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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Media Smarts: Kids Learn How to Navigate the Multimedia World

Teachers are discovering the value of imparting media-literacy skills, from critical analysis of news programs, commercials, and films to basic design and video-production techniques. More to this story.
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Narrator: The average American young person spends more than six and a half hours in front of some sort of screen each day. Surfing the web, watching TV, and playing games.

Teacher: Okay, when you have a novel--

Narrator: Yet, most schools treat the written word as the only means of communication worthy of study, and as a consequence, students remain poorly equipped to think critically about, and express themselves through, the media they are immersed in every day.

George: We stress so hard learning English, and learning English grammar, and then we shove music and art over into some sort of artistic, which means, sort of therapeutic or fun thing. It's not approached as a very valid form of communication.

Narrator: In a recent interview, filmmaker George Lucas spoke about the need to rethink the way we teach communication skills.

George: So we go through school, and then, later on we start to learn the grammar of English, you know, punctuation, capital letters, you know, run on sentences, what a verb is, but nobody teaches anybody about what screen direction is, what perspective is, what color is, what a diagonal line means. Those are rules, those are grammatical rules.

Narrator: The teaching of those rules and other facets of media literacy, is gradually gaining traction in schools across the country. Every state now incorporates aspects of media education in its core curricular framework.

Teacher: Media literacy, living with media, and there was something else there that I missed.

Teacher: Visual and verbal message.

Teacher: Visual and verbal message.

Narrator: At the Greater Brunswick Charter School, in New Jersey, media analysis is part of a class project on gender roles.

Teacher: What's the difference between the male and female images here? We've been looking at movies for the last couple of weeks. Yeah, go ahead.

Student: I guess you can say lighter colors are more feminine, the way they're advertising it there, and the darker colors are for men.

Teacher: But why?

Robert: This idea of a longer sustained project that kids get invested in for a period of time, a project that has a lot of different elements to it, jibes really well with a lot of the goals of media literacy, because we want for students to realize that there are all kinds of nodes being pushed, all kinds of different aspects to what they're learning about and what they're addressing when they make media, or they think about media.

Teacher: Sit up tall, and I want you to focus your eyes, your ears and your hearts on what you're about to see, hear and feel.

Narrator: At the Jacob Burns Film Center, in Pleasantville, New York, third graders are introduced to the basic grammar and techniques of filmmaking.

Steve: We were always educated to read actively, yet we're conditioned to view visual images passively. And that's something that we hope to change.

Narrator: Burns Center programs serve some 8,000 area students.

Steve: We understood that it is critically important to help kids understand that these are stories being told to them. And to understand the techniques in which stories are told, to understand the language of film.

Narrator: Fourth graders learn how to produce animated shorts.

Character: Cat overboard!

Narrator: And high school students create video biographies of seniors in the community.

Steve: To gain the tools, to gain the techniques, the understanding, the grammar. To then be able to take that and apply that, not only to a film they see, from Denmark or Iran, or these animated films that they start with, but to apply it to the seven o'clock news, to apply it to the advertising that they see, to apply it to the internet sites that they go on, and the webcasts.

Janet: A lot of what people are exposed to in terms of information that is critically important to how they're going to live their lives, has to do with news media coverage. And I don't think they often understand the comparative versions of what they're being shown, the choices that are made with each shot, the propaganda value, the subliminal value, and if we do nothing else here, we're going to teach kids how to see more deeply into that, and how to be able to speak for themselves in the same kind of language.

Teacher: I have a list of questions here, not all of them apply to every photo.

Narrator: At the Ascend School in Oakland, California, seventh graders studying the war in Iraq, learned to dissect local newspaper coverage.

Teacher: In this photo, who do you identify with?

Student: The Iraqi civilian.

Teacher: The Iraqi civilian. What other kinds of things do you think you might think?

Student: Well, I realize this. It's like, if you look at this picture, you feel sorry for the soldiers, and that kind of makes you want to support the war, but then if you look at this picture, you feel sorry for the Iraqi, and that makes you think that the war isn't necessary.

Narrator: At the North East School of the Arts in San Antonio, Texas, students hone their writing skills by telling stories in their second language, film.

Student: Well I was thinking about making a film about two brothers attending their father's funeral. And--

George: Everybody is affected by this, and it should be taught in school. You would find it in terms of understanding screen direction, and what a close up is, and a wide shot, and why you use them, and how-- what order you use them in. It's just as fascinating to them, and actually, it makes English much more fascinating.

George: As a matter of fact, you know what would be cool. Take a look at Macbeth, and just read the text, and specifically look for Lady Macbeth, and then look at the tone.

What they should learn in the class, is how to think, how to write, how to think logically, and how to be a well rounded individual. It showed up in this case, in the context of filmmaking, but that's the hook, that's the bait to kind of get them moving in that direction.

Teacher: What's a transition?

Student: Transitions are like, you can fade in and fade out, and--

Narrator: As courses and projects featuring elements of media literacy find their way into more and more classrooms, writing English might become just one of several forms of expression, along with graphics, cinema and music, to be taught in a basic course called communication.

George: The basic grammar of communicating should be taught basically in the communication class. It shouldn't be taught in some esoteric arty thing, it should be taught as a very practical tool that you use to sell and influence people and to get your point across, and to communicate to other people, especially in this age, where kids are more and more using multimedia.

Teacher: Jeffrey?

Jeffrey: Are we going to have enough room for the whole web page just on that one line?

Teacher: We will.

Narrator: For more information on, What Works in Public Education, go to

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Video Credits

Produced, Written, and Directed by

  • Ken Ellis

Associate Producer:

  • Miwa Yokoyama


  • Karen Sutherland

Assistant Editor:

  • Stacy Bloom

Camera Crew:

  • Brian Cardello
  • Orlando Video Productions, Inc.
  • Duncan Sinclair
  • Jason Watkins


  • Kris Welch

Original Music:

  • Ed Bogas


  • Kari Barber

Additional footage courtesy of

  • Jacob Burns Film Center

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