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"Literacies are..." Bridging Generations of Literacies Through Media Production

"Literacies are..." Bridging Generations of Literacies Through Media Production

Written by Joslyn Hunscher-Young
September 30, 2011

Literacies are reading, writing, composing, creating, producing, changing, adapting, and evolving, but what do we know about how new and traditional literacies are already connected in the lives of today’s youth?

This resources focuses on important ways in which participation in two media literacy programs in Philadelphia helped youth to practice and improve traditional literacy skills. While working as a Stoneleigh Junior Fellow at Research for Action in 2010-2011, I wanted to understand how these forms of literacy build on and support one another. To do this, I observed and interviewed young producers from the Philadelphia Student Union (PSU) and Chester Voices for Change (VFC).

Specifically, this resource explains how traditional reading and writing skills included in the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) can be strengthened through participation in media literacy programs by:

  1. detailing specific literacy skills used in media production at PSU and VFC;
  2. describing how media literacy can help to motivate and engage youth as readers and writers; and
  3. suggesting important steps for educators who hope to support their students’ literacy development.

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 “Educators Offer…” “Youth Practice…” and “Youth Say…” You can find more details about all of this work on the Research for Action website.

Linking Literacies

The video included below was made to describe some of the ways that media production programs can help youth to build their traditional literacy skills while also teaching them skills in media literacy. Although this video focused on youth in VFC, the producers involved in PSU has similar experiences developing literacy skills through their program participation. Media production at PSU and VFC helped youth to understand perspective and audience, practice and work through a writing process, and analyze arguments. Specifics for how that development occurs are included following the video.

As noted in the movie, media production can help young people to enhance their reading skills as they read and dissect media to:

LOOK CRITICALLY AT POINT OF VIEW AND PERSPECTIVE. To learn about different techniques for making media, youth at PSU and VFC had to look at existing examples and dissect them – or read the media. As they looked at different shot angles in VFC and when to use narration versus interviews versus sounds from the field at PSU, the young producers gained a deeper understanding of perspective and how point of view is used throughout a media piece. This helps meet the CCSS to “assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.”

ANALYZE ARGUMENTS. By looking at examples and creating their own media, these youth also came to understand more about what goes in to making arguments, both in the media and in general. They learned how music and sound effects can alter a piece, changing the audience’s mood or perception of what is happening. This, in addition to other activities focused on critically reading the media, supported the producers to learn about effective arguments while participating in PSU or VFC. This connects to the CCSS to “delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.”

Furthermore, participation in PSU and VFC helped many youth build on their writing skills when they:

GO THROUGH A WRITING PROCESS. Just like in good traditional writing, young producers also go through multiple steps in order to create their final product. Brainstorming, gathering information, drafting, rehearsing, revising, redrafting, and editing all play important roles in the media production process. For some youth, going through this process at PSU or VFC may help them recognize and understand the importance of the writing process in general, while meeting the CCSS to “develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.”

WRITE FOR TARGET AUDIENCES. Throughout the production process, youth were encouraged to consider their audience. They had to figure out who they wanted to reach, how they would reach that target, and how they would convey their message in an effective and appropriate manner. PSU students considered what background would be needed for their audience to understand their piece and how to share that information in an engaging and useful way. At VFC, actors frequently told each other to “get real,” as they saw the scene from the audience’s perspective and recognized how fake it appeared. Understanding and thinking about a target audience helps these youth to reach the CCSS to “produce clear and coherent writing [or media] in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.”

Finally, media literacy programs help to engage some youth in more frequent literate practices because it encouraged them to read, write, and create in their spare time. This is best explained by two of the young producers:

IT [VFC] MADE ME WANT TO WRITE MORE. I’m starting writing now- my own screenplay. And I should be receiving a camcorder soon as a late Christmas present, so it’s- that program [VFC] has really inspired me to start getting out and start making films. Just ’cause the program’s over doesn’t mean I should stop, but keep going, take from what I learned from the program, just do my own thing now.”
~VFC 2009 Participant

“I think my involvement in RADIO MADE ME MORE EAGER TO READ THE NEWSPAPERS AND BLOGS ONLINE. I also get the impulse to write down my ideas for music and other inspiring things. … Radio taught me the value of recording ideas and working them out so now I record all of my creative ideas on my free time hoping that one day I turn them into full products.”
~PSU On Blast Producer & Youth Organizer

Participation in media literacy programs at PSU and VFC seemed to help a number of youth practice traditional literacy skills. For some, participation sparked a passion for reading and writing in new ways. And through their experiences with the program, young producers gained practice in targeting audiences, going through the writing process, analyzing arguments, and understanding perspective.

These connections may be just the tip of the iceberg for how new and traditional literacies are related, but it also seems that too often, these links are missing in the minds of students and teachers. To really help students make these connections and understand what literacies are useful and important, educators should try to:

ENCOURAGE THE USE MULTIPLE LITERACIES. Media literacy in PSU and VFC transformed some of these youth to become more active readers and writers and helped them to practice skills in traditional literacy while also learning skills that are useful in the 21st century. If teachers hope to reach students and motivate them to engage with material, using multiple, non-traditional forms of literacy may help.

HELP LEARNERS CONNECT ACROSS LITERACIES. Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, director of national programs and site development for the National Writing Project, said, “We know that students often don’t make connections between the writing and publishing they do on their own and their work in schools. So that’s a connection we need to help them make” (Teaching Digital Writing: More than Blogs and Wikis. Live webchat on 4 April 2011. Retrieved from…). Students need help making those connections explicit and recognizing the similarities and differences between them. Teachers can help by talking through ideas, sharing their own experiences, and encouraging students to make and share those connections between different literacies.

While these connections are valuable and important to build from, there is still a lot that needs to be discussed and figured out in the world of literacy education in the 21st century. Some questions I still have include:

  • How much should we force students to connect their literacies? Since traditional literacy is typically associated with school and new literacies are outside of school, what happens when we push youth to build connections between those worlds? It may be great for some and terrible for others. How much do we want to connect the mandatory world of school with the voluntary world of afterschool?
  • How are these skills used throughout in-school classrooms? Although media literacy is rare in schools today, this study is limited to an out-of-school program focus, so I wonder what it looks like in the classrooms that are already using it, how their process is different, and if the students (or teachers) find similar results.

Please let me know if you have any thoughts, suggestions, or ideas about these questions or the research.

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

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