Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Reading the World

Critical Media Literacy

An Urban Middle School 
Communication Arts Unit Learning Plan

"All the world’s a stage,” noted Shakespeare. But, the men and women are not merely players. They are the directors, designers and producers as well. In this two-week, techno-connected communication arts unit, seventh grade urban learners plug into core concepts of media literacy and expand their understanding of popular media texts. They consider their multiple roles in the media world as both consumers and producers. Learners link to a strategy for critically approaching any type of media text. Through a focus on reflection and reflective thinking, students also develop awareness of a dynamic that makes popular media seem to sometimes shape and influence our world, and sometimes simply hold, as 'twere, the mirror up to nature.”

In this unit, learners will:

     Examine and explore a five-component strategy for reading media texts;

     Interpret their thoughts about text in various forms of mass media;

     Discuss and define critical media literacy;

     Create a personal web splash page and descriptive blog essay;

     Reflect on the nature of reflection.

Although Reading the World constitutes a discrete, two-week unit -- it is conceived as the first part of a two-part series. This critical media literacy learning unit is designed to build background and skills, and then launch learners into a critical cultural literacy unit – a week-long writer’s workshop based on the “Reading Without Words” lesson concept in Linda Christensen’s Teaching for Joy and Justice.

Instructional Strategies: The central strategy of this learning plan uses information and ideas found online at the Center for Media Literacy (CML). The mix of mirror exercises are based on various Viola Spolin improvisation games.

Duration: ten, 50-minute sessions

Learners: A group of 21 mixed ability students from widely diverse cultural backgrounds, mainly Hmong, Black, White and Mexican American. (The group has theoretically had previous instruction on webware and experience with the websites.)

Reading the World
Core Learning Strategy Map

Standard: 7. 9. 7.  Critically analyze information found in electronic, print, and mass media and use a variety of these sources.

Core Objective: I can evaluate media with regard to bias, stereotype and message.

Learning Target: I can identify and describe five core concepts of critical media literacy.
Learning Assessment: media literacy reviews, pair-share handout
Learning Target: I can identify critical reflection and other types of reflective thinking.
Learning Assessment: discussion, quick-write
Learning Target: I can reflect on cultural stereotyping and social bias in the media.
Learning Assessment: discussion, critical reading exercises, media analysis games

Core Assessment: Media Literacy Quiz - 50%;

Standard: 7. 9. 8.  Communicate using traditional or digital multimedia formats and digital writing and publishing for a specific purpose.

Core Objective: I can publish my work on the web and share it with the world.

Learning Target: I can reflect my ideas through web texts.
Learning Assessment: essay and splash page composition process

Core Assessment: Published Bio Blog pages presentation - 50%

Assessment Description: Learners will construct a personal web page design and publish a biographical blog essay decoding the design choices.

ISTE NETS (National Educational Technology Standards) addressed:

Standard 1 - Students demonstrate creative thinking, construct knowledge, and develop innovative products and processes using technology

Standard 5 - Students understand human, cultural, and societal issues related to technology

Success Opportunity for Urban LearnersSOUL Focus:
Integration of Knowledge and Ideas, Production and Distribution of Writing

Reading the World
Unit Learning Plan Overview

Big Idea: Critical Reflection (analyzing, reconsidering and questioning experiences within a broad context of cultural issues)

Essential Questions:

  • How does reading and literacy relate to the media? 
  • How is my culture and community reflected in the media? 
  • How does the media influence my reading of myself?'
  • What are social benefits and drawbacks to pop media? 
  • What is meant by critical reading and critical literacy? 
  • How do I feel about mass media? 
  • What is reflective thinking? 
  • When and why do we reflect? 
  • How does the media influence our view of society? 
  • Does mass media make and manipulate our society – or simply mirror it?

