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Teaching Media Literacy in the Classroom

Instructor: Sara Matherne

Sara is a middle school English teacher, and has a Master's Degree in Teacher Leadership.

Media literacy is an essential skill in the Common Core State Standards as well as in non-Common Core state skills requirements. In this lesson, we'll explore several examples and techniques for effectively teaching media literacy in your classroom.

What Is Media Literacy?

In 1995, a 12-year-old boy named Craig Kielburger read a newspaper article about a boy in Asia who was killed for speaking up against children's rights. Craig spoke with his classmates that day about what he had read, and together they started their own foundation, called Free the Children. This small group of eleven middle school children created a charity that today provides clean water and food, education, and housing to children in over 45 countries as a result of media literacy.

Media literacy is a hot topic in classrooms today and is included in the essential skills lists for every state in the U.S. as well as in the Common Core State Standards. But what is media literacy?

Media literacy is used to teach students to analyze, understand, and express their views through various media in the classroom. The term 'media' includes text, video, television, visual arts, audio, and more. Teaching media literacy is really just providing various viewpoints to your students and helping them understand the differences and challenges presented by each.

For example, a teacher might be teaching students about Dr. Martin Luther King. To increase media literacy, the teacher might use a textbook that describes Dr. King's life and accomplishments and then show a video clip of a speech he made. The next day, the students might read a poem about Dr. King and then in a short writing assignment compare the textbook and the clip to the poem. The following day, students could view art created by people who were a part of the Civil Rights Movement while listening to Bob Dylan's song 'The Times They are a Changin'.' The students could use all of the information that they have explored in class to write a final reflective essay on how Dr. King, the Civil Rights Movement, and popular culture worked together to create the life that we experience today.

Media Literacy Is Cross-Curricular

Media literacy can be used in any classroom, particularly history and English. To teach the effects of media on our society, history classrooms can make great use of historical videos and articles, artwork that portrays various events in history, and cultural responses to past events. English classrooms might use a novel and a movie, comparing the two forms of media and discussing the differences between using your imagination and background knowledge versus seeing a director's view played out in front of your eyes.

Creating Media

One very effective technique for teaching students about media literacy is to have them create their own form of media and present it to the class. There is an abundance of resources found on the Internet to help students express their own viewpoints, such as Fakebook (a mock Facebook page for classroom use) and YouTube. When students are given the chance to create their own media, they are forced to explore their own opinions and find a way to express this to others in a relatable way. Students are becoming more media-savvy by the day, and offering them a choice for expressing their opinions can be very freeing and inspiring to young minds.

Bringing It All Together

The ultimate purpose of media literacy is to allow students to analyze what they see and hear and consider how that affects the message. It is imperative that we teach students how to analyze media as well as help them understand how media may change our perceptions of a particular message. This can be tricky since students often do not have the experience or background knowledge to thoroughly analyze the media they are investigating.

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