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The Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Online Guide consists of a series of pull-down menus and embedded links to specific examples from existing Project Look Sharp curriculum kits and lessons, particularly those designed for community groups and broad audiences, such as the sustainability curriculum kits.

This guide will help you make your own media decoding lessons for integration into core content teaching. It is organized as a series of drop-down menus that are scaffolded in five levels. The fifth level provides brief text related to the particular lesson design aspect addressed in the preceding scaffold series.

Lesson Conception
Tying to your goals
Identifying curriculum and content goals
Work backwards from goals to assessment to activities.
Too often we create lesson based on cool activities rather than our goals. Instead, use the Understanding By Design model of “working Backwards” from your goals and your assessment before designing the lesson activities. First define your goals: what skills, concepts and/or knowledge do you want your students to learn? Then envision and design your assessment: how will students show you they have learned these? Now you are ready to work backward to identify the activities and lessons you will need to deliver in order for your students to be successful in the assessment.
Start with goals and objectives related to core content

What knowledge and skills do you want to develop through this lesson? In order to effectively use media analysis and other media literacy approaches, it is crucial to start with your curriculum goals. In building the lesson, you'll also need to decide what vocabulary and background information students will need to have in order to navigate through this lesson - and whether the teacher will need to provide that information ahead of time, whether the students can gain that information from an assigned reading prior to the lesson, or whether the students will be able to get that information during the lesson itself.

Identify goals related to classroom process and practice
Are there additional goals beyond your content. literacy and critical thinking goals that you have for this lesson? These could involve providing opportunities for small group work or conducting online research, building awareness about current events or controversial issues, identifying and discussing stereotypes, encouraging students to reflect on their own meaning making and the impact of this issue on their own lives, etc.
Identifying media literacy and critical thinking goals
What is meant by "media literacy" - what skills does a media literate person have?

Media literacy is an extension of traditional literacy that applies the concepts of "reading" and "writing" to include the wide range of media forms through which we get information, ideas and impressions today. Media literacy skills include having access to relevant media content and technologies, awareness of our media choices and their impact on us, understanding basic aspects of media content and production, analysis of media messages, evaluation of a message's credibility and usefulness, creation of one's messages through a range of media formats, reflection on our reactions to media messages and the impact of our own media productions on others, participation in collective activities related to media analysis and production, and taking action based on these abilities.

What is "critical thinking" and what are the characteristics of a critical thinker?
In the context of media literacy and education, critical thinking involves five key components: curiosity and the desire to question, looking for complexities and richness in explanations and explorations; ongoing engagement in the process of inquiry by acquiring, analyzing and evaluating information; inherent skepticism, looking for biases, assumptions and evidence in stated claims and opinions; valuing good reasoning and credible evidence; and flexibility and open-mindedness, able to question one's own assumptions and to change one's mind in the face of new and compelling evidence. "Strong sense critical thinking" goes beyond simply asking questions to defend one's existing knowledge and expectations; it involves recognizing one's own biases, accepting multiple "truths" and being able to acknowledge the validity of an argument even if it is made by someone with whom you usually disagree. Identify specific media literacy and critical thinking goals for this lesson
Identify specific media literacy and critical thinking goals for this lesson
    Media literacy goals in Project Look Sharp lessons include the following:
  • Critically analyze and critique/evaluate media constructions/representation.
  • Analyze credibility, bias and truth in in diverse media constructions.
  • Identify, analyze, and discuss different views/perspectives in media constructions.
  • Recognize the power of words and images to influence a target audience.
  • Analyze media documents for key media literacy concepts relating to audience, authorship, message and representation.
  • Analyze diverse storytelling techniques to convey messages.
  • Identify the qualities/strengths and weaknesses of different media forms.
Addressing subject area and other learning standards
Subject area standards and applications to media literacy

Subject area standards and applications to media literacy - Most national subject-related standards include language specific to core media literacy concepts of deep reading and analysis of media documents. For example the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Standards includes Standard 6- Students apply knowledge of media techniques to create, critique, and discuss print and non-print texts. The National Council For the Social Studies (NCSS) C3 Framework for Social Studies State Standards highlights the key ML skills in developing questions and planning inquiries, evaluating sources and using evidence, communicating conclusions and taking informed action.

Incorporating specific language and ties to standards
If possible, incorporate specific language from relevant standards as part of the Goals or Objectives in the lesson plan, making explicit the ways in which this lesson will address those standards and/or prepare students through parallel tasks and skill development.
Using media documents and other media-related activities to support your goals
What types of media examples will lend themselves to your classroom or educational context?

Identify one or two rich and engaging examples of media documents (e.g. video clips, magazine covers, internet website pages, excerpts from newspaper articles or books). These can serve as "anchor documents" for the lesson, and will help in the identification of supporting documents and related activities.

Will there be a media production component to your lesson?

Having students create their own media messages develops both synthesis and communication skills, requiring them to apply content knowledge and understanding to the creation of their own messages, while keeping in mind their purpose, target audience, use of techniques for conveying information and holding attention, reflection on the impact of their message on others, etc. [SEE: Key Questions for Production] Media production can be low tech (e.g. poetry, posters, skits) as well as higher tech (e.g. PowerPoint, Prezi, videos, Photoshop).

Using new media forms and technologies

When having students present information and ideas to the rest of the class, ask them to decide what form(s) of media are best suited for their purposes in presenting information and ideas to the rest of the class. While media production may require access to digital media technology and can be time-consuming for both the students and teachers, it can also be very engaging and empowering for students, and provides the opportunity to link their personal use of media (such as Facebook, YouTube, twitter, audio production, and internet sites) to academic content and skills.

Choosing strategic learning and teaching options
Clarifying classroom practice for media decoding.
Will students work alone, in pairs, in small groups, or as a full class?
Constructivist media decoding seeks to engage every student in the process of personal and collective discovery, and there are advantages in using each of these approaches. Solo work can help individual students conceptualize and articulate their own thinking before being influenced by others. Paired work can help students to clarify their own point of view in collaboration with another. Group work forces students to name and defend their own ideas while adjusting to the ideas of others in the group, and to work collaboratively to accomplish the necessary tasks for the assignment. Full class decoding allows students to learn from each other, engage in reflective listening, and to practice public analysis. Consider printing and distributing copies of print documents for analysis (in color, if necessary) or provide them in an electronic format that students can view on cell phones or iPads, so that students can first work individually or in pairs, and have them begin the analysis of that document.
Will you decode single, paired or multiple media document sets?