Daily Lesson Plan

Lesson 1 – Critical Reading
o   Intro to critical media literacy / paintings as text
 Lesson 2 – Reflective Reading
o   Mirrors and the nature of reflection / vintage ads as text
Lesson 3 – Five Key Questions
o   reflect on personality traits / 5 Key Qs – magazines as text
Lesson 4 – Me, Myself and Media
o   Branding and Identity / start Bio splash page / 5 Key Qs
Lesson 5 – Same Show, Different Audience
o   Silent Film game / 5 Key Qs review / finish splash page
 Lesson 6 – Reflective Writing
o   Mirror exercise and reflection review / start Bio Blog essay
Lesson 7 – Movie Previews
o   write Bio Blog intro / movies as text
Lesson 8 – Post-Game Sports Re-Cap Report
o   write Bio Blog conclusion / quiz review / "Sports as text?"
Lesson 9 – You're On!
o   Quiz (5 Key Qs – reflection types) / publish blog pages
Lesson 10 – Reflecting the World
o   Social mirrors / “Is school a text?” / Cyber-Gallery Crawl

Differentiated Instruction
: Learners will need adjustments in the blog essay. Online access outside of class can be arranged. The delight and obvious danger of this unit plan is its multi-focus and many different activities. Some flattening and simplifying of the schedule may be needed if organization becomes an issue. Culturally, it may be best to stay with the vintage commercials and movies for as long as possible. The distance, I’m thinking, will free up discussion about ethnicity, gender and culture.

Special Resource Requirements: hand mirrors, Glogster and Blogger accounts

Materials – Unit Plan Forms: splash page, blog, Media Literacy Core Concepts chart, Five Key Questions, Expanded Questions, Media Literacy Quiz, teacher’s choice of media samples – paintings, vintage ads, magazine covers, CD covers, movie previews, TV commercials, sports post-game segment – preselected samples available online through my blog at:

Resources/Websites: examples of print and video advertisements

Center for Media Literacy

Viola Spolin exercises

Teaching for Joy and Justice by Linda Christensen at Rethinking Schools [www.rethinkingschools.org]


CBS Sports Postgame Show

Monday, February 27, 2012

Three Levels of Reflection

Reacting - commenting on feelings towards the learning experience, such as reacting with a personal concern about an event.

Elaborating  - comparing reactions with other experiences, or referring to a general principle, a theory, or a philosophical position.

Contemplating - focusing on constructive personal insights about issues of deep significance and metacognitive activity

Sunday, February 26, 2012

How to Read the World

The Center for Media Literacy provides a framework “to access, analyze, evaluate and create messages in a variety of forms – from print to video to the Internet” (CML). The useful framework addresses both the process skills and the empowerment component of media literacy through

Five central Concepts / Questions.

1. Constructedness
Key Question    Who created this message?
Core Concept    All media messages are constructed.

2. Format
Key Question    What creative techniques are used to attract my attention?
Core Concept    Media messages are constructed using a media language with its own rules.

3. Audience
Key Question    How might different people understand this message differently from me?
Core Concept    Different people experience the same media message differently.

4. Content
Key Question    What lifestyles, values and points of view are represented in, or omitted from, this message?
Core Concept    Media have embedded values and points of view.

5. Purpose
Key Question    Why is this message being sent?
Core Concept    Most media messages are organized to gain profit and/or power.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Generation M2

Generation M2: 
Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds

A national survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that with technology allowing nearly 24-hour media access as children and teens go about their daily lives, the amount of time young people spend with entertainment media has risen dramatically, especially among minority youth.  Today, 8-18 year-olds devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes (7:38) to using entertainment media across a typical day (more than 53 hours a week).  And because they spend so much of that time 'media multitasking' (using more than one medium at a time), they actually manage to pack a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes (10:45) worth of media content into those 7½ hours.

Teach - Nology

Technology Integration in the 21st Century Classroom

Education World - Interactivity Center

Encyclopedia of Education Technology

Digital Nation - Frontline (PBS)

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

11:55 AM - No comments

Urban Language Myths

Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteres are at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a tatol mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae we do not raed ervey lteter by it slef but the wrod as a wlohe. 

That the order of letters within words is relatively unimportant to reading comprehension -- as long as the first and last letters are in their proper places -- seems to be self-evident, as demonstrated by the ability of nearly everyone who reads this item to understand it. (Link to Cambridge discussion)

But encountering the paragraph raises a deeper issue. The exercise calls the process of reading into question.What implications does this have for our understanding of how we read pictures, movies, commercials, conversations and other texts?

