Getting Started: Strategies for Introducing Media Literacy in your School or District

Compiled from questions to CML and what we've learned over many years: 

Start with your best, most enthused teachers, and involve administrators.

A single teacher working alone can too often feel isolated and become frustrated; working as a team or group provides support and builds motivation. Middle school is good place to start as collaborative learning and interdisciplinary units are already quite common at middle school level. But any collaborative teaching team in a department or a grade can experiment with how to introduce media literacy concepts in language arts, social studies, health education, the arts. Media literacy is easily aligned with the critical thinking skills called for in the Common Core State Standards.  Expand the core group with a media librarian and/or curriculum specialist whose job it is to assist teachers in finding resources to accomplish planned learning objectives.Involve administrators. Without active support from the principal or superintendent, as well as other "stakeholders" including parents and community leaders, media literacy may become just another educational "fad."Get help (if needed) from technical experts — computer technology specialists, video production, journalism or photography teachers. Production or constructing messages is essential in media literacy; students deserve access to top quality technology resources if they are going to master the skills of communicating in the 21st century.

Build toward having several teachers, library media specialists or staff development leaders gain the experience and expertise in the field needed to become in-house or in-district "consultants" or "coaches." Use a consistent basic framework. Self-reflection by teams of teachers over time with a knowledgeable coach / consultant is the most effective way to stimulate the integration of media literacy throughout your school or district.

Acknowledge our "love/hate" relationship with media, social media and popular culture.

Encourage an attitude of inquiry and exploration of media, social media and popular culture rather than disparagement or dismissal. Remember, everyone tries to "make meaning" out of their media experiences. Acknowledge that many points of view and interpretations are possible and no single view is always "right" or "wrong." Avoid cynicism. Help students recognize the complex role of media in their lives. Connect to students' worlds. Check into their world by asking: Do a 5-minute brainstorm: What's going on in your world right now that's cool/uncool, fascinating, unfair, outrageous or worrisome? Once you've got a list, keep your eyes and ears peeled for examples from their world that can help explain and illustrate concepts in the classroom. Using the 5 Key Questions of media literacy, stimulate open conversation about new Apps, TV series, popular movies, trends in advertising, whatever students are using/watching and talking about. Become familiar with youth culture and you'll find many points of connection to what you're already teaching. Create a Facebook page or media literacy bulletin board in the teacher's lounge and invite faculty to post short reviews of books, reflections on a new APP or program or game or music, analysis of an ad campaign, insightful work done by students.

"So it's the weekend. Got any suggestions for a new app I should check out?"  "If I have time for a little TV tonight, is there anything good on?" "What do you think of ratings for video games or for movies?"  "Who rented your eyeballs last night?" "What data did you give away on social media during the past couple of days?"

"I'd like to go to a movie on Saturday — what's playing at the mall?" "What's your favorite phone app?"

Promote reflection on media literacy pedagogy by reading the literature, exploring top media literacy sites on the Internet, critiquing and coaching each other.

Take the time to hammer out both a philosophical and a pedagogical approach to media literacy in your school or district.

Recognize that different people have different entry points or reasons for their interest in media literacy. Parents of young children may be concerned about how much time children spend with media, for example, or cyberbullying while reading teachers may be interested in finding credible resources or how media literacy can help teach literacy basics like comprehension or point of view . Some will want to start by helping students analyze the media culture; others may focus on learning about media by constructing or creating media messages. Recognize that there are also different philosophies about teaching and about the role of media in the classroom. Exploring some of these issues as a faculty or teaching team is a necessary step in building the cooperation and collaboration that will make your program a success. Above all, the media literacy program you design must be appropriate for an educational setting and one that all stakeholders can support – parents, teachers, administrators, curriculum directors, district staff, school board and community leaders.

Introduce the CML MediaLit Kit with its consistent framework that can be used to organize media literacy learning – and teaching -- across the curriculum. It outlines the principles, concepts, skills and practices of inquiry-based media literacy education that CML believes are necessary and that reflects the best scholarship in the field. Furthermore, it reinforces the notion that media literacy provides a system for critical analysis that can apply across all disciplines.

Create a reference resource center with background materials for teachers as well as actual teaching materials for the classroom.

Start with GOOD quality teaching materials and a consistent approach. Help build success for teachers by providing a budget for resources. There is no one perfect package or program for all grades and all subjects. Eventually you'll develop your own integrated lessons and create your own units.

Use some off-the-shelf in-service materials for a team to prepare to share with faculty. The CML MediaLit Kit is an invaluable resource designed to meet the need for a basic introduction to media literacy's core concepts, key questions and inquiry-based learning style. Build in time for teachers to dig into and review teaching materials that look promising. The goal is to integrate media literacy activities into curricular goals in language arts, social studies, health and other mandated subjects. Integration takes time.

Use social media, multi-media and technology to help your faculty (or parents) understand the complexity of media issues that touch the young people in your school.

Network, network, network — nationally / regionally / locally.

Don't reinvent the wheel; connect with others who may also be looking for connections! Put a notice in the social media or the print or electronic newsletter of your teacher's union.Subscribe to Twitter accounts, e-letters, list-servs and publications that cover or serve the media literacy field. You'll soon discover what issues are under discussion, how others are thinking about them and where you can find out more. But don't just lurk; join the conversation!

Media Literacy panels, workshops and presentations are increasingly offered at state or national professional conferences for teachers of English or Social Studies, school librarians, computers and technology. Catholic school and private school conferences or health and prevention meetings may also be good sources.  Check the program offerings carefully — you may have the opportunity to participate in a lively, informative session.

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Media literacy is not a new subject to teach but a new way to teach all subjects! 

Media literacy is a logical extension of traditional language arts: reading/writing and listening/speaking; today we must add viewing and creating/representing using all media forms. Common Core State Standards for "literacy" in the 21st century link directly to inquiry-based media literacy skills: e.g. "students identify and analyze how words, figurative language, images and characterization can be used to convey particular ideas attitudes or opinions. "Creating" and "Participating"  opens up a multitude of connections to self-expression and practice in representing, sequencing, summarizing, interpreting, etc.  Consider a range of activities from still photography to social networking to powerpoint presentations, from a notebook journal to a wall mural. Social studies is a field ripe with media literacy connections: e.g. "students note instances of bias, stereotyping and unsupported inferences, fallacious reasoning, persuasion and propaganda in pictures, text and historical interpretations."  Health standards contain many important linkages to media literacy, including classroom units on tobacco prevention, nutrition education, sexuality and sexual behavior, alcohol and drug abuse as well as beauty and body image. Media literacy also connects to educational areas such as LifeSkills, English as a Second Language (ESL) or Character Education.