Thinking about Critical Media Literacy

Last week, I had the opportunity to talk with Susi Elkins, a colleague at MSU that I originally met when I visited her class’s digital portfolio presentation a few summers ago. She plans to develop a critical media literacy professional development session for local teachers, and we talked at length about what might happen in such a session. It has been nearly a week since the discussion, but I will try to capture some of the main ideas here.

First, we talked about what teachers want to get out of a three-hour session. From my experience, they want to find something practical that connects to what they already know and do. Many teachers say, “If I can go to a PD session and come out with one good idea…” So, Susi and discussed what makes a good PD session: a timely and relevant topic, hands-on activities, enough theory and background to situate the work without overloading, and leaving with a strong idea of what to do the next day in the classroom.

We then discussed a number of critical media literacy tasks in which she might have teachers engage. Being a producer at WKAR, she has had numerous experiences that help her think about programming in a way that I, and I imagine most ELA teachers, haven’t thought of. The idea of “expertise” — and what makes someone qualified to talk about something — came up, too, and that is something that I deal with all the time. My answer to that question, especially when working with other teachers, is to acknowledge the collective expertise in the room and to then say that we will be working through things together. You do acknowledge your position as an expert on the content, and their position as teachers. 99 times out of 100, that has worked for me as a professional development leader.

Then, we talked about the good stuff: what is critical media literacy and what would she want her participants to take from the session. My understanding of her goal was two-fold: to engage in discussions about the definition and importance of critical media literacy and to work through a sample lesson on critical media literacy in which the teachers would develop a text from some stock footage that she would bring. I thought that both of these goals seemed appropriate and, given the three hours that she would have to deliver the session, quite ambitious! That said, we discussed many activities that she could do like juxtaposing different takes from different sources on the same story, analyzing the messages in advertisements, and discussing how certain facts, statistics, and polls are employed. All of these strategies would be applicable, we felt, to ELA teachers and hopefully to other content area teachers, too (since her audience might include all subject areas).

We then talked about the production aspect. I suggested that she use JumpCut to have teachers develop competing versions of a single commercial or advertisement based off of the same basic media elements. We also talked about the Educational Video Center (although the name escaped me at the time), and the curriculum that they share in the Teaching Youth Media book. We also discussed Hey Kidz! Buy This Book, a guide for tweens about media literacy. I particularly liked that text when I read it had a great list of propaganda techniques with particular examples so as to make it clear to kids what the different techniques were and how they worked. We talked, too, about possibly using AdBusters. I suggest that Susi might have each teacher use the same media elements and adopt a different technique in the video he or she was creating.

All told, this was a great discussion. I was able to share some ideas that I had about critical media literacy and professional development and Susi gave me some ideas for future collaborations and other resources. In particular, she pointed me to Anastasia Goodstein’s work (this site, YPulse, appears to be her professional blog) as well as “Don’t Buy It” from PBS Kids. I mentioned that it would be great if our digital storytelling camp students this summer could visit the WKAR studio, so that might happen, too. All in all, I enjoyed talking with Susi, and I look forward to future collaborations with her.

2 thoughts on “Thinking about Critical Media Literacy”

  1. Troy. A fellow NWP teacher here working over on the eastern part of the country with Kevin. I would like to suggest that Reflection be added to your description of what makes successful PD for teachers. I think it is interwoven into the great collaboration you had with Susi, but I would like to suggest that it’s important enough to highlight as a separate entity. I like to to make this transparent for teachers in all the PD I do with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project. I remind them that so often as teachers we attend great PD, get really good ideas, the foundation to hang them on, but not the time to process these ideas and own them–before we are rushed back into the classroom. Even a short process note at the end of a workshop can do the trick–not unlike what we try to offer students in the classroom. I think that reflection is the key to building independent learners.

    Not sure if you were at the NWP spring meeting, but Patty Stock from the Red Cedar Writing Project gave a great keynote on Teacher Workshop as Research. Your post makes me want to sit down with both these conversations, yours and hers, and think through them a bit more.

    Also, if you’re looking for a young adult novel to go along with these ideas of critical media literacy? If so, you might want to check out So Yesterday by Scott Westerfeld. I’ve found it makes great discussion for secondary learners.

  2. Thanks, Susan.

    Your comment about reflection is well taken. In a recent workshop that we did on digital storytelling, we tried to build in time for reflection on the process, yet due to technical difficulties and an audience that was split 50/50 (half so engaged we couldn’t get them out of their stories, half who had somehow given up on the process), we didn’t add that end. Time for processing was lost due to the structure of the workshop and the ever-approaching end of the day. I know that I need to be more conscious of incorporating reflection into our sessions.

    I wasn’t at the spring meeting, but I know of Patti’s work (and worked with her for a time), so I can understand how her keynote was inspiring.

    Thanks for the book idea, too. I will have to check that out.

    Also, thanks for the comment. I have your blog in my reader now, and I look forward to continuing the conversation.


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