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learning.now: at the crossroads of Internet culture & education with host Andy Carvin

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November092007

Students Weigh in on Media Literacy

One of the best things about having a blog is participating in the conversation taking place in the comment threads. And this week has been a particular treat, as a group of students in Georgia has been duking it out over the need for teaching media literacy. Their comments offer tantalizing insight on how students perceive what they’re being taught, their own media consumption and their role as media producers.

The vast majority of comments posted to this blog come from teachers, which is no surprise, of course. I generally get a small trickle of comments from students. Much of the time, unfortunately, it’s obvious when a comment comes from a student, based on the tone and spelling mistakes. I seem to hit a nerve whenever I write about the use of mobile phones on campus or cyberbullying. Those posts will often get a stream of student-generated comments, and on some occasions, I’ve had to close the comment threads because of inappropriate content.

Earlier this week, though, I began noticing a series of comments coming from what appeared to be students on a post I wrote this spring about an interview I conducted with former CBS News anchor Dan Rather about media literacy and other issues. Rather discussed the importance of incorporating media literacy into the curriculum, but didn’t go into a huge amount of detail on how to do it. The students, it seemed, were interested in discussing the merits of incorporating media literacy into the curriculum.

Soon this trickle of comments became a torrent. In about 48 hours, more than 40 new comments had been posted to the blog. In some cases, the comments were one-offs, but others were clearly a conversation between the students. Apparently, they had been assigned my blog entry as a reading assignment for their high school English class, and they were now using the comment thread as a way of critiquing Rather’s ideas and evaluating their own perspectives on media literacy.

The first thing I noticed about the discussion thread was that there was no consensus among the students. Some students, like Paris, felt that teaching media literacy should be an extension of teaching technology literacy:

I think that putting media classes in our schools is a really good idea. They have Computer Application classes to show us how to use the computer but I think it needs to go deeper than that. It is a proven fact that students of all ages are affected by the media, so if the teachers are going to show us students how to use the internet or search web blogs then they should also tell us the good and bad side of the what they are teaching us about. I think that people in general would know if a blog was true or “fake” if they were aware of certain informantion.

Some students, like Michael, acknowledged that media literacy is more than just a matter of learning how to consume media, but also the skills to produce media responsibly and effectively:

I think the question lies in both teaching media literacy and becoming literate to the media. Children need to able to create true media stories as well as opinionated ones. This tool is necessary for many assignments that students might have such as research papers. Being able to tell the true from the opinionated is also very necessary during the average student’s curriculum.

Others were skeptical about media literacy curriculum, particularly if it taught as a separate class. “If schools can’t ensure that their students are performing on par, then how is adding another class an advisable solution?” writes a student named Orayne. “[A] greater deal of emphasis must be placed on education in core areas to ensure paltry results in the school system are a thing of the past.”

One student, Chaney, took a more nuanced approach about integrating media literacy into existing curricula:

Being able to properly analyze and interpret today’s media (no matter what the medium) is impotant, but do we really need a seperate class that just specifically teaches that one skill? To me, such a skill should be combined already in social studies and literature classes. Maybe students aren’t realizing it, but a lot of teachers already incorporate critical thinking into subjects when they ask you, “What does this text mean?” or “What can you learn from what you just saw?” I guess some people just aren’t naturally learning how to interpret what they see in the right way or in the most appropriate way and that is what is causing this isssue. So, should learning how to interpret media be a subject all its own? I don’t think so because it’s already being incorporated in the classes we already have. It’s more work crammed into an already rushed curriculum.

Some students remained incredulous, though at times they confused media literacy with technology literacy:

As a matter of fact, there is no problem with media literacy. Teenagers today can figure out how to do almost anything with some technology. For example, when a teen gets a new phone, what is the first thing that they do? I know for a fact that they immediately start to press buttons. Eventually they will figure out how to use the phone on their own, without the manual. If there were to be a media literacy class in the schools, it would be treated just like the cell phone. They would start doing anything and eventually figure out what to do on their own, without the manual.

“Even if you tried to prevent kids from making false statements on the internet, kids will find some way to avoid it, and will continue writing false news,” added another student named Widly. “Incorporating media literacy in school will not change the ideas of students. After the class is over, the student will go home typing false statements on blogs, forgetting everything that they have learned.”

Students like Stephen discussed their own media literacy and how it influences the way they consume content:

I use the media mainly for projects, but sometimes I decide to just watch t.v to try to find the under-lining message in a show. From that point on I decide whether it is beneficial to me or not. Although there are certain shows where the “nonsense” meter maxes out, unfortunately, I still watch it.

