Voices in Education

Prioritize Media Literacy with Above the Noise

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It might seem odd to write a love letter to a specific form of media, but here it is. As a twenty-year veteran educator who has managed to thrive through many an educational trend, utilizing the Above the Noise videos and the KQED Learn platform with students has been a mainstay in providing students with tools that have transformed consumers into creators and teachers into modernizers.

Media Literacy Week, which began October 26, is a good time re-think and re-prioritize how we integrate media and media analysis in everything we do.

Developing 21st Century Skills for Future Success 

In a year where the world is literally on fire with injustice and unrest left and right, to have a resource that grounds students in the tenets of Deeper Learning and what we have loved to call “21st Century Skills” since the 20th century, is not only a powerful tool but a gift. Our future grads will need to master challenging academic content and develop skills in communication, collaboration, critical thinking and problem solving - and learn how to apply them in complex situations. By exploring these videos and platforms, we are helping our students embrace these key skills to help shape their futures.  

As a 1:1 iPad School for the last four years, we have shifted our priorities toward Media Literacy in new and innovative ways – a process that takes time, staff investment and change. Significant professional development has been devoted to transforming the minds of educators who lead the charge for students every day but can be resistant to innovation when the status quo has worked for so long.

Deconstructing arguments to build new perspectives - and gain awareness

While instructors have adjusted to the trends they see in their clientele throughout the years, using video to supplement in classrooms and integrating technology at the substitution level of SAMR still remains common practice. SAMR, or Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, and Redefinition, was originally created to share a common language across disciplines as teachers incorporate technology into the curriculum. 

Implementing the Above the Noise videos in our Humanities department has been like reading a great hook at the beginning of a timeless novel. Access came easily as students immediately engaged with host Myles Bess, a compelling and relatable presenter. Wide-ranging content that has shifted to meet the needs of young audiences over the last few years allows students who are not yet developmentally astute at analysis, to examine both sides of an issue with unbiased research and begin the process of deconstructing arguments in order to build new perspectives. 

The video texts are long enough to explicate crucial, significant issues for middle and high schoolers, and short enough to promote attentiveness and provoke a mindful awareness of local and global issues. For and against arguments on any issue promote trust as they are evenly presented and grounded in academic research. There are just enough graphics to capture audience attention without the visual overload that so many are used to via gaming. Student voices are integrated so learners see and hear peers using academic language, growing analytical processes and making evaluative conclusions that are open-ended enough for young people to begin framing opinions for themselves, creating organic responses and acting on newly acquired knowledge and insights gained.

Becoming responsible digital citizens 

Our recent deep dive into Election 2020 while distance learning has been particularly revelatory. In the first round of investigations, I selected four key issues for students to explore as a launching unit. They were asked to select the two they were most interested in, then summarize those issues for an authentic audience, add their own research and in coalescing the two, write model posts for the KQED Learn Discussions platform. For many students this was the first time they have utilized a stage outside of the physical classroom to analyze, evaluate and create text that would access a broader audience beyond the school building. They were so excited to engage in a new and uncharted opportunity for argumentation, that acting as responsible digital citizens online became a natural outgrowth. Nine weeks into a school year like no other, responding to important issues presented through the Above the Noise videos gave students an opportunity to move outside our new box of distance learning. Some students are feeling trapped in this moment of a learning experience they have never before engaged in. Participating in discussions with students across the nation who are in similar situations has produced an empathy that takes far longer to happen in the physical classroom – an effect none of us expected.

After posting their first discussion and responding to at least two other students outside our community, learners will begin the process of creating media on an Election 2020 issue of their own choosing. Their options include, but are not limited to, podcasting, video creation, Infographics and website building.

Exploring equity through videos and new learning platforms

We left our school building on Friday March 13, 2020, thinking we would be back to normal and altogether in a couple of weeks. Twenty-eight days later I knew that more of the same would not meet the dramatically changed needs of my students. In an inexplicable moment in history that none of us has ever experienced, the ‘old normal’ would not suffice. All choice had been taken away from my students. They could not go to school in person, laugh or cry with their friends, negotiate with teachers or leave their homes. Suddenly an iPad or laptop was their only access to learning and each other. Abandoning where we were expected to be in the curriculum, we focused on learning and processing new ideas and content starting with the Above the Noise videos and ending with website creation to demonstrate their learning. Because of the new learning platform and the modalities that it naturally promoted, students were able to learn what equity actually looks like, sounds like and feels like.

Renewed opportunities to explore, creative, discover and share 

As educators, we spend our lives in service of other people’s children. We work weekends, evenings and yes, summers to better our own practice, research new ways of teaching and learning and create a high quality experience for every child. Each year, they’re all new to us. It is a never-ending cycle of selflessness, love and sacrifice. Through this pandemic and seven months away from being with my students in person, Myles Bess is my co-teacher. Above the Noise videos are my curriculum and KQED Learn is my lifeline. Together, we have formed a new union – one in which students have access to absorbing, provocative and mindful ideas that are grounded in equity and allow young minds to ‘Explore, Create, Discover,’ and share their thinking so others can hear their voices and agency has become what they take back from a year of imprisonment and turmoil.

Uncharted territories open doors to new ways of thinking

While every month of this year has felt like we were standing on the precipice of the next great disaster, we still have some of 2020 to go, but I know many teachers who no longer feel like the first memorable line of Andy Weir’s The Martian.

"Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral of the Galaxy lies a small, unregarded yellow sun." (The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.) We will get through this together and – knowing that we have the resources and human capital of KQED Learn and Myles by our side – gives that little yellow sun a very big name. Hope.

​Belinda Shillingburg

​Belinda Shillingburg 8th Grade English Teacher Twitter: @britlitlover91

Belinda Shillingburg is an 8th grade English teacher and a School Site Instructional Leader in San Francisco, California. She comes to the Bay Area having taught in Online, Hybrid and Brick-and-Mortar school environments from Elementary to University. She is currently pursuing PBS Media Literacy Educator Certification and is passionate about helping students ground themselves in the District's Graduate Profile as digitally literate and critical readers, writers and thinkers. She enjoys keeping up with EdTech innovations and best practices in teaching and learning via Twitter @britlitlover91.

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