Where Media Literacy Fits in the World of Education

CML Proposes a model for integrating media literacy across the curriculum.

How timely that the Partnership for 21st Century Skills is publishing its framework and requesting a response! We applaud your effort and hope that it will help spawn the intense national conversation and research necessary to deliver effective education for our citizens. We at the Center for Media Literacy (CML) stand ready to do our part.

A Simple and Intuitive Model: Formally Teaching Process Skills as well as Content Skills

To be embraced successfully, an education framework must be as simple and intuitive as possible, to keep the confidence of citizens and to be executed effectively. It must also reflect the values of society and real-world needs and applications so that students are engaged, prepared and productive. This requires alternative models, research on outcomes and consensus.

Traditionally, schools have emphasized transmitting the content knowledge of teachers, while teaching information processing skills and project management skills was incidental and not well defined. With content being so readily available today, process skills are ever more important, and need to be formally taught. Thus, teachers are now being encouraged to change from being the "sage on the stage" to "the guide on the side" for students, so that students learn how to learn and what to learn.

CML has developed a model framework for education to illustrate where "media literacy" fits into the education equation. CML's overall education model divides the skills that students need by high school graduation into the following two "duos" that work hand-in-hand - in each case, pairing something concrete with abstract process skills:

Center for Media Literacy Education Model for the 21st Century
©2003, Center for Media Literacy, www.medialit.net
Concrete Material Abstract Process Skills
I. Content

Any Subject:
Math, Language Arts, Business, Social Studies, Health, Computer Science, Civics, Arts, Physical Ed., Science, Cultural Studies, Ethics, Psychology

Textbooks, Internet, billboards, TV, radio, ads, photos, newspapers, etc.

Process: Media Literacy

How to: Access, Analyze, Evaluate, Create media messages in a variety of forms.
Deconstruct - Construct

The Heart of Media Literacy is the Process of Inquiry

A Framework for a Media Literacy process is contained in CML's MediaLit Kit

Individual Work/Mastery: How to Learn
II. Project Deliverables

Process: Project Management

Define, Design, Structure, Organize, Communicate
Access and Allocate, Evaluate

Individual & Team Work/Mastery: How to Work and Produce

Each "duo" described involves concrete tangibles coupled with intangible process skills...

    • Content is coupled with the Media Literacy process (based on the twin pillars of analysis and self-expression)
    • Projects are coupled with the Project Management process (based on the twin pillars of organization and team communication).

The first duo emphasizes how to learn: individual thought and how to express thoughts to others; the second duo emphasizes how to work and produce individually and collectively.

Although this model is by no means traditional, it is clean and efficient, and reflects the kinds of processes found in business and other organizations. A good example of establishing roles, with limits and boundaries between tangibles and intangibles, is the delineation between line and staff positions in companies, in which the "line" is responsible for tangible outcomes and the "staff" is responsible for guidance and processes. This approach has served companies and organizations such as the military successfully for centuries; the field of education could benefit from such clarity. Technology advancements such as the internet have now freed educators from having to emphasize content at the expense of process. It is time to provide students with both content and process skills as part of their formal education. This emphasis on process skills is what differentiates education appropriate for the 21st century.

Detailed Description of Model

I. Content—Process: Individual Work/Mastery

    1. Content Knowledge/Expertise. To the degree expected and hopefully exceeded, students need to demonstrate mastery of traditional "subject" areas - math, language arts, science, social studies, health, art - deemed appropriate in school settings. However, content knowledge may be obtained anywhere, from multi-media sources - not just school settings. And though some content needs to be internalized, much content merely needs to be accessible for reference or further study. The internet serves as a repository for unimaginable amounts of content that does not need to be memorized.

    2. Process Skills. Information processing skills work with any and all content or subject areas (math, language arts, social studies, science, health, arts, etc.), and revolve around the twin pillars of deconstruction (critical thinking) and construction (media production), using technology skills. CML defines these process skills as Media Literacy - the ability to access, analyze, evaluate and create media messages in a variety of forms (visual, aural, literal, etc.)

    CML has further broken down these skills in a framework we recently packaged as the CML MediaLit Kit, which is attached and is featured on our website, www.medialit.net These process skills must be learned and practiced and refined over time - they are the essence of lifelong learning skills.

    Although we have been testing this media literacy framework in school settings, we have not had the resources to do formal research. With the help of a federal grant issued by the U.S. Dept. of Education and the National Endowment for the Arts, we have one project that we are implementing in which we are gathering data for research and analysis, Project SmartArt. We also have a state grant, issued through the County of Orange Health Care Agency, in which we are also gathering data on a more limited basis. Given our experience, we are encouraged that we are on the right track.

