Media Literacy In Schools Now

Context & Need: Media Literacy In Schools Now

State departments of education provide curriculum regulations and guidance for schools. ELA and Math are tested and regulated, with tests not required for Science or History. Across the country, 14 states have bills that address media literacy. Two (Texas and Illinois) require schools to deliver instruction based on defined standards. In Massachusetts, aspects of media literacy are a required component of the state Civics standards.

There are many Civics curriculum providers to choose from (iCivics, Facing History and Ourselves, The Civics Project Guidebook, We the People) and media literacy is handled differently in each.

A Massachusetts Civic Learning Coalition offers a portal to help teachers comprehend and choose among these curricula. Media Literacy is not a facet of the portal, though at Grade 8 three media literacy curriculum providers are listed: the News Literacy Project, iCivics’ Newsfeed Defenders, and CNN Student News. The portal is also an advocacy effort, and on behalf of media literacy declares: “Our politics and public discourse are highly polarized, inequality is growing, and media literacy is lacking. The challenges and opportunities we face as a Commonwealth demand the talent and input of all citizens, including our young people.”

As part of Civics or on its own, media literacy needs a similar portal, with advocacy for prioritizing its adoption in schools and classrooms and an annotated list of providers. Where provider curricula list learning standards (not all do), these can be cross-walked with state standards for those who take a standards approach to developing a program. But the diversity and nascence of media literacy standards tells us that program outcomes, rather than standards crosswalks, should inform what schools and teachers adopt for inclusion in their programs.

As an example, the Digital Literacy / Computer Science framework in Massachusetts asks educators to find their own ways to implement its standards. Media Literacy units are adopted by elementary school teachers, taught in “specials” and in some cases integrated into secondary school content area classes. “Specials” (like Digital Literacy, Music, Art and Health) tend to last for a quarter, and students may cycle through the same special one quarter per year in middle school, or elect to take one in high school.

A one-off media literacy unit in middle school “special” might offer a brief (though deep) foray into topics and skills that need to come up for application later in core classes. Students in an 11th grade Civics course studying electoral politics engage differently than middle schoolers: they are able to read at higher grade levels, and can learn more about how digital worlds work and practice skills on what they find on their own. For this reason, high school content area classes may be the best places to integrate media literacy, particularly when they draw on what students already learned in elementary classes and specials.

Common Core Digital Literacy Standards (2013)

US Media Literacy Policy Update 2021: A state-by-state survey from Media Literacy Now