The 612 Experience

A semester of study stuffed into a single site

 Looking back on it all...

            I find it daunting to try to sum up this semester in English 612. The title of the course listed in the Spring 2008 Class schedule is “Development of Writing Abilities”, yet, this description feels like it only vaguely applies to my experience. To do it justice I would need much more time to even begin to approach what it was like- its hard to explain an animal such as 612; it’s like only having a small selection of words to relate everything about global economics, or why bowling is fun. Yes, we did talk about developing writing abilities, but the issues surrounding writing in general are enough to occupy a lifetime of scholarly reflection. As a class we delved into rhetoric, improvisational theory and practice, genre theory, university “realities”, and technological influences on education, to name just a few items. I do have a better understanding of what it takes to teach writing, but what is more, I have a greater appreciation for the complexity involved in being a good teacher in general. There were many times in class where I felt utterly defeated by the scope of information bearing down upon me when I had only just started to catch the forms beneath the mists of text. Simply put, there was a lot to cover in our semester and not enough time to do it. But if I didn’t fully absorb all the implications of Burke’s Pentad, I did gain a fuller appreciation for the idea of inclusiveness. I found this in terms of what can possibly fall under the moniker of English studies (literature, composition, rhetoric), theory (genre, the pentad, improvisation and invention), and technology (the internet, “gadgets”, teacher/student resources). Hopefully by the end of this I will have explained what this class has come to mean to me in relation to the material covered. 

I was something of an anomaly in the class, I was an outsider taking a masters level English class when I had only been an English student for one semester prior. I felt a little apprehensive about joining a group that had already bonded in previous classes and wondered if I could hack it in these higher levels of academia. To my great relief I found my fellow 612’ers welcoming to my presence and that belonging to the group would have enormous benefits.  I found that the cohesive nature of the class added to my overall success, I gained more from our efforts to understand the material. When readings were assigned, the resulting discourse within the classroom set the vague ideas more firmly in my mind, and quicker than if I had been working by myself with the concepts. I found great worth in Clark’s words when he says,  “…individuals are necessarily interdependent, and… their success is dependent upon their cooperation as they make their separate ways together in the world.” (Clark 46). This would be my first experience with the value of inclusiveness, being a part of a functioning whole, rather than isolated as an individual. There was a sense of community in the class, established through our working, eating, socializing, and being together. Simply put, I was a better student because I was working with other like-minded people, all encompassed within the 612 class. It was “a mode of relationship that enables the transformation of [my]self that follows from a dialectical encounter with others.” (Clark 37). I was part of a bigger picture.

            As stated earlier, I have a better appreciation for inclusiveness and this class served as proof of the benefits that can result when a greater amount of resources are pooled together. Recognizing the value of collaboration in the classroom is extremely important for educators, or future educators in our example. As Bruffee says, “knowledge must be a social artifact.” (92) To be able to establish a salubrious learning atmosphere is key to the advancement of a student’s education. Aided by the use of dialogue (specifically rhetoric), allows for the creation of this “space” in that “…rhetoric is a public matter requiring agreement among people. Indeed, the most fundamental motive for practicing rhetoric is to achieve identification across differences of class, race, gender, nationality, ideology, age, or any of the other numberless ways we have devised to divide ourselves up categorically.” (Ramage 71). Thus, being a part of a classroom community that revolves around discourse can have great benefits, having the ability to introduce and reinforce ideas, in addition to maintaining the conditions necessary to identify with others. I would think this has particular value to someone who is planning to become, or already is, an educator.


            Before I gained my newfound appreciation for the dynamics of the group, I was very apprehensive. The same could be said for the jazz discussions focusing on improvisation and invention at the beginning of the

 semester, yet, in the end I came to understand its relationship with education and inclusiveness. In terms of education, by taking the jazz performance and adding it to the idea of a classroom as an active audience, or sorts, Clark once again has words that speak to me, “The individual performer brings the resource of skill and feeling to a moment of public expression, and in jazz that moment it most powerful when the individual performance is deeply embedded in the performance of a group.” (33). To me this can be a reference to the teacher as a knowledgeable “performer” of the most dynamic sort, in opposition to the prescriptive model, that establishes deeper levels of meaning when “embedded” in a social context. True listeners of Jazz might agree that to hear a proficient musician perform is to be present during a lecture of an abstract variety, in such a way that their music “…represents an engagement with preceding texts so as to ‘create a space’ for [their] own, both enabling a new text and in important ways reshaping our conception of the tradition in which these texts occur.” (Borgo 187). Jazz can be a very apt vehicle for discussing education and its’ issues. Building up the idea of inclusiveness, a creation in jazz, or any creation for that matter, is done in relation to everything else out there. Expanding upon Borgo’s earlier quote, he goes on to say, “Perhaps the most compelling aspect of musical performance is its ability to engage listeners on a variety of levels, from syntax to semantics to social awareness, all embedded within an evolving historical, cultural and individual consciousness.” (186). There is an incredible amount of information encapsulated by a performance, it never stands alone. Just as it took me some time to understand the nature of working with others as transformative, I now see jazz performance differently due to the complex manner it fits in relation to all that surrounds it.

