Media Literacy in a Presidential Election Year

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Media Literacy
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TF Blog - presidential ElectionBombarded by television ads in this presidential election year, especially in battleground states, many of us tend to press the mute button on the remote or change the station. However, as teachers, we should be thinking about the messages our students are getting when watching TV and as they live their everyday virtual lives.

Media literacy, especially understanding the role of the news media and the influence of advertising, is critical to our students.  Not just during election times, but each day as they navigate their world saturated with media messages in many formats. Teaching about media literacy can be part of any grade level or content area, but is especially important for social studies and English language arts.

The Center for Media Literacy offers this definition:

“Media Literacy is a 21st-century approach to education. It provides a framework to access, analyze, evaluate, create and participate with messages in a variety of forms — from print to video to the Internet. Media literacy builds an understanding of the role of media in society as well as essential skills of inquiry and self-expression necessary for citizens of a democracy.”

The National Association for Literacy Education provides Core Principles of Media Literacy, including these.

  1. Media Literacy Education requires active inquiry and critical thinking about the messages we receive and create.
  2. Media Literacy Education expands the concept of literacy (i.e., reading and writing) to include all forms of media.
  3. Media Literacy Education builds and reinforces skills for learners of all ages. Like print literacy, those skills necessitate integrated, interactive, and repeated practice.
  4. Media Literacy Education develops informed, reflective and engaged participants essential for a democratic society.

Let me share some resources that are helpful for teaching media literacy, especially as it involves our American political process.

General information on media literacy:

  • A favorite source for teaching about media literacy is the Media Literacy Clearinghouse, maintained by Frank W. Baker. Especially helpful is the section on Media and Politics which provides teaching resources about the role of media in elections, focusing on advertising and political cartoons.
  • Media Smarts may be a Canadian organization, but its website supports digital and media literacy through its educational materials for teaching students of all ages.

Sites about understanding news media and campaign advertising:

  • The Newseum is not just a fabulous museum to visit in D.C., but the NewseumED is packed with primary sources, lesson plans, interactive web pages and more on the news media and First Amendment rights.

Historical and primary sources, including political cartoons:

The Internet provides amazing access to older political campaigns.  The Museum of Moving Images has some video rich lessons on past presidential campaigns and ads.

Living Room Candidate, an impressive collection of historical data, shares videos, and analysis of election commercials from 1952-2012.

The Library of Congress Teachers pages include a section devoted to Elections, with links to editorial cartoons, commercials and other primary sources, lesson plans and classroom materials. This lesson plan on Analyzing Presidential Campaign Propaganda by Daniel J. Cochran uses links to many of the LOC resources.

Just as there will be no lack of political advertising this fall, we can access abundant classroom resources on the topic of media literacy. If we are to help our students learn about our democracy and how to participate in it as informed citizens, it is crucial we teach how to analyze and interpret what they hear and see from all forms of media. When they have completed their analysis, have students use some of the Web 2.0 tools in the TeachersFirst Edge, Safe Web 2.0 Tools in the Classroom, to create political ads and cartoons, demonstrating their understanding of advertising and propaganda techniques. Finally, for even more election resources, check out this TeachersFirst’s Resources for Elections.


About the author: Paula Deal

Retired high school media specialist, Paula Deal, has been a pioneer in many shifts in the library sciences throughout her career. Paula contributes a monthly column on research, digital citizenship and other ways to find and use media resources in the classroom.

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