Best Practices FAQ

Are media literacy skills included in the newly released Common Core Standards Initiative for U.S. Education?

Yes! Media literacy skills are included in English/Language Arts and Math.  Regardless of subject area, media literacy represents knowledge and skills needed by every citizen because it is through using information process skills – accessing, analyzing, evaluating, creating and participating with media information -- that individuals acquire content knowledge.  These skills for lifelong learning are reflected throughout education standards, regardless of whether the subject is health, technology, social studies, science, etc.

Does media literacy apply to social media and user-generated content?
Yes, absolutely it applies to social media and user-generated content. When students log on to send messages or post photos and videos, they are becoming producers of media, not just consumers.  By actively participating online, they are essentially joining a global conversation. Critical thinking skills must be applied to both the messages they are  sending out to the world  as well as those they receive back . An understanding of the Key Questions for Producers and Consumers will enable them to make wise choices and engage more fully as online citizens. 
Does media literacy include online safety?

Yes, media literacy is an umbrella term for teaching children the skills to be active and safe participants with media of all types.  The critical thinking skills required to become media literate can be applied to any message from any medium. In other words, it does not make a difference if the message comes from social media, television, websites,  videogames, radio, print or cell phone, the same skills are needed to interpret and make wise choices about what is seen and heard. Online safety is of particular concern which is why we advocate for media literacy education for all school children K-12.

Is Digital Citizenship the same as Media Literacy?

The term Digital Citizenship is often used interchangeably with media literacy, and indeed, media literacy skills are necessary for being a responsible online citizen.  Media Literacy, however, is larger than the internet -- it involves a new way to see and interpret the world through all forms of media.  The critical thinking skills of media literacy are applicable to all aspects of life, and media literacy is an established academic discipline internationally, with a pedagogy and structure necessary for teaching and transferring knowledge and skills.

Is there a difference between media literacy and media education?

Media education is the process through which one learns to become media literate. There is no limit to how "media literate" one can become!
There are several terms — digital literacy, information literacy, technology literacy — which seem related to media literacy. Are there differences?

There are slight but important differences. "Digital literacy" promotes competency with computers and software. "Information literacy," used primarily by the library community, emphasizes the ability to access information, whether in print or electronically.

CML believes that "media literacy" is a more encompassing term in that media literacy embraces the entire process of accessing, analyzing, evaluating, creating and participating with media. With media technology becoming so prevalent in homes, and with multi-media education more possible now with student access to computers and the Internet, "media literacy" expands the basic concept of literacy (i.e. "reading" and "writing") to all forms of communication — from television to T-shirts, from billboards to multi-media environments.

Furthermore, media literacy is highly complementary to fostering the Four C's emphasized by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills:  critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration and creativity/innovation.

How widespread is media literacy in U.S. schools?

There isn't one group keeping statistics, and it would be impossible to survey every classroom in 16,000 U.S. school districts. Although media literacy is still a new idea for many teachers and schools, we see signs of media literacy growing everywhere, for example:

  • In 2014, a Blue Ribbon Task Force on Learning and the Internet formed by the Aspen Institute issued a report funded by the MacArthur Foundation called Learner at the Center of a Networked World.  This Task Force called for media literacy to be at the center of education.

  •  In 2009, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a call for information on media literacy. .

  • In 2010, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released a new advertising literacy program called "Admongo," representing a major effort to introduce media literacy concepts to youth nationally.

  • The Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) includes media literacy in its framework for 21st Century Education; media literacy is a natural fit with P21's 4C's:  Critical thinking and problem solving, Communication, Collaboration, Creativity and innovation. 

  • Major education organizations such as ASCD, National Council Teachers of English, and the National Council for the Social Studies all call for media literacy education.  The Family Online Safety Institute and other international organizations endorse media literacy education as a key skill.

  • Reports from major foundations and educational agencies are calling for media literacy as a critical component of education for the 21st century.   For example, the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy cited media literacy as a key component for meeting community needs.

Why are other countries so far ahead of the United States in adopting media literacy in their schools?

As Kathleen Tyner writes in Literacy in a Digital World, "International media education programs in Canada, England and Australia have an advantage because they work from a central education ministry that disseminates resources, training and information on a regional or national scale. The downside of the centralized approach is that bad educational ideas can be spread as easily as good ones. Nonetheless, the mechanisms for wide-scale educational change are in place when a centralized national structure serves as a clearinghouse for concepts and resources."

