Media Literacy for Reading Master's Students

Article excerpt


Twenty-first century teachers of reading should be knowledgeable of critical media literacy. This paper describes efforts to include a mandatory course on critical media literacy within a reading master's program. Using course reflective data, we describe students' reactions, ranging from complete unawareness to frustration over its relationship to reading instruction to discomfort with ideological claims. Finally, we preliminarily discuss the course's impact.


Literacy has moved off the page and beyond the keyboard to encompass the media around us (Turbill, 2002). "The term multiliteracies acknowledges the multiplicity of meaning-making modes (visual, textual, audio, etc.) as well as the wider social contexts of these modes" (Callow, 2003, p. 2). Today's students often spend more time with media texts than with print texts. What does this mean for teachers, especially teachers of reading? Recognizing that teachers studying reading need to be knowledgeable about theories and practices related to multiple literacies, we added a required course in Media Literacy to our reading masters program. Initially, the course was met with resistance from students who questioned its relevance. This study examines student reactions, efforts to adapt the course, and its emerging impact.

Theoretical framework

Media literacy education is an emerging field in the United States with deeper roots abroad. It is formally defined here as "the ability to access, analyze, evaluate and communicate media in a variety of ways" (Aufderheide, 1997). With the ability to access, students become acquainted with a variety of sources and ideally realize that one media source is too limited for making any particular conclusion (Semali, 2001). Analysis and evaluation together call for readers of media to look beneath the surface of visual multimedia, to become visually literate, and then to make determinations based on complex understandings. Finally, to be fully media literate, it is suggested that students should have a grasp of communicating with media (Pailliotet, et al, 2000). In other words, students should have opportunities to create media, for this will strengthen their reading skills much like writing can improve reading.

Media literacy education is thus a natural direction for expanding understandings of literacy. It is in line with notions of critical literacy for its consideration of the four reader roles which include code-breaker, text-participant, text-user, and text-analyst (Freebody and Luke, 1990; Department of Education, Tasmania, n.d.). Specifically, students learn first to acknowledge and decode the complex and multiple layers of media (code-breaker). Next, as text participants students comprehend mediated texts and produce them using typical media conventions. Text-users gain understandings in discourse to detect nuances of mediated points of view. Thus, students studying media literacy understand that the purpose of media changes given the target audience. Finally, being a text-analyst of mediated texts means that students can acknowledge the various ways in which media communicate to pass on ideas and potentially influence audiences. Freebody and Luke point out that the roles are simultaneous and recursive not sequential.

Further, critical media literacy recognizes ideologies and values (Pailliotet, et al, 2000), which corresponds with Tyner's (1998) conclusion: "it is fair to say that--at least in theory--all of the technology-related multiliteracies (of which media literacy is one) strive for some version of critical literacy" (p. 65). Literacy for the 21st century must take students beyond decoding and basic comprehension given the multitude of mediated texts that provide us with information (Goodson & Norton-Meier, 2003). Pailliotet, et al (2000) call for "learning and thinking that result in increased literacy, as well as socially just, democratic, humane, and ethical actions in and out of the classroom" (p. …