Media is around us all the time. We are constantly consuming media even when we don’t realize it. The digital age has brought an ever-present stream of media messages that are nearly impossible to escape. What does this mean for the high school English classroom? After a year of reflecting on this very question, I’ve decided to revamp how I structure my high school ELA classes. Instead of making short stories, novels, poetry, and plays the center focus of my units, I’ve started making media analysis the primary focus with those classic literature elements as supporting readings.
Students generally have a difficult time sorting through media and determining what is real or fake, or what is a paid ad. Take a look at this article from NPR, Students Have ‘Dismaying’ Inability To Tell Fake News From Real, Study Finds. Although the study mentioned is from 2016, it does a good job of highlighting exactly why I want to change how I approach ELA instruction. The information collected in this study reveals that students struggle to differentiate between ads and articles, they simply accept pictures online as fact even if every warning sign is present that the information is suspect, and have a difficult time identifying credible sources and bias. Given the amount of time teens spend online consuming media in various forms, it is critical to address the issues mentioned above in school.
What is Media Literacy?
According to Media Literacy Now (a fantastic resource if you’re considering integrating media literacy into your classroom), media literacy education can be described as teaching “students to apply critical thinking to media messages and to use media to create their own messages.” Media literacy encompasses a wide range of skills including:
- Evaluating the credibility of sources
- Determining bias
- Identifying author’s purpose
- Critically evaluating arguments
- Describing how media influences actions and thoughts
- Creating media responsibly
- Sorting real news from “fake news”
This is why the ELA classroom is the perfect place to integrate media literacy education. As English teachers, we already teach these basic concepts, but with a stronger focus on current media trends, we can apply these concepts to the real media that students are consuming on a daily basis.
Where to Start
Before you jump in, I highly recommend watching Crash Course’s Media Literacy series just as a way to introduce various topics within the field to yourself. I love using Crash Course as a self-learning tool before teaching something new!
What I’ve learned about teaching media literacy in my high school classes this year is that students LOVE these topics. Getting students to connect with what they are studying is key to successful engagement, and it’s nearly impossible for students to not connect to issues related to media.
I like to show my students this short TedEd video which centers around the misconception of the “tongue map,” or the places on the tongue where different tastes are detected. This example illustrates how misinformation can spread and become widely accepted. You can download a short assignment that accompanies this TedEd video below.
This is a short assignment that works very well as an introduction to the concept of misinformation which is a crucial part of media literacy. I have students answer a couple of questions about the tongue before watching the TedEd video to see how many of them are still under the grips of this particular misconception. I like to try and frame every media literacy lesson around my students by pulling them right in to the topic at hand. This short activity asks students whether or not they themselves are subject to the misconception of the tongue map. I try to make everything directly applicable to my individual students.
Pairing Traditional ELA Literature with Media Literacy Lessons
In my ELA media literacy revamp, I have not dropped the typical literature readings that come with high school English classes. Instead, I am using novels, short stories, poetry, etc. to supplement the big ideas of various media literacy lessons. For example, I’ve started using Orwell’s 1984 as a supplemental text for my unit on misinformation. Fahrenheit 451 works really well when exploring issues of censorship and government-controlled media. Dear Martin by Nic Stone is wonderful for exploring the effects of stereotypes.