Media Literacy – More than just using Ed Tech

I spent an amazing day earlier this week at “Yes, And… A NAMLE Preconference Symposium on Media Literacy Education in Early Childhood.” If you’re not familiar with NAMLE – National Association for Media Literacy in Education – (I wasn’t), you can check out their website. I received a free invite to the symposium and conference and, because I never turn down free learning, I was pretty excited to go. In my mind, this session was going to be about getting preschoolers on iPads and other fun tech. What I didn’t realize was there is WAY more to media literacy than knowing how to connect to the WiFi. I had a few Oprah-worthy “a-ha moments” as I sat in the room where 10% of the  attendees were subject matter experts and book authors.

The session started with NAMLE’s founding president and symposium faciliator Dr. Faith Rogow. Behind her on the projection screen was a horse running a beach. She gestured to the screen and asked us, “What do you see?” Answers seemed obvious: a horse, a beach, waves, the ocean. Then she smiled and said, “It’s a PICTURE of a horse.” As the chuckles subsided, I hadn’t yet realized how well that statement set the stage for unveiling a whole new way to consume media.

NAMLE makes it very clear from their core principles that media literacy is a mindset, a way of thinking, and a way of interpreting all media around us:

The purpose of media literacy education is to help individuals of all ages develop the habits of inquiry and skills of expression that they need to be critical thinkers, effective communicators and active citizens in today’s world.

Habits of inquiry and skills of expression. This is way more than being tech savvy. Critical thinkers, effective communicators, and active citizens. This is 21st century skills meeting a healthy dose of creativity with a sprinkle of well-needed cynicism.

Look at that graphic I posted above and all of the higher level thinking skills going on there! We’re talking about those top rungs on Bloom’s Taxonomy! Cyndy Scheibe of Ithaca College’s Project Look Sharp shared three very important rules for constructivist media decoding (a way to encourage students to examine diverse media):

  1. Always start with your goals
  2. Consider your audience
  3. Ask, don’t tell – then probe for evidence

It seems pretty simple – but these three rules can apply to so much more than evaluating media. We spent a large portion of the day on the importance of questioning. Instead of accepting what children say to you, ask : How do you know this? Where did you learn that? Why do you think this happens? Where can we look to learn more? The focus was not just on getting children to soak up knowledge like  sponges, but to think carefully about the process of researching and learning, and carefully drawing conclusions based on multiple sources of evidence. Oh yeah, and we were STILL talking about working only with preschoolers. Think about it – the preschool years are so full of wonder and inquiry about everything from categorizing dinosaurs, to learning the letters in my name, and wondering how boogers got in my nose before I pulled them out with my finger. (That last one truly came from a former student of mine.) It only seems logical that we can extend this inquiry and “let’s find it out” mindset to media.

We talked in the symposium about how in every television show, commercial, or YouTube ad there are actors wearing costumes – even if it’s an average looking person dressed in everyday clothes. There was equal talk of getting children to show what they know in multiple ways – through pictures, images, voice recordings, tweeting and even blogging. Yes, we talked about preschoolers blogging – and it’s being done with great results! We talked about getting children to be careful consumers of media from how they look at a cereal commercial on TV to what advertisements are on a website. Gail Lovely of Suddenly it Clicks shared experiences of using iPads to create dual language picture and audio books to help children preserve their Cherokee culture and language. We ended the day sharing tips and tricks for “tweaking” our professional practice to help encourage media literacy and be more mindful of how we present and create media within the classroom (these were videoed and will be featured on NAMLE’s YouTube channel). The backchat on Twitter was full of great quotes from the day along with link after link for more resources. We had become intent on sharing what we know and working together. A list of media literacy outcomes (pic below) was shared and we were challenged as a group to analyze this list and wonder what else we should share. Totally different than just a day of presentation, this was a true collaborative experience.

Over 8 hours, I was immersed in a roiling sea of great minds colliding with novices, swirling through resources, links, and examples, and surmounting in waves of discovery. Together, this group was able to excite and engage my mind and get me excited to share what I saw and heard. Upon reflection, it was a type of engagement that I have only experienced on several other occasions. I thought I was going to get the general, “Use tech as a tool, not a treat” lecture… instead, I learned how to probe with questions, use media to support learning, and make children critical thinkers. It was mind-blowing. I’ll wrap up here with a quote from Dr. Vivian Vasquez of American University:

We want them [children] to be able to think more deeply about media, culture, and the world all the time – not just when we demand it of them.


 

Here are some links that can help you if you’re interested in media literacy at ANY age level and links for using technology appropriately with young children: