Teaching Media Literacy and Cultural History through Film

Philo’s focus aims at teaching audiences about an annually elected issue through research and digital mediums. This year, in an effort to bring awareness to South and Central American culture we have designed a presentation that aims to teach Snapshot 1 (2-15-2016 6-44 PM)media literacy through Latin Films.  Subsequently, our hope is to provide an opportunity for local students to constructively learn about South and Central American history through film while at the same time teaching audiences how to better interpret contemporary mediums.

Our presentation works like this: we begin with a segment about media literacy itself and how it functions in our culture. Then, two movies are compared, each focus on File_000a common theme but contrast in opinion. This allows for students to see the incorporated agendas or biases and the conventions being used to advance them. Once viewers are aware of these triggers they  can skip becoming victim to them and begin to analyze the culture they transpired from instead.

Ab8_img1_6948s this idea began to take hold at Hamilton School we realized that there was a potential to expand our notion into a lesson plan that specifically elects movies relevant to the the Lacrosse demographic.  For this reason we have started research within the Hamilton School so that we can collect information that subsequently will allow our final product to reflect those cultures and issues important in our community.  Below you can find our outline for the research referenced above. Please feel free to contact us with any questions or concerns.

Diversifying Cultural Curriculum Through Media Literacy & Film: An Ethnographic Exploration of Teaching Media Literacy and Cultural History in Wisconsin Public Schools
By Philo Films and Issues April 2016


Philo’s hope is to provide an opportunity for local students to learn about diversity and other cultures through film, by teaching students how to be media literate and interpret the messages portrayed through digital media. At Hamilton Elementary School Philo is responding to a push from the community and educators to diversify cultural the curriculum. The community is in search of lessons that authentically educate on the minority populations of La Crosse Wisconsin. The Hmong and Laotian history and perspective get very little attention in the present curriculum, even though a growing active Hmong community exists in La Crosse. Similarly the Latino and Native American perspective do not receive much attention. The nonwhite and immigrant populations of the U.S. are steadily growing in number and so is access to digital media. The community wants their youngsters to be educated on the trends and tools of the modern world they live in. Anything on TV, social media, video games, the radio and music are examples of digital media. Media literacy is the ability to access, analyze, evaluate and create media in a variety of forms. It is a valuable skill that allows people to evaluate how different groups and cultures are portrayed in the media, a theme that lacks authenticity in our modern media platforms.
Media literacy is a valuable tool to becoming a compassionate, positive and educated member of society. For better or worse the majority of elementary school children can turn on the TV or access YouTube on an iPhone. Once they access that digital media platform they could easily be exposed to the countless biases and underlying messages of the mass media. Nike, Apple,Coca-Cola, the NFL and political pundits are not worrying about whether or not the child is media literate enough to critically analyze motive ridden messages. For that very reason we must prepare the children with the proper preparation and education to becoming independent, empathetic, critically thinking community members. One form of digital media they will frequently be exposed to is film, movies and television shows. Film specifically, provides valuable information about an elusive history by acting as a vehicle for historical analysis, personal discovery, transmission of tragedy, entertainment, and education. Our presentation focuses on teaching the students to be media literate through analyzing film techniques, in hopes they learn to think for themselves.

The Lesson

Our lesson begins with a segment about media literacy itself, what tools are involved and how it functions in our culture. We will practice reading the messages within their favorite films and shows. Then, we compare two films, each focuses on a the same cultural theme but contrasts in representation and perspective. This allows for students to see the incorporated messages and the conventions being used to advance them. Being media literate helps students think critically about movies, but also about video games, websites including social media, music, advertisements and more. Once the students are aware of these triggers they can skip becoming victim to them and instead begin to analyze the culture they transpired from. Once a child is media literate they are more prepared to understand and collaborate with their brothers and sisters of different cultures and races because they were able to look past the stereotypes and false messages of those people fed to them by the mass media. Keeping the media literacy part of the presentation static we can change the films we juxtapose to include different or more appropriate cultures, events and ideas. This makes changing the level of maturity for different grades easier.
For now we are looking for the best ways to teach media literacy at a 5th grade level so we can use film as a tool for teaching about diversity and other cultures. We understand the time involved in the classroom might be the biggest difficulties for the school, so we are attentive and focused on your input and abilities. We also understand creating a lesson plan suitable for 5th grade students is of the utmost importance. We believe data gained from our classroom study will help us transform our current presentation, which is suitable for higher grades, into one catered to 5th grade minds. To ensure we develop our lesson plan with valid, informed and useful information, our first step is exploring the classroom setting and context where the lesson will be taught. We intend to evaluate the present educational methods, perspectives and aspirations related to, diversity, social justice and digital media for three groups: the faculty, the students, and the parents/guardians. We believe this requires my participatory observation in the classroom, and informal and formal interviews with each group.

Research Questions and HYPOTHESIS

This study will help develop the future curriculum by showing us where the students are presently in their education of diverse cultures and digital media. We expect the research to show us the social issues that concern the students, parents, and staff, and the types of media they are exposed to. We also expect to answer; which cultures are being underrepresented, which cultures are being misrepresented, what are the children’s maturity and comprehension levels, what tools are they accustomed to using to learn, what teaching approaches and tools show progress, how do students perceive cultural differences, how does media play into their views on racial or ethnic differences, what lessons on digital media (movies, tv shows, the internet, music, radio) do they get, if any, what lessons on diversity and other cultures (Hmong, Latino, African American, Native American) do they get if any, does digital media and diversity ever get taught together, and does media ever complement teaching about the diversity of cultures?


My participation in the classroom will include passively observing lessons from the back of the class, actively assisting teachers/students with daily activities, and interacting with students informally evaluating their opinions and ideas of diversity, social justice and media. To ensure the students and teachers are comfortable and not bothered by my presence, and to ensure we get valid data, I intend to be present in the classroom the entire day, three days a month, until the end of the school year.
The informal interviews will be daily conversations and discussions with teachers and students as we work together in the classroom. Refraining from asking concrete questions about diversity, social justice and the media I will probe for the deeper meanings and underlying opinions in our conversations. What is discussed will be the data for the informal interviews.
The formal interviews will include me sitting down with teachers (and parents) individually or in a group and asking structured concrete questions about their educational methods, perspectives and aspirations related to diversity, social justice and media. The audio of the interviews will be recorded to ensure valid future data analysis. The participants identities and positions will be changed and their responses will be kept in a pass-code secured database along with the recordings. The recordings will be destroyed after four months time. To ensure we get data on teachers opinions outside of the classroom, I would like to hold a short 10-15 minute informal interview with the classroom teacher, once every month.
After one and a half months of classroom research, we will host two identical presentations for parents and guardians to attend. In our presentation we will discuss our intentions to apply for a grant in order to write a lesson plan, our findings to date, and evaluate their opinions making it clear their perspectives are highly important. We want to hold two parent meetings, the second meeting for the parents who can’t make the first one.
Once April, May and June have passed we will have enough data to do more research on the topics that emerged from my participatory observation, the informal and formal interviews. During June and July we will analyze the data and use our findings to write a grant in hopes of gaining resources to create a comprehensive lesson plan. If we succeed in acquiring a grant we will use August to collaborate with you and prepare the lesson plan in hopes of implementing it in the 2016-17 academic year.

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