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"Youth Practice..." Understanding What Youth Gain through Media Literacy Education Programs

"Youth Practice..." Understanding What Youth Gain through Media Literacy Education Programs

Written by Joslyn Hunscher-Young
September 30, 2011

Youth practice recording, interviewing, writing, rehearsing, editing, and presenting throughout media literacy programs, but what other skills do they practice and master in these programs that will help them in life?

This resource examines the life skills that young producers gain through their participation in one of two Philadelphia-area media literacy programs. As a Stoneleigh Junior Fellow at Research for Action in 2010-2011, I conducted research to look more closely at what young people get out of media literacy programs, both academically and otherwise. (For academic gains see the “Literacies are…” resource.) To help me understand what other skills are gained through participation, I observed activities at and conducted interviews with youth from the Philadelphia Student Union (PSU) and Chester Voices for Change (VFC).

Focused on my (sort of unintended) findings about the life skills that youth gain through participation in these programs, this resource:

  1. describes the main 21st century life skills youth mastered during their time at PSU and VFC;
  2. suggests key program elements that encouraged development of those skills; and
  3. emphasizes what educators and education can do fully prepare youth for life.

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…” “Literacies Are…” and “Youth Say…” You can find more detials about all of this work on the Research for Action website.

Learning for Life

This video highlights the life skills that young producers gained through their participation in media literacy programs. Even though it is focused on the youth in VFC, the development of these skills was evident in both PSU and VFC. In both programs, youth said they learned to communicate and collaborate effectively, practiced working independently and taking on responsibility, and gained confidence in themselves and their ideas. More details about how they developed those skills follow the video.

As described in the video, participation in youth media programs can help young people gain important life skills, including:

COLLABORATION. Since media production typically involves individuals as part of a larger production crew, youth had to learn and practice skills in collaboration. Whether they were filming, co-editing, co-interviewing, or writing and revising a script, the youth in PSU and VFC were forced to work with one another. As one VFC member explained, “It really helps you to learn how to work with different personalities, learn how to work with people on different levels than you.”

COMMUNICATION. Often in the same breath as their mentions of collaboration, PSU and VFC members also mentioned their development of effetive communication techniques. In their group projects and interactions with community members (often for interviews), the young producers learned what works and what doesn’t when communicating with different people. A PSU radio producer explained, “You learn how to do radio and you learn about audio and things like that, and production, but you also learn about how to communicate with people, how to build relationships.”

RESPONSIBILITY. As youth became more experienced producers, they took on more and more responsibilities for their own production. In both programs, experienced producers set up their own interviews or community collaborations and took control over their products. PSU and VFC members with several products under their belts would often create their own mental timeline for completing work, rather than relying on the adult coordinators to set specific deadlines, which indicated their growing sense of responsibility and their abilities to act on it.

INDEPENDENCE. Going along with responsibility, as youth produced more pieces, they also gained more experience working independently. Although they were still often a part of a larger group project or show, PSU and VFC members worked on individual radio pieces or scenes that would be combined by the group later on. As the youth set their own timelines, they also worked on their own to meet those deadlines, coming to the program in their spare time to finish a piece they were working on.

CONFIDENCE.Many young peole in both programs also shared stories of how their participation in PSU or VFC helped them to gain confidence in themselves, their ideas, and their capabilities. This is best explained by two youth members who shared how this happened to them:

“I think that you feel comfortable enough to do the uncomfortable. Like, when I came in I was a freshman, and I was so-ohmygoodness, I was so nervous. I was so insecure, and now, I fast-forward to here, and I’m in PSU, it’s my second year, I’m a sophomore now, and I’m so crazy comfortable with who I am as a person…..Like I’m more secure in myself as a person, like that’s the magical thing about PSU.”

“It [VFC] definitely brought me out of my shell more. It made me be more ambitious and more outgoing for what I want to do. It taught me just how to be a go-getter basically….If I was gonna act, I had to – I was forced to speak up. My ideas, throwing out my opinions, I couldn’t just sit there and keep my mouth shut, I had to speak up. So it just, kinda brought me out of my shell more.”

These were the life skills most commonly mentioned in interviews with youth from both programs, which makes sense because they fit into the activities involved with media production. As youth were forced to work in groups to develop ideas, write scripts, host radio shows, and film movies, they learned how to communicate, collaborate, assign tasks, take on responsibility, and work independently while also being involved in the group. Furthermore, by creating products that raised their voices and connected with real audiences, the young producers also practiced speaking up and felt more comfortable sharing their ideas, which then helped them become more confident.

With this in mind, there are several important things that educators can do to encourage the development of these life skills amongst their own students:

ENCOURAGE GROUP WORK.  Giving young people opportunities to work with one another will help them to develop skills in communication and collaboration while also taking on responsibility. These skills are vital in any job, and practicing them when young is a great for people to hone their abilities. However, it is important to note that simply throwing youth into group work can often result in failure. They guidance, support, and scaffolding to figure out exaclty how to work with each other, rely on one another, and communicate in effective and appropriate ways. Modeling these skills, offering time for reflection, and slowly letting students take on more responsibility helps to ease this transition into group work.

SUPPORT YOUTH VOICES. Learning how to express themselves appropriately and effectively while still sharing their opinions is a very important skill for people, particularly youth. By valuing and supporting youth voices in activities and projects, educators can help young people become comfortable with their voices and gain confidence in themselves. Young people need opportunities to be listened to and express themselves, and this is something that educators should try to do more often.

SHARE WITH REAL AUDIENCES. Having a real audience – beyond the teacher or classroom – is helpful for a number of reasons. For one, it can encourage the group to work together because everyone’s name will be on this product for a public audience to see and critique, demanding a certain level of excellence. In addition, a real audience further supports the development of self-confidence because youth are sharing their ideas and products with a wider public, forcing them to practice presenting their work and answer questions about it.

Many youth develop and practice important life skills while involved in media literacy programs at PSU and VFC, but there are questions to consider when thinking about more widespread use of these techniques:

  • How can these skills be developed in an educational context that is often focused solely on standardized test scores? Today’s educational climate rarely allows for group work, youth voice, or real audiences, so how can (and are) teachers supporting youth to develop these life skills?
  • What else contributes to the development of these skills among youth? How do other factors, both within and beyond the program, affect a young person’s ability to practice and hone these skills? And what needs to change or adapt to help youth in all situations to gain these kinds of abilities?

I’d love to hear what others have to think about these questions and/or my research findings, so please feel free to be in touch.

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

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