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Notes from Media Literacy as a Vehicle for Critical Thinking and Action, and Connecting to the Common Core Learning Standards -- May 15, 2014 Networking Meeting

Jul 02, 2014  Suzanne Marten, Facilitator, Center for Educational Options

Anne Lawrence, from the Bowne Foundation, welcomed participants and shared her vision of the meetings as a forum of sharing best practices, ideas, concerns and questions in the OST field.  She announced that while the Foundation will be closing at the end of 2015, the Networking meetings will continue.  She also noted that the Center for Sustainable Journalism will be creating The OST Hub, an online platform for networking, sharing practices through webinars, articles, blogging and other communications.  Both these developments will continue the legacy of the Foundation in providing opportunities for OST providers to connect and dialogue about their work.

This year's Networking meetings have focused on the Common Core Learning Standards (CCLS) through a variety of lenses.  We have been considering the ways in which OST programs can think about and incorporate some of the language of the CCLS without losing sight of the critical mission and vision of OST programs.  Suzanne Marten, facilitator from the Center for Educational Options, framed this fourth session as continuing in that exploration and discussion.  However, this session took a different approach, starting with media literacy as presented by Alan Berry and DC Vito from The LAMP and then connecting to the CCLS. 

The LAMP’s Media Breaker tool: an introduction

Alan and DC got participants thinking about media literacy by asking what media participants had interacted with that morning.  People reeled off: FaceBook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, texts, emails.  Then people thought about TV and radio, music, and then newspapers, magazines, subway ads.  DC noted that Caucasian youth average 10 hours of media consumption a day and that African-American and Latino youth average 13 hours of media per day.  Then he posed the question: Who is talking to youth about what is in that media?  Who is asking about race, gender, economic and other biases in that media?  When you consider that 6 companies control 90% of the media these are powerful questions to be asking.

The LAMP’s mission is to create critical, active media participants by educating and equipping people to shape the media landscape.  They do this through hands on learning; “if you can take apart the guts (of whatever media you are looking at) then you can understand how it influences you.” 

In order to support youth in talking back to media, they developed a free, online tool called Media Breaker (http://mediabreaker.org).  The tool grew out of media literacy work that The LAMP was doing in schools.  They realized that after one of their 6-week cycles in a school, they would leave and the ability of the youth and school-based programs to sustain the learning around media literacy went with them.  They took up the challenge and developed the Media Breaker to work with just an internet connection and a browser.

Media Breaker allows you to re-edit copyrighted material in a critical way with youth.  You can download any media from the internet (Alan and DC recommend commercials or brief clips as they are easier to work with and download/upload).  You then work with youth to develop a critique of the piece and alter the original.  Some examples they shared showed young people inserting questions into ads and asserting problems in how the product is presented and the effect it has on viewers, especially young people. 

Then the re-edited pieces are submitted to The LAMP for “fair use” review.  The concept of fair use is not well understood and in fact the media companies have done a lot to make us fearful of touching any material they produce.  But The LAMP’s position is that if you adhere to the guidelines below, you will be within fair use guidelines and your actions are legal. 

The LAMP’s Fair Use guidelines ask:

  •  Did you use enough and only enough of the media piece to make a critique?
  •  Did you transform the original enough that it is different? 
  •  Is what you created critical?  (In other words, do you critique or talk back to the message of the media you are using?) 

The LAMP’s team reviews each submission and then posts them to the LAMP’s website where you can access and share it.  This means that The LAMP, and not your program, will be the target of any issues that arise from the media companies. 

You can use your program’s approach to critique or media literacy, but The LAMP also has a 3-day curriculum available (http://mediabreaker.org).  The actual use of the Media Breaker tool must be accomplished in one session, but there are ways to do the critiquing, commentary and editing on a  separate platform (Final Cut Pro, iMovie, etc), save it, and then click and drag it to the Medial Breaker tool to upload it.  This approach can give you more time to engage with your youth and the work of critiquing, commenting and creating. 

Engaging in Media Literacy:  What can you do in your program?

DC and Alan engaged the participants in a hands-on activity creating Public Service Announcements (PSAs) as a way of creating our own kind of advertising.  PSAs are a message or call to action directed to a particular audience.  They try to persuade and “sell” ideas not products. 

Participants worked in groups.  Each group drew from a hat one social issue, one persuasive technique and one target audience.  Each group then worked to create a plan or story board for a PSA that would convey their message to the target audience using the appropriate persuasive technique.

