"What you need, Eddie, is another remedial reading class": a semiotic analysis of representations of literacy in popular school film



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Kansas State University


This study examines representations of literacy and literacy pedagogy in films about school. Grounded in research traditions of textual analysis and cultural studies, the present study is a semiotic analysis of critical scenes in a study corpus comprised of key scenes from fifteen school films from the 1930s to present. Films were selected for inclusion in the study corpus based on five criteria: setting of the film in a K-12 school, teacher as a central character of the film, a school film with a serious message, a film that includes at least one literary event, and a film that is available for rent in the United States.
Key scenes (those that embody the film's stance toward literacy and literacy pedagogy) were selected by an inter-rater group of veteran educators and researchers. A semiotic analysis of the texts determined what denotations, connotations, and myths exist in the following:

o Components of literacy

o Expressions of literacy

o Importance of literacy

o Role of the teacher

o Role of the student

o Role of the school

The analysis was conducted through a textual study of the dialogue, basic cinematic techniques, and the semiotic codes of body codes, commodity codes, and behavioral codes found in the critical scenes to identify emerging themes. During the open coding stage, data revealed twelve categories that contributed to the four axial codes of Self, Beyond Self, Critical Connections, and Representations of Literacy. The four axial codes contributed to three different themes that emerged in the representations of literacy in popular school film: internal versus external forces, traditional versus non- traditional pedagogy, and traditional representations of literacy versus new literacies. A grounded theory based upon the research data proposes a symbiotic relationship between educational policy and the portrayal of literacy pedagogy in serious school film. This qualitative study brings to light the potential impact of media and popular culture on education and literacy pedagogy.



education, literacy, film, popular culture, teachers, semiotics

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Doctor of Philosophy


Curriculum and Instruction Programs

Major Professor

F. Todd Goodson