In Media Literacy
And Their Impact On Students' Learning
Authors: Dr. Renee Hobbs
Associate Professor of Communication
Associate Professor of Sociology Babson College, Wellesley, MA
Submitted for consideration
to the New Jersey Journal of Communication, REVISED, May 31, 1998
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 Speech
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; to identify
author, purpose and point of view in films, commercials, television
and radio programs, magazine and newspaper editorials and advertising;
to identify the range of production techniques that are used to communicate
point of view and shape audience response; to 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; to understand
how media economics shapes message content; and to gain familiarity
and experience in using mass media tools for personal expression and
communication and for purposes of social and political advocacy (Hobbs,
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.
Focus on Staff Development
vs Curriculum Development
The difficulty of sustaining
media literacy programs in K-12 environments may be due to both the
long-term investment and short-term challenges associated with giving
teachers the specific knowledge and skills they need in order to integrate
media literacy into existing instructional contexts. In the 1990s, scholars
working in the field of media literacy education began to move towards
a focus on staff development as a means to implement media literacy
instruction in schools, in contrast to earlier work in the United States
which had emphasized curriculum development and/or the creation of print
and non-print materials for use by teachers in schools (Brown, 1991).
Media education advocates in the United States have historically emphasized
curriculum and materials development, not teacher education. There have
been a substantial number of curricula and materials designed to develop
media literacy skills created since the early 1970s (Center for Media
Literacy, 1995, 1992; Corder Bolz, 1982), with these resources largely
consisting of print and video resource materials designed for a teacher
to use with students.
However, as Andrew Hart
(1992) notes, "a teacher with resources is not necessarily a resourceful
teacher" (p. 99). Many media education resource materials get quickly
out of date, require enormous investments of time on the part of the
teacher, and too easily intimidate busy teachers. According to Hart,
much effective media education work can be implemented without using
off-the-shelf materials, but simply by using "found" resources from
readily available mass media sources. This method of teaching depends
on a continuing investment in initial teacher education as well as on-going
Most of these resource
materials have had a very small audience and a very short shelf life
because of the dynamic nature of the mass media and the high cost of
many of these materials. In addition, there is the difficulty of distributing
curriculum materials widely to teachers in the decentralized US education
system (Kubey, 1998). Many of these materials, since they reflect the
state of mass media of their time period, quickly appear hopelessly
outdated. While some evaluation research has been conducted on the value
of specific materials designed for classroom use (Brown, 1991; Singer
and Singer, 1983), such research has generally not been extended to
look at teacher practices or student performance outside of an experimental
context. i.e., in real-world schools where media literacy is an on-going
part of the instructional program. It has been difficult to evaluate
the usefulness of instructional materials because of often undocumented
variation in the ways in which teachers generally adapt materials to
suit the needs of their students, their own interests and the context
in which they work (Hawthorne, 1992).
Emphasis on staff development
as a means to introduce media literacy into the K-12 environment began
to develop in the early 1990s, after the influential Media Literacy
Leadership Conference, sponsored by the Aspen Institute. In 1993, the
Harvard Institute on Media Education was initiated at the Harvard Graduate
School of Education. It was a week-long program of instruction featuring
a number of scholars and educators with interests in media studies,
cultural studies and education reform which attracted educators from
across the nation. It was the first of a number of staff development
programs that began to emerge in the United States in the 1990s, and
programs for teachers have run at Columbia University, New York University,
the University of Dayton, Clark University, the Walker Art Center in
Minneapolis, and many other sites.
Recognizing that an investment
in teacher education and training is an important component of building
media literacy instruction in K - 12 education, media literacy teacher
education has emphasized the following components:
Built in to this focus on staff
development is the premise that teachers have a diverse range of motivations
for including media literacy in the curriculum, that there are levels
of understanding that teachers pass through as they explore and master
the skills of critical analysis of media, and that their unique strategies
and approaches to the subject need to be respected and valued (Hobbs,
- broad, rich intellectual
training in media studies and education, and not simply "show-and-tell"
about specific resource materials;
- emphasis on an exploration
of the theoretical and practical issues around engaging students in
media analysis and media production activities in the K - 12 classroom;
- time to plan activities
and collaborate with colleagues in designing a program of classroom
activities that can be sustained over time and that map onto the context
of existing instructional practices and curriculum.
The research reported here
attempts to provide documentation of the implementation of media literacy
education in one school community by focusing on both a description
of teachers' instructional practices and the presentation of quantitative
data which illuminates some of the outcomes of student learning. Like
much educational research, this study aims to generate the formation
of research hypotheses arrived at by studying a specific case in detail
(Stake, 1978). This research attempts to use a mix of case study and
empirical data collection to begin to account for the diversity of teacher
practices as well as to document the specific kinds of skills which
may be activated by experience in media analysis and media production
activities. Using a mix of qualitative and quantitative research methods
is not uncommon in educational research: it is a strategy to gain insight
on both the processes used by teachers in implementing an instructional
innovation and to begin to understand the outcome of those processes
on students' knowledge and skills (Merriam, 1988). By using a case study
which documents the instructional practices developed by teachers in
one grade level in one school district, it is possible to monitor the
teachers' implementation of media literacy in the classroom. By "describing
the context and population of the study, discovering the extent to which
the treatment or program has been implemented... case studies are particularly
useful for studying educational innovations, for evaluating programs,
and for informing policy" (Merriam, 1988, p. 31).
