Monday, September 24, 2007

Curricular Unit Outline: Media Literacy


Unit: The influence of the media on American political life.

Grade Level and Class: 12th Grade- Principles of U.S. Government class

Unit Length: 10 days (2 school weeks)

2. It is absolutely critical that in the age of You Tube and Facebook, mainstream media and alternative media, that students be able to critically analyze and break down what they see and hear from media sources. This skill is known as media literacy. If students are to engage the democratic process and their voice is to be heard, they have to know how to navigate the complex world of American media. Without an understanding of the role of media in our society, its influences, and how the media can be used to manipulate and spin the truth, students can not make informed decisions as citizens in a our democracy. Far too often we have see the use of fear projected through the media that has paralyzed the judgment of our country. We can not allow young people to be manipulated, but must teach them the skills to be thoughtful and questioning citizens.

3. The topic of this unit will be the influence of the media on American Political Life. In the 12th grade D.C.P.S. Content standards for Principle of U.S. Government, the broad concept standard 12.7 reads “Students evaluate and take and defend positions on the influence of media on American political life.” I believe that we can use all of the assigned standards here within this curricular unit.

a. The big ideas students should develop an enduring understanding of in this unit include: The meaning and importance of a free and responsible press in a democracy, How the media filters information for public consumption and limits your access to critical information necessary for making judgments as citizens in a democracy, Public officials and candidates manipulate the media but with the right skills you can decode these messages, and that American society and culture is influenced by the media and influences the media itself.

b. Students must know how to break down media stories, sift through the information and decipher what is important, what is being told, and maybe most importantly, what is not being told. Students must also know how they can, as citizen activists, influence how the media acts, through boycotts, exerting influence on advertisers with mainstream media, etc… Lastly, students need to know where they can look to get the most accurate and objective news information, and how to evaluate a media source. These core ideas will be learned by the students developing an understanding for the role of the media as a government watchdog in a democracy and their role as investigators. If students understand the role the media should play in a democracy, they can better interpret what is going wrong. Skills that will help include linguistic ability and strong vocabulary, ability to understand an interpret symbols (often used in advertising), ability to decode implications, inferences, and intentions.

c. We want students to discover how important it is that the media is responsible in how they choose what to cover and how to cover it. Should the media strive for balance OR objectivity? What is the difference between the two? How does the media use emotional appeals in order to achieve their objective? How do candidates do the same? How about drug companies (through advertising)? We want students to be familiar with arguments both for and against objective media. Students should also be aware of the principles and importance behind having a free press. Students should be able to identify arguments for and against whether media have an impact on people’s actions (like video games).

4. Essential Questions

A. What is the role of a free press in a democracy?

B. Do media outlets have a higher responsibility to the American people or their shareholders?

C. Does violence in the media lead to real life violence? Do people mimic what they see in popular culture?

D. How can the media be used to manipulate information and spin the truth?

E. What are some of the key differences between traditional media (TV, print, radio) and electronic media (the internet)?

F. Is the media bias? If so, towards whom?

5. Assessment

Students will be asked to make a political ad in groups. They are to pick one of the Presidential candidates (of any Party) and make a 30 second political advertisement that could be used on television and on You Tube. Students will be asked to upload their video to You Tube upon completion.

Students will also be asked to bring in, on the final day of the unit, an annotated list of their favorite and most reliable news sources. Students should annotate each source with why they believe that source contributes to their understanding of issues that matter to them, and how it helps them fulfill their role as a citizen.

The last means of assessment will be students taking a journal over the course of the second week of the class to track how many hours per day they use the following media: television, radio, print media (newspapers, magazines, journals), and the internet. The internet category will be broken down so they can track how often they use the following sites: YouTube, Facebook, any major news website (CNN, MSNBC, FOX, etc…).


a. It is important that we build on what students already know by starting the unit with gaining a basic understanding of what the different media are, the differences between them, their advantages and disadvantages. Then we can move on to the impact they have on our lives, which students can also draw from prior experience. Then we will step back and examine what is the role of media in democracy, before we lead into how does our modern media either succeed or fail in the role, and how can they be used and manipulated to influence public opinion?

b. The knowledge and skills will be most engaging if the students interact with the different media themselves, monitor how they already use them, and draw on their prior experience.

c. Students will be able to practice what they learn as part of the assessment to this unit but then, hopefully, in their day to day lives as well. This isn’t an issue that will ever go away, especially for young people. They make these choices, consciously or unconsciously every day, we can hope the result of the lesson will be that they are more conscious of these decisions and evaluations.

d. Surely in their Language Arts and English courses students will have and continue to learn how to evaluate language and symbolism, which is a key part of this unit.

e. Students will be engaged in a group project to use their new knowledge to make their own political commercial. Also, students will have opportunities, throughout this two week unit to discuss, in pairs, media that they have used in recent days and what they remember or took away from it. Perceptions on the whole will be important for students to learn that in fact their habits may be common or uncommon, but it will show them how media influences all of our lives.

7. For this curricular unit it would be difficult to pre-test students knowledge of the issue, but certainly we could pre-test their skills of analysis, synthesis, decoding symbolism, and other important skills. As we go through the instructor needs to be very aware, and keep track of how individual students begin to develop media literacy. Do they begin to ask more questions, think deeper, analyze more thoughtfully?

8. Neighborhood Resources

Any radio stations or TV networks that are located in the area could be of help to incorporate some sort of field trip or class speaker to come in. It would work well to have an editor come speak about the process, from start to finish, of deciding what to cover. Also students could ask these individuals how they balance their responsibility to be government watchdogs and investigators with the network pressure to go with more news that is more superficial, violent, sexual, etc…

Also if there are newspaper stands in the are this could help because students could pick up the newspaper each day, and hopefully develop that habit, and continue to do so in the future to practice media literacy. The Best Buy in the neighborhood would be helpful if students need to purchase any sort of electronics to help them put together their video or if I as the teacher need to get anything that would help the class as a whole. The video store could be helpful in terms of finding appropriate movie clips to play or maybe even if they have tapes of old news broadcasts.

9. Materials Needed:

· TV with both VHS and DVD player

· Computer and projector to play online clips in class

· Common Sense Media’s “Media Literacy” guide

· The Living Room Candidate website- with campaign commercials for every election back to 1952.

· Media Matters for America (the major progressive media watchdog group)

· Media Research Center (Right-wing media watchdog group)

· “What Liberal Media?” Book by Eric Alterman

· School Library/ Internet Access for students

· “News: The Politics of Illusion” Book by W. Lance Bennett

· Students will need access to internet, notebook paper, markers, pens.


Anonymous said...

The Role of Media In Politics site might be helpful.

Anonymous said...