A "deep reading" of a single, rich media document allows students to explore the multiple readings possible within one media construction [SEE Example: 2004: Swift Boat Veterans for Truth TV Commercial]. Paired documents allow for comparing and contrasting conflicting constructions in response to key questions about messages, meanings, authorship, and purposes [SEE Example: Economics kit, Lesson 3: Panama Canal]. It is an excellent way to address the complex question - "What is left out of the message?" Analysis of a series of documents teaches students to identify patterns, see connections, synthesize information from multiple sources, and develop a broader understanding of the topic [SEE: Sustainability kit, lesson 7]

Seeking models for media literacy integration
Are you familiar with the basic principles of media literacy education?

There are a number of good sources of information about media literacy education, including the National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) [SEE: NAMLE] and its Core Principles for Media Literacy Education [SEE: Core Principles]. The Teacher's Guide to Media Literacy (Corwin, 2012) [SEE: TGML] and Project Look Sharp's many Professional Development offerings.

Have you explored other media literacy lesson plans?

Before developing your own lessons, it will be useful to look at other lesson plans that are designed for the same grade level(s) or curriculum area(s) as yours, and to explore the different ways in which educators have approached media literacy in the classroom. We recommend that you browse through some of the Project Look Sharp kits [SEE: PLS Kits] to look at media literacy lessons on websites such as the Media Literacy Clearinghouse [SEE: Clearinghouse] and the Media Education Lab [SEE: Media Education Lab].

Which colleagues or resource persons can assist with your lesson design?
Most PLS kits are designed with a single or double-page lesson plan that includes these elements for quick review: Lesson Objectives, Vocabulary, Media, Materials Needed, Time, Lesson Procedures. We recommend that you incorporate these same elements into your own lesson plans.
Adapting Project Look Sharp (PLS) lessons
Finding PLS lessons that tie to your goals
How can you search for PLS lessons that are similar to your content objectives?

Use the drop down menu bar for Curriculum Kits and Lessons on the PLS home page to browse through our curriculum kit titles [SEE: PLS Kits] OR click on the Subject Area buttons in the middle of the PLS home page OR use the Lesson Plan Index for Kit Documents beneath the Subject Area buttons to search by kit content, media type, and grade level OR use the custom search bar at the top of the home page to search for particular events, names or issues.

How can you quickly review the objectives and activities in a PLS kit?
Most PLS kits are designed with a single or double-page lesson plan that includes these elements for quick review: Lesson Objectives, Vocabulary, Media, Materials Needed, Time, Lesson Procedures. We recommend that you incorporate these same elements into your own lesson plans.
Where can you find ideas for adapting individual PLS lesson plans?

Further Questions and Extended Activities, included in the Teachers Guides for many of our lessons, prompt students to go beyond media-based analysis to discuss issues, make personal connections, conduct follow-up research or take social action. Teachers can add their own questions and suggestions to these lists as a means of encouraging a broader, holistic understanding of the topic. Thematic Listings in the introduction to many of the PLS kits include broad thematic categories with listings of specific media documents or lessons that explore the outlined themes and issues. [SEE: Social Justice Kit: Thematic Listing, Focusing Ideas and Connections]

Adding media documents to existing PLS lessons
How can you search for new media documents to add to existing PLS lesson?

Decide on a lesson from a PLS kit you want to adapt. You may want to consider using a different media format than the one used in the original lesson. Consider having students bring in documents to contribute to the lesson. Keep an archive of media documents that you have collected, tagging each one with information that will be useful for future lessons. [SEE: Selection of Media Documents] in this DIY guide for tips in finding the right documents.

What elements need to be changed in the teaching plan?
PLS lessons often include sets of documents that can be addressed with parallel questions. Review the probe questions to see if they apply to the new documents you are adding. If not, revise the questions to work with the documents you are adding. Either way, you will not want to keep using the same questions over and over again with different media documents, as students may tune out if the questioning process is too repetitive. Depending on the amount of time available and number of students, you may want to eliminate some of the existing media documents in favor of the new ones you are adding.
Where can you find additional ideas to extend the PLS lesson?

Most PLS lessons include a Further Questions sections near the end of the Teacher Guide. These are often open-ended discussion questions designed to deepen the students' abilities in media analysis, encourage reflection on a student's personal relationship with the topic, and to explore underlying values and motives of stakeholders in the topic area. They may be adapted as more specific and targeted questions, with evidence-based answers as the goal. You may also want to use the Key Questions to Ask When Analyzing Media Messages [SEE: Key Questions], or to hand out those questions to the students and ask them which questions they would ask about this media document (and why). [SEE: Question Design].

Selection of Media Documents
Selecting media formats
Understanding the range of options
What do we mean by "media"?

We typically define "media" as content and messages conveyed through visuals, language and/or sound that are produced for a remote mass audience mediated through some form of technology. These include traditional print-based media (e.g., books, newspapers, magazines, direct mail), audiovisual media (e.g., radio, television, film, video games), and computer-assisted communication (e.g., the Internet, computer games, social media). Media also includes recorded music, most games, package labels, and advertising in all its forms. In the classroom, media are likely to include textbooks, posters, and maps.

Consider culturally diverse media.

Media formats and messages are heavily influenced by cultural values and traditions. In the U.S. and many Western countries, we often think of media in terms of television, recorded music, newspapers, advertising, websites, YouTube, and social media like Facebook. In Bhutan, media messages are also carried by prayer flags and thangkas. In West Africa, media include dance and jenbe drums. In Arnhem land, Australian media include bark painting and rock art.

Consider using historic media.

Consider how to use media of the time period you are studying for document decoding purposes. When introducing pre-18th century representations of human/animal relations for the Media Construction of Endangered Species curriculum kit, we used a petroglyph from 1000 years ago, a 16th century French map, and a 17th century deerskin robe. [SEE: Endangered Species Lesson 1 Teacher Guide] The Causes of the Revolutionary War kit, designed for 4th grade, uses mostly 18th century media documents. [SEE: Revolutionary Wark Kit]

Consider using citizen-produced media.
Many of the mass media forms we are most familiar with today - e.g., The Daily Show, The New York Times, Fox News - require a great deal of money to produce. Consider including media examples that have been produced by people without access to vast sums of money, such as a student blog, a neighborhood newsletter, or a local radio show.
Identifying your media format needs and preferences
What are your personal media preferences?
Reflect on how your personal media preferences have been shaped by family, culture, and historical context. How do your media preferences compare with those of your parents and grandparents? By the generation coming up behind you (your children and students)? Are these format preferences conscious choices or default drives? How do your personal media preferences influence the media you bring into your classroom?
What kinds of media have you already been using in your classroom?
If you have been regularly using print handouts with students, you may want to start with that format to incorporate media images and text. If you already show some videos in your class, you may want to experiment with using short excerpts from longer videos with an eye towards doing a deep reading of the video and audio content with students, rather than showing one long video designed to convey information. If your students all use iPads or cell phones as part of your regular classroom practice, then you can begin to integrate those media forms into your use of media analysis and media literacy.
How do your media preferences impact your teaching?
Do you choose only certain forms when using media in the classroom? Most of us choose the media we are most familiar or comfortable with. How do your choices of classroom media impact students with different family and cultural backgrounds and different generational preferences than your own?
Have you overlooked potentially useful media forms?
Consider trying a media form you have never used before as a tool for decoding. How about maps or spoken word poetry, video games or Twitter feeds? Brainstorm with your class a list of as many media forms as they can name, inviting them to think of media choices made by their friends and extended family. Assess how your students respond to different media forms, and how the different forms of media might be incorporated into your own teaching and educational context.
Deciding which media format(s) will work best
Advantages of using still visual images