This study also makes use
of quantitative data which documents the performance of students on
items designed to measure specific knowledge about the mass media and
skills in analyzing media messages. Quantitative measurement of media
literacy skills is only just emerging in the research literature (Austin
and Johnson, 1997; Quin and McMahon, 1992). This strategy enables the
study of the learning process more fully by focusing on the knowledge-
and skill-based outcomes of the instructional processes used in the
classroom. Too often, research in education may focus exclusively on
the processes of learning and teaching and make little attempt to explore
the results or outcomes of those processes. With research on media literacy
just beginning to emerge in the scholarly literature, research on both
teacher behavior and student performance is needed (Desmond, 1997).
Since the research presented
in this report is designed to document the impact of one staff development
program on the classroom practices of a team of teachers at the secondary
level and the patterns of skills and abilities of their students, this
research is specifically interested in generating hypotheses about how
particular instructional practices and curricula used by teachers may
help develop or strengthen specific components of media literacy skills.
The following questions
guide our inquiry: What kinds of classroom practices build what sorts
of media literacy skills? What styles of instruction best support students'
ability to engage in critical analysis of media texts? Understanding
how specific instructional practices may lead to specific kinds of media
literacy skills generates knowledge that will make it possible to design
programs of teacher education and staff development that are maximally
effective in helping teachers acquire the knowledge, skills and attitudes
that contribute to the development of students' critical analysis and
media production skills.
The Instructional Community
and the Staff Development Process
The site for the research
was a small school district in Massachusetts, a middle-class community
of 10,000 residents, with a large retirement community and residents
who depend on the seasonal tourist economy for their livelihood. The
community has been pursuing staff development opportunities for educators
in media literacy for about three years and as of 1997 had a cadre of
approximately 100 teachers who have had some exposure to instruction
in media literacy.
Most school reform initiatives
develop through the initiative taken by a single individual or small
team of faculty and administrators who develop programs and activities
over a number of years (Hobbs, 1998). The program in this school district
began in 1994, when Mr. MacP., the director of the school's health education
program, sent four educators to media literacy summer programs at the
Harvard Graduate School of Education and to Ryerson Institute in Toronto,
Ontario to learn more about how to integrate media education across
the curriculum. Mr. MacP. recognized that media was a critically important
"environmental factor" in shaping young people's ideas about wellness
and lifestyle choices, including their decisions about sexuality, nutrition,
physical fitness, alcohol, tobacco and drug use. When the team of educators
returned form their summer staff development experiences, they decided
to create a Task Force on Media Literacy. They met during the school
year to plan how to encourage the community's interest in media literacy.
With the assistance of the local cable access center, teachers and students
began receiving video production training.
During the summer of 1995,
the first author was invited to conduct a week-long graduate level course
in media literacy to 30 teachers in the school district. The course
overviewed the central issues in media education using the theoretical
model developed by the British Film Institute. The basic framework of
this model consists of critical questions focused around six key themes:
audience, agency, technologies, languages, representation, and genres.
The staff development course included activities designed to strengthen
teachers' media analysis skills, plus intensive discussion of controversial
issues relevant to media and youth, including the impact of violence,
the representation of gender, race and class, and the social context
of media consumption in the context of a consumer culture. The course
also briefly introduced teachers to the range of materials, curricula
and videotapes available to integrate media literacy into language arts,
social studies and health education. See Appendix A for a review of
the aims and content of this course.
But rather than focusing
on training teachers to use a specific set of materials, resources or
tools, the goals of this course aimed to inspire teachers to make the
connections themselves between their existing curricular goals, their
existing classroom practices, and the activities of media analysis and
media production for students. As part of their coursework, teachers
were required to develop a unit of instruction, with lesson plans and
resource materials, suitable for an instructional period of at least
one week in length, which applied the key concepts of media literacy
to their existing subject areas.
Teachers reported high
levels of satisfaction with the learning experience, and during the
1995-96 school year, many teachers implemented the curricula they had
developed during the summer as the group of teachers continued to meet
for both formal and informal instruction during staff development opportunities.
These opportunities became available during the school year as a result
of the school district receiving a small federal grant from the Center
for Substance Abuse Prevention in Washington, DC.. The grant was awarded
to encourage teachers from all subject areas to explore how issues of
adolescent health (alcohol, tobacco and drug use, sexuality and body
image, nutrition, violence) could be explored through a media literacy
perspective. This research report documents a small component of the
initiatives undertaken in the context of this grant, focusing on the
efforts made at grade nine only.
