Media Literacy (page 2)
As American culture becomes increasingly permeated with media messages and images, many advocates and educators have moved toward media literacy as a way to educate young people about the role media play in their lives. There is a wide diversity of perspectives and approaches in the emerging media literacy movement. Some proponents contend that media literacy is a viable way to mitigate the potential adverse effects of media and enhance its benefits. Others argue that media literacy education should help youth become critical media consumers as well as empower them as citizens to make informed choices and actively participate in society.
Defining Media Literacy
According to the definition established by the National Leadership Conference on Media Literacy, media literacy is the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and produce communication in a variety of forms.1 In essence, a media literate person can think critically about what they see, hear and read in books, newspapers, magazines, television, radio, movies, music, advertising, video games, the Internet, and new emerging technology. For many proponents, it also includes learning how to create messages using print, audio, video, and multimedia.
Advocates of media literacy emphasize five basic principles for critical analysis of media messages:2
- Media messages are constructed.
- Messages are representations of reality with embedded values and points of view.
- Each form of media uses a unique set of rules to construct messages.
- Individuals interpret media messages and create their own meaning based on personal experience.
- Media are driven by profi t within economic and political contexts.
Media Literacy Education
While there is no national policy on media education in the United States,3 several policymakers endorse media literacy programs as a way to educate and enlighten children about media.4 Within the nation's educational system, media literacy standards and curricula have been developed by individual states, districts, schools or teachers, as well as professional organizations.5
- According to a recent study, all 50 states now have at least one element of media literacy as part of the educational framework. Most incorporate media literacy as a component in major subject areas such as English, language and communication arts, social studies, civics or health.6
- A preliminary e-survey of U.S. colleges and universities revealed that training in media literacy is in the formative stage of development in teacher education programs.7 Educational opportunities are largely limited to continuing education courses, in-service workshops, professional conferences, seminars and institutes.8
- The media literacy movement has spawned two national organizations in the United States that advance media education training, networking, and information exchange through professional conferences and media list-serves: Alliance for a Media Literate America (AMLA) and Action Coalition for Media Education (ACME).11
- Some free speech advocates support media literacy education as a preferable alternative to efforts to restrict access to ideas and information that may be potentially harmful to children.9
- There are critics of media literacy education who debate the merits of teaching about popular culture because they claim it weakens the quality of instruction and undermines teacher authority. Some also object to any additions to the already overburdened curriculum, question the protectionist approach as an educational objective, equate media literacy with media-bashing, or oppose it for other reasons.10
Beyond the Classroom
- Media literacy education is not limited to formal classroom instruction. A variety of extra-curricular programs teach media literacy skills as part of after-school activities, summer camps, community organizations, and faith-based groups, and several organizations actively support youth media makers.12
Family Media Literacy
- Since home is where children spend most of their time using media, some proponents of media literacy have focused on helping parents develop their children's media literacy skills through active mediation,13 including making a family media plan, using media together, and discussing media content with children.14
- The National PTA is an advocate for children's media issues and developed the Taking Charge of Your TV project in partnership with Cable in the Classroom and the National Cable and Telecommunications Association. The project trains cable and PTA leaders in key elements of media literacy to present workshops for parents, caregivers, educators, and community groups.15 Other media organizations and independent consultants offer similar training and workshops.16
- The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises pediatricians to talk to parents and their children during offi ce visits about media exposure to determine how family media habits contribute to a child's psychosocial and physical well-being. The AAP Media Matters Campaign also provides media education resources for parents and recommends guidelines for healthy development.17
Media Literacy Resources for Educators and Parents
Action Coalition for Media Education
Alliance for a Media Literate America
Cable in the Classroom
Center for Media Literacy
Media Literacy Clearinghouse
Media Literacy Online Project
National Telemedia Council
Project Look Sharp
Effectiveness of Media Literacy
Media literacy increasingly is being integrated into educational programs for school children, college students, parents, educators, and health practitioners. Although the efficacy of these programs usually is not explicitly measured, an emerging body of research is examining media literacy as a health promotion strategy and as a tool for developing critical thinking and literacy skills. The following summarizes some of the key fi ndings of recent research studies conducted in the United States.
