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Critical Media Literacy


Course: EDCP 333 Contemporary Issues in Social Studies

Prof. E. Wayne Ross

Authors: Ada, Raj, Colin, Phaidra,

Introduction: What is Critical Media Literacy?

Critical media literacy is an integrated approach to media literacy that combines critical analysis of various types of media with media production. Its aim is to empower individuals to be active participants in society, the underlying idea being that literacy allows one to fully participate in, as well as shape and transform, one's society and culture, thus enhancing democratic participation. CML expands literacy beyond traditional print media to include different forms of media culture, information and communication technologies, and new media. And it goes beyond content analysis to investigate relationships between media and audiences, information and power. There are various approaches to media literacy, but the model that we are concerned with is the one posited by Kellner and Share (2007)[1].

According to this model, knowledge is socially constructed. CML involves exploring the languages, genres, codes, and conventions of a text so that students can understand how these function, as well as audiences' role in actively negotiating meanings. Furthermore, it involves uncovering & engaging issues of gender, race, class, sexuality, ideology, power, and pleasure, as well as examining the production and institutions that motivate and structure media industries as corporate profit-seeking businesses.

Kellner and Share's model places emphasis on action, as students not only critically analyze but also engage with the subject matter and act upon it to produce their own alternative media expressing their point of view. As a result, children/young people are seen as capable critics and revisers of culture, not as passive recipients or naive, agent-less individuals who need to be protected from popular culture and media.

The rationale behind CML is that we live in an age of unprecedented technological innovation and globalization. Media is more pervasive than ever before and the power in controlling information is not readily apparent. In this climate, young people are increasingly vulnerable to corporate maneuvering to the extent that democracy itself is at risk of being reduced to consumerism. CML prevents the complacent acceptance of commercial media in truth-telling, and provides a way to find alternative viewpoints within a historical and sociological context.

In terms of school, Kellner and Share (2007) insist that media literacy programs include critically analyzing how mainstream media reproduce racism, sexism, homophobia, and other prejudices, as well as encouraging students to find their own voices through alternative/counter-hegemonic media. They also recommend that critical media literacy run across curricular areas. Stack and Kelley (2006)[2] have argued that educators who refuse to consider popular culture as a curricular resource miss opportunities to connect with young people's lives and enhance critical literacy.

Unit Plan: History 12: Turmoil and Tragedy- 1933 to 1945

Unit Plan: Turmoil and Tragedy, 1933-1945 History 12

Unit goals:

1. Teach students to consider how media can shape our understanding of the past.

2. To look at concepts of the Great Depression and the Second World War through a lens of critical media literacy.

3. Students should be able to compare primary and secondary sources and recognize bias, and reliability of the sources.

4. To help students establish and understand historical empathy through the study of WWII.

The following links provide educators with samples of lessons that can help to teach students about how to engage with media and to help provide additional plans to introduce critical media literacy into the classroom.

Unit Plan from Read Write Think

Unit Plan from Bishop's University

Lesson Plans: History 12: Turmoil and Tragedy- 1933 to 1945

Introduction to the Holocaust through Propaganda

In this lesson students will look at anti-Semitic propaganda use in Nazi Germany and compare it to anti-Japanese propaganda used in Canada and the USA. The purpose of this lesson is to show how racist dehumanizing propaganda was a tool commonly used by the bad guys and the good guys during WW2. The students will also look at some examples of what I believe is modern racist propaganda, and compare it to similar items from the past.

Colin Bailey How and when can media create an atmosphere of hatred and what are the consequences

Nazi Germany 1933-1939

There are many opportunities in the Nazi Germany unit to cover critical media literacy and propaganda. For this lesson plan, the focus is on Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will and what students can learn about media and propaganda in the 1930's. The purpose of this lesson is to show students the various levels of messages a film can have. Triumph of the Will which documents the Nazi Party's Nuremberg rallies in 1934 is known as one of the best propaganda films of all time. In this lesson, students will learn about the types of messages that the filmmaker was trying to portray in the film and the techniques that she used to do so successfully. Furthermore, students will investigate Adolf Hitler's methods of propaganda in the rallies. There are many layers of techniques that the students must critically analyze the understand the effects of this piece of propaganda and be able to connect it to how media might be portrayed today. For the assessment at the end of the lesson, students will be required to write two letters that display their historical empathy and their understanding of the effects of the media. One letter will be from the perspective of a person attending one of the rallies and the other will be from the perspective of a German attending a viewing of the film in 1935 in a movie theatre in Nazi Germany.

Lesson Plan on Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will

The Great Depression in Global Perspectives

In this lesson, students will view a counter-narrative of the causes of Great Depression and Second World War as deliberately planned and executed by elite bankers for the sake of profit. By viewing a alternative and sensationalized version of this history, students may begin to understand the practice of identifying subtext in social studies, and in critical media analysis, in evaluating the arguments and evidence as presented in Zeitgeist: Part III: Don't Mind the Men Behind the Curtain. In addition, students may broaden their awareness of who produces media such as this film, why, and the impact when online public access turns viral.

A "Cinematic Codes" film viewing worksheet is included as a guideline for active consideration, which includes Peter Seixes' "Big Six" tenets of historical thinking. This worksheet may be adapted by teachers to included detailed questions from any film.

Jump to Lesson[3]

Japanese Imperialism in the Asia Pacific Region

In this lesson, students will learn about Western perceptions and portrayals of the Japanese and their expansionist policies. They will analyze and decode anti-Japanese cartoons and posters to enhance their understanding of bias and point of view, and how media can be used to dehumanize, antagonize, and create fear of a particular group of people. Finally, they will apply their understanding of these concepts to produce their own alternative cartoons from the Japanese perspective. This lesson plan was created by Rajpreet Dhillon

Lesson Plan on Japanese Imperialism in the 20th Century

The Atomic Bomb and Hiroshima

This lesson is designed to ask students to think critically about why the atomic bomb was dropped. They will be asked to consider aspects such as total war, technology, and racism. Also, students will be asked to consider the role that media has played in the past in terms of understanding how people could justify the dropping of the bomb. In order to do this, this lesson will focus on guiding students on how to look critically at different sources of media such as comics, images of newspaper articles. More specifically, students will be asked to consider the role of text, images and the combination of text and image when trying to think critically about media.

Lesson Plan on the Dropping of the Atomic Bomb

Multiple Ability Tasks [4]

Media involves sensory perception. We see and hear media most frequently, but can also touch media as physical objects. Objects too may represent signs and signifiers as Ferdinand de Saussure's semiotic studies of communication, which continue to play a role in the study of language arts and media today.

It may be useful to begin to imagine MAT which can be useful venues for CML by the traditional Multiple Intelligence Theory framework as developed by Dr. Howard Gardner (1983).

CML may be approached using Gardner's Theory using any of the below ideas.
  1. Kellner, D., & Share, J. (2007). Critical media literacy, democracy, and the reconstruction of education. In D. Macedo & S.R. Steinberg (Eds.), Media literacy: A reader (pp. 3-23). New York: Peter Lang Publishing.
  2. Stack, M., & Kelly, D. M. (2006). Popular media, education, and resistance. Canadian Journal of Education, 29(1), 5-26.
  3. Darthphaidra
  4. Darthphaidra except where indicated otherwise in this section