It is important to stress
that these teacher education opportunities were optional for the educators
in the school district, not mandated or required. These were made available
to educators and offered as optional enrichment activities for teachers
with the time and interest to participate. Overall, teachers who participated
in the staff development experience had a minimum of 35 hours of instruction
to a maximum of 56 hours of instruction over the course of twelve months.
Only the activities of
ninth grade teachers and the performance of ninth grade students in
the school district are reported in this study. Teachers in the ninth
grade had the opportunity to develop a coordinated, cross-disciplinary
approach to ninth grade instruction. This "team-based" approach, which
grouped the entire class of ninth graders into four teams of approximately
65 students, allowed four teachers to work in a coordinated way to provide
instruction in the subject areas of language arts, social studies, math,
science and the arts. In addition, block scheduling made extended 90
minute time periods a routine component of the ninth grade program.
The circumstances of this school district were, in many senses, ideal
for inviting teachers to create new approaches to integrate media literacy
concepts into the curriculum, since high levels of teacher collaboration
were encouraged and supported, and the normally oppressive problems
of scheduling and time periods were reduced as a result of the decision
to implement block scheduling (Hobbs, 1997).
Of the 16 teachers responsible
for ninth grade students, six participated in the media literacy graduate
course. Each of the four ninth-grade teacher teams had at least one
faculty member participate in the media literacy staff development experience.
These teams chose diverse strategies for implementing media literacy
education, and these approaches are described below. A review of the
instructional strategies used by each team is summarized in Appendix
The Chameleon Team
Teachers in the 9th grade
Chameleon team took a comprehensive and coordinated approach to the
process of curriculum development, including their work in implementing
media literacy skills across the curriculum. Two members of the team
participated in the media literacy staff development program, and brought
back the concepts to their colleagues. Team members designed a number
of activities that crossed all four subject areas during the summer.
This was the only team that wrote a detailed curriculum plan which outlined
all the elements of the semester across all four subject areas.
Some activities included
a serious inquiry on news and newsmaking, including students' daily
reading and analysis of the Boston Globe. Students analyzed advertising,
with explicit focus on target audiences, appeals, visual and auditory
attentional devices and placement of ads in various sections of the
newspapers and in different dayparts in the broadcast schedule. Students
counted, charted and analyzed the patterns of advertising in newspapers
and on television news. In math, the teacher included lesson dealing
with logical reasoning, including syllogisms and hypothetical reasoning.
They learned about cigarette advertising and promotional efforts as
they affected the economics of different professional sports. In English,
students practiced writing news articles, press releases and editorials
on a variety of different political and social issues.
One major activity involved
the creation of a student media production Students worked in teams
to create messages using the formats of magazine, radio and television.
They created various news, ads, and editorials. They had to choose a
specific target audience and had to have include some content from each
of the four content areas in math, language arts, science and history.
Some students presented magazine articles which surveyed how much water
people use, including charts and graphs of the patterns they discovered
in their research. Some students included radio interviews with famous
characters from ancient Roman history in a sort of "time travel" radio
drama. Students worked in teams, but the final project work was individually
graded. They had a written paper which served as an opportunity to reflect
on the learning experience as well as week-by-week logs of the strategies
they used to complete their work. The entire project took 12 weeks from
start to finish and students were given structured intervals to work
on these projects within the context of the instructional day.
Ms. L., the history teacher
for the Chameleon team explained, "We did this because we wanted them
to realize how much work and how much thought goes into the construction
of a piece." According to Ms. L., "Media literacy is learning to ask
questions, to put ideas together and to discover meanings in messages
by thinking for yourself."
In the Chameleon's science
class, Mr. D. and his students investigated the representation of scientific
information in the mass media, looking at differences and similarities
in the ways that newspapers, magazines and television news depict the
scientific method, new evidence on various medical developments and
controversies in science. In one activity, Mr. D. included a close analysis
of two different documentaries about the Alaskan oil spill in his unit
on the environment. He conducted a series of activities where students
formally analyzed the representation of a number of topics of a National
Geographic video about the Exxon Valdez oil disaster and compared it
to the videotape about the event produced by Exxon, which is circulated
widely to science teachers in the United States. According to Mr. D.,
"Students will be learning about science for the rest of their lives
via the mass media. It's very important for them to recognize the kinds
of messages about science that get a lot of visibility in the media
and appreciate the wide range of information that doesn't get media
attention, because these patterns influence the kinds of policy decisions
people make about supporting scientific research as well as decision-making
about environmental regulations and such."
In addition, during the
fall of 1995, the Chameleon students had an "enrichment" experience
that contributed to the media literacy skills of some students. About
half of the students in the Chameleon team had the opportunity to participate
in a two day-long program of lessons from the KNOW TV curriculum, offered
by the author as part of the creation of a one-minute videotape about
the program, which was scheduled to air as part of the cable industry's
annual televised award program, The Cable Ace Awards. On the first day,
students engaged in the workshop, which consists of activities, viewing
and discussion and lessons to help students ask critical questions about
non-fiction television programming. Some of these questions included:
How does the producer's motive shape the program content? What techniques
are used to enhance the authenticity and authority of the message? What
techniques are used to attract audience attention? How are image, sound
and language used to convey meaning? How might different viewers interpret
this message? Who makes money from this message?
