“All of life’s riddles”: Using films as texts in the classroom

Dr. Jim Trier

Dr. Jim Trier

“You know what your problem is, it’s that you haven’t seen enough movies – all of life’s riddles are answered in the movies.” —Steve Martin

Movies? Really?

Movies often represent a reflection of our society. Our thoughts, feelings, successes and struggles are captured in many forms on screen. From musicals to comedies to mysteries to science fiction—and everything between and beyond—films are more than just collections of images. They are powerful texts that can be critically examined. Dr. Jim Trier, Associate Professor and English educator at UNC’s School of Education, understands this power and uses it to expand students’ theoretical horizons.

In his Spring 2013 Critical Social Theory and the Media course, Dr. Trier provides students with a general introduction to the field of cultural studies and explains key intersections between cultural studies and the field of education. One main strand of this course involves studying in-depth concepts and critical social theories that have been central to both fields.

Using films as texts in your classroom

In an article titled Exploring the Concept of ‘Habitus’ with Preservice Teachers Through the Use of Popular School Films (published in Interchange: A Quarterly Review of Education; March 2002), Dr. Trier explains how he introduced complex ideas by having pre-service students read selected print materials and by having them view, analyze and respond in writing to popular school films. His students also analyzed their experiences in classrooms in terms of these complex ideas, drawing connections between theory and practice. English teachers could have their students analyze movie adaptations of books and discuss any differences they see.

Don’t let English teachers have ALL the fun though! Based on Dr. Trier’s work, here are a few ideas for using films as texts in your own classroom:

  1. For history and social studies teachers: have students write an ideological analysis of one or more popular culture texts—films, television programs, music videos, magazine advertisements, television commercials, etc.—based on ideas covered in your curriculum.
  2. For art and music teachers: have students view and analyze documentaries about visual and performing arts and allow them to present their ideas to the class.
  3. For science and math teachers: have students create a media text such as a video collage that critically examines key theoretical concepts.

Of course, any of these ideas can be used in other classrooms as well when an appropriate film is selected and approved by your school leadership. Start answering life’s riddles today!

Researcher bio

Dr. Jim Trier earned his Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin and joined the UNC School of Education faculty in 2001. Dr. Trier is interested in designing critical methods to engage pre-service teachers in theoretical explorations of various important educational issues by considering─simultaneously and in juxtaposition─academic and popular culture texts.