How do we teach media literacy?

The other day I was in the teacher’s lounge. A few teachers’ were having a conversation about a computer-reading program they did not like. The computer program highlighted the words of a book of the student’s choice as they read them on the screen. Most students’ chose books beyond their reading level. The teachers’ were concerned they were not really learning anything. This is a common conversation I encounter among teachers. Today media literacy as becomes a school subject almost in itself. The question remains, “How do we teach it?”

Media literacy goes beyond understanding how something works. In the past, it was enough to understand how the computer worked or how to operate media equipment. Media literacy goes beyond that. It is developing an understanding of how to express ideas, engage learning, retain important information, create and think critically using various forms of media. Is that what many media programs encourage in schools? I thought about what media literacy is. As an educator, I work with teachers who use media all the time. Students frequently use Ipads and go to the computer lab to read from computer reading programs. I work with wonderful teachers. Some are very good with media literacy. For others, it is not their strongest area. According to Renée Hobbs (1998), “The development of long-term, rigorous, and intellectually demanding educational work with classroom teachers is in implementing media literacy in schools.” As educators, how do we build our own media literacy? We cannot teach what we do not have.

Although long-term staff development is needed to build a clearly defined understanding of the concept of media literacy as it relates to classroom practice (Hobbs, 1998). There are some wonderful “bottom up” examples I have seen in schools of media literacy that not only incorporates media. It incorporates learning language arts. This past year at my school all the second graders had to do book reports on animals. Using class time, the students’ researched on line. They were able to design book covers, download pictures for their reports, etc. Other examples, outside of media class, I have seen of media literacy have been video book reports and creating prezi presentations. Remember these are second graders so this is big stuff…

Media literacy is modern learning. But it is still learning. I understand my colleagues concerns. I think that these reading programs can be wonderful if used right. They can be okay if used as another form on entertainment, meaning the student is not really following along. I think that we are selling our kids short though if we think that is all they are capable of doing with media. When we give a student a pencil, we want the student to write something useful. When we give a student a paintbrush, we want that student to create something. When we hand our students technology, what are we asking our students to do with it?

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