In the United States, on the other hand, there are 50 states and 17,000 independent school districts! Plus private and parochial school systems. No institutional mechanism exists in formal educational structures to promote a national framework for media education or to require, for example, that large educational publishing companies incorporate media literacy into textbooks. This puts the onus of support for media literacy on individual teachers or schools, on innovative districts or states, such as Maryland, Texas or North Carolina, or on entrepreneurial local or national initiatives such as the Center for Media Literacy.

Is there federal or state funding for media literacy?

There has been very little government funding for media literacy either at the state or federal level. Often there is funding for teacher training or to support programs that might incorporate media literacy skills – for example, smoking cessation, citizenship education or nutrition awareness. Increasingly states are recognizing the need for the professional development of teachers especially for areas like "critical thinking" or "information competence," which can be indirectly related to media literacy.

At the federal level, despite national headlines about concern over violence in the schools or the need for technology in education, there has not been significant allocation of funding for media literacy training or programs by any federal agency. In 2010, the FCC called for media education, as did the Knight Commission on the Community Needs of Information in a Democracy.  As far back as 1993, the final report of the National Consultation on Safeguarding our Youth recommended that "Broadbased media literacy education needs to become a priority in the U.S. and implemented in an interagency, interdisciplinary approach." It was embraced verbally by Secretary of Education Richard Riley but it wasn't until 2000 that $1 million/year for 3 years was allocated to the Department of Education and the National Endowment for the Arts to provide grants for school projects relating media literacy to violence prevention and the arts. Compared to the billions routinely budgeted by Congress for other areas of education much less for the military or health research or highways, $3 million is miniscule. Much, much more is needed.

What can be done to further media literacy in the U.S. education system?

The keys to making change happen are:

1. Teachers, administrators — and parents — should lobby to insure that media literacy is represented as fully as possible in state education standards.
2. Parents and teachers must demand that schools make media literacy a priority.
3. Educational organizations must support media literacy in their programming.
4. Media companies may help create demand for media literacy by educating consumers about what media literacy is.
5. Publishers must make educational materials available for teachers and parents.
6. Teachers must be trained to teach media literacy.



If I mention media literacy to my childrens' teachers, they say they don't have time to add another subject to an already crowded curriculum. What do I say?

It is important to clarify that media literacy is NOT a new subject to add to the school day. Rather it is a set of skills that can be learned through applying media literacy concepts and questions to  other subject/content areas.

For example, language arts standards expect that children, by middle school, will be able to understand the point of view of an author of a text. This skill can be introduced to children and practiced by them in many ways -- in evaluating web sites, in creating social networking ages, in reviewing magazine ads.. One way might be to examine different versions of the same news event — a story from a daily newspaper, from an internet site, a national news magazine and from a TV newscast. What is the point of view of each version? Children thus learn not only how to recognize point of view but they also learn important concepts about the media world they live in — that different media forms can tell the same story differently.

Similarly in social studies there are many ways to integrate media literacy activities such as having students in American history prepare and conduct a "talk show" to investigate the pros and cons of whether the colonies should secede from England? Such project-based teaching creates learning on many levels and covers important curriculum content in a way that engages children in their own learning process.

Ask your child's teachers to invest just 15 minutes to perusing this website. We guarantee they'll find lots of ways to integrate media literacy skills into curriculum they are already expected to teach!

Shouldn't we just tell kids to turn the TV off? Or the cell phones?

TV is still the most heavily used media.  Watching too much TV has been shown to be related to health problems for some children, including obesity. But it's almost impossible to ignore TV's role in most families' lives, and even if children don't watch at home, they watch at their friends' homes or learn about media characters from the playground. Media no longer just shape our culture; media ARE our culture!

Just as we teach children, as they grow, about good nutrition and exercise for their physical bodies, we need to also guide them in making choices about what they take into their emotions and brains, regardless of where they take in the information. Parents need to embrace media literacy, because when they do, they can make conscious choices about how to balance media use with family time and physical activities, as well as help their children learn to analyze media experiences as they mature. Children today will spend all of their lives in the 21st century mediated culture; their future health and well-being depends on media literacy.

How can I stay in touch with what is happening in the media literacy field?


  Sign up for CML's free e-letter in order to receive information and ideas about teaching media literacy as well as announcements of new teaching resources as they become available. Provide your e-mail and snail mail address so that we can send you special e-mail announcements as well as catalogs and reports by mail.