Preparing to Teach with a Media Literacy Focus

In Literacy in a Digital World: Teaching and Learning in the Age of Information, Kathleen Tyner states what at first appears to be a paradox: "media education has more to do with educational reform, than it does with media reform."

What she means is that media literacy is primarily a process of inquiry about media culture - rather than facts or details about media issues or productions that one has to "learn" in order to pass a test. Media literacy is not about replacing Shakespeare with Spielberg. It is rather, according to the Ontario (Canada) Ministry of Education in the 1989 Media Literacy Resource Guide:


  "Education that aims to increase students' understanding and enjoyment of how the media work, how they produce meaning, how they are organized and how they construct reality. . . (It) also aims to provide students with the ability to create media products."


So, in addition to being able to help young people access, analyze and evaluate mediated messages and experiences, media literacy enables students to express and communicate their thoughts and views using all the creative tools available in today's multi-media culture. It also prepares them to participated in an ever-changing, dynamic global media culture.

In counseling potential teachers who come to her for advice about courses to take at the undergraduate or graduate level, Renee Hobbs, EdD, recommends a balanced combination of courses: not just media or journalism classes offered in schools of communication but also educational theory and "methods" courses offered in schools of education. "It doesn't help a teacher to be able to cite theories of persuasion and propaganda if they can't help fifth graders organize a social studies project to investigate whether and how news media coverage can influence presidential elections."

The inquiry approach that best suits the media literacy classroom includes both analytical (deconstruction) skills as well as production (construction) skills. Teachers interested in media literacy need primarily to be skilled in organizing and facilitating student-centered learning. They do not necessarily require extensive knowledge of media theories or professional competency in journalism, video production or film-making.

More than anything else, media education is a "quest for meaning," says Chris Worsnop, one of Canada's media literacy leaders. It is an exploration for both students and teachers. The best preparation is simply an inquiring mind and a willingness to answer a student's question with "I don't know. How could we find out?"

Fundamental skills for being media literate, in CML's experience with implementing numerous programs, are that teachers and students alike need practice in being able to distinguish fact from opinion, and in being able to conduct a "close analysis" or "deep deconstruction" of media messages  These skills provide a sound basis for building the internalized process for critical thinking that media literacy fosters -- a process that gives student tools for filtering information and for lifelong learning.

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