 The Advertising Apocrypha

Since we don't consciously account for everything we see, subliminal messages can be used to get us to read between the lines -- and even between the words.

SNOPES - Investigates Urban Language Myths

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


“Literacy practices associated with interest or involvement in sports can be drawn upon to develop academic skills.”

“We have known for some time that sports involvement teaches young women and men the skills of teamwork, cooperation, delayed gratification and sacrificing self interest for the greater good of the team.”

“Athletes, more than many others, have found ways to work together across multiple lines of difference including race, ethnicity, religion, and socioeconomic status.”

“Use young people’s affinity with sports to engender critical readings of the world --informed ways of reading the world as if it were a text.”

“My first piece of advice for those teachers who are not coaches is to establish powerful relationships with the coaches at their schools. It is important for teachers to see coaches as allies rather than enemies.”

“Sports participation also plays a major role in how young people view themselves.”

Prezi.com -- online presentation maker

Flix - Press -- online video maker

Sports and Media Literacy

The Day I Hit a Home Run

Get in the Game

Sports Themed Behavior Management Board

Sports Literature and Literacy

National Literacy Trust – UK


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Morrell / Urban Literacy Ed - 1

Associate Professor of Urban Schooling
Associate Director of Youth Research,
Institute for Democracy, Education and Access (IDEA) 

Linking Literacy

Ernest Morrell covers a great deal of material in his brief introductory chapter to Linking Literacy and Popular Culture: Finding Connections for Lifelong Learning. Along with a summary of his background and an overview of the book’s format, Morrell shares his assessment of current urban school challenges, articulates his passion and purpose, and previews important concepts about the social role of the urban literacy educator.

The book begins with a hard look at the hurdles, obstacles and the radically changed reality now confronting the learners and teachers in our nation’s urban literacy classrooms. Our current economic picture presents a far different employment situation than one Americans have faced throughout the last century. Finding success in today’s workplace requires a young person to be a multi-literate individual.  

“The bottom line for today’s students is that in order to contend for the American Dream,” writes Morrell, students need to develop a high level of literacy in school, placing increasing pressure on literacy educators to help them acquire those skills.” While urban schools are struggling to understand how to meet the demands of a postindustrial, techo-literate society, Morrell notes, educators are also challenged by “the overwhelming social, linguistic, cultural, and economic diversity in America’s classrooms.” Speaking to the relationship between cultural diversity and the culture of schools, Morrell says:

Too often, what happens in literacy classrooms is that the students whose experiences, practices, and preferences most closely resemble the demands of academic literacy are rewarded while those whose experiences, practices, and preferences are less congruent struggle with the development of academic literacy.

Much of Morrell’s introduction details his professional passions and his purpose for writing Linking Literacy. Morrell contends that, “by building upon students’ literacy experiences with popular culture in non-school settings, teachers can make authentic and powerful connections between students’ worlds and the demands of the classroom.” 

The book is previewed as a text designed to provide “a comprehensive, theoretically grounded and empirically tested approach to teaching popular culture in schools that promotes academic and critical literacy development.” Morrell explains that Linking Literacy models a process for “learning from and with students that is situated in the literacy practices accompanying participation in everyday activity.”

Morrell’s first chapter partially serves to introduce his perspective on the social role of the urban literacy educator. The great economic, educational and social challenges of our time are seen by Morrell as also being a great opportunity for critical educators who hold teaching to be “a revolutionary and political act.” 

Morrell frames teachers, as “informed cultural workers.” He suggests that educators acknowledge and embrace their work as:

"ethnographers of the language and literacy practices in the neighborhoods and homes of students."

Ethnography, in this sense, is not a process of discovering how cultures are different. It is an investigation of how different cultures, on their own terms, “make sense of the world.” Morrell advises urban teacher-ethnographers to examine “the everyday language and literacy practices of their students that are associated with membership in particular cultures and communities.”

Having discussed urban school challenges, his professional purpose and his outlook on the educator’s social role, Morrell concludes his introduction with a detailed outline of coming chapters.

Challenge and Opportunity

The concepts in Ernest Morrell’s intense introductory paragraphs inform my thinking about literacy and language arts and impact my practice as an urban literacy educator in three respects: in my professional position as a classroom manager, in my pedagogical persona as a lesson plan designer, and in my social role as a culturally competent advocate for social justice in a community of diverse families.