Visual images are particularly useful for collective classroom decoding. They are easy to share with PowerPoint slides or reusable print copies for handouts. Visual images can engage students who are not native English speakers or who have reading challenges. They can be beautiful, disturbing, complex, nuanced - and can be found from historical time periods going back centuries. It is also easy to show two or more visual images on the same slide for ease in comparing the media messages carried by each. [SEE: Resource Depletion Kit, Lesson 1 PowerPoint]

Advantages of using audio

Audio messages provide great connections for students who love music, sound or the human voice. Since songs, sounds and spoken words are ubiquitous, it makes sense to explore their power and messages as they appear in media. When using songs for document decoding, it is often useful to provide the printed lyrics to aid in the analysis, and it is always important to discuss the performance and production techniques that are used to convey the messages as well as the word selection. [SEE: Social Justice Kit, Unit 8, Lesson 3]

Advantages of using video

In the era of YouTube we live in a video-saturated media marketplace. Video is typically an easy way to engage student interest. Make use of the full range of video options available to you as you select video documents - e.g., archival documentaries, music videos, TV commercials from the 1950s, popular cartoons, Edison-era silent films, political biographical films. [SEE: Peace Kit, Unit 1, Lesson 2]

Advantages of using digital imagery (website pages, Internet ads, etc.)

For today's students who have grown up with digital technologies, digital imagery is an ever-present part of their daily lives. But, just because they use it all the time doesn't mean that they have perspective and understanding on how it is constructed, nor are they necessarily capable of decoding digital messages found on websites, in videogame animation, or in photo mashups. [SEE: Sustainability in the Finger Lakes, Lesson 24] for website credibility example.

Trying new formats
Traditional vs. new digital media forms
Today's students are used to functioning in a world that easily allows portability, co-creation, personalization, and non-linear modes of interaction. Using new digital forms of media may not only engage their interest but also allow them to better see the connections between their academic work and their personal lives. Furthermore, some students who are not strong print-based learners may excel in working with video and digital media content - which can lead them to read more in order to identify information they need to apply their skills to their coursework. An important part of media literacy is recognizing that different media forms have distinct strengths and weaknesses. It's important to let the technology and media formats serve your goals, not drive them.
What media forms are part of your students' home lives?
Do you know what forms of media are used daily in the homes of the students you teach? It is likely that there will be important differences as well as commonalities across your group of students. Among themselves, students may share cell phone or iPad apps, YouTube channels, and twitter addresses, and at home there may be a different array of media forms you may not know about. Culture, economic circumstances, and family history all shape the mediascapes of your students' lives in ways that you should understand and appreciate. Don't just assume - ask your students about their media use, or consider having them complete a media diary about their media use over the course of several days.
How can document searching be a collective enterprise
Have your class undertake a scavenger hunt, walking through the halls of the school to find documents for classroom analysis. Identify all of the media forms and documents that are accessible for decoding in your school. Discuss the unique language and qualities of each media form.
What are the advantages of trying new media forms?
Using the media forms that are new to you stretches you to engage with the forms of communication and expression chosen by others - both your students and the people whose lives you may be studying. Using media forms that are new to students gives them a little sense of what it is like to travel across borders where communications forms and languages may change in a moment.
Social media forms (Facebook pages, twitter, podcasts, etc.) and apps for iPads

Consider using various forms of new media as documents for classroom decoding. The lesson Targeting Youth with New Media in Project Look Sharp's kit, Media Construction of Presidential Campaigns [SEE: Presidential Campaigns 2008] has students analyze the qualities of different new media forms that promoted Barack Obama during his 2008 presidential campaign. Project Look Sharp's New Media Tools for Teachers [SEE: New Media Tools] includes brief overviews and resources for using a dozen new media tools in the classroom. The Media Literacy Clearinghouse [SEE: Media Literacy Clearinghouse] has many suggestions for incorporating social media into media literacy.

Searching for media documents
Defining a "rich" media document for decoding
What are your content goals?

Identify a limited number of objectives that tie to the knowledge, concepts and vocabulary you wan to teach. Make sure that your document choices bring forward key content. See also the section "Tying to your goals" in this DIY manual.

What are your media literacy goals?

You may want to review Key Concepts for Media Analysis [SEE: Key Concepts] and Key Questions to Ask When Analyzing Media Messages [SEE: Key Questions] when crafting your goals. Media literacy goals in Project Look Sharp lessons include the following:

  • Critically analyze and critique/evaluate media constructions/representation.
  • Analyze credibility, bias and truth in in diverse media constructions.
  • Identify, analyze, and discuss different views/perspectives in media constructions.
  • Recognize the power of words and images to influence a target audience.
  • Analyze media documents for key media literacy concepts relating to audience, authorship, message and representation.
  • Analyze diverse storytelling techniques to convey messages.
  • Identify the qualities/strengths and weaknesses of different media forms.
Is this document appropriate for your students and your goals?
Some documents will more likely lead to conversations about personal preference ("I don't listen to that kind of music!"), sexuality ("Look! You can see their…"), religion ("Isn't that some kind of religious symbol?"), etc. Will such discussion lead to or distract from your primary content and media literacy goals? Review the entry "Do No Harm" when evaluating the appropriateness of a document.
How can a document be used to teach key content?

Choose content rich documents to decode. You will typically need to give students key background knowledge prior to the decoding unless the documents has the information embedded. Then ask content questions (as well as critical thinking questions) that require student to apply their knowledge (e.g. who is this, who might have produced this, when do you think this was made?). The process of media decoding will likely engage typically reluctant (print) readers in application of knowledge as well as analysis. Watch videos of classroom media decoding [SEE: Media Decoding Examples]. For more on leading a media decoding see chapter 4 in The Teacher's Guide to Media Literacy (Corwin, 2012). [SEE: TGML]

How can a document be used to assess student learning?

Media decoding activities can often be turned into assessments of literacy skills and content knowledge. See assessments in Media Construction of War kit [SEE: Media Construction of War] for examples of a number of different assessment models.

Refining document parameters
How many documents should you choose?

