Media Literacy Part 2

Limiting the field?

While I am incredibly pleased to see something so vital and fundamental to modern education being approved by the powers that be, unfortunately the main focus of this seems to be the ‘big bad media’ approach, through which we are all mindless, passive vehicles blindly accepting what the media tells us and that children should be protected from its evil intentions. This is, of course, only part of the story. On the one hand, I am reluctant to follow the line of children being passive sponges which soak up everything they hear and see with no filtering whatsoever, but it is also only the tip of the iceberg. While of course it is massively important that children are educated about how the media has the power to manipulate and alter perceptions, they also need to understand more about the very techniques that are being used to create these. It also seems to assume that the only media that influences children in any real way is adverts. What about the controversy sparked by Rihanna and what it suggests about music videos? How do the gender roles we see in blockbuster films affect our perceptions of society? How has social networking affected the way we interact with each other? There could of course be a much longer list here!

Approaches in the classroom

The possibilities here are endless, and will vary depending on what your subject/keystage/objectives are. We have tried including some sort of topical media story as a starter once a week with Year 9 pupils. Not only did they tell us that they found it interesting, it also allowed us to explore more complex ideas like the ways the press can sensationalise stories (the Japanese earthquake and aftermath at the time) and how the same story can be reported in a very different way by newspapers or news organisations with different agendas. This ended up being a wonderfully interesting digression about politics! The phone hacking scandal gave us a huge opportunity to discuss the press, regulation, the power of Twitter, and a whole host of media literacy topics. In English lessons pupils looked at the way similar messages were used across different media platforms when advertising, while another year group looked at different strands of the media and how the register and tone of communication varied, as well as their impact on society in general. I am running a whole-school group which is trialling different ideas in different subject areas so I will hopefully have some more ideas to report here soon. Some initial thoughts have been to look at how musical tastes can be influenced by the media, tracking the development of a news story across different media types and giving pupils a toolkit for deconstruction of media texts that covers all media types. There is a lot more to be discussed and studied, but for now the main issue is convincing educators that it is a vital part of modern education, no matter what subject you teach. What do you think? Should media literacy be dealt with more transparently in schools? How can we do this? I look forward to your comments.

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I'm a writer, teacher and drummer based in London. Short fiction and reviews are my main staples, along with some dabbling in novel writing.

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