Ideas and information in Morrell’s Chapter One will leave an impression on my practice as urban classroom manager. Morrell provides a mandate for me to “create cohesive classroom communities” that maximize the learning of diverse students with diverse needs. Devising a unified learning environment of dissimilar individuals will involve, not just respecting difference, but expecting it – welcoming it. This welcoming approach must be echoed in the physical design and d├ęcor of the workspace, as well as in the emotional atmosphere of the room.

Morrell points out that the critical first step in the creation of a cohesive learning community begins before any learners have actually walked through the door. It begins with me, my reflection on the student body as valued individuals, and my active contemplation on educing and eduction. The first step is to commit anew to the reality that all students enter the literacy classroom as uniquely skilled and talented users of language and literacy who possess a great deal of cultural-linguistic knowledge.

My practice as a lesson plan designer is directly affected by the collection of concepts delineated in the beginning of Morrell’s book. I am empowered by Morrell’s words to act on my impulse to connect popular culture to content. To be an effective instructional planner, I must design lessons that are inviting for students other than just those who know how to “do school.” The curriculum must be related and made accessible to young people who do not adhere to the dominant culture in society or the mainstream academic culture of educational institutions.

Academic literacy skills can be taught in many ways using many different types of texts – including texts associated with pop media. As a teacher, Morrell used popular culture as the bridge between the “local literacy practices” of his pupils and “the academic, professional, critical, and civic literacies required for success in school and society.” Morrell’s research led him to conclude that “teaching popular culture in schools promotes academic and critical literacy development” among urban youth.

Morrell’s opening chapter influences my urban literacy educator practice as a culturally competent community advocate for social justice. His language gives me a way to think about and express the social aspects of my position as a “cultural worker.” Morrell sees urban educators as key architects in the forming of responsive and responsible citizens. He invites me to change the world through classrooms that are culturally affirming. As informed cultural workers, Morrell explains that teachers can create “the conditions whereby all students can develop the necessary tools for enacting critical citizenship and obtaining competitive employment in a techo-cultural, postmodern global economy.”

While I have not yet fully digested all of Professor Morrell’s meanings, I am as thrilled and inspired by the things in the opening chapter that I comprehend as the things that confound. Morrell’s powerfully realized voice and vision re-shapes my conceptual framework for considering multi-literacy and connects to the managerial, the instructional and the social aspects of my work as an urban literacy educator in a multicultural community.


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Literacy Electric

Media = Message


Decoding Digital Literacy

Literacy today depends on understanding the multiple media that make up our high-tech reality and developing the skills to use them effectively.

Paul Glister created the term, Digital Literacy [1997] - some call it Information Literacy

Digital Literacy anagram = TIDY TRAGICAL LIE

I Link, Therefore I Am
      "Network Literacy"

"Every effort to confine Americanism to a single pattern, to constrain it to a single formula, is disloyalty to everything that is valid in Americanism." 
-- Henry Steele Commager

If learners are to learn, they must write.

Food - Language Metaphor

Keep asking: "What is being asked?"

We worry too much about giving answers. We focus so obsessively on answers, we don't even read the question.

Three Tips for Designing a Website that Works!

First, consider that a website is not a thing, it is a place. It must be understood in the context of a place that has a real-world equivalent. So for instance, let's say we want to make a website to store and share recipes. One could simply make a page with a long list of recipe titles and directions, but it wouldn't be very easy to find things. Now, if the site is imagined to be an actual kitchen, the user then has an idea of how to navigate the site based on familiarity with how kitchens are generally set up. Cabinets and cupboards would hold useful kitchen tools. We would look for recipes in the recipe box. We would expect to find notes and information posted on the refrigerator door, and perhaps the table is a place for sharing ideas or photographs.

Second, with website layout, think of text as images -- and images as text. Limit the amount of words on a single page. Feature titles, sub-headings and bullet lists. Use short sentences and small paragraphs to post chunks of data. Provide links within the spare text if users decide they want to drill for more info. Use images to communicate ideas.

Third, limit your design to two (maybe three) main colors, and be very consistent in the layout choices so that every page has the same look and feel.