Choose the documents and the number of documents that will best address your goals. You may decide on an in-depth analysis of a single document [SEE: Real Bugs Lesson], have the class synthesize patterns in a quick succession of images [SEE: Sustainability Kit, Lesson 4] or compare two contrasting documents [SEE: Revolutionary War, Lesson 8].

What media forms will you select?
Be expansive in your definition of media. For historical lessons, consider using media forms common to that time frame such as petroglyphs or dime novel covers. Consider using a combination of media forms including print, audio, visual and web-based forms for comparative analysis of the communicative strengths and weaknesses of each medium.
How can your document choice expand your students' imagination?

Ask yourself "What kinds of documents might stretch my students' capacity for wonder?" [SEE: Media Construction of Sustainability, Lesson 2] for uses a combination of film clips, songs, poetry and science fiction to provide a window for imagining what farming might look like in the future.

Choosing an anchor document
What is an "anchor document"?
While your goals (rather than the documents themselves) should drive the creation of your lesson, you may find a particularly rich and engaging document that fits your general lesson goals which can then become the anchor for finding companion documents. Anchor documents are selected for the clear questions they suggest, relating to both content and media literacy. A good anchor document will enable you to search for and choose others that will address the same content and media literacy questions from different perspectives.
Will the document hold up over time?
If you intend to use this lesson in the future, consider whether this document is rich in information that will have an extended shelf life. If the document is about an issue that will likely be of little interest in two years, you might look for another one that will have lasting power.
Is this document one that will engage student interest?

The best anchor documents combine interest for students with solid learning opportunities. A clip from the famous 1960s TV series The Twilight Zone is more likely to grab students' attention than an extended news interview from the same time period. [SEE: Sustainability Kit, Lesson 2, Teacher Guide]

Document research by educators
What key elements are you looking for as you search for documents?
First off, the document must be readable by your students. A poor resolution cartoon where the text is illegible will undermine the decoding. If color is important make sure you can project or reproduce the document in color. The context of the document is likely to be important as well. If authorship, time period or other sourcing information is not evident in the document you may need to provide this information. A stunning photo without any background information will not enable students to answer questions about authorship, purpose, economics or context.
Where should you start your search?

Many people go immediately to Google Images or YouTube videos to look for documents. These can provide productive results, but you must be willing to sift through haystacks of information with a discerning eye to identify the needle that fits your "key elements" criteria. Use these expansive collections as gateways to point you to smaller collections that fit your content needs and are much easier to search. You might also start by seeking listings that annotate such collections, such as Project Look Sharp's Resource List for Social Studies Teachers [SEE: Social Studies Resource List].

Where can you deepen your search?

Become familiar with - and use the indexes for - vast national archives of media documents such as the American Memory Historical Collections from the Library of Congress [SEE: American Memory] Smithsonian Folkways [SEE: Smithsonian] and the Internet archive [SEE: Internet Archive]. Look for specialized archives related to your topic, such as the Swarthmore College Peace Collection Finally, don't forget to look in the oversized book section at your local library for illustrated histories which can provide treasure troves of great documents.

Whom can you turn to for support and ideas?
Start with your school, university or community librarians. Consider consulting key community advisors who might be willing to advise you on particular content.
How can you work efficiently?
Identify the hard-to-find documents that will be critical for the success of your lesson plan and look for those first to determine whether your idea will work. Hone your keyword search to specific media forms, content and names (e.g., "Soviet poster," "World War Two," "Stalin"). Finally, set a maximum search time for any single document and be willing to walk away (at least temporarily) if you don't find what you're looking for in the allotted time.
Document research by students
Why have students do their own document searches?
While students often need you to provide them with documents for analysis, you can teach another set of critical thinking and problem solving skills by having students do their own document research. Use this as an opportunity to improve students research skills by asking them to reflect on why they made the choices they did in selecting certain documents over others.
How can students identify credible online sources?

Offer tips for judging the credibility of a media source:

  1. Seek, compare and evaluate the information from diverse sources [SEE Example: Sustainability, Lesson 24]
  2. Assess and verify the currency and accuracy of the information [SEE: Credibility of Information Handout]
  3. Identify the source, its funding and missions, and speculate on how that may influence the information included
  4. Reflect on how one's own biases may influence one's judgments about the credibility of the information


Should students use Wikipedia or Google Image searches?
Students need to be able to identify the source of media documents beyond Google and Wikipedia. Make sure students know how to use the Wikipedia sections on references, bibliography and external links. This can lead to a rich conversation about why sourcing is important and how to use references to research sourcing.
Where should you send students to find primary documents online?

Introduce students to the Library of Congress archive of primary sources and to its international partner, Global Gateway. Familiarize yourself with the extensive materials available at the Library of Congress' Teaching with Primary Sources Program [SEE: Library of Congress Primary Sources]

Consider Internet safety issues.
Consider initiating classroom discussions about Internet safety, online solicitation, online harassment, exposure to hate group sites, etc.
Why use the library?
While students are likely to see Google as the only useful search path you should look for opportunities for them to recognize the advantages of using databases, print materials and the professional expertise provided by librarians.
Capturing media documents
How can you make Power Point slides from photographs or internet images?

Use Google image searches for large images, or access an image database such as the Library of Congress [SEE: Llibrary of Congress]. Clicking on an image will show you the image size measured in pixels with the first number the width and the second the height. Execute a print screen or screen grab to capture the image to your desktop. OR Consider finding images in illustrated books from your library. The oversized book section can be a great image trove. Scan or photograph the selected images via smartphone. Seek out tech support to find the best standard size, DPI (dots per inch resolution) and file format (JPEG, TIFF, PNG, etc.) for your presentation needs. Use image enhancement software such as Photoshop or Blowup to resize, change the DPI or file format if necessary. Save your images in an image file on your computer with clear citations as to the original source. Make sure to use proper citations for all images in your presentation.

How can you capture video for class presentations?
Video clips usually work best if they are relatively short (under four minutes), especially when using multiple clips for comparison purposes. Use any of the online video archives to search for documents, including Google and Yahoo video, YouTube, and the Internet Archive. Seek out tech support to find the best way to copy, save and alter your video given your available technology and your particular classroom needs. BE sure to digitize more of the clip than you actually need to ensure that you don't unintentionally cut off part of the clip you want. Edit the clip using a software program such as iMovie. You can also create a hyperlink in PowerPoint to access the video directly online, although you will need to have internet access during your presentation in order to play it. Save the video clips in an archive file with clear citations as to the original source, and be sure to use proper citations in your presentation.
How can you capture audio for class presentations?