            Further aspects of Jazz that I found interesting in respect to pedagogy were found in its relationship with improvisation and invention. The idea of teaching in an improvisational manner seemed interesting, especially after having taken part in the somewhat “freer form” of Dr. Stacey’s class. Due to

 the nature of change as it applies to education, a teacher must keep abreast to the current developments in addition to having a solid base of general knowledge to fall back upon and reference. Teaching in a improvisational manner enables an educator to address student inquiry in a more productive way, for, “Previously covered knowledge must be connected to ongoing discussions, to reinforce both past and new material; when the discussions are improvisational, with no way of knowing what new material will emerge in discussion, a teacher needs a high level of pedagogicalcontent knowledge (Feiman-Nemser & Buchmann, 1986; Slulman, 1987) to be able to make such connections.” (Sawyer 199) Sawyer goes on to say, “…the best teachers apply immense creativity and profound content knowledge to their jobs, both in advance preparations and from moment to moment while in the classroom.” (Sawyer 12) Like the Jazz musician improvising in a group, there is the base of musical knowledge, yet ultimately it is a group effort which challenges the musician to react to themes, styles, and ideas that are raised during moments within the performance. Although initially confused with the discussion of Jazz within the 612 class there was an “Ah-ha!” point where things clicked into place and made sense on a deeper level where knowledge was layered, rather than isolated in its applicability.

            Certainly, one of the highlights of the semester was the James Peck Master class. Similar to the Jazz focus, the games that we played with Mr. Peck from the Del Arte School “fit” after some reflection as to its relation to

 the other themes in the class. Living in the moment and operating in a creative manner are valuable lessons to be learned by teachers, yet beyond that it can be incredibly fun to do so. The whole experience challenged the way I looked at education, especially while being in a Masters level course. It was a great counterbalance to the theoretical work we had been working on; the master class was somewhere in the middle, we were exploring a moment, having fun, and digging into some substantial material. It was at this point in the semester that I really felt a bond with my classmates as well, “Invention... was not so much an act of turning inward as it was an act of locating oneself socially, a way of participating in the shared desires, values, and meanings already existing in the world.” (Bawarshi 113). I found this Masterclass a truly valuable experience.


Hopefully by now the thoughts concerning the encompassing aspects of the class are becoming clearer. In keeping with these inclusiveness I found genre theory and some of Burke’s ideas particularly interesting. To be able to identify a situation is to understand the most effective ways in which to participate within it, and acquainting students with this idea can help in developing effective writing, “…genres are dynamic discursive formations in which ideology is naturalized and realized in specific social actions, relations, and subjectivities.” (Bawarshi 8). Identifying these “formations” can lead to greater understanding among participants in a genre. Similarly, Burke’s terministic screens can also give insight to participating in a given situation for, “A terministic screen is not simply a vocabulary but a set of relationships among the key terms of the vocabulary that are stable and resistant to manipulation.” (Blakesley 115). Everyday, we as social creatures slip in and out of different situations that have its own set of identifiable features. Both genre theory and terministic screens call attention to those “stable” “formations” that are a world unto themselves, a way of existing. For students this can translate into insights in respect to motivation, as well as a way in which to pursue creative avenues where “set” boundaries are ignored or altered. I can imagine interesting, fun lessons relying on creative interpretations of seemingly static situations.


            When looking towards the future of pedagogical practices there is one issue in particular that stands out in terms of how it can change the way students are taught: the incorporation and use of technology. In respect to composition, the way in which text, sound, and images can be blended will have varying rhetorical effects on an audience. In a practical example of the way this can be used in the classroom, the ideas and application of sound were examined at: “Voice in the Cultural Soundscape ( “When they record a voice over, for example, students develop a closer attentiveness to how their words and sentence structures resonate with their own voices and their chosen audiences, and as a result, produce better texts with more awareness of the emotional impact of tone and style.” As more advanced technology becomes cheaper and more available to the consuming public it will be the teacher’s job to remain relevant to the times. When most cellular phones can take pictures, play music, and conference call, the time will come when traditional classroom approaches will not reflect the nature of life that younger generations are living in. Already there is the need to incorporate more technology that will pull more of outside life into educational practices.

            With respect to 612 and the focus on technological resources for teachers, it was a late development in the class to experiment with voicethread. With the ability to present images or video, the program allows for comments in various forms that pick up on the ideas expressed in Voice in the Cultural Soundscape, and beyond. I was personally impressed with the thoughts behind such an experiment for it was closely related in my mind with the James Peck master class; it was a fun way to contextualize some of the theories. The voicethread link in the “links” section of this page will connect with a class project addressing the question of “What did you learn about teaching this semester?” By working collaboratively with fellow classmates with technology that will increasingly be more and more relevant within classrooms, this experiment was a realization for me of a quote by Kenneth Bruffee, “It was traditional classroom learning that seemed to have left these students unprepared in the first place. What they needed, it seems, was help that was not an extension of but an alternative to traditional classroom teaching.” (86).

As the précis of my 612 experience, I can say that I have gained much in the way of thinking like an educator by appreciating the complex ways in which learning occurs. It is the way tropes develop in Jazz, the way music styles, forms, and ideas can be combined, bringing musicians together in creative moments. It is also the way the theories pull things together, explaining things as a whole, encompassing all aspects of a given situation (genres, the pentad). It is the newest developments in technology that allow for increased levels of interaction, interconnectivity, and perception (webcams, the internet, computers). It is standing as individuals in a circle and then being brought together as a class by the creative wrangling of

James Peck, all of us grunting like monkeys. It is also the gratitude I feel derived from being welcomed into a class of my peers, people I consider educators of the most dynamic kind. If I must say something specific to what I have learned in relation to writing, it is that to be done properly many pieces must be brought to bear. It is recognizing your fellow teachers as team-members, as Thomas Newkirk would advise, and letting the students in on the bigger picture, as Dr. Stacey did by incorporating so many tangents.


Works Cited



 Interested in getting a feel for the MATW program at HSU, I stumbled into Dr. Stacey's 612 class and found out how much I still need to learn...


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