On the second day, students
were videotaped by a professional camera crew, and activities which
had been implemented on the first day were re-created for the camera
crew. This experience created a great deal of excitement in the school,
as students watched the producer, director, sound and lighting crew
transform the classroom into a set, tape various lesson plans and activities
from multiple angles, and gather footage needed to produce the segment.
Both teachers and students at the school recognized the value of an
informal learning experience-- participating in the construction of
a videotape -- as a useful strategy in helping students appreciate how
media messages are constructed.
The Chameleon team used
the widest variety of instructional practices to develop media literacy
skills, including media literacy fully across all subject areas, using
primarily teacher-generated activities and materials, including a balance
of media analysis and media production activities.
The Plaid Team
Only one teacher in the
Plaid team participated in the summer staff development program, and
he told his team colleagues that he planned to continue using his existing
methods for integrating film and video into the social studies curriculum.
Mr. C. was unimpressed with the existing curriculum materials in media
literacy that were briefly reviewed in the staff development course,
and he chose not to use any of these materials in his teaching. A social
studies teacher, Mr. C. has been using video and film actively for more
than ten years, and has a well-developed philosophy about the use of
video in history as well as a set of teaching methods he has been developing
over the years. This philosophy did not change as a result of his participation
in the staff development program. On a daily basis, he used short video
clips from feature films, documentaries and other sources to illustrate
various aspects of his world history course. For example, he used John
Ford's film, "Grapes of Wrath" starring Henry Fonda when he taught about
America during the 1930s; he used Cecil B. DeMille's "Ben Hur" and "El
Cid" when he taught about Roman history. Mr. C.'s strategy was to show
short (10 - 20 minute) clips from these films along with a worksheet
that invited students to notice various aspects of geographic, social,
cultural and political life that is represented in the films. He included
questions like: "What kind of architecture is evident?" and "What kind
of relationships between men and women are evident?" In addition, he
used interpretive questions that invite students to reflect on the connections
and paradoxes that emerge when comparing and contrasting the representations
of history in the textbook to the one shown on the screen.
He also included a media
production activity where students work in teams to create a short video
piece about a specific geographic region by writing scripts and selecting
and ordering six pictorial images, then transferring the narration and
images to videotape. The first step in this activity was to write scripts
about their chosen country based on information provided in the textbook
and library research. Mr. C. rescued 50 old issues of National Geographic
from the dump, and in the second phase of the activity, gave each team
of 4 to 5 students a few magazines, and invited them to select pictures
about various aspects of the culture, including geography and environment,
cultural practices, physical resources, and kinship patterns. Students
cut out about 60 different images, but worked as a team to select only
six to be used in their video. Mr. C. provided a flow chart for planning
the process, and in six 90-minute classroom periods, he can get 6 teams
to produce a videotape, which he then screened for students as a "review"
for the end of year test. Mr. C.'s rationale for his teaching method
was pragmatic. "History is generally boring for students, more so than
other subjects. I try to make it interesting by using a variety of approaches."
He noted, "That's especially important in 90 minute classes, and it's
more interesting for me, teaching 4 classes covering the same material
each day. Video also gives me a break, because that 15 minute clip that
I use makes my life easier, too."
Mrs. W., his colleague
teaching English, included one major activity that promoted media analysis
skills, a cross-media comparison involving Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird.
In the activity, students read the book, watched the film, and saw a
live stage production of the play, discussing the issues involved in
film and theatrical adaptation by looking at the characteristics of
The Plaid team's exposure
to media literacy came primarily through the use of film and video in
the teaching of the specific subject areas of social studies and a cross-media
comparison in language arts, with no use of off-the-shelf materials
or specific instructional coverage of genres like news or advertising.
The Red Team
One teacher from the Red
team participated in the staff development program. Mr. R. developed
a six week unit and included a series of lessons around the theme of
"Heroes," a part of the 9th grade English curriculum as outlined in
the school's textbook series. He included the examination of heroes
in the mass media, including those from popular film and television
programs, as well as those from athletics, music and contemporary politics.
Mr. R appreciated the off-the-shelf curriculum materials that were made
available to teachers and used them in his work with students. One example
of a classroom activity was an activity from the Beyond Blame curriculum
on media violence (Center for Media Literacy, 1995) involving counting
different types of violence in a action/adventure program, including
a writing activity about students' experience in doing this activity.
According to Mr. R., "The students did some of their best writing since
kids could go in any direction they wanted." He also used the Adsmarts
curriculum (Center for Media Literacy, 1992) to help students analyze
alcohol and tobacco advertising. In the process, students made their
own print and video ads. In science class, teacher Ms. C. involved students
in making short documentary videos about the environment, including
explicit instruction on how point of view can be established through
visual and verbal devices.
