Executive Summary Project SMARTArt
By Arleta Quesada
At the turn of the 21st century, the U.S. Department of Education and the National Endowment for the Arts initiated the first media literacy grant program in the United States. With more than $1 million in funding, 17 media literacy demonstration projects were launched nationwide. SMARTArt (Students using Media, Art, Reading, and Technology) is one of those projects.
The 21st Century federal grants aim to "help school districts establish programs that teach students how to examine and interpret media messages...and help students create their own media-based projects that can offer an alternative to violent messages." Working together to achieve those goals in Project SMARTArt were three Southern California organizations: the nonprofit Center for Media Literacy (CML), the Education Division of the Music Center of Los Angeles County (MCED), and AnimAction, Inc. In collaboration with administrators from Leo Politi Elementary School and Local District 4 of the Los Angeles Unified School District, the partnership provided the teaching team with professional development, direct classroom instruction, and ongoing support.
Throughout the three-year program, K-5 teachers from Leo Politi Elementary School and residency artist/educators from the L.A. Music Center Education Division comprised SMARTArt's teaching team, along with some model media literacy lessons provided through the Center for Media Literacy. Despite the experimental nature of the Project, the partners and instructional team persevered to produce and implement an innovative, effective model for teaching media literacy to elementary school students.
SMARTArt's standards-based instructional model establishes the foundation for a new way of learning a new kind of literacy, one in which students develop fluency in reading and writing not only print communications but messages communicated in multi-media images and sounds. Guided by the Five Core Concepts and Five Key Questions outlined in the CML MediaLit Kit™ the Project's teaching approach employs an "inquiry process" that reflects how people learn. In the process, students get practice in analyzing, or deconstructing, information to "read" messages and in using creative communications to construct or "write" messages.
Traditional subject-based curricula are enlivened through the Project's exemplary classroom practices. Integrating media analysis and production, the arts, and technology into "the basics" of elementary education gives students opportunities to acquire 21st Century learning skills, such as critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creative expression. Observations of participating teachers and administrators affirm that SMARTArt's classroom activities ignite students' interests and relate to their everyday lives in ways that boost their natural enthusiasm for learning. This "active learning" approach proved to be especially effective in engaging English language learners and students with specific learning disabilities.
Because the majority of students at Leo Politi Elementary School speak limited English, emphasis throughout the Project has been on building reading, writing, and other basic Language Arts skills. In Year 3, improved results were achieved by including English Language Development (ELD) standards in the media literacy lesson plans and implementing SMARTArt activities daily during ELD time in the classroom.
Project SMARTArt demonstrates how to enrich elementary education by teaching young students essential 21st Century literacy and learning skills. Although the Project has contributed greatly to progress, more time, money, and effort is needed to implement widespread change throughout the school and District. Meanwhile, SMARTArt serves as a valuable guidepost for improving classroom practice in elementary schools nationwide.
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Case Study by Arleta Quesada
Arleta (Arli) Quesada is a freelance education writer who specializes in documenting instructional practices that support K-12 public school reform. Her articles and success stories about media literacy, arts education, and project-based learning have appeared in magazines such as Technology & Learning, Creative Classroom, and Converge, and at www.K12reform.org. She is co-author of Changing the World Through Media Education. email
 Press Release, U.S. Department of Education/National Endowment for the Arts, October 4, 2000, http://www.ed.gov.
 "Media Literacy for the 21st Century: The Hope and the Promise," A CML Reflection Resource, reading room  "Learning for the 21st Century" 2003 report, Partnership for 21st Century Skills, Learning Skills chart, p. 11. Free download at www.21stcenturyskills.org.