Media literacy--the ability to recognize, make sense of, and create various forms of media- is non-negotiable in the 21st-century classroom. Just like print literacy, students can (and must) learn to “read” media-based messages, images, cues, and falsehoods. “It’s a challenge, but it’s an important one: teach students how to effectively filter, select, organize, save, and use information gathered from media sources.” (Canva, 2020)
So, how can we support and encourage media literacy at school?
Teach media in context. Every time we incorporate media into our instruction is a chance to teach about it. It doesn’t have to be a time-intensive shift, just a purposeful one. Try inserting a simple explanation about why you chose a certain media sample or platform; or, think aloud about a real-time choice involving responsible online behavior. These simple moves foster a deeper awareness and get students thinking more about the function and use of various media forms.
Teaching prompts: What is this media form? What makes it helpful/harmful in this situation? If I attempted the same task, would I choose this same media format or another one? Why?
Curate media-driven experiences. Media exposure should occur as part of daily classroom instruction, not as a series of isolated events. Reach for different forms of media on a broad range of topics and implement resources that support you and your students in this process. Tools like ClassHook, which offers a vetted library of standards-aligned TV and movie clips, can be used to stimulate critical thinking and group discussion (not to mention, increase engagement and retention). Teachers can even use Pause Prompts to embed questions into vide clips with ClassHook. Through supported media exposure, students can learn to notice important details- the “context clues” of media literacy.
Teaching prompts: What is the context for this media? Why did the creator focus on this subject or image? How is this similar or dissimilar to other media I’ve seen on this topic? How can I connect this information to other media or life experiences?
Invite critical thinking. A key finding from a recent Stanford University study: “Some 82% of middle-schoolers couldn’t distinguish between an ad labeled ‘sponsored content’ and a real news story on a website” (Shellengarger, 2016). Perhaps this doesn’t come as a surprise, considering that “false news spreads faster, farther, and deeper than real news on Twitter.” (Canva, 2019. Vasoughi, etal., 2018) The Stanford study concluded that young people are unprepared to manage the information streams they are bombarded with- and that they need help in acquiring the right tools for the job. We can teach students to evaluate media in the same way we teach other subjects- through explicit instruction partnered with modeling, student practice, and relevant feedback. For example, using ClassHook's Live Discussion feature, teachers can ensure students are engaged in content and check for understanding as needed.
Teaching prompts: What am I viewing? Does it make sense to me? What is the significance of the media platform, language, or images used and how does it help spread this message? What information is being left out? Is this message being presented as fact or opinion? If it’s being presented as fact, where could I check it?
Challenge perspective. Media is influenced by bias, both in how it is created and how it is “read”. Students need plenty of practice in recognizing media bias and thinking about the message behind the message. “As kids evaluate media, they decide whether the messages make sense, why certain information was included, what wasn't included, and what the key ideas are”, writes Kaiser Moffat for the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative. “They learn to use examples to support their opinions. Then they can make up their own minds about the information based on the knowledge they already have.”
Teaching prompts: When I view this media, what thoughts first come to my mind? How do my own experiences shape this view? What is the creator wanting to accomplish with this message? Does this message seem one-sided or swayed by one person/group’s opinion? Could I be looking for information that confirms a bias I already have?
Promote content creation. “It’s never been easier to create and spread a message, and to such a wide audience,” explains Canva, a graphic design platform widely used in U.S. classrooms. With this in mind, it’s critical that young people understand how to be responsible creators of media. Like critical thinking, these skills can be taught through direct instruction. In fact, we can even teach responsible content creation by teaching what it’s not. Try engaging students in producing and sharing (with the class) media that is intentionally false or biased- and then use this opportunity to discuss what they learned as creators or viewers of these messages.
Teaching prompts: What do I want to say and how do I plan to say it? What is my point of view? Can my perspective be challenged? What is the impact of my message? Am I harming or helping?
Young people have more encounters with media than ever before, and from an ever-expanding litany of sources. Teaching students how to evaluate and process this information is central to 21st-century success. “Media literacy empowers us to be critical thinkers, effective communicators, and active citizens,” shares The National Association for Media Literacy. “Being literate in a media age requires critical thinking skills that empower us as we make decisions, whether in the classroom, the living room, the workplace, the boardroom, or the voting booth.”
How will you increase your students’ media literacy this year?