MEDIA LITERACY: A MESSAGE FROM A&E TELEVISION NETWORKS
Media literacy is the ability to access, analyze, and evaluate messages from a variety of media forms. It allows people to interact with different media in constructive and thoughtful ways, using and developing their critical thinking skills. It involves the continued questioning of the messages we all receive every day, sometimes in very subtle but still powerful ways.
With the ever-growing nature of information and the endless avenues of receiving this information, the way in which children process and interpret these messages has become increasingly important. Students -children and teenagers alike-are exposed to a variety of media much more vast than that of their parents' generation. As Daniel Rossi, one of the directors of Satellite Academy, explains, "The reality is that our kids are in constant contact with the media. Their opinions -about violence, about commercialism, about issues of race and gender-are often developed as a result of the media images around them, but many aren't even aware of it until they slow down and analyze the process."
In the Information Age in which we live it is virtually impossible to ignore or avoid everyday media. But we can use media to expand our understanding of the world in a positive way. Media literacy promotes learning how to interpret the constant barrage of messages, how to decide which messages are valuable, and how to deal with the potentially negative effects of media.
AETN supports incorporating media literacy into the classroom. Naturally, different points ought to be covered with different age groups. For instance, teachers may want to clarify for younger children what the purpose of commercials is and how advertising works. It may be necessary to explain that all media -even the news-is often biased in one respect or another. Media simply presents a version of reality. Even “reality" television depends on camera angles and the director's choice of images. While it may seem obvious that science fiction films or cartoons are not "real," it can be more difficult for children when it comes to dramas and sitcoms.
We know that most children spend hours in front of their televisions and computer screens each day, and yet there is very little discussion between children and adults about what they are watching. Media literacy starts with simply talking about the media we are consuming. It involves a dialogue between children and their teachers and/or parents-one in which both children and adults ask questions. A teacher might ask a group of students, "Who is this commercial targeting?" Students might be prodded to discuss how different images make them feel about various issues. For example, several characters on one popular high school TV drama are filmed smoking cigarettes on every episode. Why has the creator of this show made this choice? How does this choice affect viewers? High school students can be particularly impressionable targets, drawn to advertised products or activities that claim, if only implicitly, to make people "cooler" or more attractive in some crucial sense. Examining the messages that advertisements and commercials send to their audience is a valuable activity for teachers to engage in with high school students.
Beyond providing information or entertainment, media affects our values and behavior. The media we consume has the ability to affect us on a subconscious level. This makes media education particularly vital. Cable in the Classroom, one organization that strongly supports media literacy, describes how young people's values are slowly molded over time by the media with which they interact: "Our attitudes towards work, school, government and family can all be influenced by media. Each story, whether fact or fiction, reflects underlying values about who or what is important. If women or minorities are consistently portrayed as lacking power and authority, impressionable young viewers may absorb that message. If scenes with smoking, drinking, violence or casual sex are repeatedly shown, young people may believe these behaviors are normal and appropriate. On the other hand, highlighting our shared values can bring us together in times of trouble."
DIGITAL AND MEDIA LITERACY: WHAT EVERYONE SHOULD KNOW
Cable in the Classroom suggests the following "Five Things Everyone Should Know About Media":
- All media messages are constructions
- Each person interprets messages differently
- Media have commercial interests
- Media have values
- Each medium has its own language and style
They explain that by recognizing these facts and understanding what these concepts mean, students can "become active and critical thinkers about media, develop criteria for making decisions about media use, find and identify quality media resources, and talk about what media they are consuming and why." Visit Cable in the Classroom online to explore this topic further: http://www.ciconline.org/Resource/media-literacy-101
A&E Television Networks recognizes that media literacy is an invaluable skill for students in the 21st century. Guiding students to think critically about the media messages they receive is a useful tool in today's classrooms. Our educational department continues to develop materials to aid in this discussion, providing study guides to accompany many of our programs and Biographies (see www.aetv.com/classroom and www.history.com/classroom ). Additionally, we publish educator’s guides and magazines that give our teachers new approaches to incorporating media and discussion into their lesson plans.
For additional resources, please visit these websites:
Books on this topic include:
- Collins, Allan and Richard Halverson. Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology: The Digital Revolution and Schooling in America. (Teachers College Press, 2009).
- Goodman, Steven and Maxine Greene. Teaching Youth Media: A Critical Guide to Literacy, Video Production & Social Change. (Teacher’s College Press: 2003).
- Mossberger, Karen. Digital Citizenship: The Internet, Society, and Participation. (MIT Press, 2007).
- Potter, W. James. Media Literacy (SAGE Publications: 2010).