Media Violence, Aggression and Anti-social Behavior
- Several studies have indicated that media literacy lessons incorporated into standard curriculum can help reduce potentially harmful effects of TV violence on young viewers. In one study, 3rd and 4thgraders given a course in media literacy decreased their time spent watching TV and playing video games and reduced their use of verbal and physical aggression as judged by their peers.18 Another study of a year-long critical viewing curriculum found that children in the early grades watched less violent TV and identified less with aggressive characters after the intervention.19
- Other studies have concluded that media literacy interventions can help high-risk youth develop more responsible decision-making skills in their own lives. According to an evaluation of Flashpoint, implemented by the Massachusetts Juvenile Justice System, learning to deconstruct media messages helped juvenile offenders think critically about the consequences of risky behaviors and develop strategies to resist impulses that may lead them to engage in these behaviors, particularly during stressful moments or "flashpoints" in their lives.20 Another evaluation of a program instituted in the New York State Office of Children and Family had similar findings and found there were benefi ts of involving high-risk youth at an early age in media literacy training.21
Body Image, Nutrition and Fitness
- An evaluation of GO GIRLS!, a media education program created by the National Eating Disorders Association, found that media literacy skills can help high school girls enhance their sense of self-acceptance and empowerment regarding media images of women's bodies.22 Other studies have found that even brief peer-guided workshops can be effective in counteracting messages that perpetuate unrealistic body images and promote unhealthy eating.23
- A study of the effectiveness of ATLAS, a teamcentered media literacy intervention for high school male athletes, found that the program helped develop skepticism about steroids and supplements while building knowledge about strength-training. After one year, male teen athletes reported less intention to use steroids and a reduction in their use of illicit drugs such as marijuana, amphetamines, and narcotics. Other long-term health effects included less supplement use, improved nutrition behaviors, and fewer reports of drinking and driving.24
Analyzing Media Messages
Media literacy educators suggest key questions to consider about media content:25
- Who created this message and why are they sending it? Who owns and profits from it?
- What techniques are used to attract and hold attention?
- What lifestyles, values and points of view are represented in this message?
- What is omitted from this message? Why was it left out?
- How might different people interpret this message?
Alcohol, Tobacco and Drugs
- An evaluation of a classroom-based intervention found that media literacy education increased children's understanding of the persuasive intent of alcohol ads and infl uenced their decision-making about drinking alcohol. Participants were less likely to expect positive consequences from drinking, choose alcohol-related products, and desire to be like characters that drank.26
- An evaluation of a comprehensive curriculum for high school students, developed and taught by teen leaders under the guidance of adult coaches, indicated that media literacy education infl uenced tobacco use at different stages of the decisionmaking process. Teens who had never tried tobacco became more aware of the persuasive tactics of tobacco advertising and developed skills to resist it and dissuade peers from smoking. Teens who had tried tobacco increased their awareness of how tobacco messages affect themselves and other teens, were less likely to identify with people in ads who smoke, and felt that they were less susceptible to peer pressure to smoke.27 Other studies suggest that even a single media literacy intervention can help children and adolescents understand the persuasive appeals of tobacco advertising messages and make a difference in their intention to use tobacco, at least in the short-term.28
- Government agencies such as The White House Offi ce of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), The Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (CSAP), and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) endorse media literacy as a component of youth drug prevention strategies and have sponsored curricula that have been widely implemented but not formally evaluated.29 Teacher evaluations of one of them, Media Literacy for Drug Prevention, indicated that the curriculum achieved certain objectives: instilled the belief that most young people do not do drugs; enhanced the perception that using drugs can lead to negative consequences and that a drug-free lifestyle is more likely to lead to positive consequences; increased personal and social skills that promote positive lifestyle choices, including resistance to drug use; reinforced positive uses of time as behavioral alternatives to drug use; and improved academic skills.30
Critical Thinking and Literacy Skills
- The first large scale empirical study measuring the acquisition of media literacy skills in the United States concluded that incorporating media message analysis into secondary level English language arts curriculum can enhance the development of literacy skills. When 11th-grade students who received year-long media literacy instruction as part of their English course were compared to a control group enrolled in the same level course without the media literacy component, the media literate students outperformed the other students on the same assessment. Media literacy instruction improved students' reading, viewing and listening comprehension of print, audio and video texts, message analysis and interpretation, and writing skills. The media literacy lessons were designed and integrated into existing curriculum by the classroom English teachers, an approach previous research suggests may be a more successful technique than using off-the-shelf curriculum.
Reprinted with the permission of the Kaiser Family Foundation. © 2008 The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.