Audio clips typically work best when they are relatively short (under two minutes), especially if using multiple audio clips for comparison. Use any of the online audio archives to search for documents, including the Internet Archive [SEE: Internet Archive], the Stanford University Archive of Recorded Sound [SEE: Stanford University], the Alan Lomax Sound Archive [SEE: Lomax Archive], and the British Library Sounds collection [SEE: British Sounds]. You can also create a hyperlink in your presentation software to directly access the audio clip online, but you will need internet access during your presentation. Seek out tech support to find the best way to copy, save and alter your audio to fit the technology available and your particular classroom needs. Once you have found an excerpt that meets your lesson goals, save the clip in an archive file with clear information as to the original source. Be sure to use proper citations in your presentation.

Addressing copyright issues
Copyright and public domain documents
What is copyright and how does it apply to media decoding?
Copyright law gives media creators and owners legal rights over the use of copyrighted documents. Most contemporary media documents (video clips, paintings, music, etc.) are copyrighted. If not for the fair-use provision of copyright law educators would need the permission of copyright owners to decode these documents in the classroom.
What media documents are in the public domain?

Copyrighted documents move into the “public domain” when copyright expires, typically no more than 70 years after the death of the creator. Government documents such as those in the Library of Congress and those in copyright free archives such as “Creative Commons” [SEE: Creative Commons] are also free from traditional copyright restrictions.

Fair Use and media literacy
What is Fair Use?

Copyright law includes a “fair-use” provision that allows for the reproduction of copyrighted material without permission for particular purposes “such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research." [SEE: Copyright Law ]

How does Fair Use apply to media decoding?

Educators may typically apply fair-use to the reproduction and use of copyrighted media documents when they use the documents for the purpose of criticism, critique and analysis. When one asks students questions about authorship (who made this message?), purpose (why was it made?), sponsorship (who paid for this?), content (what is left out?), point of view (what is the bias here?), or other critical thinking questions, fair use will likely apply. [SEE: Key questions to ask when analyzing media messages]

Why is Fair Use so important?
It is not only the right of educators to have our student critique media messages, including contemporary copyrighted documents, it is our responsibility. Democracy requires that we educate our students to ask critical thinking questions about all media messages, from government documents to Disney films, from video games to cereal boxes. It is not possible for educators to fulfill this responsibility without the fair use provision of copyright law.
What is Project Look Sharp's approach to copyright and Fair Use?
Project Look Sharp has over 2000 media documents (video clips, songs, paintings, etc.) posted on our website. Each document is accompanied by a media literacy lesson with questions for classroom analysis that teach critical thinking and media literacy. We apply the fair use clause to all copyrighted documents to enable educators to do this critical work.
How do I know if Fair Use applies?
Does Fair Use apply to all educational uses?
Fair-use does NOT apply to all educational uses. For instance, if a teacher is using a video clip for the same purpose it was intended (e.g., education or entertainment) fair use would typically not apply. Showing the Disney’s film Aladdin to entertain or reward students would typically not be fair-use. However, leading students through a classroom analysis of the opening scene from Aladdin, asking “what are the messages here about the Arab world?” would fall under fair-use. Copying or showing a clip from a PBS documentary on the civil war for the purpose of teaching content (exclusively) would require adherence to copyright restrictions. But if one leads students though an analysis of the construction of the clip, asking critical thinking questions such as, “what did the filmmakers include and leave out of this clip about reconstruction?” fair use would typically apply.
Aren't there limitations I need to follow?
There are a number of common myths surrounding fair-use. While it is safer (less likely anyone would sue you) to use only 10% of a document, fair-use can apply to the critique and criticism of 100% of a painting, song, website or other copyrighted document. Many of the misconceptions about fair-use have to do with the complex, vague and evolving nature of the law. Project Look Sharp’s application of fair-use rests on the transformative use of copyrighted documents for critique and criticism regardless of many other concerns (percentage of the document used, type of media, etc.)
Am I safely following Fair Use?

Fair-use is a hotly disputed legal issue and a lawsuit is always possible. You should educate yourself on the issue (SEE: Resource on media literacy and fair use below) and seek legal council if you are concerned. However, the fair-use provision was built into the law, at least in part, to ensure critical dialogue in our democracy. American teenagers spend on average nearly 8 hours a day using media (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2010). As educators we need to teach students to critically analyze the media that fill their lives.

Additional resources on media literacy and Fair Use
The Center for Social Media’s Codes for Best Practices in Fair Use for Media Literacy Education [SEE: Best Practices] gives detailed information on varied applications of fair-use to media analysis in the classroom as well as to student media production and curriculum development.
Seeking diverse representations
Defining diversity
Who is represented in the document?
Make an effort to seek out documents that portray a wide range of different people. Consider variety in gender, race, culture, age, sexual orientation, physical size and ability, economic circumstances and regional identification. This means that you should explore media sources that represent varied demographic groups.
Who made the document?
It's relatively easy to collect media documents created by "mainstream" sources such as large corporations, the federal government and major universities. Seek out media created by less well-known sources. Independent media, citizens' groups and high school classes all make media that may not appear on the first pages of a Google search. Dig deeply to present documents made by a wide variety of media makers.
What groups are most often presented or underrepresented?
Reflect on the documents visible in your classroom, at your school, and in the textbooks and other materials that your students study. Which groups of people are most often represented and which are least represented in the school environment? Extend diversity by choosing media documents that help to balance these portrayals.
Finding varied sources
Where can you find documents from varied political perspectives?
For conservative right-leaning material, you might look for links connected to the Hudson Institute, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and The National Review Online. For progressive left-leaning material you might look first at AlterNet, Common Dreams, and Democracy Now. Be sure to seek out material generated by media sources targeted to particular demographic groups (e.g., women, Latinos, the elderly) as well.
How do your own preferences shape your searches?

The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) states that "Media literacy education emphasizes strong sense critical thinking, i.e., asking question about all media messages, not just those with which we may disagree." [SEE: Core Principles] It is important to make sure that we provide students with good documents and critical media literacy questions related to messages with which we may personally and strongly agree or disagree. Don't fall into the pattern of only showing perspectives that you agree with (without questioning them) but also decoding and questioning perspectives you disagree with.

Integrating different voices
How can you represent diversity throughout your lesson?

Don't allow diversity to be represented by a token document; make a genuine effort to include diverse representations throughout your lessons. For example, we began each of the history lessons in our three Media Construction of the Environment kits [SEE: Environment Kits] with a set of slides on early indigenous views of human environmental relations. We ended those lessons with contemporary indigenous views and included other indigenous perspectives throughout the lessons. In Media Constructions of Sustainability [SEE: Sustainability Kit] we made an effort to present comparable numbers of documents from corporate-sponsored sources as we did from small farm and alternative agriculture sources.

How can diverse sources invite critical thinking?
Dialogue and debate flourish in a setting where media document messages clash. In order for students to develop habits of inquiry and critical questioning of all types of media sources we must present diverse perspectives on the topics of interest from the outset, followed with continuous diversity or perspectives throughout the lessons. Asking questions like "Who made this?" "Why did they make it?" and "How do you know?" works best when you have documents from very different sources with very different mission statements and intentions.
Tracing media sources
Evaluating the context of the source
When was this first made or published and what was the original intent?

