I described three teachers integrating film into their lessons in the previous post. The content of each film was connected to the unit that each teacher had developed and, presumably, the content standards that California wanted teachers to follow. The hardware they used were DVD players or teacher laptops connected to LCD projectors.
What they did not do was investigate the assumptions and biases in the films themselves or question the accuracy of the sources that writers, directors, and actors used in creating and making the film. Although California curriculum standards call for media literacy skills in English/ language arts and history/social science in K-12 grades, current high-stakes state tests contain no items that examine media literacy. With state and federal officials pressing teachers and students to score well on tests media literacy lessons are down low on most teachers’ “to do” lists. So I do not criticize these three teachers for not helping students analyze the films they watched to acquire skills in media literacy. For the past half-century, most teachers have not integrated media literacy into their lessons even as little and big screens have come to dominate the lives of children and adults outside of school.
Having students become media literate across school subjects has been talked about since the early 1960s but has hardly made a dent in lessons that most teachers teach. In Britain, Canada, and European nations there has been far more talk and even some action (media literacy Europe/Canada ). Much less so in the U.S.
What do I mean by teaching children skills of media literacy? I offer two examples of lessons using new technologies, one in a Canadian elementary school on analyzing candy ads after students had read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and a Providence (RI) high school social studies lesson on World War II.
Watch on YouTube the Canadian elementary school teacher, using an interactive white board, teach a lesson on candy ads.
For the high school lesson, journalist Dana Goldstein describes a lesson where the teacher had students use laptops to analyze sources–her example of students working on media literacy skills.
I sat in on Jennifer Geller’s 10th grade Contemporary World History class at the Providence Career and Technical Academy. That day’s state-mandated lesson objective was to “trace patterns chronologically for events leading to World War II in Europe.” But Geller, a 12-year veteran in the district, used technology to layer a more ambitious and contemporary media literacy skills-building session on top of the dry history.
First the sophomores read the following paragraph in their Prentice Hall World History textbook:
With the [German] government paralyzed by divisions, both Nazis and Communists won more seats in the Reichstag, or lower house of the legislature. Fearing the growth of Communist political power, conservative politicians turned to Hitler. Although they despised him, they believed they could control him. Then, with conservative support, Hitler was appointed Chancellor in 1933 through legal means under the Weimar constitution.
Geller asked the kids to go to the back of room and pick up individual laptops, which had been borrowed for the day from the school’s library. Their task for the rest of the period was to search online for additional accurate information about Hilter’s rise to power that had not been included in their textbook, and then present it to the class.
Geller engaged the kids in a conversation about how search engines work. “Does anyone know how the first link on Google becomes the first one?” she asked. “It’s not the best — it’s that the most people linked to or clicked on that site. You should not always trust the first thing you see!”
Geller encouraged the students to look at Wikipedia, but skeptically. “Anyone can write these articles,” she explained. “The fact that anyone can change them or fix them means if something is wrong, it can be fixed. You have to be careful with it, just like you have to be careful with your textbook.”
Geller continued, “Who do you think gets to write a textbook? And how often is it updated? Maybe a downside is the textbook doesn’t change much from year to year.”
After searching online, the students learned that it wasn’t just “conservative politicians” who supported Hitler. In fact, a full third of the German public had voted for the Nazi party. “That’s why you use two sources!” Geller proclaimed.
The lesson was relevant to both historical research and day-to-day fact finding online. It also gave the students something pretty disturbing to think about regarding the relatively broad support enjoyed by Hitler and the Nazi Party in 1933. This struck me as an ideal classroom use of technology — and all it required were laptops and a wifi connection.
In both lessons, new technologies were used to get students engaged in tasks that built and used critical thinking skills to parse a textbook paragraph and candy ads. But as Bill Ferriter pointed out, the technology didn’t spur students, it was the teacher’s questions about candy ads and a textbook passage about Hitler becoming Chancellor that mattered. Laptops and an interactive white board didn’t motivate students to become media literate, the teachers did.