For example, one group drew the social issue of underage smoking, the persuasive technique of love, and the target audience of families.  They created a story board in which the first scene showed a young girl of about 8 years old on a swing and laughing with her dad pushing her.  The next frame showed the same girl and her father only now she is 12 years old.  The father is teaching her how to play football and she is rejoicing in catching the ball.  The next shot shows a close up of the girl, now 15 years old, sitting in a comfortable home.  She says, “My dad has taught me so much over the years.”  Then the camera pans back a bit and we see her dad smoking.  Then the girl lights up a cigarette and the tag line appears:  “They are watching.”

Each group presented a powerful and unique message (unfortunately we are not able to describe them all here!).  The participants were also able to critique each others’ PSAs, noting the emotions that were played upon and the effects of the emotions, words and juxtaposition of images.  This activity could easily be replicated in any program; it did not use any technology or require much beyond the story boarding handout attached.

Connecting to the Common Core Learning Standards   

Following the activity, Suzanne asked participants to think about what they did or what they needed to be able to do in order to create and present their PSA.  We were able to identify some CCLS language that described what participants had done in their activity.

  • They made a claim. In developing their message on a social issue, they had to make a claim about whether it was good or bad.
  • They cited evidence.  In supporting their claim they had to show or give evidence of the stance that they took.  For example, the group that worked on gun violence showed the negative impact of gun violence on young women.
  • They interpreted. The groups decided on images and action to convey the message they wanted to get across.  They had to interpret how those images and actions would be understood or interpreted by their audience.
  • They analyzed.  The groups analyzed the task and their claim in order to present it effectively.
  • They used language to persuade. Each group worked at using language effectively to convey their message.
  • They were a diverse group who spoke and listened to each other. In both developing the PSA and in presenting, group members needed to use language to communicate with others who were different from themselves. 

Alan and DC shared a curriculum that they adapted to suit a school’s CCLS needs. In PS 145, a school that The LAMP partners with needed to provide test preparation for their students.  The LAMP was able to re-articulate some of its work, using the language of the CCLS to describe what standards students would be practicing during a 6-week cycle.  They did not change anything that they were doing with children; they just presented it using CCLS descriptors.  The benefit for the children was preparing for the test without knowing it or feeling like they were doing more test preparation.     

Next Steps

Participants shared many ideas and inspirations that they were walking away with:

  • Media Breaker is a great tool to engage youth in analyzing and talking back to media.
  • Teens and middle school aged youth are the perfect target audience for doing media literacy work.
  • Media literacy work is a great way to take on social issues.
  • This kind of media literacy work would be a great way to show families how CCLS are naturally embedded in their children’s OST programs.
  • This media literacy is also critical for families to be aware of. Their young people are spending a lot of time using social media.  Families need to be aware and active.
  • Thinking about media literacy pushes us to consider a broader definition of “text” in the CCLS; “text” can be a commercial or TV or movie, etc. 
  • Engaging staff in activities like this demonstrates how CCLS are integrated into the work we already do.
  •  Engaging youth in productive and responsible media literacy using technology liked cameras.
  •  Supporting teens to see their own agency and to not idolize artists, but engage in critiquing them as well. Encouraging teens to be  “critical” and “creative”
  • Youth need more opportunities for critical media literacy. Adults also need the experience of critiquing media and modeling for youth how to be critical.
  • The power of doing an activity using media.  Producing a PSA was a powerful experience that supports creativity and critical thinking.  


Many participants emphasized the important ideas of agency and critical thinking.  They also spoke to the need for us all to continue to think about how to model and teach responsible digital media use and creation.  

One participant, a program director, said that she “gets a headache” when she has to review lessons for CCLS.  But thinking about media literacy work as an example of how CCLS are embedded in OST activities and lessons relieves the stress.  She also noted that this would be really important for staff to experience.  Many participants echoed her thoughts about the degree to which CCLS are in OST programing; we just need to continue to recognize it without changing the important work of OST programs. 

New Resources:

The LAMP - Alan Berry and DC Vito  (917)295-6811

Google Voice# (347)234-LAMP (5267)

 Over the course of the other meetings on CCLS several important resources were noted and are below and attached again:

  1. - this website is a valuable link not only to the CCLS themselves but also to lesson plans and information about the connections to standardized tests, just as a point of reference.
  2. - this website provides kid-friendly standards for K to 2nd grade. 

Look for an announcement from Anne Lawrence about the next Networking Meeting coming in the fall 2014.