Knowing when and for what purpose a document was made can be essential information to help students understand the idea of context. For example, Slide 12 in Media Construction of Endangered Species [SEE: Endangered Species PowerPoint] in which Buffalo Bill is shown swinging a wolf by one leg over his head to protect himself from an attacking wolf pack. Asking key questions about context can help students to uncover target audience and intent.

What might be missing from the media context here?

It may be helpful to provide students with additional information that can help them discern messages when the meaning may be unclear. For example, Slide 9 in Media Construction of Endangered Species [SEE: Endangered Species PowerPoint] shows an 1874 cover of Harper's Weekly in which a hunter holds the skin of a buffalo above the animal's skinned carcass. The image itself is ambiguous as to the messages conveyed, but the accompanying text from the original article makes the editors' criticism of this practice clear. The teacher can summarize that background information to help students understand the context in which the message was shared with the public.

How does time change interpretation?
The images of Buffalo Bill swinging the wolf by one leg and the buffalo hunter holding the hide above the skinned carcass are likely to have different meanings in the early 21st century than they did one hundred years earlier. Ask students to use their knowledge of historical context to help decipher the changing nature of media messages over time.
Identifying purpose and mission
What is the mission of the producer of the message?

It is often helpful to provide students with excerpts from a media producer's mission statement in order to help them to identify why a document was constructed in a particular way. For example, in Media Constructions of Sustainability: Food, Water and Agriculture, Lesson 3 on Defining Sustainability [SEE: Sustainability Kit] provides students with a list of five mission statements and asks them to use contextual clues to connect the statements with five major corporations, giving evidence to support their conclusions.

How can understanding the mission help to uncover purpose?

Don't assume that students understand the mission of individuals or organizations, even familiar ones like Wal-Mart, the U.S. State Department, or Greenpeace. Researching producers' mission statements is one way to invite students to inquire about how an organization's mission can influence media constructions by that organization. Ask students to tie language in the mission statement to what they notice in the document construction. [SEE: Example Sustainability, Lesson 17 Student Worksheet]

Understanding changing contexts and constructions over time
What were the purposes of the original construction?

It's important for students to understand that media constructions may have had a different intended audience and purpose at their origin than they attain in subsequent publications. When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. penned his letter to white ministers from a Birmingham jail, his purpose was different from that of the publishers who chose to reprint the letter decades later. [SEE: Martin Luther King Jr. Kit, Lesson 1, Slide 15, Letter from Birmingham Jail]

How and why did the construction change over time?

Sometimes we have access to document releases that can show the changes in construction as a document moves from author to editor. It can be useful to compare versions of documents from first draft to final publication to ask about collective construction and presentation. For example, In the Media Constructions of Global Warming lesson Discourse or Disinformation? lesson we compare the original 2003 draft of a statement authored by government scientists about global warming with the edits made by White House lawyer Philip Cooney. [SEE: Global Warming Kit]

Evaluating credibility
What must you ask (or know) to judge the credibility of media messages?

Certain document sets lend themselves to key questions regarding credibility: "Is this fact, opinion, or something else?" "How credible is this, and why do you think that?" "What are the sources of information cited in this document?" In Media Constructions of Sustainability in the Finger Lakes, we ask students to analyze three videos for credibility on the natural gas drilling process of hydrofracking: the document film Gasland, the gas industry's response in The Truth about Gasland, and a Daily Show interview with the maker of Gasland. [SEE: Sustainability in the Fingerlakes, Lesson 24]

How can media documents establish credibility trails?

Consider compiling a sequence of media constructions of a single media document to sharpen credibility awareness. In the Media Constructions of Presidential Campaigns kit, one 2008 lesson entitled "Is Obama a Muslim? Sources and Credibility," we collected five documents addressing the question of President Obama's religious background, including the original anonymous e-mail, a report by, and an investigative article in the Washington Post, exploring the questions "What's the main message?" "Who produced this and for what purpose?" "What role did the particular medium play in informing or misleading the public?" [SEE: Presidential Campaigns, 2000-2008 Targeting the Spin]

Citing sources
Why is it important to cite sources?
Information (facts, dates, etc.) presented in any written text without citing another source is assumed to be based on direct observations collected or discovered by the author. While general facts that are widely known and not disputed do not need to be cited for a source (e.g., the US is the 3rd most populous nation), lesser known facts, controversial information, and direct quotes should always have a source citation.
What information should be included in a citation?

Readers need to have enough information to be able to track down the original source of the information if they wish. This means they will need to know the author(s), source, year, and page numbers (especially for a direct quote). The format for citing sources varies depending on which citation method you are using. Generally speaking, APA style is used for any content related to the social and natural sciences [SEE: APA Style] and MLA style is used for information related to the humanities (history, ELA, etc.) [SEE: MLA Style].

Using primary vs. secondary sources
Secondary sources are those that summarize and quote from other (primary) sources, typically citing those sources in a reference list. This includes most textbooks, many popular books, and many websites. While there are ways to appropriately cite information from a secondary source (making it clear that the original information was in a source that you - as the author - didn't read), it is by far better to track down the original source and cite the information directly from that. Authors sometimes make mistake, and may misrepresent or misquote something from an original source; without going back to check that primary source, you can unintentionally perpetuate misinformation.
Teaching rigorous independent and reflective thought
Classroom-based constructivist decoding develops intellectual and moral reasoning
Moral reasoning and disequilibrium

Developmental theory suggests that we grow in our thinking when confronted by reasoning that causes us to question our current meaning making. This disequilibrium draws us to more complex and advanced ways of thinking. " The term disequilibrium refers to the discomfort or cognitive conflict experienced by a child or adolescent when s/he realizes that two views they holds about a situation can't possibly be both true. The individual's recognition of the contradiction between the opposing beliefs promotes discomfort. This feeling sets the stage for the reorganization of his or her thinking on a higher level." [SEE: Piaget Theory of Cognitive Development]

