(I wrote this as an assignment for one of my communications classes back in 2005. I altered some of the terminology to update some of the terms–ie Facebook and Instagram replaced MySpace in my original draft. I actually have a very rough draft of a school resource titled Writing 4 Life, a hands-on workbook I developed based on the concepts of this assignment. I would like to think someone else in the world already tackled this idea, but just in case they have not, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to go public with it and see what sort of response I get.)
…children have been learning the language of our mass media culture since infancy, growing up on a steady diet of visual, aural, and print media messages. The media is now competing with family and school to become their master story teller and teacher. (Goodman. 2003)
We must accept the influence media has on our youth. As Steven Goodman observed on the first day of his son’s kindergarten class, the influence begins far before they can read or write. He came to this conclusion after watching the teacher explain to her new students how they already knew how to read. She did this by showing them the different signs associated with McDonalds, Burger King and Toys ‘R’ Us as the five and six-year-olds bellowed the business names without hesitation (Goodman. 2003.) It is no surprise that new media is saturating the twenty-first century. Media literacy; the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and create media in a variety of forms (Research Skills. 2004.) is more vital than ever to the classroom structure. It may also be no surprise that new technologies influenced our youth more than ever.
So how do we use this influence to better our classrooms and literacy in all genres?What does new media mean to the teachers versus the students? What resources are available to connect teachers and students with new media? In addition, what does the future hold regarding media literacy in the classroom as a means of improving literacy rates and motivating students through relevant assignments and applications? If the focus becomes conquering the differences in the perspective between students and teachers; then we will start seeing steady progress toward the integration of media, improved literacy, and success in the classroom.
The first and vital step is for teachers to lay aside their negative ideas of media and to ask the students to share what they do with technology outside of the classroom. Once teachers recognize those activities that engage reading and writing with both words and images, they can use those same activities in the classroom (Williams. 2005). An interactive and multi-disciplinary approach to media literacy may be the best solution. Using relative means to incorporating what students know outside of the classroom to what they need to know in the classroom will achieve both education standards and a joy of learning for the students.
Efforts to incorporate media education into the classroom are substantial, yet the public school system seems to be the last to recognize the importance of media literacy. A huge wall is standing between the relationship with youth’s technologically savvy hobbies and their success in basic subjects such as reading and writing. Perhaps the answer lies in understanding the different perceptions of the purpose of social media to youth versus their teachers and parents. In my preliminary research, I assumed I would find a connection between dropping literacy rates and the use of media devices among youth. What came as a huge surprise was that my very assumption might be the driving source of the results. Eliminating the negative association between video games, chat rooms, texting, and blogging with the lack of literacy success by students could be the key to unlocking the gap between student/teacher communications.
In an extremely small and focused group of elementary and middle school teachers, six out of seven of them felt that new technologies, such as video games, are the cause of dropping literacy rates in the classroom (King. 2006). Could this be a reflection of teacher perceptions across America? Even if it only reflects those opinions of teachers in moderately populated lower class neighborhoods–such as those from the survey—the huge implications of media literacy in these classrooms is possibly blocked based on this negative association. Bronwyn Williams points out a possible symptom of this scenario in his article, Leading Double Lives: Literacy technology in and out of school:
At home, they are deeply immersed in reading and writing in their chat rooms, blogs, websites, role-playing games, and email. Then they come to school and are expected to master genres and discourses that are disconnected from their vernacular literacy practices…It requires some students to move from thinking of themselves as competent and confident writers and readers to thinking of themselves as struggling students confronting literacies that don’t seem relevant to their lives. (p.702-706. May 2005)
Our youth are writing on their own. They are expressing themselves among peers and even strangers. Yet, the lack of connection between their leisurely activities and their success in school studies is blatantly obvious. Williams confirms this detachment from school literacy and a youth’s world with a practical example of the different perceptions of the meaning of typing text onto a computer screen. He, and probably numerous adults, associates the typing of an email with handwriting a brief letter. On the contrary, students see email as more “analogous to a print form of speech than it is a short letter (Williams. 2005).” How do we change the differences between youth’s perception in the 21st century that equates literacy in media and information communication technologies in ways that exceed what many of their classroom teachers know or even consider worth knowing (Alvermann. 2004)?
Could it be that the anonymity they experience with various new media is what boosts their confidence and encourages them to excel beyond traditional classroom expectations?
This catapulted further research into how advocates of media literacy are connecting teachers and students with new media. One conclusion states, “the primary shift brought about by computers is that audio, video, and image-based materials are no longer primarily used for delivery of information-they are now viable media for communications and exchange (CAST. 1999-2000.)” Future awareness regarding new media and improving the literacy rates among our youth may be as simple as accepting social media devices as beneficial two-way communication tools.
