10 tips on how to teach Media

Media studies has been part of the Ontario curriculum since 1986 and in 2000, it became one of the 4 strands of the English curriculum.  I have taught it in some form or another since the 1990’s; I am not a guru like Nancy Faraday or Melanie White whom I admire and who have extensive knowledge of the subject but I do know something about it.  My own experience within my school board suggests that only a portion of English teachers devote 25% of their course to Media; a lot of people may have students do some Media based project, like a podcast or video.  It seems that most people don’t have a comfort level with the subject or that they aren’t entirely sure what it is they should be teaching.  The goal of Media studies is to make students knowledgeable consumers of Media.  To do so, students have to understand how Media works and how it influences their lives.

1.  Become familiar with the key concepts of Media education.  They are fundamental to understanding what should be taught.  They are applicable to all aspects of Media and should become part of the teacher’s vocabulary.  A good place to start would be at
Media Smarts which will give you an overview of the topic.  Media Smarts used to be the Media Awareness Network  and it is a fantastic resource for teachers.

2.  Do you have to learn about things like camera angles, intertextuality and ownership?  Yes, and no. Having some comfort level helps but you don’t need to be an expert.  You can look up most things when you need to.  As for using technology, the students are generally more adept than we are.

3.  Use the Media Triangle as teaching tool.  There are many versions of this available on the internet but they, more or less, say the same thing.  It can be used to deconstruct any form of Media.

4.  Don’t approach Media with a heavy, negative bias.  It is easy to see the problems, dangers etc. in ads, TV and video games but everything has positive aspects.  Media is enjoyable, creative and at times, intellectually stimulating.  The students don’t want to be disillusioned by the class.  It is much more productive to take a middle stance on everything although, I have to admit , it’s tempting to be only critical of a lot of things.

5.  I favour stand-alone Media units rather than trying to create a Media product from a piece of literature.  Actually, I favour a combination of the two.  The problem with the latter is that it emphasizes construction only.  Creating a piece of Media, like a video, obviously teaches the student about the medium but it doesn’t give them any of the big picture skills that media education is trying to develop.  Most students will not transfer what they are doing into thinking skills unless you show them how.  That’s why the two things need to go together and students need to re-visit the key concepts often.  If you feel that you must connect the Media study to the literature, then it can  usually be done thematically.  However, I see nothing wrong with having a unit by itself and treating whatever you are examining as a type of text.

6.   Take advantage of social media because your students certainly are.  Look at it and use it if you can.  I have seen projects where the students had to make a Facebook page for a character in a play with comments from other characters.  Great idea but don’t leave it there, use that as a springboard for looking at Facebook as a medium.  There is a lot of info. available on the topic such as this article: How Facebook……..  The key concepts apply to Facebook and they should be explored.

7. If you aren’t sure what to do, start with a ready-made lesson plan.  There are many of these available at  Media Smarts, the Association for Media Literacy, Teachit, or NCET.

8.  Always look at the how and the why.  Students are proficient at telling you what the main idea is etc.  So although all Media can be treated like a text,  standard literary analysis is not sufficient.  Media literacy means looking at the construction itself as a type of code and using holistic thinking.  The business side of it is also important and should not be ignored.

9.  As I have stated in an earlier blog, Media is the ideal subject for developing critical thinking.  By its nature, Media analysis is abstract but it can be taught very successfully.  Some students take to it naturally because they are excellent thinkers to begin with.  But all students can be taught to look beneath the surface and because they are generally interested in the subject matter, it is not a burden.

10.  Thank heavens for the internet and YouTube! There is an infinite array of subjects and topics that can used in the classroom.  Some of my favourites are:

The Mouse Monopoly– this film can be purchased but someone has also uploaded it to YouTube

Oscar winning short films

Top short films of 2010

Incorporating Media into the Curriculum

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One Response to 10 tips on how to teach Media

  1. Dave Hawkins says:

    Great Cathy! I like point number four.

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