Reading and Writing
What is the relationship between media literacy and literacy? Have students developed reading and writing skills in this program? Have they developed speaking and listening skills? Have they developed critical viewing and media production skills? What are the challenges and opportunities of supporting students' literacy engagement and skills in this summer program?

Michael is writing a rap to accompany the cereal advertisement he and Quinlin are creating. "Try Special Kare. It will make you have a better day. You wanna know how? Let us explain it to you now." Later, he wants to talk about how Special Kare will give you energy because it is made of whole grains. He writes: "Special K will give you engery. It's made of whole greens." I point out that "energy" is spelled wrong. Quinlin laughs. "Whole greens!? It's whole grains." "What are whole grains?" Michael asks, and Quinlin and I both realize this is a teachable moment. So we take Michael to the computer and we start searching whole grains so that he can see what a grain looks like, learn a bit about why it is important to eat whole grains - what are the health benefits? What are the production process? And we have him spell out the word “energy.”

Earlier in the day, he was writing a portion of our email letter to the news on the board and had a hard time spelling “contact.” I asked him to sound it out and he worked his way through. Later, when he struggled with a different word, Miss Shantelle led him through another sound-it-out.

As consumers of media, they are constantly reading and comprehending, without even knowing they are doing so. We look for food advertisements in magazines, and they are able to discuss the wording on in the ad. I ask them, “What does the text of the ad say?” They read aloud and interpret. They begin to understand how text and image work together to convey a message. They understand that words are conveying a message, that they are serving a purpose, that they are a part of the larger intention behind the work. So that when they create their own advertisements, they think carefully about which words to use, where to position the words on the posterboard, how to craft a catchy and pithy slogan that will encapsulate their product’s strengths.

Yesterday, Henry’s class merged with ours for a while so that we could discuss his dance competition. One of his students performed a dance to the Beyonce song, “Ego,” some lines of which include:
It's too big, it's too wide
It's too strong, it won't fit
It's too much, it's too tough
He talk like this 'cause he can back it up

He got a big ego, such a huge ego
I love his big ego, it's too much
He walk like this 'cause he can back it up

While she danced, she acted out the lyrics. Her arms spread out beside her as Beyonce sang “it’s too big, it’s too wide.” She flexed her arms to sing “It’s too strong.” She strutted across the floor for “He walk like this” and she strutted backwards to complete the clause, “’cause he can back it up.” I pointed out to the students that this student, Najala, was using her body to reflect the message of the words. She was comprehending and reflecting, re-expressing the message of the song in her own words. Again, the thing is that these students are constantly comprehending words –written and spoken – and what media literacy can teach them, among other things, is an awareness of their cognition, show them that they are already doing literacy work in their everyday lives, help them to transfer the skills they use when playing on wee world or making up dances to Beyonce videos, to understanding the texts they are expected to read and comprehend in school.

Jade is online during recess. She has visited the Channel 3 CBS news website to find their contact information so we can call them and ask them for their email address. On one of the right sidebars, she notices a poll that asks – should the government fund a mission to Mars? She doesn’t quite know what a poll is nor does she understand what the question is asking. She says, “Oooh Miss Aggie! They askin whether the government should fund a mission to Mars.” I ask her to restate that question for me – what does it mean to fund something? We discus the question. And then she notes a disclaimer below the poll that reads something to the effect of – the results of these polls are based only on the answers of people who have chosen to participate. I try to explain to Jade what this means. We talk through it: What is a poll, Jade? What is this sentence saying word by word?

Jade was also the one who helped us figure out when the first Coca Cola bottle was manufactured. One of her peers had found an ad for Coke in a magazine. This ad utilized a Coca Cola bottle and we were discussing why it was effective, what kind of feeling the bottle evokes as opposed to the can. We realized that the bottle was probably older than the can and so conveyed a more “classic” feel. It also highlighted Coca Cola’s long history and unique invention. We wanted to know more specifically when the first bottle was founded so Jade offered to search for it, which meant she had to write proper search terms and sift through enough websites, reading for comprehension enough to discover the answer –sometime between 1890s and 1920.

This happens a great deal. The students read something online while they are looking for hip hop videos or they hear a word they don’t understand in a trailer and they want to know – what does it mean? We can help. We can help them by showing them to the dictionary, by taking sentences apart word by word and by asking larger questions like – why would they need to include this sentence? What are they trying to say? Who is their audience?

And when we talk about audience, we also know that we have to cater our own expressions to specific audiences. So when we make our video letter to the news, we cannot say “stop PUTTIN improper photos of people on air” with defiance and a certain smack to our words. We must speak like they do on the news so we can be taken seriously: “Stop putting improper photos of people on air.”

Media literacy can help support communication skills, can help develop reading and writing skills, but we need more time. We need to have time to read and discuss one newspaper article a day. We need to have time to watch the videos, do the dances, read the articles, surf the web, talk about the music, write on the board, write emails (which take a long, long time), storyboard, write the scripts, look up the words we don’t know. We need to have a bit more time to read graphic novels and compare them to the written text, to read a book and compare it to its adaptation.