Friday, July 8, 2016

Our Students Are Watching & Listening

Powerful Opportunities

Dear Readers,

After Reading The Writing on the Classroom Wall, author Steve Wyborney challenged readers to create their own ideas to hang on the classroom wall. I asked him what advice he would give to those creating Big Ideas and using writing as a powerful tool for communication. He responded:

"My biggest advice would be to follow your heart and the flow of your writing."

I thought about what I would want my walls to say.  One idea I created was about power:

Over the past two years, the discussion of power has found its way into my instruction on a regular basis. I always tell my students the power they have as writers. Writing is an extremely powerful tool with the ability to reach people all around the world. They have amazing ideas and hearts and can do anything they set their minds to. They are never too young to make a difference. I think my letter to my 8th graders says it all:

We have an incredible opportunity and responsibility to our students. They learn about math, Language and Literature, science, Individuals and Societies, art, music, phys ed, technology, etc. 
  • How often are they taught about being a global citizen and their role(s) in society? 
  • What class teaches them about media literacy? 
  • Do we as educators embed these essential ideas into our instruction?
  • Do we consistently incorporate current events and take the time to discuss them?
  • "Do we realize the implication of silence?" (Beth Houf)
  • "Do we realize what happens when we don't tell the story?" (Beth Houf)

Master the Media: How Teaching Media Literacy Can Save Our Plugged-In World

This book was a game-changer for me as a middle school teacher. It really made me look at media literacy differently and the power that it has, positive and/or negative. It also made me realize our students are living in a global community filled with news, videos, etc. We need to teach them how to process the vast amount of information they see on a daily basis. As a class we have discussed news reports, interview questions, advertisements, targeted audiences, music, TV, etc. 
  • "Do the kids realize the power media have over us?" (Julie N. Smith)
  • "Do they realize THEY have power to tell a story?" (Julie N. Smith)
I had the opportunity to incorporate some of what I learned during the Paris Attacks in November 2015. 

The Photo that Sparked an Important Teaching Moment

(source: The World Post

1st Viewing: I was showing students clips from the attacks. We were talking about journalism. Their initial reaction was this was a woman jumping to her death to get away from the violence. 

2nd Viewing: As we gathered more information and time passed, we realized it was actually an expectant mother who was trying to save herself and her baby.

Discussion that Followed: We make assumptions based on what we see, our emotions and the context being provided. 

"Upon seeing something upsetting, we might form a judgement on the situation without knowing the whole story-and we cannot depend on today's news media to ever tell us the whole story. Even if they attempt to, the story is quickly followed by another." (pg. 64 Master the Media)

Additional Instruction: Based on student responses, I knew we had to look more closely at news being reported on this tragedy. I showed them contrasting texts, from two different viewpoints and discussed the purpose, bias and intended audience. In addition we looked at several news clips and discussed the same. 

Ethical vs. Unethical?

An end of the year discussion we had as an 8th grade Language & Literature Class concerned ethics. We defined what ethical and unethical meant to use. I distributed different informational texts and posed the question of ethics. It led to further discussion of, if we consider it unethical, is it sometimes necessary? Our students are amazing thinkers, we just have to listen to them.

Upstanders: How to Engage Middle School Hearts and Minds with Inquiry

This was a second game-changer that I discovered. In continuing my thinking about media literacy, it led me to thinking about the roles of society. Daniels and Ahmed title them upstanders, bystanders, victims and perpetrators. What was/is the relationship between these and media literacy?

We discussed, at length, the various roles in society. Additionally, we asked many questions.
  • Can an individual be more than one role? 
  • Can his/her role change over time? 
  • What is a bystander? 
  • Can a bystander be both negative and positive?
  • What characteristics does an upstander have?
  • How can we be upstanders?
  • What makes us bystanders? 

My "AHA" Moments

What is one of THE most important lessons I learned? Students need to be taught how to collaborate and respectfully disagree with one another. These are not skills and strategies that come naturally I found out when I put them in their first "debate" like setting. My expectation was clear:

"In my classroom, you are going to learn how to collaborate, discuss and disagree in a respectful manner. " This led to other Big Ideas:
  • Active Listening is part of participating in discussions.
  • Respectfully offering other viewpoints to consider is collaboration.

A misconception students have, that I also discovered, is that introverts are not as powerful as extroverts. They had the mindset that if they were "quiet" and "not speaking" a lot then they were not contributing. This led to a very important lesson on the power of introverts and extroverts. I always have private conversations and support them as a learner and leader. I shared many of these in my Anchors of Appreciation (Beth Houf & Shelley Burgess). How often does a student hear, "I appreciate the way you sit back, listen, process and formulate a response?"

An Important Post from My Friend Julie N. Smith

I reached out to my Media Mentor and friend Julie, author of Master the Media: How Teaching Media Literacy Can Save Our Plugged-in World to collaborate with me on this blog. Her message is on-target with what we are dealing with as a global community. A sincere thank you for taking the time to write this!

Julie's Powerful Post

Following Teresa's ideas on POWER, I'd like to join in and ask if our students recognize the power that the media have in defining our world for us. Especially in the drama-driven news of the last wee, do we realize the power they have in shaping our perceptions of people, places and events?

What's most interesting about the power that the media have (in my opinion) is that they do NOT have our best interests at heart. Many claim that the media are biased toward conservatives or toward liberals. The truth is that the media is biased toward money. We are told what we want to hear rather than what we need to hear-so that the audiences will stay, and the ratings will increase.

The bias isn't wrong or illegal (Why do we expect objectivity, anyway? Really?) but we need to be aware of it. For example, would your students be able to guess the intended audience of each of these covers?

Story is the same. The headlines and presentation of the story, however, is completely different. This is immense power.

orlando covers.JPG

What power do our students WANT the media to have over them?  Like most of us, they will deny that the media have that much effect on their perceptions of the world.  But since we are surrounded by media almost constantly, it’s difficult to claim that SOME of this doesn’t sink in.

What’s the solution?  Frank classroom discussions.  Ask tough questions. Questions that perhaps they haven’t considered.
  • Who is sending the message?
  • What is their motive or intent? How do they want us to feel?
  • What words, photos do they use to get us to feel this way?
  • Is there any information left out?
  • Do you feel they did a good job telling the story?
  • In what ways could other people interpret this story?

And, sadly, in many cases we should ask them questions like THIS:
  • Do you think it is appropriate to use a photo like this?
  • Why or why not?
  • What are some reasons for using this photo on the cover?
  • What are some reasons for NOT using this photo?
Once we learn to really analyze, evaluate and deconstruct media messages, perhaps we lessen their power.  We owe it to our students to teach them how.

Questions to Consider Concerning School Cultures and Practices

I also reached out to one of my leader mentors as well, Shelley Burgess. She posed some important and difficult questions to think about.
  • Who are students most often disciplined? Suspended? Expelled?
  • Who do we most often place in special education?
  • What practices do we have in place to encourage, promote and celebrate diversity in our school? Community? Globally?
  • Who are the students who win awards and top honors vs. those who win "most improved" or most athletic?

It made me reflect on some questions of my own.
  • What do we value in education?
  • How do we show those values?
  • What do our school cultures and practices depict about our beliefs?
  • Are we unintentionally (or intentionally) sending messages to students about people, society, etc?
Think about how you can use your walls, to encourage your students to be upstanders and media literate, global individuals.



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