey student is placed in a cohort of sixteen students or fewer. It is in these groups, which are maintained for at least two years, that sessions are facilitated. We strive for small class sizes and consistency in cohort membership to encourage the development of a safe, caring space for challenging conversations to take place. Because they spend hundreds of hours in discussion together, many Torrey students form their closest friendships among the members of their cohort groups.

Growth over grades

Student growth is of primary importance in Torrey, and our evaluation methods emphasize individual progress over the memorization of information. Each semester includes two oral exams, called Mid Rags and Don Rags, in which students discuss the ideas encountered in that semester's readings with their mentors. When mentors evaluate their students in these oral exams, their primary interest is in the individual growth exhibited by each student. Thus, our oral exams are not recitations of information, but opportunities for each student to express their budding intellectual and personal maturities.

Disciplinary diversity

Faculty members lead sessions on a rotating basis, which means professors who specialize in certain disciplines are not restricted to teaching in their areas of expertise. By inviting our faculty members into an interdisciplinary participation in academics we offer our students a model of how to do the same. We also recognize that each student brings something different to our classrooms, and encourage them to carefully articulate their thoughts and experiences for each other. Our interdisciplinary emphasis creates a spirit of exploration and discovery into the classroom, and Torrey discussions quickly become partnerships between students and faculty members in the pursuit of truth. 

Torrey papers

If sessions train our students in oral expression, Torrey papers provide opportunities to improve their written communication skills. Each student is required to write one essay per semester. First, a student proposes a thesis and argument that are evaluated by her mentor. Once the project is approved, the student writes a first draft. After this draft is reviewed by her mentor, the student is asked to edit it again before submitting the completed project. Our writing program's emphasis on revision offers students an opportunity to identify and improve the strengths and weaknessess of their specific writing styles. It culiminates in a forty page senior thesis, a semester-long project based in integrative thought, independent research, and the aid of an advisor from each student's major department.

Paper projects

As students advance in Torrey, many of them develop interests in specific academic and artistic dialogues. Mentors often allow their students to design specialized paper projects as a way to encourage the growth of these interests. Past projects have included Bible memorization, theatrical productions, floral arrangements inspired by poetry, creative writing, Sunday school curricula, and extra-curricular reading projects. Often, the only requirement is the maintenance of a connection with texts from our reading list. We encourage unusual paper projects because it is important for our students to practice creative integration between their personal passions and the goodness, truth, and beauty we seek together in Torrey. 

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