Academic journal article Journal of Developmental Education

Ideas in Practice: Theoretical Bases for Using Movies in Developmental Coursework

Academic journal article Journal of Developmental Education

Ideas in Practice: Theoretical Bases for Using Movies in Developmental Coursework

Article excerpt

Many developmental educators have shown movies in reading or writing classes, at the least to stimulate conversation and encourage close observation and at the most to enhance knowledge of organizational patterns. Most developmental educators cannot support their use of movies using literacy theory. There has not been much written connecting films and the reading/writing process. Additionally, the work that has been done is scattered throughout the fields of reading and writing, primarily coming from practitioners working in K-12. Of course, to be honest, much of literacy theory is based on research done for K-12. And K-12 strategics, especially adolescent level, frequently work well when adapted for adults. I make this statement based upon my own years of experience as a reading specialist and the experience of my colleagues in our Adult Literacy/Developmental Reading and Writing graduate program, as well as from examining such seminal, landmark texts as Theoretical Models and Processes of Reading (Unrau & Ruddell, 2004), which includes research spanning early childhood to adulthood. For example, Goodman (1994) has worked with children whereas Beach (1992) usually does research with adults.

This article will put forth theoretical reasons for using movies in developmental coursework. I will draw from literacy theory for children, adolescents, second- language students, and college students. The discussion revolves around four basic theoretical principles.

1. Recontextualization is the process by which spectators of popular culture "own" outside-experienced images and ideas for themselves. In other words, a movie viewer identifies with characters and empathizes with situations.

2. Structure refers to specific organizational patterns. Developmental reading should emphasize text structure as one method of helping readers understand texts. Movies are narratives of a sort.

3. Intertextuality, simply put, means a juxtaposition of texts. This term is related to reader-response theory and concerns the connection readers and writers make between their own experiences, the text they are currently reading, and any of the texts they've read before encountering the current text.

4. Critical literacy refers to the purposes of literacy beyond literal reading and writing. Texts are as socially constructed as roles in our society. Closely observing and talking about texts or movies can make readers or viewers aware of the power structures from which their language has come.

Addressing any of these four principles could help a developmental student become a better reader and/or writer. Owning the popular culture-which bombards all dailyand making use of its images to develop literacy could most definitely be positive. Identifying structure (as revealed from working with text structure) is valuable for readers/writers, giving them a road map to various genres. Intertextuality is thought by many, including Beach (1992) and Bloome (2002), to enhance the literacy process by promoting connections between texts, thus delivering information through more than one avenue of knowing. Critical literacy appeals to the affective interests of the diverse population found in developmental classes, while at the same time promotes social change.

Theoretical Links to Movie Applications

Why use movies as a literacy tool? A better question would be why not? Movies are diverting, fun, and part of popular culture, surely a good means by which to help outsiders like developmental students feel more at ease in the academic environment.


Popular culture and media are important influences in our lives. Experts like Ann Haas Dyson have been investigating the importance of media in literacy development. Dyson (2000) believes students should be allowed to reframe or recontextualize their day-to-day experiences, including personal connections with media, to develop "a sense of competency and agency" (p. …

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