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A commitment to media literacy

As we walked into the classroom, Kim Kardashian’s voice filled the room. She was flirting with her personal trainer, and the students were laughing appreciatively at the sneaker commercial’s double entendres.

While this might seem like strange material for a Master’s course, it’s perfect for Media Literacy Education, a course requirement for graduate students in Loyola University's literacy education program. NewsTrust Baltimore local editor Mary Hartney and I had the pleasure of attending Dr. Stephanie Flores-Koulish’s class a few weeks ago, where the students were analyzing the subtexts in Super Bowl commercials.

By analyzing and exploring contemporary media of all sources, Flores-Koulish says that she intends to "prepare teachers to consider literacy beyond traditional texts, towards visual and multimedia literacies."

"I tend to use hands-on approaches whenever possible," she said. This includes the analyses of television commercials, students producing their own public service announcements, and a class trip to the Newseum for an immersive news experience.

Fortunately for us, it also means using NewsTrust Baltimore to explore local journalism.

As part of the course requirements, students respond to questions and reflect on assignments on an online discussion board, and Flores-Koulish integrated NewsTrust Baltimore into the plan. Her students reviewed one of three selected articles on our site and re-posted their comments on the discussion board.

RaShawna Sydnor, a graduate student in education, said of the experience, "Concept-wise, NewsTrust was an important element because it made you 'part' of the news, not just a spectator."

Melanie Maisey, a kindergarten teacher at Southwest Baltimore Charter School, said: "I appreciated the depth of the questions asked when we reviewed an article. The thoroughness of not only what was asked, but how it was asked, prompted deeper thinking." 

For Flores-Koulish, the ultimate goal of teaching is to spread media literacy. "I firmly believe in the power of grassroots movements, and teaching teachers this new field falls in line with that belief," she said. 

From her own research, she has seen that her "students' eyes are opened by this material, and many are compelled to include it in their teaching." 

Her students seem to agree. Sydnor said that "having students gain the ability to recognize the differences between news and opinion and gauge tone, frame, and intended audience, is an insight that very many adults don't have, and I believe that the earlier they are introduced the better."

Maisey recognizes the importance of understanding the motivations behind media. "It is not only important to be able to empathize with the subject, situations, and people, it is also important to stand in the shoes of the journalist." 

She thinks that this helps people ask critical questions and "dig deeper to find a truth that is less biased and more personal."

Sydnor has a dream of opening a charter school for girls and sees media literacy as a core element of their education. "Critical literacy will help shape how they see themselves in the world and, with any hope, trigger the ambition to change and educate others,” she said.

As media’s role continues to increase in our lives, the need to understand it will grow, as well. Fortunately, Flores-Koulish and her students are ready to teach. 



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