The current craze about “fake news” has unfortunately had people focus on the “what” more than the “how” of dealing with the overwhelming amount of media messages we have access to on a daily basis. What matters, instead, is that individuals possess the skills to decide for themselves whether to accept or reject media messages. This can be accomplished by creating awareness in students about how media systems operate in our digital era, their media habits, and their analytical thinking skills. This awareness is called media literacy.
What exactly does media literacy entail? What does it mean to be media literate? The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) states that:
“The purpose of media literacy education is to help individuals of all ages develop the habits of inquiry and skills of expression that they need to be critical thinkers, effective communicators and active citizens in today’s world” 
NAMLE’s core principles of media literacy education are as follow:
- Media Literacy Education requires active inquiry and critical thinking about the messages we receive and create.
- Media Literacy Education expands the concept of literacy to include all forms of media (i.e., reading and writing).
- Media Literacy Education builds and reinforces skills for learners of all ages. Like print literacy, those skills necessitate integrated, interactive, and repeated practice.
- Media Literacy Education develops informed, reflective and engaged participants essential for a democratic society.
- Media Literacy Education recognizes that media are a part of culture and function as agents of socialization.
- Media Literacy Education affirms that people use their individual skills, beliefs and experiences to construct their own meanings from media messages .
These skills can be implemented in any classroom and adapted to any subject areas. Think of it more like a pedagogical approach or a mindset than a stand-alone topic. For instance, you could look at how popular science articles represent scientific findings, use ads to discuss the persuasion of linguistic and visual messages, or narratives of many sorts to analyze the effect of perspective-taking—all the while relating it to the topic that you’re teaching in class. And if you don’t feel inspired, use the Center for Media Literacy’s Five Core Questions of Media Literacy to get you started.
Media Literacy Week
One way to begin thinking pragmatically about media literacy is using Media Literacy Week as a starting point. It will occurs nationally on November 6-10, 2017, and offers the perfect opportunity to introduce media literacy practices in your class, school, or district.
The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) suggests some of the following activities for that week:
- Gather teachers for a professional development workshop
- Organize a screening and panel discussion at your school or in your community
- Create a film festival of youth media projects developed in your classroom
- Take your students on a tour of a local television station
- Host a webinar about news literacy
- Partner with your local maker space and explore new forms of reading and writing with emergent technology
- Explore a community issue and have children come up with civically-minded creative solutions
Of course, these are only a few examples, but they are a good start to a rich conversation. There are many activities and toolkits available on https://medialiteracyweek.us/ . Make sure to follow #MediaLitWk on Twitter too!
Sarah Gretter, PH.D. (@SarahGretter): She is a learning designer for adapting teaching to 21st century realities with the Michigan State University Hub for Innovation in Learning and Technology.