The collective process
In the collective process of constructivist classroom decoding students express and respond to public analysis and evaluation of engaging media documents about important issues. This dialogue gives students (and teachers) access to the views of their peers, which in turn encourages students to contemplate and develop more complex reasoning. Developmental theory suggests that students will more likely grow in their reasoning when listening to their peers (who are close to their stage of thinking) rather than from listening to adults.
The teacher as facilitator
"The teacher is the primary facilitator of this collective process, selecting the documents and the questions that will prompt the discussion. While media decoding provides many opportunities to teach content, the primary role of the teacher is to facilitate interaction that will enable students to deepen their learning, New technologies can do a better job than us of presenting information, but we can know our students, and their learning needs far more intimately than even the smartest video game. "
Looking for opportunities
Students will grow in their learning, both content and skills, when they are ready. It is our job to assess the most salient learning opportunities for our particular students. We should choose documents and questions that maximize the potential to spur dialogue that will address our learning objectives through engaging classroom interaction. If students already understand or agree on the answers or if they are not yet ready to understand the point we are trying to teach, the activity will fail. Choose documents and questions that will enable most students to grow in their thinking by learning from their more informed or more complex thinking peers.
Weak-sense and strong-sense critical thinking
What is "weak-sense" and "strong-sense" critical thinking
Most of us are skilled at identifying and critically evaluating media messages that challenge our own views. If we are politically liberal it is easier to see the bias in Fox News than in “Democracy Now” but the reverse is likely true for conservatives. Weak sense critical thinking enables us to easily spot the biases and flaws in media that we disagree with. Strong sense critical thinking enables us to critically analyze and evaluate media that coincides with our own views.
Developing robust and open-minded strong-sense critical thinking
Critical thinking teaches both skepticism (asking a consistent set of questions) and open-mindedness (questioning one’s own views). It is the role of the teacher to challenge our students to think rigorously and deeply about information as well as the ways in which their own thinking limits the complexity of their understanding.
Modeling strong-sense critical thinking
In addition to teaching specific critical thinking strategies to our students, we should model both open-mindedness and skepticism in our teaching and our interactions with students. We should continually and transparently reflect on our own biases and the impact they have on our teaching.
Dealing with our own biases
Should teachers be free from our own biases?
All human beings, like all media messages, come from a point of view and are therefore “biased”. As educators we may be biased towards equity or privilege, social change or maintaining the status quo, political liberties or government intrusion. Our choice of language, as in the preceding sentence, reflects our biases. Values necessitate bias. One of the primary biases that drive this work should be the development of rigorous independent thinking on the part of our students.
Recognizing our biases
The curriculum and materials we choose, the content we emphasize and the content we leave out, and how we respond to our students, all reflect our biases. It is important that we recognize and, at appropriate times, communicate our biases to our students and parents.
Helping student to analyze our biases
"Our students’ ability to identify the biases in our teaching and our curriculum reflects their level of critical thinking. Student claims of “you are being biased” should be met with our encouragement for them to give their evidence rather than defensive denials. We should feel pride if our students can accurately and appropriately identify the values and biases that underlie our classroom. "
Listen for resistance
When students are responding to the teacher’s views rather than to the document, we know that we have crossed a line. Student comments to us such as “What answer are you looking for?” or “You are reading into this” let us know that our students perceive us as trying to get them to think a certain way. We need to choose documents and lead an analytical process that emphasizes HOW to think (critically, independently, open-mindedly), not WHAT to think.
Decode both documents you celebrate and documents you criticize

If we only decode documents whose perspective we disagree with we communicate to our students that we do not want them to think independently but rather to think like us. Take care to be balanced in your choice of documents (where appropriate – see next entry) as well as in how you lead the decoding (body language says a lot). Leading a critique of a pro-fracking document but merely showing an anti-fracking document (without a similar decoding) communicates a clear message about your intent. [SEE: Sustainability Kit, Lesson 24] also [SEE: Leading a Decoding Video Demonstrations]

The limits of balance

It is not desirable or appropriate to bring all views into the classroom for open-minded debate. An elementary classroom is no place to balance the views of white supremacy with those of racial tolerance. Our commitment to open-mindedness is, at times, overridden by other priorities such as safety, accuracy, and justice. We should be clear about the limits of balance to our colleagues, our parents, our students and most importantly, to ourselves.

Teaching students to recognize biases in media messages
Recognizing bias as a developmental process
In kindergarten students need instruction to understand that TV commercials use specific techniques or “tricks” to get them to desire specific products. At the high school level most students need training to understand the constructed nature of the news. You should identify the areas where our students critical thinking is weakest and find or develop lessons that teach those skills in the context of our content area and student’s developmental level.
Teaching early elementary students to understand the biases in TV commercials
Students in early elementary grades can begin to identify biases in TV commercials through decoding both commercials and product packaging while they explore the following questions:
  • Who made this and what do they want me to do?
  • Who did they make this commercial for, kids or adults? Boys or girls or both? What makes you think that?
  • Are they using any tricks to make this product look or seem better than it really is?
  • Do you think that cereal (or other food or beverage) has a lot of sugar or not very much?
  • How much fruit do you think there is in that - no fruit, a little bit of fruit, or a lot of fruit?
  • Is there anything else you need to buy to make the toy work like that?
  • Now that you know all this, what can you do?
Teaching high school students to recognize biases in the news
High school students can begin to identify biases in the news through media decoding documents and activities that have them explore the following questions:
  • Who sponsors and who produces the news?
  • Where do they get their information?
  • What is included, what is left out, and how is it prioritized?
  • How are images used?
  • How is language used?
  • How are facts used?
  • How do different news sources present the same news stories in similar (or different) ways?
Examples of teaching about biases in different subject areas and grade levels

You will need to identify the specific understandings about bias that connect to your subject area and grade level. For middle school ELA you might have your students analyze excerpts from three speeches by Martin Luther King Jr. for King’s use of language and oratory to communicate messages about integration, the war in Vietnam and economics; but also to reflect on why only some of these speeches have been popularized [SEE: Martin Luther King Jr. Kit, Lesson 2]. When teaching math in upper elementary and secondary grades you might want students to understand how simple graphs and charts can be made to give different impressions. In 4th grade history you can have students recognize the ways in which 18th century portraits of George Washington and George III reflected US and British views of leadership [SEE: Revolutionary War Kit, Lesson 8]. In high school science you could have students to compare clips from the films “An Inconvenient Truth” and “The Great Global Warming Swindle” to recognize the way in which the selected use of statistics can bias scientific information [SEE: Global Warming Kit, Lesson 4]; and then exam the accuracy and sponsorship of each media message.

Developing student voice through media decoding
Listening to others
Document decoding enables all students to read and analyze documents in diverse forms and from conflicting perspectives. Media decoding teaches students to listen well to each other and to appreciate and evaluate different perspectives. The ability to listen well is a first step for many students in developing their own views.
Analyzing, articulating, and defending
"The process of media decoding starts with student analysis of carefully selected media documents based on teacher led questioning. But then students must articulate their analysis, often defending their interpretations by identifying evidence in the document to back up their analysis. As they listen to others they may discuss or even debate about their different interpretations or about content. "
Developing personal agency

Media decoding is a focused and text driven protocol for helping students to develop and articulate their own voice. Many students have described the importance of classroom media decoding as instrumental in helping them to reflect on, identify and articulate their own point of view.

