Social & Emotional Learning (SEL)

The Media and the Message: Media Literacy as Life Skill in Canada

Canadian students are taught to look for the real meanings in the daily barrage of information.

January 11, 2008

Running Time: 7 min.

Media, in all its many (and growing) forms, occupies more and more of modern life. Yet educators mostly neglect its increasing effect on young people. So it's especially significant that the Ministry of Education in Ontario, Canada, has now recognized the need for an expanded definition of literacy, one that includes print, screen-based, and electronic media.

As a result, for the first time, a media-literacy curriculum has been mandated in Ontario's language and English programs for grades 1-12.

According to the Association for Media Literacy (AML), in Ontario, "Media literacy is concerned with the process of understanding and using the mass media. It is also concerned with helping students develop an informed and critical understanding of the nature of the mass media, the techniques used by them, and the impact of these techniques."

As part of the new curriculum, even the basic definition of text has been expanded. Today, elementary school students analyze or "read" texts as varied as story books (the old paradigm), DVD and CD covers, and even T-shirt logos. Secondary school students explore YouTube, news reporting on global conflicts, and even the marketing of feature films.

Thematic units in the curriculum address a wide range of topics, including advertising and public relations, representations of gender, violence, and race in the media, the role of the media in global citizenship, and new converging technologies.

Classroom media analysis focuses on three key areas: howa text is produced (including questions of ownership and control),the ideology and values conveyed through the media,and the ways audiences are targeted by, and respond to,media messages.

Classroom work emphasizes the importance of activeinvolvement with the media, connecting it to democraticrights, active citizenship, and technological literacy. Coursesoffer students the opportunity to analyze and produce a varietyof print and electronic stories and develop a criticalunderstanding of the roles media and technology play intheir lives.

"There are few curricular outcomes more crucial thanmedia literacy," says Patrick Cartlidge, a teacher of Englishand media studiesin Toronto anda member of hisdistrict's schoolboard. "The abilityto navigate a complex and challenging cultural world helpsstudents define themselves within an increasingly anachronisticschool system."

As one Toronto student puts it, "Media education creates abroader perspective on how information is constructed andsent to us. With this knowledge, we can better command andcontrol what used to be in control of us."

Ultimately, media-literacy education aims to produce studentswho have a knowledge and understanding of how themedia operates, how it constructs meaning, how it can best beused, and how to evaluate the information it presents. As theAML succinctly puts it, "Media literacy is a life skill."

Carolyn Wilson is an instructor at the Ontario Institute forStudies in Education at the University of Toronto and presidentof the Association for Media Literacy, in Ontario, Canada.

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