Mr. R.'s motives in including
media literacy in the curriculum related to his concerns about the impact
of media culture on his students. He noted his pleasures and frustrations
in implementing these activities by stating, "It was fascinating to
see how students' eyes were opened to the power and influence of media
in their lives, but it was frustrating to see how many of them don't
want to think while they watch TV." He described himself as doing "a
little sermonizing" by informing students about the statistics about
the ubiquity of media violence, real violence, and the at-risk position
of youth in contemporary culture. But he recognized the contradiction
of using this teaching method, noting, "Students almost have to convince
themselves instead of accepting a 50-year old's point of view."
The Red Team's exposure
to media literacy came primarily through the use of two off-the-shelf
programs for media literacy, both designed to explore two problematic
aspects of media culture: violence and substance abuse. Students were
exposed to media analysis activities in language arts and exposed to
media production activities in science, but these activities were not
The Gold Team
Teachers on Gold team planned
not to develop a media literacy program, and at the beginning of the
school year in 1995, the researchers and our liaison with the school,
Mr. MacP., agreed that the Gold team was intended to serve as a control
group for this research. While two of the teachers did participate in
the staff development program, they informed Mr. MacP. that they did
not intend to make any modifications to their curriculum during the
1995-96 school year, noting that they had already actively collaborated
on a number of new curriculum activities during the previous year. However,
by the Spring of 1996, a series of unexpected activities converged to
influence the Gold team teachers to include some media literacy activities
in their curriculum. The first event was the revelation that a school
teacher in the district had participated in the making of some pornographic
films. When this information was made public (by a parent in the school
district who noticed the teacher's photograph on the cover of a videotape
in the local rental outlet), the school was subjected to intense media
scrutiny for at least a week. Satellite trucks surrounded the school,
reporters waited outside the building to interview students and teachers,
and the story was big news on local news, Inside Edition, the print
tabloids, and on radio. Not only did the event raise intriguing questions
about personal freedom and the role of a teacher in the community, the
media coverage of the event inspired a number of teachers to reflect
carefully on the process of newsmaking, sensationalism, the function
of the press in a community, the power of images, and the media circus,
which created opportunities for some students and parents to become
One Gold Team teacher who
had participated in the media literacy staff development program used
the opportunity as a "teachable moment" to explore issues of freedom,
responsibility, media power, and other issues, as did a number of other
staff at the high school and middle schools in the district. Many teachers,
however, were angry or frustrated or incapable of dealing with the issue
in their classrooms. Many teachers preferred to ignore the video vans,
reporters and microphones to concentrate on dealing about ancient Greece,
Huck Finn or cell mitosis as opposed to the complex social, political
and personal crisis occurring in the school community. However, this
experience did serve as a catalyst for some teachers to become more
active and committed in their stance towards the value of media literacy
for students, and in particular, this situation mobilized leadership
among one member of the Gold team who had participated in the graduate
staff development course in media literacy.
Another factor that caused
the Gold team to choose to implement some media literacy activities
during the spring semester was a special staff development program on
the Adsmarts curriculum (Center for Media Literacy, 1992). A key member
of the Gold team attended this staff development program and was inspired
by the materials to begin using them immediately. This teacher recognized
that many of her students were starting to smoke and use alcohol, and
she initiated a series of activities with the Gold team faculty members
which led to the implementation of some student activities very late
in the academic school year.
In particular, the study
of advertising led to a production activity. The Gold team students
were divided into four groups. For eight classes, students invented
a product and designed a series of advertising messages using formats
including magazine, radio and television advertising. Some other examples
of Gold Team projects included designing promotional materials for a
favorite book, analyzing tobacco and alcohol advertising, and creating
written and visual works which demonstrated their awareness of the strategies
used by advertisers to appeal to various demographic groups. Mr. P.,
a Gold team teacher, was surprised to discover how much interest students
had in looking at old magazines when the class studied the history of
advertising in the context of a social studies class. "The kids were
overwhelmed with interest-- they were actively reading old magazines
for a project involved with finding certain themes in advertising messages.
I discovered that some students didn't understand the concept of 'theme,'
but this activity made them work hard to try to get it." So in effect,
at the beginning of the school year, the Gold team teachers lacked interest
in developing media literacy activities in their classes, but as the
school year progressed, these teachers decided to pursue some media
literacy projects. The Gold Team did not plan to implement media literacy,
but chose to do so near the end of the school year after faculty and
students experienced a media event which affected the entire school
community. The Gold Team included both media analysis and media production
activities, and used off-the-shelf curriculum materials designed to
help students critically analyze alcohol and tobacco advertising.
