12 Basic Principles for Incorporating Media Literacy and Critical Thinking into Any Curriculum
By Cyndy Scheibe and Faith Rogow
Media litearcay is the ability to access, analyze, critically evaluate, and produce communication in a variety of forms. At Project Look Sharp we define "media" very broadly to incllude books, newspapers, magazines, radio television, movies, videos, billboards, recorded music, video games, and the Internet.
Media literacy education began in the 1970s with an emphasis on protection (from the so-called "evil effects" of media) and discrimination (between so-called "good" and "bad" media content); most media literacy materials and initiatives were aimed at parents. Since then, there has been a shift toward an emphasis on media literacy as empowerment (stressing critical thinking and production skills); more materials are now aimed at schools and teachers. The empowerment model emphasizes the political, social, and economic implications of media messages and stresses the importance of using media effectively and wisely.
This information is designed for teachers and support staff at all grade levels who are interested in using media literacy in their classroom curricula. The principles are based on teh concept of weaving media literacy training into the curriculum whenever and wherever possible throughout the school year. We feel that this approach is much more effective than simply treating media literacy as a special, isolated topic and may better meet the needs of teachers who are already overwhelmed with teh demands of a full curriculum.
The following 12 principles are general guidelines for thinking about ways to integrate media literacy into any curricular area. For each principle, media literacy can be incorporated through the use and analysis of existing media content (as illustration material, material to critique, etc.) and/or through media production (creating new messages using print, audio, video or digital media). The activities listed for each principle are meant as examples only. Following the same general ideas, you may think of additional activities that meet the needs of your class or curricular area. We encourage you to share your ideas and experiences with us as you build media literacy into your classroom curriculum.
- Use media to practice general observation, critical thinking, analysis, perspective-taking, and production skills by encouraging students to think critically about information presented in any media message (including the information from their textbooks or the popular media they use at home) pointing out ways in which media messages might be interpreted differently by people from different backgrounds or groups fostering observation and general memory skills by asking students to look for specific things when they view videos or read print material, and then asking them about those things afterwards allowing students to go beyond the curricular issue at hand to identify and comment on incidental aspects of a media message (e.g., the characteristics of the people presenting the material, the techniques used to attract attention, and the ways in which advertising and product messages intrude into other types of media content) fostering creative skills through encouraging the production of media messages about a topic.
- Use media to stimulate interest in a new topic by showing an exciting or familiar video clip or reading a short book or story (fiction or nonfiction) about the topic having students work in small groups to read, analyze, and discuss a controversial magazine, newspaper, or online article about the topic using a short video, magazine illustration, or brief article to stimulate discussion, encouraging students to express what they already know or their opinion about a topic showing students how to search for information about the topic on the Internet encouraging students to plan and design a media product (montage of pictures, a video, a newspaper or magazine report) about the topic for other students to view.
- Identify ways in which students may be already familiar with a topic through media by giving examples from popular media content to illustrate what students might already know about a topic or things they might be familiar with that relate to the topic drawing links between the way a topic is typically treated academically and how it might be used in popular media (e.g., written poetry vs. song lyrics or advertising jingles) clarifying the way specific terminology related to the topic might be used differently in an academic sense than it might be in the popular culture building on the intuitive knowledge students have gained from media about the content area (e.g., about story and character development, problem solving, terminology, rhyming).
- Use media as a standard pedagogical tool by providing information about the topic through a variety of different media sources (books, newspaper/magazine articles, instructional videos, websites), comparing the usefulness of different media, and addressing conflicting information that may come from different sources using media to convey information more richly and effectively than would be possible with a standard classroom discussion or demonstration encouraging students to follow (and write about) current events reported in the media about a topic using media content as assigned homework (reading material, searching for information about a topic in newspapers or magazines, etc.) encouraging students to share information in class that they have gotten from various media sources (inside or outside of class).
- Identify erroneous beliefs about a topic fostered by media content by analyzing media content that misrepresents a topic or presents false or misleading information about a topic identifying misleading ways in which data are presented in the media (citing statistics incorrectly, drawing false conclusions from data, presenting unclear figures and tables, etc.) identifying false beliefs held by students about a topic that may have come from fictional media content encouraging students to create their own false or misleading media messages (PSAs, commercials, digitally manipulated print advertisements, etc.) and then having them present the message and "debunk" it for the other students in the class.
