May 24, 2017

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Five Questions for Kids’ Media Literacy Expert Frank W. Baker

bakerheadshotMedia literacy has never been more relevant. SLJ checked in recently with Frank W. Baker, founder of the Media Literacy Clearinghouse, an online resource for educators. The author of several books, Baker helped craft the new Position Statement on Media Literacy for the National Council for the Social Studies in May 2016. He is a frequent presenter at schools, districts, and conferences across the United States and will participate in SLJ’s Pop Literacy editorial webcast on December 6, along with Renee Hobbs and James Miles.

Your Media Literacy Clearinghouse notes “10,000+” resources for educators. If you had to name the top three resources and issues today, what would they be and why?
FB: Three, are you kidding? Not possible. But every educator needs to be familiar with, and use, the media literacy core concepts and critical thinking questions. Both the Center for Media Literacy and the National Association of Media Literacy Education have downloadable concepts and questions that I would recommend every educator post in their classrooms.

Since my approach to teaching media literacy starts with visual literacy, I think it’s very important that educators teach students how to “read” an image. I have devoted a large section of my website to it. I would also urge librarians to look at their own student collections and determine if you have the kinds of resources that would help young people learn the language of photography.

Understanding the language of video and film is also vital. Do kids understand how meaning is communicated via camera angles, lights, music, set design? I address this on my site as well.

Distinguishing real from fake news on the Internet is getting more and more difficult, even for adults. What are three techniques kids can use to question and fact-check the news?
Every reader of news and information needs to identify who is the creator/producer/author of the message. (If a message has no author, that alone should be your first clue.)  Next, I would recommend you seek out alternative versions of the same story. There are thousands of journalists out there and often many different perspectives. While reading, you might find details, or learn something new, that was not included in your original choice. Lastly, I would use any of the fact-checking websites out there. I like Snopes.comFactcheck.org, and Politifact.com.

You recently tweeted a link to research on how men “read” sexy ads differently than women. Do you know of any difference in the way boys and girls view ads in general that would help educators to be aware of?
We all should be aware that we come from different backgrounds and have different experiences, and we bring all of that to our media experiences. It’s called bias. So we bring our bias to ads as well.  Also, young people, without media literacy skills, may not know how to see through the persuasive techniques being employed by ad creators. So teaching these techniques is important, and never more relevant than at the holiday time of year.

After many years of viewing ad messages, boys have been “pre-programmed” to pay attention to ads that are masculine, and girls to the feminine ones. (There is a Toy Ad Gender Remix website where you can mix the video from a girl’s toy ad with the audio from a boy’s ad—it’s cool.)

You’re an expert on analyzing Super Bowl ads. Can you share a few innovative examples of how educators could discuss these with their students?
Buzz about these ads, in social media and the news, starts months ahead of the game. Educators can use my website (Using Super Bowl Ads in The Classroom) to start tracking news stories about the ads. If I was teaching about Super Bowl ads, I would ask students to create a list of the product names, as well as the parent companies that are responsible for the products. (Are students even aware that many products are part of a larger company?) Students could create a chart matching like products together. We could also challenge students to think about who (the demographic) is most likely to want to purchase one product or another.

How many products, for example, were for children, teens, parents, or grandparents? Other questions worth asking are: why would beer, movies, etc. want to be associated with this big game—what is the benefit? After the game, teachers could poll students on which ads were most popular, humorous, appealing, and why.

How do advertising techniques vary depending on the age of child consumers?
One way I can answer this question is examine the kinds of food products advertised during kids’ programs. Research has already shown that much of the food marketed to them is unhealthy and full of sugar. But the ads for these products won’t disclose the sugar content, for example. A child watching alone is probably not going to think about that—they’re probably going to ask parents to buy that product based on the slick, persuasive techniques being used. That’s one reason why co-viewing with an adult is essential.

An educator using such ads in the classroom could ask students, “What’s omitted, and where can we find important info left out of an ad?”

Older kids can develop some “healthy skepticism” where they are more suspicious and aware that a product ad is deceptive. This is where media literacy can be helpful. When teachers take the time to capture current ads and use them for analysis and deconstruction, we can help students become more media aware. Ad techniques such as colors, design, layout (in print) and action, movement, expressions, and music (in commercials) become elements that students can begin to recognize and be made aware of.

Advertisers are already hip to the fact that young people have developed a certain level of media savvy, so they’re developing new ways to reach and influence this audience. That means video games with not-so-subtle embedded ads. At the same time, these companies are capturing vital information from young people who are oblivious to the fact that everything they do online is being saved for future uses. (Thus the emphasis on privacy in digital citizenship curricula.)  Product placement is also huge in TV and movies, and educators can make sure students know what product placement is, where it occurs, and who benefits.

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