But content and information processing skills are not enough. Students must be able to perform tasks effectively and be able to produce high quality products or deliverables. This leads to another needed duo:

II. Project—Process: Individual & Team Work/Mastery

    3. Project design and implementation. A project is a deliverable, a tangible. How is a project conceived? How is it defined? What are desired outcomes? What are desired quality standards? Students need to learn to construct and structure projects, defining deliverables and outcomes wanted and needed.

    4. Project Management Skills. Project management skills encompass those processes necessary to successfully implement a project: interpersonal skills, communications skills, organizational skills, study skills, budgeting, time management, delegation, etc.

    Project design and implementation, along with the process skills of Project Management, utilize all of the content/process knowledge outlined above - but require practical implementation and application of the content/process knowledge gained.

Summary — Overall Model

This education model provides clearer delineation between tangibles and intangibles, between product and process. It establishes limits and boundaries between content and process, project deliverables and process, individual action and team action. This framework truly allows for lifelong learning - and lifelong practice, because applying a process takes practice over time, with a variety of projects and team members. It is a never-ending quest for knowledge and skills, based on a process of inquiry, and is open-ended. It serves the goal of having freedom of expression in a free and democratic society, and transcends national boundaries to explore and work in a global media-driven culture. It is a framework that allows for an infinite variety of outcomes on a continuum of possible action, individually and collectively -- from no decision or action taken to the ultimate sacrifice of life.

Designing a framework for education requires an extraordinary degree of synthesis. And of course, research is necessary to verify the effectiveness of the framework design. Like with various investment philosophies and methodologies, success in education can be obtained in many ways. We expect that one size will not fit all - and that is fine.

CML's Framework for Media Literacy

As shown in the model provided earlier in this paper, Media Literacy has a special role to play: providing a process that can be taught and practiced, a process that can be applied to all content and subject areas. We are attaching what we consider a skeletal framework for media literacy. Our experience has shown that the attached Five Key Questions (based on the Five Core Concepts) are the focal point for what we wish that all students would learn to apply to all content areas by high school graduation. A deep understanding of these questions gives citizens the ability to think critically and decide for themselves. Learning to explore these questions requires practice and is a life-long process.

The Framework attached gives:

    • An expression of the twin pillars of media literacy: Free Your Mind, Express Your View (Other words for this are "Deconstruct" and "Construct" or "Critical Thinking" and "Media Production")
    • A Definition of Media Literacy
    • Skill Components (Access, Analyze, Evaluate, Create)
    • Core Concepts
    • Key Questions (these work hand-in-hand with the Core Concepts)
    • The Empowerment Spiral (these are steps associated in deciding to take action)

(See attached Law Review article for more explanation.)


The following sections refer to the Partnership for 21st Century Skills Online Form:

    • Standards: Standards used - there are state standards associated with media literacy


    • Levels of Proficiency: There is no research available to associate the Media Literacy framework with levels of proficiency, or appropriateness of teaching various concepts for different age groups. This work needs to be done; some work was started in Canada and is available for reference.


    • Assessment Measures/Performance Measures: Through our federal grant for Project SmartArt, we are gathering data for analysis. This research will not be available until the end of 2003 at the earliest. However, there is need for much more research that is more closely correlated with the work at hand.

      This definition of media literacy (above) applies to all, for all grade levels, for all types of educators.

Best Practice

    • Leo Politi Elementary School, Project SmartArt, lead education agency: Los Angeles Unified School District; Center for Media Literacy (Tessa Jolls, project manager); Music Center of Los Angeles County and AnimAction, Inc., project partners
    • Arcadia Unified School District, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, Mary Ann Sund
    • State of Texas, implementation of additional language arts strands (viewing and representing)
    • State of Maryland/Discovery Channel. Assignment Media Literacy, by Renee Hobbs
    • Project Looksharp, Ithaca College, headed by Cyndy Scheibe
    • PBS Ready to Learn, Outreach Program, headed by Charlotte Brantley
    • Cable in the Classroom, headed by Peggy O'Brien
    • Blowing Smoke, an Arizona State project, headed by Lynda Bergsma
    • College-Level Courses: David Considine, Appalacian State University; Rhonda Hammer, UCLA, University of Dayton, Babson College, Ithaca College


We hope this material is helpful. We look forward to learning of progress on your project and to becoming acquainted. If there are ways to further collaborate, we welcome such opportunities.


Note: In sharing this framework, CML retains ownership and copyright on all materials provided.

Attachments: 5 copies of CML Home Web Page, Law Review Article, CML Corporate Information

Author Bio: 

Tessa Jolls is President and CEO of the Center for Media Literacy, a position she has held since 1999. She is a graduate of the University of Illinois and has consulted and published in the organization development/change management field for major corporations.