Research Design and
The research consisted
of a post-test only, non-experimental study comparing the comprehension,
media knowledge and media analysis skills among four group of students
who participated in four different approaches to integrating media literacy
into the curriculum, designed by teachers who participated in a staff
development program in media literacy. Researchers were aware that three
teacher teams would be implementing media literacy activities in their
classrooms, and anticipated that the Gold Team students would serve
as control group for the research. However, as just described, at the
end of the school year, we discovered through teacher interviews that
all four teams had implemented some media literacy activities in their
classrooms. Because of the limitations of the research design, the evidence
from this study is best understood as a strategy for hypothesis formulation
Nearly the entire population
of 15 year olds in this small school district were sampled. Approximately
20 students were absent from class on the days we gathered data, but
we still were able to assess the skills of more than 90% of the ninth
grade population in the school district. Our original research design
was to compare the performance of these students to a similar group
of students whose teachers were not engaged in integrating media literacy
into the curriculum. We attempted to collect data from two different
school districts but were refused access, a problem not uncommon in
educational research (Office of Technology Assessment, 1992).
The school district's philosophy
of heterogeneous grouping allowed us to make the assumption that students
were more or less randomly assigned to membership in one of the four
9th grade teams. However, one teacher pointed out evidence that suggested
this assumption may be flawed. In the school year we conducted this
research, two groups of students were not randomly assigned to membership
in one of the teams: students who were enrolled in "Transitional Math,"
a pre-algebra course, and students who were participating in the school
band. One teacher noted that, as a result of scheduling, the Plaid team
membership included students enrolled in the band, but included no students
enrolled in "Transitional Math." From his point of view, this decreased
the normal diversity in his team. No other teachers identified differences
between the membership composition of the distribution of students as
an explanatory factor in affecting the performance of the four teams,
however. Because of complications with scheduling, only 30 of the Plaid
Team students were able to participate in the research, instead of the
full complement of 60 students, reducing the Plaid Team sample size
to only half the size of the three other teams. This must be considered
in comparing the performance of the Plaid students to students in other
teams where we have access to the whole class.
Measurement of Students'
Knowledge and Skills in Media Analysis
In order to assess student
performance in media analysis activities, we adapted a measurement strategy
used in Western Australia to measure the performance of more than 1,500
15 year olds developed by Quin and McMahon (l993). The procedure consists
of a posttest-only design. After providing students with access to a
particular media 'text,' a set of questions is administered via paper
and pencil measures, designed to determine students' ability to identify
author and purpose, point of view, target audience, strategies to attract
attention, techniques used to convey mood and tone, and other basic
media analysis tasks, focusing particularly on textual analysis.
The instrument used a text
from a television news program targeted to teens (a "Channel One" broadcast
about Hurricane Andrew, which was originally aired in 1992). This text
was selected because students in the school district were unfamiliar
with the format of Channel One, unfamiliar with a hurricane that had
occurred more than four years earlier and in South Florida, yet generally
interested in hurricanes. The segment itself makes use of a number of
devices which make it visually different from local or network broadcast
news. 'Channel One' makes use of teenagers as sources of information,
features teen anchors, uses informal settings and appearance, emphasizes
popular music, rapid editing, and uses detailed, lengthy exposition
about background facts and information often supported by elaborate
graphics, maps or other visuals.
The research was administered
to students over a two day period. A team of students saw the six-minute
video in a large room, and then were moved into two smaller rooms to
complete the questionnaires. Approximately 30 minutes were required
for students to complete the items.
Measurement of the Variables
Comprehension skills were
measured by asking students to complete five multiple choice questions
and two open-ended questions regarding the significant factual content
of the newscast. These questions focused on students' ability to recall
information that was verbally, graphically and visually presented in
the segment. These included the ability to identify: the number of people
forced to evacuate their homes after the hurricane, the number of people
killed, the factors which contributed to the cost of the storm damage,
the wind speed category designation system, and the part of the hurricane
that is most damaging to the coastal areas.
Media literacy skills were
measured by asking students to complete two multiple choice questions
and five open-ended questions, designed to measure students' ability
to identify the newscast's target audience, the use of sources in the
newscast, the differences and similarities between the newscast and
local or network news, techniques in the newscast designed to attract
audience attention, and the ability to identify facts which were omitted
from the segment.
Media consumption habits
and behaviors were measures by questions exploring students' viewing
habits (using the "viewed yesterday" method), the number of working
TVs in the home, subscriptions to cable television, daily newspaper,
and/or weekly newsmagazines; number of people in family. From the data
collected via "viewed yesterday," we coded for the number of hours,
as well as for the target programs of news, talk shows or reality TV
Two coders coded the open-ended
questions with an inter-rater reliability of greater than 90%. We conducted
ANOVAs and regression analyses using the BMDP statistical package.
The Chameleon students
significantly outperformed all other groups in media analysis skills,
receiving a mean score of 4.22 (with a range of 0 to 7) in the overall
summary score of all items (F = 5.46, df 3, 193, p <.001). The Red team
students consistently scored lowest in most measures of media analysis.