In several cases, the debate focused on the appropriate time at which media literacy lesson plans should be embraced. Some, like Vrixton, took the position that elementary school is the ideal time to get students thinking about the issue, while recognizing the importance of age-appropriate lesson plans:

Mr. Rather is quite right in saying that the three Rs take precedence, and I believe that it would be better if in elementary school (4th grade and up) media literacy were taught in a way as to meld it into the Rs. In elementary school, students are far more likely to listen than when they’re thrust into middle school and are more concerned with impressing people. As with most things, it’s better to learn this as a child. Although they may not grasp it, it would certainly be taken in steps. You most definitely would NOT ask a 4th grader to identify ethos, pathos, and logos.

In contrast, Dorothy felt middle school made more sense:

Since most (if not all) school age students are affected by the media either directly or indirectly, every school’s curriculum should include lessons on media literacy. To me, middle school would be the best starting point because that is when the influence from the media tends to grow the most in students. If Media Literacy education begins from the 5th or 6th grade, and throughout high school, students can strengthen their critical thinking skills, which are necessary for success in middle school, high school, college, and certain real-life situations.

For Caleb, though, earlier is better:

Schools should begin at an early age to teach children of the valididty of what some bloggers are rambling about, and the genuine research of a scientist, or college student. I have to disagree with Mr. Rather about America’s media literacy ,as a whole, being a developed skill. Some Americans can hardly tell the difference between a mindless blog argument or a helpful source like these here PBS articles. Thus, I believe that at the earliest age possible, children should be taught that not everything that they will hear, or come across will be truthful.

It’s been a fascinating discussion, and the comments continue to come in. I think the last word, though, should go to a student named Steven:

As I go to my different high school classes I ask myself, are my educators committed. A lot of my educators do not have a passion for teaching. They strictly teach us the curriculum, nothing else. The need for media literacy is growing and I need to be educated about it. Some of my more accomplished teachers not only teach me about science and math, they teach me about life. It is these educators that will take time out of their packed curriculum schedule to teach me about things like media literacy.

I wish all of my blog posts got comments that were this interesting. :-) -andy

Filed under : Blogging, Media Literacy

Responses

I haven’t read the original post and the comments, but from what I see it is interesting that nobody mentions anything about the media and technology literacy of the teachers. I don’t really know, but i do wonder if there are qualified teachers to teach media literacy (especially provided the last comment you cited).

Reality check for all learners, students and teachers alike is that we can not longer address literacy as a discreet mode of cognition. It is not, nor ever has been strictly 3R’s. As Howard Gardner so aptly described in his groundbreaking book “Frames of Mind”, all learners gain meaning from the stimuli around them in many ways. Some of us are kinesthetic (movement/physically) wired, others visual/spatial, others language oriented, others numeracy inclined. Literacy is a modality of expression that comes from the seat of reason, the mind not the brain. The current buzzword in progressive ed circles, “media literacy”, is largely misunderstood and misrepresented to include only new or emerging techy tools and methods of information delivery…cell phones, wifi, blogs etc. Media literacy as one respondent correctly observed should be incorporated into all disciplines. All are core. Yes that includes phys ed., art music, consumer and family science, etc. We are whole people who need exposure to all means of expression. All are equally valid. Media literacy is simply the means of facilitating earnest inquiry of information from all media and being able to make informed, critical choices about what are factual or ficticious messages. Those media messages can range from cave paintings to satelite photos. Separating truth from lies and deception really. There is a moral side to this as well. Suffice it to say that the media choices we make can have far more than individual implications on our worldview. As we are finding almost overnight, what we expose our minds to can perversely or wholistically affect who we are as humankind. Media literacy is an emerging field of study which should be universally exercised in all teaching, at all levels of human development.
At it’s root is the big question…”why are we here?”

Dima, I agree that most “older” teachers are not nearly as savvy on a computer as they should be, but as Brian Merrill explained teachers should prioritize improving a student’s ability to “separate truth from lies and deception” regardless of how the information is presented.

I’d have to agree with Chaney’s comments relating to “transfer”. Transfer has to be the primary issue teachers face when they teach and students learn, i.e. how well (if at all) do students use new knowledge in novel settings?

Wonderful article & love the comment bits. Please do not stop here with the media literacy dialog! Is there another thread started somewhere that I can point my students to?
Very early youth media literacy education is a plus, but it’s not too late for anyone to learn the concepts! There are orgs dedicated to media literacy professional development for teachers. And even PBS’s Clifford (the big red dog) episodes with the basics of media literacy for preschoolers!

Most importantly, we must prove the benefits of teaching media literacy and get it integrated in curricula around the country. This study is a start:
http://www.justthink.org/about/meal-release

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