Follow by Email

Sunday, May 13, 2012

A Critical Framework for Media Education

A Critical Framework for Media Education This section of Rick Shepherd's article: "Elementary Media Education: The Perfect Curriculum" describes a critical framework for media education that teachers can use with students. To begin with, teachers need a critical framework. The field of media is broad and amorphous, extending not just from traditional media such as newspapers, magazines, television and film, but also now encompassing many areas of popular culture such as fashion, toys and dolls, the nature of celebrity, etc. Anyone attempting to make sense of this area needs a clear conceptual framework that will allow for discussion of a variety of complex and interrelated factors. For elementary teachers, this need is perhaps even greater than for their secondary colleagues because of the more fluid, integrated nature of the elementary class - things tend to just "come up" as the result of student interest or enthusiasm: someone comes in wearing a Bart Simpson T-shirt, or the whole class is swept away by World Series enthusiasm. A teacher has to be ready to seize (in Barry Duncan's words) "the teachable moment," and a framework that will lead to rational, critical discourse about any text is a must. This is also necessitated by the elementary teacher's need to integrate more, as the same critical concepts have to be applied to a wide variety of different materials as they appear in the curriculum. A number of such frameworks have been developed in various parts of the world in the last few years, as media education has moved forward globally. Most of them express the same things in different ways: it appears that having a framework is what is important, not necessarily having a specific framework. In North York, we adopted and modified (with permission) this Media Literacy Curriculum Model based on the critical framework developed by Eddie Dick of the Scottish Film Council.
The central concept of the model is the idea that all communication, all discourse, is a construct of reality. Every description or representation of the world, fictional or otherwise, is an attempt to describe or define reality, and is in some way a construction - a selection and ordering of details to communicate aspects of the creator's view of reality. There are no neutral, value-free descriptions of reality - in print, in word, in visual form. An understanding of this concept is the starting point for a critical relationship to the media. This concept leads to three broad areas within which we can raise questions that will help students to "deconstruct" the media: text, audience and production. A text is any media product we wish to examine, whether it is a television program, a book, a poster, a popular song, the latest fashion, etc. We can discuss with students what the type of text is - cartoon, rock video, fairy tale, police drama, etc. - and how it differs from other types of text. We can identify its denotative meaning and discuss such features as narrative structure, how meanings are communicated, values implicit in the text, and connections with other texts. Anyone who receives a media text, whether it is a book read alone or a film viewed in a theatre, is a member of an audience. It is important for children to be able to identify the audience(s) of a text. Texts are frequently designed to produce audiences, which are then sold to advertisers. Modern communication theory teaches that audiences "negotiate" meaning. That is to say, each individual reader of a text will draw from its range of possible meanings a particular reading that reflects that individual's gender, race or cultural background, skill in reading, age, etc. Thus the "meaning" of a text is not something determined by critics, teachers or even authors, but is determined in a dynamic and changeable relationship between the reader and the text. The role of the teacher is to assist students in developing skills which will allow them to negotiate active readings - readings which recognize the range of possible meanings in a text, the values and biases implicit in those meanings, and which involve conscious choices rather than the unconscious acceptance of "preferred" readings. Children who can choose meaning are empowered. Production refers to everything that goes into the making of a media text - the technology, the ownership and economics, the institutions involved, the legal issues, the use of common codes and practices, the roles in the production process. Students are often fascinated by the details and "tricks" of production. It is important that the teacher keep in focus the relationship between the various aspects of production, and the other two broad areas of text and audience. What is the relationship between story content and commercial priorities? How are values related to ownership and control? How does technology determine what we will see? How does the cost of technology determine who can make media productions? Often, understanding in these areas is best developed through the students' involvement in their own production work. Whenever a media product is discussed, some aspects of construction, text, audience and production should be dealt with. Teachers will quickly find that a discussion moves quite naturally among these broad areas, since all are interrelated and affect each other. It is also important to recognize that an effective media program will involve students in both analysis and production of media products. Teachers find this model easy to remember, easy to apply. It is simple enough to hold in one's head (text, audience, production: T.A.P.), yet sophisticated enough to facilitate detailed analysis and to show the interrelationships of complex elements. It is flexible enough to deal with any media text, print or otherwise. In fact, some teachers and support staff are using it as a general model for literacy and critical thinking. So we have a rationale for media literacy: we can show that it is an integrator, and we have a conceptual framework. How can we put this into the hands of teachers? This is new material for them, involving new concepts, skills and strategies. Teachers need help getting started. North York's elementary media literacy pilot project (on the right sidebar) offers an example of how this may be achieved. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Source: Adapted with permission from English Quarterly, vol. 25, nos. 2-3. Canadian Council of Teachers of English and Language Arts. Toronto, Ontario, 1992.

No comments: