By Renee Hobbs
It’s something every principal understands: when teachers have low expectations of their students, they may rely on lecturing, explanation and recitation, over-controlling classroom interaction, and summarizing texts on behalf of students. But when teachers develop and implement curriculum ideas that are predicated on students as active, engaged, and independent learners, great things can happen in the classroom.
Teachers who are already using news media, popular culture, and digital media to support academic achievement in language arts, science, history, and the arts are discovering the power of connecting students’ digital learning skills to fundamental practices in analysis, evaluation, composition, reflection, and social action. Fun and engaging digital and media literacy programs stretch students’ critical thinking skills while developing practical skills in using the computer and the Internet.
Tapping Into Popular Culture
One effective engagement strategy taps into student knowledge and interest in mass media, popular culture, and digital media and uses critical questions to activate students’ expression and reasoning skills. I recently talked with Mr. Sam Reed, a teacher at Beeber Middle School in Philadelphia, PA, about his efforts to explore elements of popular culture in his middle school English class. He is considering using The iCarly Project, which I created as a way to demonstrate media literacy instructional practices for secondary education.
The iCarly Project curriculum consists of seven instructional practices for using iCarly, Nickelodeon’s popular television program about teens who create their own Web show, as a means to promote reading, writing, critical thinking, and expressive communication skills to support digital learning among students in grades 7–12.
|Foundational Skills of Digital and Media Literacy Support the Subject Areas
Students who are digitally and media literate can:
- Use technology tools
- Gather relevant information
- Comprehend what they read, view and listen to
- Ask good questions
- Gain knowledge and apply it to solve problems
- Contextualize information to understand its value and significance
- Express themselves in multiple modes
- Reach authentic audiences
- Manipulate content and form in relation to purpose and audience
- Think from multiple perspectives
- Predict consequences and use hypothetical reasoning
- Talk about power and responsibility in the practice of communication
- Connect the classroom to the world
- Promote leadership and collaboration
- Develop integrity and accountability
Using short excerpts from the show, which is one of the top-viewed programs among children, learners analyze the personalities of the various characters on the program, including Carly and her sidekick Sam. They create a chart to categorize and identify the use of five different types of humor in the show: slapstick, visual/prop humor, insults, word play, and running gags. In the process, students learn how to recognize key rhetorical features of narrative comedy and organize information. Reed intends to use this as a prewriting activity to help students deepen the quality of their thinking about the comedy genre. “It will help students develop original ideas for writing a television review,” he explained.
In another of the activities in the iCarly Project, students use Google to develop their online search and evaluation skills by gathering and evaluating information about the program’s history, its production process, and the show’s fans. They conduct an interview with siblings and family members to discover various positive and negative attitudes about the show. Then they compare and contrast programs from two different time periods that feature a team of school-age media creators and write a detailed plan for an innovative video game using some of the program’s familiar characters and situations.
In the process, students think and act as researchers, exploring a familiar text of everyday life by using inquiry questions. By extending their own knowledge, students discover the power that comes from taking charge of their own learning.
What makes this media literacy program effective? Students appreciate the feeling of mastery that comes from displaying their competence. Getting students to talk is key. Research evidence shows the power of student conversation as a stimulus that supports both reading and writing competencies. In addition, connecting to others and participating in dialogue to share ideas helps young people develop a sense of social responsibility. It’s a creative way to activate deep engagement and promote real-world digital media skills.
Across the Curriculum
At the Arts Academy at Benjamin Rush High School in Philadelphia, PA, principal Jessica Brown aims to help all her faculty members find ways to incorporate digital and media literacy in every grade and across all the subject areas. Reading and discussing the book Digital and Media Literacy: Connecting Culture to Classroom (Corwin/Sage, 2011) helps teachers develop a shared discourse and high expectations about how to use mass media; popular culture; and digital media texts, tools, and technologies to support student learning.
One of Brown’s teachers has already discovered the value of media literacy to support students’ intellectual development. Concerned about the lack of public knowledge about science, chemistry teacher Paul Wagenhoffer incorporates both current events news about science and multimedia production activities into his course.
One project, titled “Periodic Propaganda,” helps students deepen their understanding of the uses of elements in daily life while increasing their awareness of the strategies and techniques of persuasion. Assigned to study a single element on the periodic table, students develop a way to “sell” the element by using image composition tools, such as Photoshop, to create a propaganda poster. Each student also presents a two-minute persuasive pitch and composes a written report to share key facts about his or her element.
Other science teachers have encouraged their students to make a short film documenting a simple lab experiment. While strengthening their understanding of the scientific process, students learn a key concept of media literacy: all messages are constructed. An experiment depicted on screen is, in fact, constructed by editing together sequences from several angles—and from several different experiments! That’s why today, every teachers needs to be a media composition teacher. The power of multimedia authorship offers students of all ages a transformative learning experience that supports deep, authentic learning across the disciplines.
Renee Hobbs (email@example.com) is a professor of communication at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA, where she founded the Media Education Lab. Her latest book is Digital and Media Literacy: Connecting Culture and Classroom, copyright Corwin/Sage 2011.