There are major strides among some schools to incorporate media into the classroom. Depending on the need of the students, instructions via tools such as computer software are used as either a means of delivery or inquiry. It is important to recognize the success of these programs so that other schools may be encouraged to know that integrating technology can enhance and encourage communications, self-esteem, and ultimately the literacy abilities among students. For example, New York’s James Madison High School’s computer lab individually delivers content mastery and interaction with software that result in a final and specific evaluation of each student’s performance. On the other side of town, Richmond Academy, a private school, uses their computer lab as an inquiry system. Students in groups must interact with each other in solving open-ended activities that include the computer software as a catalyst in order to promote students interaction, debates, and materials other than those found online (such as museums) in order to solve a problem. (Brunner. Tally. 1999)
In the end, none of these efforts will make a difference if the students themselves do not find the activities relevant to their lives. Other than interesting computer software, what may be more crucial than any other factor is how students use what they have learned in the classroom with real world situations. This is where the importance of a separate, media literacy program needs to be implemented as a required course among middle and high school students. There must be a constant connection made between what they are learning and why it matters. In a survey conducted by the Media Awareness Network among Canadian students, fourth through eleventh graders rated the “ability to tell whether or not information they found on the internet was true,” as one of the main topics they would like to learn about in school. (“Young Canadians.” 2005)
Schlessinger Media has developed a video series designed to encourage research skills among students. In an extremely relevant manner, their DVD on Media Literacy describes the many ways in which students can apply critical thinking skills to real life situations. The video starts by explaining that, “Media is created to send us messages that tell us what to think, how to feel, and what to buy without even realizing it….” (Research Skills. 2004) In a few simple sentences, the host approaches the students in a way that not only brings immediate relevance to the subject of media literacy by using the words “feel”, and “buy”, but he also concludes his intro with something they can apply to their lives now. Once they understand the implications of media literacy as receivers, they too can “create” media of their own. All of this is cleverly wrapped up, not in a flat textbook, but in a high-quality DVD presentation flashing images of familiar media icons narrated by a down to earth Host, who represents a big brother rather than a schoolteacher or parent.
The definition of literacy has changed in recent years. Literacy is no longer a simple issue of the input and output of the written word. Taking in and responding to the vast variety of media sources requires critical thinking skills far beyond the interpretation of a Robert Frost poem. From stimulating television commercials conveying acceptable pop culture behavior to discerning the amount of information to reveal on Facebook or Instagram, the ability to process messages in media is becoming a required skill in the 21st century. Dozens of resources exist to promote media literacy. A look and what those resources offer shows an accurate perspective of the many advocates of media literacy. The implementation of required media literacy programs can change the trend of non-motivated students.
Students are more concerned with what their peers think than their test scores. Media savvy curriculum with relevant assignments that promote effective communication skills may be the answer for those students and teachers who are frustrated with the current education system. Implementing the resources into the required curriculum may present the biggest problem. However, the research suggests the first step is to change the misconceptions of the negative influence of media on literacy. Once teachers understand how they can incorporate relevancy in what students enjoy doing at home with what they do in the classroom, a new age of interwoven literacy and media education will have only begun.
Imagine a classroom where the English teacher announces the class will spend the hour in required to engage through instant messaging each other in response after listening to an audio selection of a literary text. Imagine the wide-eyed surprise of each student while they wonder what the catch is. “The catch,” the teacher smiles coyly, “is that you cannot reveal information that will expose your identity. I have assigned each student a screen name. The assignment is pass or fail. Please find the tablet marked with your student ID number and wait for my signal to begin.” Thus, the new age of media literacy integrated classrooms thrusts forward almost as fast as the students scrambling toward the stack of tablets on the table.
Alvermann, Donna B. Media, information communication technologies, and Youth Literacies: A Culture Studies Perspective. American Behavioral Scientist. Sept. 2004. Vol 48, Issue 1. p 78-83, 6 p.
Brunner, Cornelia PhD. Tally, William. 1999. The New Media Literacy Handbook. An Educator’s Guide to Bringing New Media into the Classroom. Anchor Books: New York.
CAST. 1999-2000. As the technologies of communications and information change, the requirements for literacy also change. Requirements for Literacy Change. Retrieved online April 5, 2006 from http://dev.cast.org/castweb/udl/Requirementsforliteracychange.148.cfm
Goodman, Steven. 2003. Teaching Youth Media. A Critical Guide to Literacy, Video Production, and Social Change. New York: Teachers College Press.
King, Roanne. 2006. Caldwell School District Elementary and Middle School Teacher Survey on Media and Classroom Literacy.
Media Awareness Network. 2005. Young Canadians in a Wired World Phase II Student Survey. November 20005. Retrieved online, April 7, 2006 from www.media-awareness.ca/english/research/YCWW/phaseII/students.cfm
Schlessinger Media. 2004. Research Skills: Media Literacy. DVD.
Williams, B. 2005. Leading Double Lives: Literacy and Technology in and out of School. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 48(8), 702-706. Retrieved Wednesday, April 5, 2006 from ERIC database.