Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

The 400 Blows as Cinematic Literacy Narrative

Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

The 400 Blows as Cinematic Literacy Narrative

Article excerpt


In this article, I will discuss a multiphase project that I designed to engage a group of secondary English preservice teachers in a process of reconceptualizing the initial problematic views of literacy that they held upon entering the Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program. The sequential activities of the project (listed below) involved the preservice teachers in acquiring a more complex understanding of literacy and literacy practices. At the center of this project was the idea of literacy narratives. To set up my discussion about the project, I will first explain what a literacy narrative is and then I will outline the specific activities that comprised the project.

In their influential article "Reading Literacy Narratives," Eldred and Mortensen (1992) define literacy narratives as stories "that foreground issues of language acquisition and literacy.... Literacy narratives sometimes include explicit images of schooling and teaching," and "they include texts that both challenge and affirm scripted ideas about literacy" (p. 513). Eldred and Mortensen also state, "When we read for literacy narratives, we study how the text constructs a character's ongoing, social process of language acquisition" and "we focus on the battle over language that is foregrounded in the text" (pp. 512, 529). But what kinds of texts can be read as examples of literacy narratives? The specific text that Eldred and Mortensen analyze in detail as a literacy narrative is Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion.

Another kind of text that can be taken up as a literacy narrative is the short story. For example, in her article "Narratives of Socialization: Literacy in the Short Story," Eldred (1991) analyzes "My Kinsman, Major Molineaux" by Nathaniel Hawthorne, "Barn Burning" by William Faulkner, and "The Lesson" by Toni Cade Bambara as literacy narratives that dramatize "the collision between competing discourse communities, their language conventions, and their inherent social logics" (p. 689). Along with plays and short stories, autobiographical texts can be read for the literacy narratives that they construct, as Mary Soliday (1994) shows in her article "Translating Self and Differences through Literacy Narratives." Soliday explains that as part of a basic writing course, she involves her students in reading a variety of literacy narratives, including Amy Tan's (1991) essay "My Mother's English," Gloria Naylor's (1991) essay "The Meaning of a Word," Richard Rodriguez's (1982) book Hunger of Memory, as well as others (Gilyard, 1991; Hoffman, 1989; Hoggart, 1957; Lu, 1987).

Novels can also be read as literacy narratives, as Clark and Medina (2000) explain in their article "How Reading and Writing Literacy Narratives Affect Preservice Teachers' Understandings of Literacy, Pedagogy, and Multiculturalism." As part of a project whose purpose is concisely encapsulated in their title, Clark and Medina engaged preservice teachers in reading as literacy narratives the novels Push by Sapphire (1997), Wild Meat and the Bully Burgers by Lois-Ann Yamanaka (1997), and Rivethead by Ben Hamper (as well as the autobiographical works Always Running La Vida Loca by Luis Rodriguez, 1993; "Mother Tongue" by Amy Tan, 1991; and The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong-Kingston, 1985).

The above examples illustrate that plays, short stories, autobiographical accounts, and novels can be read for the literacy narratives that they construct. What these kinds of texts have in common is that they are all print texts. In the rest of this article I will discuss how films can be interpreted as "cinematic literacy narratives"--films such as The 400 Blows, The Corn Is Green, Dead Poets Society, Educating Rita, Higher Learning, The Paper Chase, and many more.

In the project I designed, Francois Truffaut's classic film The 400 Blows (1959) was analyzed as a cinematic literacy narrative. As mentioned, the context of the project is that of an MAT program. …

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