For example, only 43% of the Red team members could identify the target
audience for the newscast as aimed at teenagers, compared with 61% of
the Chameleon team (F= 3.34, df, 3, 193, p<.02). Only 33% of Red team
students were able to identify the author of the news segment as 'Channel
One,' when presented with four options in a multiple choice format,
compared with 72% of Chameleon team members (F = 7.68, df, 3, 193, p
, .001). Chameleon team members were also much better able to identify
sources used in the construction of the newscast (F - 2.38, df, 3, 193,
p <.07) and much better in identifying techniques used to attract audience
attention (F = 3.49, df, 3,193, p<.01). Table 1 displays these results.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Insert Tables 1 and 2 here (not available)
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
On the comprehension measures,
the Plaid team students outperformed other groups, with an overall mean
score of 5.18, compared with the Red team (3.72), the Gold team (4.69)
and the Chameleon team (4.22). These results were highly significant
(F - 6.52, df, 3, 193, p < .0003). Table 2 displays these results.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Insert Tables 3 and 4 here (not availabe)
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
When we examined students'
media use habits, we discovered that Plaid team students had significantly
fewer television sets in the home as compared with other students (F
= 4.52, df, 3, 180, p < .004) and the Plaid and Gold team members watched
fewer talk shows (F = 4.66, df, 3, 193, p <.003). Table 3 displays these
results. We suspect that these differences may be a result of the differences
in sample size between the Plaid group and the other teams. In addition
these differences may be due to the non-random sampling procedures regarding
the pre-algebra math students and those enrolled in the school band.
Table 4 reveals that the number of televisions in the home is inversely
correlated with performance on comprehension (F = 4.90, df, 2, 181,
p <.003), but not media literacy skills. The fewer TVs in the home,
the higher are students' comprehension of television news programming.
Media literacy skills also point in this direction, but the findings
are not statistically significant.
Discussion and Interpretation
This case study suggests
that media literacy initiatives which attempt to reach large numbers
of students in a school district may depend on the leadership and facilitation
by a dedicated individual, but that a program of staff development plus
support and enthusiasm from a large number of faculty is essential as
well. Teachers need to be comfortable and confident in order to include
new approaches, topics and activities into their classrooms. Staff development
experiences that provide opportunities for thoughtful discussion about
issues related to the intersection of media studies and education can
encourage the development of professional relationships between teachers
that facilitates active support and collaboration between colleagues.
A number of external factors
shaped the decisions by individual teachers to begin the process of
including media literacy as a component of instruction in the ninth
grade, including data concerning the rise in teenage smoking and an
incident where the school gained the momentary attention of the "media
circus" for a newsworthy, sensational event. This case study demonstrates
the variety and unpredictability of various "entry points" for teachers
as they develop and refine their own reasons for deciding to include
media literacy within the content of their existing curriculum. The
case study evidence suggests one hypothesis for future research: that
different experiences and evidence can motivate teachers to recognize
the relevance of incorporating media literacy concepts and activities
into their existing instructional program, and that these experiences
may shape the curricular choices made by teachers.
While all teachers received
the same staff development experience, they responded to the experience
differently. Some were confident only in trying out the use of existing
off-the-shelf curriculum, while others developed original lesson plans
and activities independently. Some worked alone within their own classrooms,
while others actively developed collaborative, cross-disciplinary projects
involving other teachers. Some maintained their existing attitudes and
beliefs about using media in the classroom, while others described a
process of tremendous growth and change in their understanding of the
role of media in the classroom.
The results of the quantitative
research on students' learning show that students' media analysis skills
were highest for those students participating in a program of instruction
where media literacy skills are integrated across all subject areas,
where teacher-generated activities and materials were used, where explicit
connections were developed across subject areas, where both analysis
and production activities were included, and where explicit instruction
in various genres (including news, documentary, and advertising) was
included. Simply exploring the issues of violence or substance abuse
in the media in a short set of lesson plans using off-the-shelf curricula
did not appear to develop effective analysis skills.
This research also shows
that students' ability to recall and remember information presented
on television was highest for those participating in a program where
film and video texts were used with highest frequency, on a daily or
near-daily basis, in an instructional context where students are required
to retrieve information from visual sources. Simply studying the genres
of news or advertising, or exploring the issues of violence in the media
or substance abuse, did not appear to develop effective comprehension
Because of the limitations
of the research design, the evidence from this study is best understood
as a strategy for hypothesis formulation. The data suggest another hypothesis
for future research: that it may be possible for students to achieve
very competent levels of media analysis skills without specific instruction
in a specific media genre (e.g., news, advertising, documentary). Plaid
team students performed well in media analysis skills even though they
did not receive explicit instruction about newsmaking. However, the
performance of the Plaid team students may be due to the configuration
of students who participated in the research, since only half of the
students in the Plaid team were sampled. If we had been able to collect
data from the whole Plaid team, we may have found the media analysis
and media comprehension scores to be lower with a larger number of students
included in the sample. Understanding more about the acquisition of
media analysis skills in relation to the study of specific media genres
is an important future research issue. If media literacy skills can
be developed without specific focus on media genres of news, advertising
and documentary, this would shift much of contemporary instructional
philosophy in the field (Hobbs, 1994). Further research is needed to
explore this hypothesis in more depth.
