Discovering Media Literacy – Part 2

The second section of Discovering Media Literacy: Teaching Digital Media and Popular Culture in Elementary School focused on media literacy work with intermediate students. This was immediately intriguing to me as a fifth grade teacher. I appreciate reading a book that is so focused on media in elementary schools, as I often feel like a lot of what we’re taught about digital tools in the classroom is mostly relevant to high school or college students.

This section answered a lot of questions I had found myself thinking about in the first section of the book. One of the biggest questions came up in a class discussion earlier this week. How do we integrate pop culture and media into an elementary school classroom without pushing the boundary of inappropriate content?

I tend to get frustrated when teachers shut down ideas because they worry about the appropriateness of the topics. I am a firm believer that school should be preparing students for the real world. Our students need to be critical thinkers and active participants in our society. To shelter them from real-world issues by only exposing them to grade-level novels can be a disservice to their understanding of society. However, there’s also something to be said for making sure that topics are developmentally appropriate and that class discussions don’t lead to phone calls from angry parents.

One example of this in my own classroom came up when I exposed the students to two different pictures of Hillary Clinton last week. I found a photo of her from her own campaign website. I then found a photo released by the GOP. I had the students analyze the purpose of each image, the emotions the images provoked, and infer who may have created each image. This conversation lead to some deep and insightful moments from my students. However, the next day I heard one of my fifth graders say:

“I was talking about this to my mom and she told me I’m too young to understand this kind of stuff.”

I was unhappy to see that such a rich conversation surrounding media literacy had been branded as political and inappropriate by this student’s parents. But as a teacher, it isn’t my place to decide what families will and will not talk about with their children. This is the fine line that you walk as a teacher every day in elementary school.

The second section of this book did an excellent job of balancing discussing the issues while also maintaining an educational and grade-level appropriate focus. I felt that the authors gave me valuable insight into the importance of bringing true societal issues into the classroom while providing me with justification and understanding of why students should be exposed to controversial topics to a certain extent.

The authors of this book are correct when they say that “instructional practices should reflect the social context and lived experiences of the learner.” Bringing students’ lives and interests into their learning makes their education more relevant and authentic. One of the most powerful ideas that came up in this section was the idea that if you censor students too much during their education, they begin to believe that school is completely separate from the real world and at school you will not learn anything of real importance. Students will pick up on that vibe if that’s how we treat their interests and background knowledge.

I focused extensively on this piece of the book because this is what I’m struggling with in my own classroom all the time. Of course, the second section of Discovering Media Literacy also covered a plethora of digital learning activities, examples, and real-world solutions to incorporating media into the classroom.

Chapter 5 was titled “Making Media”. This chapter took the foundational understandings about media and the importance of media in the lives of students and offered examples of multiple different digital tools and projects that can be used in the classroom. One of these that I’d love to look into more is the “Powerful Voices for Kids” program surrounding remixing popular songs to address societal issues impacting student lives.

This book continues to provide me with many tips and tools that I know I can begin to integrate into my classroom for the rest of the year.


One thought on “Discovering Media Literacy – Part 2

  1. professorjvg says:

    I of course can’t speak for parents everywhere, but I’m thinking that many parents aren’t sure how to engage their kid in questions about this election and the media saturation that’s hard to avoid.
    So much of school is supposed to be about prepping kids for active engagement in civic issues after they’ve finished school. It seems to make a great deal of sense to be starting that work while they’re in school, even while it takes us into areas that are challenging for even adults to figure out.


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