Several of my previous courses have dealt with some or all of these theories/approaches so before I begin to discuss one, I wanted to share something of my teaching experience working with these in my language arts classrooms. When introduced to, and after working with these theories, the majority of my students seem to have one of those "light goes on" moments as they begin to put all these ideas together and make a different kind of sense of a certain situation. It is wonderful to see. One thing I particularly enjoy about these theories and approaches is that my struggling students seem to "get them" more than anything else they work on and/or more than their more traditionally successful classmates. I can only guess why this is but my thought is that my "successful" students are use to being the "norm" the "accepted" and have never had to (or wanted to) look outside the safety of their little world. Many of my struggling students are not in that safe box and so they, on a regular basis, look at things from different perspectives than their classmates - because they are - in many ways - the others themselves. Regardless, I have really enjoyed working with these theories/approaches. My only problem is, some of my less dedicated students want to take the easy way out and simplify everything back into a stereotype and leave it there. This is a problem in class but more often than not other students will point out what they are doing and what they are leaving out in the bigger picture. It is great to see that part but discouraging to see those unwilling to push themselves to greater understanding.
OK - on to the assignment. I agree wholeheartedly with Lisa and others that it is quite difficult to separate these and that they overlap and work together. At the same time - looking at one part of the many will help in clearer understanding of that one, and consequently others as well. I was most interested in the cultural codes. This one is the one I have the least amount of deliberate/active background learning and use with so I wanted to look at it further.
It reminded me a great deal of language barriers for those who move into a country from another. Vocabulary is one thing but the jargon unique to that culture can be very difficult to master and can cause some problems. Living briefly in WIsconsin I had no idea what a student wanted when they asked to go to the bubbler - now this didn't cause any problems but was interesting nonetheless. When reading a book to my nine year old the words "gay little elf" (Prince Caspian) was read and he stopped me and shared that he heard that word at school but what did it really mean. The language teacher in me wanted to blurt out that it was simple matter of connotation Vs. Denotation but my son would not be enlightened. I explained the original meaning - happy. He interjected - "Oh, so when they say "You're gay" they mean you are happy?" and continued, "I can say, "I feel so gay today." then?" Ah...to avoid future problems for my son, as well as to teach him why he should never say this himself, I explained the two cultural meanings - stupid and homosexual. He understood then and sort of chuckled and said, "Yeah, I better not say that huh?" Well, short story long...I see cultural symbols the same way. In your culture that you are comfortable with, you take for granted the meaning behind symbols. Outsiders looking into a unique culture will completely miss the meaning. This can be VERY powerful in media b/c if you are listening and/or viewing and don't get it - you really WANT to get it so you too can be an insider to the specific cultural norms. You then can understand the code AND use it yourself to demonstrate that you "fit into" the culture. THis is especially powerful with adolescents who are constantly trying to "fit in" as they also struggle to find themselves.
Makes me think - wow, advertisers are brilliant. More than that though, makes me think - wow, we really need to show our students how to recognize not only the codes but what media does with the codes and what they are attempting to tell/show their viewers in using the codes.
Maybe I am off here but that is how I see cultural codes coming into play - desire to understand, need to fit in.
How to use this in the classroom? I think removed from literature you could simply work in groups with topics/themes "codification of cool/beauty/outcast" and see what exists in media - you could also combine this with literature.
With literature, before reading a pice (like To Kill a Mockingbird) students could use cultural codes and images to define courage/justice/equality/ignorance/pride and others before they read and then during/after reading they could see how the characters match up/fall short and if they would agree with their original codes. Could be quite interesting.