Towards Media Literacy: Two Classroom Examples

Renee Hobbs, in Teaching Media Literacy:  Yo Are you Hip to This?, an article published by the Center for Media Literacy, states:

“Media literacy includes reading and writing, speaking and listening, critical viewing, and the ability to make your own messages using a wide range of technologies, including cameras, camcorders, and computers. Media literacy is not a new subject area and it is not just about television: it is literacy for the information age.”

Hobbs contends that most media literacy programs stress the following:

  • Messages are constructed.
  • Messages are representations of the world.
  • Messages have economic and political purposes and contexts.
  • Individuals create meaning in media messages through interpretation.

Hobbs points out that, in a culture that values technology, student-based media production is seen as “cutting edge” teaching and learning, when in fact, often the media literacy component is absent.  

My students recently completed a Movie Maker project in which they chronicled a class field trip to Sensoji Temple, in Asakusa, Tokyo.  Currently, they’ve just begun an introduction to a unit about refugees in which they have to incorporate different types of media to build a mind map around the concept of “courage”.  After having read the article by Hobbs, I carefully reviewed the process and learning outcomes for both of these activities.

What was the real focus of  the Movie Maker project?  Were there important elements of media literacy included within, or was it mainly about learning to use the technology?  The outline of the project is embedded below:

Being reflective practitioners, teachers gather important information during units of study and use that information to make learning opportunities more effective.  This Movie Maker project was a first for me and my team and we documented ideas as we implemented the lessons in order to improve the project for next year.  We came up with a fairly long list of changes.   While we did encourage students to keep their audience in mind and try to generate emotion through the photography, narration, and music, clearly we need to take advantage of the opportunity to emphasize, even more, media literacy into the activity.

The project has so many possibilities.   Next year, rather than just gathering information about the temple itself, students could create a commercial promoting tourism in Asakusa.  Before they begin their own productions, students might carefully examine examples of tourism commercials.  The Media Literacy Clearing House  has published questions that students could consider as they think critically about the examples and while they plan their own commercials.  This would sharpen the focus and purpose of the project, more clearly define the audience, and incorporate important elements of media literacy into the learning.  I’ve include a student example from this year below.

The second example is the introduction to a refugee unit.  It was inspired by a recent professional development experience.  The essential questions behind the learning focus are:

  • What defines a refugee?
  • What are the push/pull factors that influence human migration?

My colleagues and I attended a workshop last February, by Jamie McKenzie, in which he talked about “embracing complexity”.  It was a great discussion which challenged teachers to help students construct their own meaning and understanding of concepts through “delving deep” into research.  Considering this, my team and I put together a series of lessons as an introduction to our refugee unit.  In these lessons, we ask students to critically examine the concept of  “courage” and build their own understanding through their research.  Students are instructed to consider definitions, related words, quotes, song lyrics, poems, photos, and real-life examples of “courage” and record their ideas on a mind map using Inspiration.  Included here are each of the lessons.

For the final activity, we ask students to apply the understandings, which they constructed based on their research, and compare two photos to make a critical decision:  Who is most courageous?  Students must create the story behind each photo through their own interpretation while drawing on their new understandings of courage.  The end product is a short essay in which they defend a thesis statement about courage  using clear examples from their mind map.

Elizabeth Thoman states, “At the heart of media literacy is the principle of inquiry.”  In the face of today’s expanding media, students need skills that will help them navigate through the multitude of messages that inundate their brains on a daily basis.  Guiding students to ask the right questions, create meaning for themselves, and generate their own opinions and values are important steps in the process.


About Jamie

I am currently a middle school Language Arts and Social Studies teacher at The American School in Japan.
This entry was posted in COETAIL, Media Literacy and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Towards Media Literacy: Two Classroom Examples

  1. Frank Baker says:

    Jamie, Thanks for including the link to the questions on my page, The Media Literacy Clearinghouse. You might be interested in this essay about “teaching the movies” which was just published:

    Frank Baker

  2. Ruthful says:

    Jamie, This post was fantastic, multifaceted and well-constructed. Thanks so much for sharing this with us. I like your idea about having the students make a travel commercial next year. That would make for practical and authentic learning. Still, I was impressed with the amazing student example from this year. She integrated images, text, spoken word and music so beautifully. And what perfect diction. 🙂
    It is exciting to see the projects that you are helping your students to create using a variety of technologies.
    – Ruth I.

  3. Jamie says:

    Thanks Ruth, We all enjoyed this project. I asked the students to rate the difficulty level of the assignment on a scale from 1-10. Responses fell between 8-10. I also asked them to rate the assignment in terms of enjoyment. Again, responses fell between 8-10. It’s definitely a keeper and I look forward to making a few changes for next year. Thanks so much for reading the post and for your comment.

  4. Pingback: Visual Lessons Learned | Learning for Life

  5. Fantastic! Love the student example from Sensoji temple! I’m wondering about some of the ideas you had for revision? I love the idea of developing a tourism-based commercial – you can better highlight the audience aspect when it’s so clearly defined. What about having students develop a personal story about their visit, rather than sharing just facts, but bringing in a personal element – or telling a story through their visit? This might also bring in some more personal creativity and individual perspectives too 🙂

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