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.