This semester, I began work with Mix IT Up! and Illinois Public Media (WILL) at Stratton Elementary School. Throughout the year, students of the Stratton Media Venture will learn to write and produce their own newscast and school announcements. As a foundation to media, the educational outreach coordinator and I developed curriculum that deals with media on the mass consumption level but also on a personal scale. The capstone project, Photovoice, guided 2nd-5th graders through an analysis of the media on the walls of their school.
Students worked in groups to take photographs of signs and posters in the hallways of Stratton. Ideally students would have self selected a sign but because of time and equipment limitations, groups were assigned an area of the school and rotated the camera to photograph signs of interest. From the bulk of photos students chose to analyze and write a caption of a sign addressing these questions: Who is the target audience of this sign? Who do you think put the sign there? What kind of sign is it? (directional, informational, motivational, warning) Where is this sign? Which room is it next to? Is it low? Is it high?When is this sign useful? How does this sign make you feel? If you could rewrite this sign, what would it say?
Interestingly, despite our conversations and students’ negative reaction of mass media, students were not critical of the material on the walls of their school. Most students saw the signs as inspirational and motivational, as staff intends them. Teachers and WILL staff have discussed this observation and whether or not it is because students at this age want assurance or because Stratton students are just a positive bunch. It is clear that a six-lesson media literacy plan is not enough time to hash out the pros, cons and influence of such media on consumers.
It is also clear that students were not able to articulate in writing what they were able to articulate orally. Students were thoughtful when speaking about how a sign made them feel, but that did not come across in their writing. Teachers responded that additional literacy initiatives are underway to address literacy skills. The educational outreach coordinator and will consider how to add more reading activities into the next version of curriculum.
The overall result of Photovoice has brought to students’ and teachers’ attention that some signs are exceptionally high and, simply, there are a lot of them. This has seemed to be an eye-opener for teachers, though I don’t know that action will be taken to move or decrease the number signs on the wall.
We hope to display their signs and commentary in the library or on a monitor in the halls of Stratton. Until Christmas I will work with students to further elaborate on these sign captions, with the hopes of helping them understand the possibilities and opportunities for their input at their school. As we close the unit, we’ll receive feedback from students on what they learned and how they’ll take in media as a result of these lessons, so we can improve the curriculum for future Media Venture students.
Learning to analyze media in our environment is an ongoing process and as the coin flips and students become producers, they will address questions of audience, language, and intended message for Stratton students and staff as staff and society has done for them for most of their lives.