According to the Center for Media Literacy (CML), the most basic definition of media literacy is “the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and create media in a variety of forms.” However in today’s world they have expanded that definition a little further and now define Media Literacy as:
“a 21st century approach to education. It provides a framework to access, analyze, evaluate, create and participate with messages in a variety of forms – from print to video to the Internet. Media literacy builds an understanding of the role of media in society as well as essential skills of inquiry and self-expression necessary for citizens of a democracy.”
If you aren’t sure why I’d be writing a post on this topic, I have 2 questions for you… 1) What bubble have you been living under? and 2) Might I join you there? It seems that wherever you look – news, Facebook, Twitter, websites, etc. – you can never seem to get an accurate answer. One location you might see a story that says something definitely happened, elsewhere they say it might have happened, and in a third place it definitely didn’t happen. Scrolling through my Facebook and Twitter feeds, the people I am friends with or follow have all kinds of different beliefs. Within a couple of minutes of scrolling, I often see links to articles or headlines for articles that directly oppose one another. It’s completely overwhelming! One good thing to come of it? I’m finding more time to read books, and I’m spending less time on other forms of reading.
So, if we feel overwhelmed, what in the world are our students thinking?
As I was thinking about this article, I spent some time looking at various resources for media literacy, and there were tons. One of the resources that I found was on the Center for Media Literacy’s website. They share that the heart of media literacy is informed by inquiry and share a four-step process:
- Access information from a variety of sources.
- Analyze and explore how messages are “constructed” whether through social media, print, verbal, visual, or multi-media.
- Evaluate media’s explicit and implicit messages against one’s own ethical, moral, and/or democratic principles.
- Express or create their own messages using a variety of media tools, digital or not.
So what might a lesson in media literacy look like in one of our classrooms? As a brief overview, it might be something like this:
- Choose an interesting, provocative, or possibly even controversial topic that is in the news – or if this seems too far, pick advertisements for similar products.
- In pairs or teams have students seek out different sources that have shared that story. If this makes you nervous, maybe select the sources in advance and share those sources with the students. Don’t limit them to print media – use videos, radio, podcast, YouTube, etc.
- Have students analyze and evaluate their resource – I’ll share more about this process below.
- Finally, have them use what they have learned to share their own message about the topic.
On the CML website you can download a free resource titled “Literacy for the 21st Century.” One of the things you will find in this document is a list of Key Questions and Core Concepts. While the free resource on the CML site will go into a lot more detail, here are those Key Questions and Core Concepts:
- Who created this message?
- What creative techniques are used to attract my attention?
- How might different people understand this message differently?
- What values, lifestyles and points of view are represented in, or omitted from, this message?
- Why is this message being sent?
- All media messages are constructed.
- Media messages are constructed using a creative language with its own rules.
- Different people experience the same media message differently.
- Media have embedded values and points of view.
- Most media messages are organized to gain profit and/or power.
And why do we need to be thinking about media literacy? With the current political climate, it can be tempting to bury our heads in the sand in terms of talking about issues with students, however our students need to have the 21st century skills to be successful. Media literacy is an important part of those skills. In fact, according to CML, “helping our students to be media literate is an alternative to censoring, boycotting, or blaming ‘the media.’”
Hopefully you also see some connections between this post and our work with Reading Nonfiction by Kylene Beers and Bob Probst. Teaching that questioning stance will help our students be more media literate as well!
What are your thoughts on this topic? Have you been thinking about media literacy for your students? Have you used news articles or topics in your classrooms? Share your thoughts in the comments below.