RISING SUN – Calvert Elementary third-graders in Connie Seibert’s class stare at the “media messages” laid out on their desks.
Tanner Gibb, 7, and his group analyze the newspaper weather page placed before them. They have several questions to answer, ranging from who made the message to what is the target audience to what is the purpose of the message?
The class is part of the statewide initiative started this year called Assignment: Media Literacy. Teachers in 22 districts across Maryland are teaching classes similar to the one in Calvert Elementary, and state education administrators are talking to the last two counties, St. Mary’s and Harford, about starting the program.
At Calvert, Tanner’s little group records the answer to the first question: “The people who made this message are the weather people and the reporters.”
Then they determine the purpose: to “persuade people to watch the weather so they will know what to wear.”
Simple analyses, but useful for children to understand the messages broadcast to them every day.
The program began as a brainstorm following the Columbine shootings in 1998, when two high school students shot and killed 13 classmates and themselves in Littleton, Colo.
The incidents caused a nationwide outcry for reform, with some groups identifying media violence as a reason for attacks.
A poll commissioned by Discovery Communications after the shootings revealed 90 percent of parents believe media violence leads to real-life violence.
That prompted Discovery Communications President Judith McHale, a former Maryland State Board of Education member, and the other board members to develop a media analysis program.
The program gives “children the framework to make conscious decisions about what is fact and fiction; advertising and news; right and wrong,” according to information from Discovery Communications.
The program is especially useful since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, because students have been viewing images of planes slamming into the World Trade Center or other violence around the world, said Seibert.
While pupils at Calvert don’t discuss the attacks in class because administrators decided parents should deal with that, she said, it does help children understand the images.
A letter is being sent to Calvert Elementary parents, encouraging them to talk with their children when they watch television or play video games. It suggests parents play games with their children such as “spot the target audience,” where students attempt to identify the people at whom the commercial or TV show is aimed.
“With all the things the students have seen in the media lately, (the media class) really helps them understand the messages they’re bombarded with,” Seibert said.
The main purpose of the program is to get students to apply their media literacy knowledge from class to the media outlets they interact with at home, Seibert said.
“It’s a unique project,” said Lynn Widdowson, media literacy specialist at the Maryland State Department of Education. “It’s a resource for the systems.”
Assignment: Media Literacy is taught from elementary school to high school with topics including celebrity coverage, political reporting and history of the mass media. One unit has high school students focusing on how news coverage of crime affects their perception of reality.
Maryland is the only state that has a media literacy program tailored to its districts’ curriculums. Some of the activities promote language arts and critical thinking skills used in the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program tests administrated annually to third-, fifth-, and eighth-graders each May.
Back in Seibert’s Oct. 11 class, each small group is given clippings to analyze. One group got a print of Van Gough’s “Sunflowers.” Others received advertisements and newspaper photos.
The class is “fun,” Gibb said, because they watch videos on TV or make posters. He especially likes the part at the end where they can check out books from the school library where the class is held.
The next step is for students to look behind the image within the books they check out to see who created it and try to figure out why it was created. “There’s so much in this (program) in the way it relates to their real world,” Seibert said. “They’ll be using it for the rest of their lives.” -30- CNS-10-19-01