As noted throughout, this
research represents very preliminary evidence from a small team of teachers
and a small sample of students in a single school district. This research
was not able to include a control-group, pre-post, or other experimental
design which would enable us to pinpoint exactly which combination of
classroom practices affected student skills. As a result, the generalizability
of this research is limited.
However this research explores
possible connections between teachers' strategies, choices and philosophy
in approaching media literacy in the classroom and the specific patterns
of ability in the performance on students on media analysis and media
comprehension skills. The evidence suggests a third hypothesis for future
research: that the frequent use of video and film based texts in the
classroom can students build the ability to effectively use television
news as a resource for gaining information. The evidence also suggests
a final hypothesis for future research: that student media analysis
skills are strongest when explicit instruction in specific media genres
(news, advertising, documentary) is paired with the application of media
literacy skills in a number of different subject areas cross the curriculum,
using a balance of media analysis and media production activities.
This research demonstrates
the diverse range of approaches that different teachers use when attempting
to design a series of classroom practices that drew upon connections
between media analysis and media production activities and existing
curriculum goals for language arts, science, social studies and math.
Such documentation is increasingly valuable as we attempt to gain a
clear picture of the kinds of classroom practices now emerging among
educators who implement media literacy instruction in the K - 12 community.
Anderson, J. (1980). The
theoretical lineage of critical viewing curricula. Journal of communication
Austin, E. and Johnson,
K. (1997). Effects of general and alcohol-specific media literacy training
on children's decision making about alcohol. Journal of health communication
Berko, Roy (June, 1996)
SCA issues speaking, listening and media literacy standards. Spectra.
Annandale, VA: Speech Communication Asssociation.
Brown, James A. (l99l).
Television critical viewing skills education: Major media literacy projects
in the United States and selected countries. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum
Center for Media Literacy
(1992) Adsmarts. A curriculum for analyzing alcohol and tobacco advertising.
Los Angeles: Scott Newman Center.
Center for Media Literacy
(1995) Beyond Blame. A curriculum for analyzing media violence. Los
Angeles: Center for Media Literacy.
Corder-Bolz, Charles (1982).
"Critical viewing skills education," In David Pearl (Ed.) Television
and behavior. Volume 2. Washington, DC: National Institute on Mental
Desmond, Roger (1997).
TV Viewing, reading and media literacy. In James Flood, Shirley Brice
Heath and Diane Lapp (Eds.) Handbook of research on teaching literacy
through the communicative and visual arts. New York: International Reading
Association and Macmillan Library Reference.
Hart, Andrew (l992). Teaching
with what? Making sense of media education resources. In Cary Bazalgette,
Evelyne Bevort, Josianne Savino (Eds.) New directions: Media education
worldwide. London: British Film Institute.
Hawthorne, R.C. (1992).
Curriculum in the making: Teacher choice and the classroom experience.
New York: Teachers College Press.
Hobbs, Renee (1998) The
seven great debates in the media literacy movement. Journal of communication,
Hobbs, Renee (1997). Literacy
for the information age. In James Flood, Shirley Brice Heath and Diane
Lapp (Eds.) Handbook of research on teaching literacy through the communicative
and visual arts. New York: International Reading Association and Macmillan
Hobbs, Renee (l996). Expanding
the concept of literacy. In Robert Kubey (Ed.) Media literacy in the
information age. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Press.
Hobbs, Renee (l994). Teaching
media literacy-- Are you hip to this? Media studies journal, Winter,
Kubey, Robert (1998). Obstacles
to the development of media education in the U.S. Journal of communication,
McCannon, Bob. (l995, Fall)
New Mexico Media Literacy Project Newsletter. Albuquerque Academy.
Merriam, Sharan B. (1988).
Case study research in education: A qualitative approach. San Fransisco:
Messaris, Paul. (l994)
Visual 'literacy': Image, mind and reality. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Office of Technology Assessment
(February, 1992) Testing in American schools: Asking the right questions.
OTA-SET 519. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office.
Ploghoft, M.E. and Anderson,
J.A. (l982). Teaching critical television viewing skills: An integrated
approach. Springfield, IL: Charles Thomas.
Singer, D.G. and Singer,
J.L. (1983). Learning how to be intelligent consumers of television.
In M.J.A. Howe (Ed.) Learning from television: Psychological and educational
research (pp. 203-222). London: Academic Press.
Quin, Robyn and McMahon,
Barrie. (l994). Monitoring standards in media education. Ministry of
Stake, R.E. (1978). The
case study method in social inquiry. Educational researcher 7, 5-8.
Address inquires to:
One College Drive
213 Kriebel Hall
Wellesley, MA 02157
Phone: (781) 239-4975
Fax: (781) 239-6465