Instructional Practices In Media Literacy Education And Their Impact On Students' Learning

A look at media literacy in practice in one American high school.

This study reports the findings of qualitative and quantitative research designed to assess the impact of different types of instructional practices involving media literacy education across the curriculum. Teachers in a small school district participated in a staff development program in media literacy and developed unique approaches for integrating media literacy concepts into language arts, history, math and science at the ninth grade level. The work of four different teams of ninth grade teachers is described by examining the instructional practices, motivations and philosophy behind teachers' application of media literacy concepts into the curriculum.

In addition, students exposed to these different forms of media literacy education were tested on specific media analysis skills, including the ability to identify main ideas, the message's purpose, point of view, and various structural features of a news broadcast. Students who received a balance of media analysis and media production experiences, who used film and video frequently in the classroom and who did not rely exclusively on off-the-shelf prepared media literacy curriculum performed better in measures of media analysis which involved the deconstruction of a segment of television news programming.

Results also showed that classrooms which engaged in more extensive and comprehensive approaches to integrating media literacy skills into existing curriculum had students with higher levels of information processing skills including recall and comprehension of ideas presented in a video.

Media literacy educational interventions have been rising in prominence during the 1990s, and a number of school-based programs have begun to emerge in New Mexico, North Carolina, Massachusetts and other states. Recently, the National Communication Association developed a set of standards which included media literacy skills alongside of speaking and listening skills (Berko, 1996). Defined generally as "the ability to access, analyze, evaluate and communicate messages in a wide variety of forms" (Firestone, 1993), media literacy emphasizes the skills of analyzing, evaluating and creating media and technology messages which make use of language, moving images, music, sound effects and other techniques (Hobbs, 1997).

Recently, the State of Texas included media literacy skills within the framework of language arts instruction, and as a result, there has been increased momentum in exploring how to include media analysis and media production in K-12 classrooms. Media literacy in K-12 environments generally feature activities which, minimally, invite students to

  • reflect on and analyze their own media consumption habits
  • identify author, purpose and point of view in films, commercials, television and radio programs, magazine and newspaper editorials and advertising
  • identify the range of production techniques that are used to communicate point of view and shape audience response
  • identify and evaluate the quality of media's representation of the world by examining patterns of representation, stereotyping, emphasis and omission in print and television news and other media; to appreciate the economic underpinnings of mass media industries, to make distinctions between those media which sell audiences to advertisers and those which do not
  • understand how media economics shapes message content
  • gain familiarity and experience in using mass media tools for personal expression and communication and for purposes of social and political advocacy (Hobbs, 1994).

In the United States, despite all the rhetoric, most school-based media literacy initiatives have been based on the efforts of a single teacher in a school or district, working alone. It has generally been difficult to sustain district-level or even school-wide initiatives in media literacy over time. A history of the first phase of implementing "critical viewing skills" instruction in the 1980s revealed that only four school districts in the United States had attempted to develop media literacy skills education (Brown, 1991), and most evaluation models examined the program outcomes on very small numbers of students, usually a single classroom (Anderson, 1980).

In the late 1990s, the authors are aware of only a handful of new district-wide initiatives in Massachusetts, Minnesota, Michigan, and New Mexico. Research on media literacy continues to be constrained with so few large-scale implementations available for observation and evaluation.

Author Bio: 

Renee Hobbs, EdD, a prolific writer, speaker, researcher and curriculum designer in the field of media literacy education, is the director of the Media Education Lab at Temple University in Philadelphia. She is a founding Board director of the Alliance for a Media Literate America (AMLA).