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"Educators Offer..." Detailing the Pedagogy and Practice Behind Youth Media Production Programs

"Educators Offer..." Detailing the Pedagogy and Practice Behind Youth Media Production Programs

Written by Joslyn Hunscher-Young
September 30, 2011

Educators offer instruction, support, guidance, opportunities, challenges, resources, but how do teaching and learning really occur in out-of-school media literacy education programs?

This resource takes a deeper look at some key characteristics of pedagogy in two youth media programs in the Philadelphia area. As part of my Stoneleigh Junior Fellowship with Research for Action in 2010-2011, I wanted to figure out more about what teaching, learning, and pedagogy look like beyond the classroom. Specifically, I looked at how young producers at the Philadelphia Student Union (PSU) and Chester Voices for Change (VFC) learn and master skills in media production.

This resource highlights my finding that the pedagogy of media literacy programs is a sort of experiential, student-centered apprenticeship that takes place in a community of practice and aims to help educators understand this relationship between teaching and learning by:

  1. describing key characteristics and processes of the pedagogies at PSU and VFC;
  2. suggesting reasons why this kind of teaching supports learning and mastery; and
  3. explaining what this needs to be successful for both educators and learners.

This is part of a set of resources based on my year of research as a Stoneleigh Junior Fellow. The other resources on Digital Is include “Youth Say…” “Literacies are…” and “Youth Practice…” You can find more details about all of this work on the Research for Action website.

The Pedagogy of Production

I made the video below to highlight my key findings about teaching and learning in out-of-school media literacy programs. Although the video is focused on VFC, the findings were similar for PSU, and may represent an even wider set of communities that support youth media literacy education. Important characteristics of instruction at these sites included being hands-on or experiential, maintaining a focus on youth and their lives, supporting learning through apprenticeships, and engaging in communities of practice. These characteristics are discussed in more detail after the video.

As previously mentioned, the practice of teaching and learning in PSU and VFC was:

EXPERIENTIAL because it was hands-on from the beginning. Students were given equipment right away and expected to use it, learn from it, and make mistakes with it. In both programs, it was extremely important for youth to get the tools and abilities to create something. Rather than simply receiving information or content, they were creating it.
STUDENT-CENTERED because the content and the programs were focused on the lives, experiences, and ideas of the young people involved. The stories produced all stemmed from students’ passions, interests, or experiences, and the adult coordinators supported students to develop interests and deal with community issues.
AN APPRENTICESHIP because new producers learned from experts and slowly gained practice and experience before becoming experts and teachers themselves. Ben Kirshner described apprenticeship as when experts “coach, model, and fade,” which is exactly what occurred in both programs. In addition, when possible, this apprenticeship teaching was peer-to-peer instruction but also used the adult coordinators to teach throughout the programs.
WITHIN A COMMUNITY OF PRACTICE because each program formed its own community, which new members joined and steadily became more active in. As outlined by Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger, communities of practice support learning and engagement and allow for new members to engage at their own pace. These communities provided goals for students to work towards and helped to fuel students’ learning because group members shared information and supported one another.

These characteristics created a learning environment and mode of instruction that engaged, supported, and challenged learners. They were engaged because they were encouraged to create content that connected to their own lives and interests. In addition, the community of practice and apprenticeship helped to support learners when they needed it and challenged them as needed. The communities offered encouragement and created a space in which youth felt comfortable to try new things and make mistakes, and the apprenticeship style of teaching allowed novice producers to learn, practice, and take control according to their own comfort level and schedule. This allowed young people to truly engage with material and progress at their own pace, supporting both the learning process and the overall goal of mastery in production.

This environment and style of teaching and learning was present at both PSU and VFC, which may also represent the philosophies and methods behind the growing number of youth media and digital writing programs. However, for it to work, both teachers and students have to:

LET GO AND LEARN TOGETHER because the community of practice necessarily involves both experts and novices who help each other and create a supportive environment together. Although experts (educators) provide guidance and support at the beginning, the group recognizes that every member contributes something and works to support other members in ways that will help the community to grow and develop.
VALUE THE EXPERIENCES OF OTHERS because the recognition and valuing of students’ lives and experiences helps them to engage, teachers’ experiences can provide great insight to youth and vice versa. Neither one is necessarily better or more important than the other, but they are all key to fostering connections, support, and engagement in a learning community.
HELP CONNECT WORK TO THE REAL WORLD because part of being hands-on and experiential means that community members are working to create something. Finding ways to share products and writing with real audiences outside of the program or class is an important (and increasingly easy) part of digital writing, and making something useful or connected to a wider community helps to motivate everyone involved to create a quality product.

Understanding this process of experiential, student-centered apprenticeships in communities of practice helped me to think about how I teach and learn when working with young people, but it also brings up questions that I (and our educational community) need to think about more:

  • How are communities of practice changing in the 21st century? What does it take to create a “community” in today’s world? How do we decide who can join and how to participate?
  • How can we foster more connections between learning communities? How can in-school and out-of-school learning support one other and connect more frequently? How can youth programs and classes find ways to help their broader communities and build connections between students and adults in the neighborhood?
  • How do educators and students negotiate their relationships and the power dynamics behind them as they work together and learn from one other?

If you have insight, ideas, or experiences that can help me begin to answer some of these questions, please be in touch.

Don’t forget to check out the details of this research on the Research for Action website.

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