Activities for media literacy begin as early as elementary school, but what do they look like by the time students enter high school? By this time, learners have, no doubt, engaged in source evaluation, conducted research, and know that there is such a thing as a “credible source.”
Yet, when students are left to their own devices (no pun intended), they hit up the first page of Google search, pulling whatever HubSpot, Psych Central, or other article has the catchiest title and call it a day.
Media literacy is about students becoming critical writers and thinkers. Yes, that means being able to evaluate “fake news,” a buzzword of recent years. That’s our default as teachers. We create a couple of lessons around it, but is that enough?
I don’t think so. We are failing our students if we narrowly define what it means to be media literate.
You see, activities for media literacy are about building awareness of signs and signifiers, messages in the world around us.
As students grow in awareness and we expose them to a variety of different perspectives, they learn to ask questions and be curious about how these messages influence them in order to learn more about themselves and also about society.
There is not necessarily a “right answer,” and students should be free to explore how they find meaning as a result of their values and experiences.
Students who are media literate use their knowledge to engage in written and verbal analysis, creating arguments and researching more effectively, in order to demonstrate inquiry and new understanding.
They can also employ rhetoric in order to impact others, sending their own messages into the world with authenticity and purpose.
5 Components to Teaching Media Literacy
The five components of media literacy are as follows: access, analyze, evaluate, create, and act. These components represent the ideal learning path, from encountering different texts to student creation of texts.
The first component, access, should infuse curriculum with real-world resources that students are likely to encounter not just in the classroom, but also in the world outside the classroom, including news headlines and social media posts.
The second component, analysis, involves having students look at the writing and speaking moves that authors use to send messages. This might involve looking at word choice in a news article to discuss connotations and bias or considering why an author may have structured his or her ideas in a certain way.
The third component, evaluation, requires students to be aware of who they are and how, in their interaction with various forms of media, they create meaning that is influenced by their own beliefs and affiliations. Examples of evaluation may include having students determine whether a social media post or news article is “real” or “fake” news, or asking students to discuss not only the claim, but also the counterclaim or complexity of the issue represented in a text.
The fourth and fifth components, creation and action, go hand-in-hand. Students may create a podcast episode or write a blog post, take on a persona as a TED talk speaker or write to a local government official advocating for change.
The key here is that students aren’t just passively consuming and evaluating texts.
Media literacy becomes purposeful when students take the final step to add their own voice into the cultural conversation.
Skills in Media Literacy
In order to access a variety of real-world resources, students need an open-mind and curiosity, as well as reading and decoding skills to understand the texts they encounter. For analysis of these texts, students must have the ability to make inferences and think about the deeper meaning(s) of words and details.
As students evaluate media texts, they must engage in metacognition and synthesize details to come to a conclusion about a text.
Finally, to create something new as a result of their exploration, students need publication skills, including the use of media and writing / speaking for publication which includes all of the sub-skills that go along with these umbrella areas, for example idea development and organization.
Why is media literacy important to students?
Activities for media literacy start at an early age as students learn to recognize brand-based messages, rhetorical appeals, and think about the “why” in addition to the “what.”
As students progress to middle school and high school, they can engage in more complex tasks such as identifying claims and transforming texts to not only show awareness of the author’s original message and purpose, but also to create something new that changes that message.
It is important to teach about media literacy because students are so immersed in a culture where their attention is being bought at a price.
Learners need to be able to take-in information, but also to make sense of that information, serving as gatekeepers for themselves. Let’s face it…all messages don’t have equal importance or credibility.
Re-Focus for Best Practice Teaching
We cannot simply assume that students know how to interpret a text.
There needs to be more explicit teaching of how to decode messages in texts rather than having students figure it out for themselves and calling it “student-led learning.”
Having students by examining how their own experiences, values, beliefs, etc. shape their own biases. This helps them to then ask questions about an author’s bias.
Next, students need to be taught about diction, syntax, organization – tools that authors use which may also reveal purpose and bias. They should also consider the larger context for publication, whether that be for monetary gain or influence.
Our role as teachers is to model inquiry and teach students to ask better questions.
Questioning increases students’ ability to critically respond to texts, knowing that there isn’t one right answer. Students even learn to generate their own questions – holla, QFT method!
In my classroom, we engage in a lot of textual analysis activities for media literacy, but it doesn’t stop there.
I am continually working to build-in more opportunities for students to go beyond analysis to transform and create a new product and also to explain their thinking in doing so.
- Try discussing the importance of participatory politics and online engagement in relation to issues that hold personal significance for students, providing opportunities for students to share their voices in a format that makes sense to them.
- Provide students with a variety of opportunities to discuss controversial issues and “hot topics,” and also to evaluate sources not in isolation, but in relation to a larger goal of self-expression about a topic or issue.
3+ Activities to Transform Learning
- Annotate visual texts with rhetorical analysis notes via Screencastify
- Create a documentary video response
- Put together a mash-up of different and divergent social media posts
- Dialogue via Flipgrid about a hot topic
- Google-chat in response to a text
- Transform a text to fit a different purpose or audience, to a different medium, etc.
- Write a slam poem to reveal the complexity of an issue
- Curate a Wakelet board with texts for cultural criticism and use these texts to generate inquiry questions
- Write a “they say, I say” blog post as a way to enter the cultural conversation in response to a text
- Try hexagonal thinking as a retrieval and connection strategy
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