Professional Learning

Media-Literacy Starting Points: Tips for Fostering Critical Thinking

Talking with children about what they watch, read, and listen to is a critical step toward media literacy.

February 10, 2003

Talking with children about what they watch, read, and listen to is a critical step toward media literacy, advocates say.

Credit: Edutopia

Are you ready to begin the journey to media literacy? Here are some steps educators, parents, community leaders, librarians, and others can take to bring media literacy to homes and schools.

Institute a family media diet

Parents should plan their family's media consumption in the same way they plan meals to achieve a balanced diet. The three basic tenets of a family media diet are (1) control total consumption, (2) create a balanced media diet, and (3) actively use media for analysis and discussion.

Take a break from media

One of the best ways to appreciate the impact of media on our lives is to live without it. Classes, schools, families, and communities should consider "doing without" all media from time to time and then reflecting on the results. Since so much of media use is habitual, students rarely have a chance to view their media consumption with "fresh eyes."

Incorporate media literacy into the existing curriculum

Have students assess the accuracy and value of information in the learning resources they use, from books and periodicals to Web sites. Have students consider questions such as, Who is the intended audience for this resource? What is the author's point of view? How was this work funded? What might be inherent influences and biases based on the author's background and previous work, organizational affiliation, or source of funding?

Use the media themselves as an object of study

Studying the history and development of American and world media can be a fascinating topic in English or social studies classes. Media studies can lead to creative, interdisciplinary projects addressing such wide-ranging topics as journalism coverage of historical events; the science and technology of radio, TV, and now the Internet; and the psychological impact of media on children and adults.

Have students make multimedia about media

With the availability of low-cost computers and editing software, many more students are making their own media products -- short films, music videos, PowerPoint® presentations -- about media. This work is being done for projects in schools and community groups, and, informally at home, for fun. In making a media presentation, students must make many of the same editorial choices that professional writers, editors, and producers make when publishing a newspaper or magazine or making a radio or TV show. Students learn that media production is an exercise in selecting content and shaping, revising, and polishing the media product. Students can present their projects at a community event involving parents, teachers, and local businesses and organizations.

Consult with librarians on media literacy

Librarians in school and public libraries can be excellent bridges between the home and school, offering resources, materials, and questions to talk about.

Continue the conversation

When adults talk with each other about children, they often ignore the one experience dominating young people's lives -- media use. When educators, parents, and community leaders work together as a team to promote media literacy as the twenty-first-century form of print literacy, incorporating the skills of thinking, reading, and writing, they will be sending a powerful and coordinated message to this "media generation."

Sara Armstong is a former Edutopia staff member.
Milton Chen is executive director for the George Lucas Education Foundation.
Roberta Furger is a contributing writer for Edutopia.
Republished with permission for "Thinking Critically about Media: Schools and Families in Partnership," Cable in the Classroom, 2002.

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