- Develop an awareness of issues of credibility and bias in the media by teaching how to recognize the source (speaker) of a media message and the purpose of producing the message, and how that might influence the objective nature of information clarifying the distinction between fiction and nonfiction in different types of media reporting on a specific topic identifying ways to decide what are credible sources about this topic within different types of media (e.g., books, magazines/journals, the Internet) emphasizing the importance of getting information from many different sources and how to give weight to different pieces of information (e.g., if the information is based on research or other evidence vs. personal opinion) producing media messages about this topic, emphasizing ways in which bias can be introduced through the words and tone used to present the topic, sources of information used, what is selected to be presented and what is left out, etc. exploring how media messages reflect the identity of the creator or presenter of the message, and how the same message might come across differently if it were presented or created by someone of a different background, age, race, gender, etc.
- Compare the ways different media present information about a topic by contrasting ways in which information about a topic might be presented in a documentary, a TV news report, a newspaper article, an advertisement, or an educational children's program about a specific topic (what is emphasized, what is left out, what techniques are used to present the information, etc.) comparing the amount of time/space devoted to a topic in different media from the same time period (and discussing why the difference occurs) analyzing different conclusions that might be drawn by people exposed to information presented in one medium vs. another discussing the strengths of different media to best get across a particular message producing reports about the topic using different forms of media, or manipulating the same information and visuals to convey different messages.
- Analyze the effect that specific media have had on a particular issue or topic historically and/or across different cultures by discussing the role that the media have played (if any) in the history of this topic (i.e., ways in which the media have changed the nature of this issue or topic) discussing how people of earlier generations might have learned about this topic, what sources of information were available to them compared to sources available to us now, and what difference that would make in people's lives exploring the level of knowledge about a topic in different cultures and how that knowledge is influenced by the media available identifying media forms that are dominant or available in other cultures that may be seldom used in the United States, and vice versa.
- Use media to build and practice specific curricular skills by using print media (books, newspapers, magazines) to practice reading and comprehension skills substituting excerpts from existing media content for standard story problems or practice examples (e.g., to practice math skills, to correct grammar or spelling, to identify adjectives or adverbs) using media production to practice specific skills (e.g., grammar, poetry, math used in timing and proportions of media messages, scientific principles involved in calculating size, distance, and lighting) preparing examples for practicing skills that include media literacy information (e.g., comparing the lengths of news stories about different topics, computing the Nielsen ratings for different shows, analyzing the ways in which two products are described in advertisements) fostering computer skills by encouraging students to search for information on the Internet, develop multimedia projects, and use computers to present information about a topic.
- Use media to express students' opinions and illustrate their understanding of the world by encouraging students to analyze media messages for distortions and bias issues of particular interest to them (e.g., messages about sex and gender, messages promoting harmful behaviors, race and age distortions in the "media world" compared to the real world, and advertising targeted to people their age) encouraging students to express their feelings and knowledge through media messages that they produce encouraging thoughtful critiques of various media productions promoting discussion of different points of view about popular media articles and productions.
- Use media as an assessment tool by having students summarize their knowledge about a topic in a final report that employs other forms of media beyond the standard written report (e.g., computer- illustrated reports, audio or video productions, photographic illustrations) encouraging students to work in groups to illustrate their understanding of a topic by creating mock media productions (e.g., newspapers, advertisements, news reports, live or videotaped skits) presenting, at the end of a unit, a media message (e.g., from a newspaper, magazine, or video) that contains false information about the topic and seeing if students can identify what is correct and what is incorrect in the message.
- Use media to connect students to the community and work toward positive change by finding collaborative possibilities for projects with community institutions (museums, libraries, galleries) that may involve students analyzing or creating media messages having students contact community service agencies related to the curricular area and offer their assistance with production (e.g., photography, video, design and layout, or computer skills) to help with agency projects encouraging older students to teach production techniques or media literacy principles to younger students in the same schoolusing media forums (e.g., local community access TV, newspapers, and magazines) to communicate messages or share research projects about the topic.