Recently, a colleague of mine gave up in frustration. Her objective was to develop critical thinkers about the media. Our students are daily bombarded with messages concerning sex, relationships, and immoral behaviors that she undertook to show responsibility for her part in instructing them to think through some of these negative messages instead of taking them in passively. Not only does this line up with AERO standards of international education, but it also lines up with many state standards as well, who expect us to teach students to analyze the visual and written messages of a variety of media.
Teaching students about media requires an examination of core types of media: newspapers, magazines, advertisements, commercials, internet sites, and public service announcements. Our teacher chose to teach students about advertisements. After modeling an analytical technique, the teacher instructed students to look for advertisements either in magazines on online that promoted a sociological message about society. They didn’t have to look far. Most students chose to use the internet and found the advertisements rather quickly. They all agreed that the advertisements were similar to those they saw on a daily basis on bulletin boards at the mall, for example. As a culminating activity, the teacher placed the advertisements on a hallway bulletin board with large signs asking, “Is this what message we really want to portray in our society?” and “What are the advertisements REALLY trying to sell?” The bulletin board lasted over the weekend and came down on Monday. The teacher was devastated. She knew that the advertisements were not necessarily outside of the range of experience that her students had, and she felt that it was, at the core, censorship. However, outside of the classroom context, other students in the hallway or church members who did not attend the class may not have fully understood the need for the bulletin board to display the somewhat racy adverts.
How can we avoid situations like this as Christian teachers? How can we get our students to become critical thinkers about media and still work within a framework that is appropriate for our Christian school environments? First of all, consider that the following principle applies: If negative messages are being sent through the media, could posting them on a bulletin board for all to read perhaps be promoting the very negative messages that you would like to eradicate from society? How can we avoid doing that?
For one thing, you can have students design a positive campaign based upon a company that is using appropriate advertisement methods. Take the company LG, for example. Here in our country, their Spanish-speaking campaigns are more than appropriate. A dryer commercial shows a woman going about her day cheerfully, and having her clothes dirtied by walking past a fish market or getting on a bus. She has a party to go to later on that night, so she flips it into the dryer for a “freshen up” and then adds a scarf to it, and she is elegant enough for a dinner party. Another campaign for “Scarlet” televisions depicts a woman as a movie actress, using a story line of her mystique and attraction as a fundamental selling point of the red-colored television. It is, however, about a story, not about sex or offensiveness. Another example is the recent VISA commercials about the experiences money can’t buy, as opposed to the Mastercard commercials about cash being “out of style.” Once students develop their own commercials or advertisements, post THEM on the bulletin board along with the message that advertisements affect our daily lives and that we have developed an inspirational advertising campaign. Save the analysis of negative messages for the classroom context and choose your negative advertisements wisely. Show how false promises also can be generated by showing, for example, how a perfume commercial implies that wearing the perfume will bring you love and passion. Or how a mortgage company may promise in their commercial a lifelong marriage upon choosing to borrow money from them.
Full lesson plans for download will be linked to this site. If you would like to contribute, please send it to me via email: email@example.com.
A secular, Canadian site offers a myriad of “jump start” lesson plans on media awareness: http://www.media-awareness.ca/english/teachers/index.cfm (Does not open in a new window)