Each person interprets media messages through a personal lens
Tying documents to student meaning making
It is important for students, and essential for teachers, to recognize that media messages are not one-way communication. Each of us, and our students, interpret media messages through our unique set of lenses that have been shaped by culture, history, gender, etc. While we need to select media documents and activities that will likely address our learning outcomes for our students, we can not always anticipate how each student will interpret any message. Be prepared to try out different documents and approaches.
Deepening student thinking
We should always be looking to develop our students’ metacognition – their ability to reflect on their own learning and knowing. How we do this will vary with the developmental capacity of our students but we can and should develop ways to help all our students to reflect on how they know what they know and to get them to question their own weak sense thinking.
Examples of lessons that teach students to reflect on their own biases

Introductory lessons for 3rd grade Africa [SEE: Introducing Africa Kit, Lesson 1] and 9th grade Middle East [SEE: Middle East Kit] both have students reflect on the stereotypes and biases that they bring to a studies of foreign places and people. In Media Construction of Sustainability [SEE: Sustainability Kit, Lesson 1] asks students to analyze the bias, credibility and sourcing of factual statements and statistics, including questions about which statements and sources students deem more or less credible and why? Use these as models for developing your own activities that ask students to reflect on their own biases.

Do no harm
Reflecting on potential challenges and harm in using this lesson with your students
Could this lesson plan initiate a difficult conversation?
One of the key requirements of this constructive pedagogy is to pay deep and constant attention to the power of words and images both to heal and to harm. Be fully aware of the types of lessons that can potentially lead to hurtful outcomes - lessons that deal with stereotypes, personal disclosure, violence, and social inequity among others.
What are the potential opportunities in engaging difficult topics?
If we do not teach students to analyze difficult images and words in our classrooms, our students are unlikely to decode their meaning, critically evaluate their messages, and understand the cultural context of the power outside the classroom. Used appropriately, critical decoding of media messages can teach students to understand and evaluate the sources and the impact of violent, hateful, and stereotypical messages. Confronting such issues can help students find their place as engaged citizens in a world where suffering exists alongside the intention to end suffering.
Are you and your class ready for this dialogue?
The issues raised in certain lessons can provoke powerful emotions from students who are likely to have personal experiences that may be unknown to other classmates or to the teacher. Teachers should always evaluate the appropriateness of working with potentially emotionally laden documents with their particular students and assess the impact should they choose to use these documents in the classroom. The mandate of "do no harm" argues for cautious discernment of goals and process before deciding to proceed with such lessons.
Choosing appropriate documents
What are your objectives in choosing emotionally charged material?
The process of selecting documents always follows the identification of clear learning goals and lesson objectives. This is especially true when considering the use of potentially disturbing material. Identify the potential risk of using difficult material with your students (trauma, resistance, distance, lack of trust, conflict, etc.).
What kinds of documents lend themselves to safe exploration?

Decide whether you will use materials that invite personal sharing or more arms-length study as you delve into challenging discussions. In preparing the Media Constructions of Social Justice unit on Gay Liberation we decided to include an opportunity for students to share personal stories in Lesson 2 by selecting four film clips about students experiences of intolerance to people who identify as lesbian or gay [SEE: Social Justice Kit, Lesson 2]. We also provided an opportunity to learn about the topic from a great distance in Lesson 1 by constructing a slideshow of media documents related to the history of the movement for gay liberation.

What kinds of documents should you steer away from?
Certain types of documents might invite immediate uneasiness or polarization in a way that will make constructive dialogue less likely. Documents that use hateful or sexualized speech and images often fall into this category. So can "hot button issue" documents that take strong positions on one side or another, especially if students' families have personal involvement with these issues. Anticipate the conversations that may be provoked by different documents and how you will respond.
What are some A of Look Sharp "hot button" documents?

On the 9/11 terrorist attacks: In Media Construction of the Middle East, Unit 4, Lesson 5, "Analyzing the Roots of Terrorism," we used an excerpt from President Bush's address to Congress on Sept. 20, 2001, and compared it with a 1997 CNN interview with Osama bin Laden along with four editorial commentaries to explore the question of why militant Muslim movements have chosen to target the U.S. [SEE: Middle East Kit, Unit 4, Lesson 5]

On abortion: In Media Construction of Social Justice, Unit 5, Lesson 1, Slide #14, we used pro-life and pro-choice buttons to explore the rationales behind these positions. [SEE: Social Justice Kit, Unit 5, Lesson 1]

On the death penalty: In Media Constructions of Social Justice, Unit 8, Lesson 1, Slides #7-10, we used a Time magazine cover, Gallup polls, and an editorial cartoon to explore messages for and against the death penalty. [SEE: Social Justice Kit, Unit 8, Lesson 1]

Listening for unintended consequences
When do we risk reinforcing negative messages?
Showing 3rd graders sexist images for the purpose of critique risks reinforcing rather than undermining those messages. Critiquing racist documents about Africa with 9th graders should be balanced with positive and affirming messages about the continent or we risk reinforcing negative stereotypes.
How can we deal with stereotypes without doing harm?

Most importantly we need to listen well to the meaning making of our students. Project Look Sharp struggled with how to address 3rd graders’ views of Africa without unintentionally reinforcing stereotypes. We ultimately created a lesson that asked students to reflect on and discuss their pre-conceptions of Africa without introducing negative images. The second lesson has students analyze diverse and beautiful representations of 40 nations through decoding African money. [SEE: Introducing Africa Kit]

When can media decoding bring up past hurts?
It is important to be particularly observant when showing media documents that might activate student’s memories of trauma. We can look for cues in body language and facial expression to identify unexpected responses. While we can not predict how our students will respond to any media message, we should be particularly observant when showing violence, hated, loss or harm. It is appropriate to check in with a student, perhaps privately, if you are concerned about a response to a media document or if you have a concern about a media message you are planning to share. Strong reactions are not necessarily problematic, in fact they can bring a lot to the conversation, but they should be attended to. Discussions about the power of media can sensitize students to each other and to the world.
Why is it critical to probe our students' meaning making?
We must ask questions to unearth our students’ response to, and interpretation of, the media documents we bring to them. We can do this through student writing, discussion, or other forms of communication. Many educators lead students through an analysis of the hate site, But we need to listen well to how our students make meaning of the site lest we risk perpetuating the very messages we intended to critique.
Checking with advisors
Who can help you understand potential risks and opportunities?

When you recognize that a particular lesson plan might arouse strong emotions in your students, it is always a good idea to check your plan with your school administrator as well as trusted advisors who are familiar with the subject matter. For example, in conceptualizing our lesson "Political Satire or Libel?" in the Media Constructions of Presidential Campaigns Kit on the 2008 election, we considered using a potentially inflammatory cover of the New Yorker magazine portraying Barack Obama in Muslim clothing and Michelle Obama as an armed militant [SEE: Presidential Campaigns, 2000-2008]. We decided to ask a multiracial group of experienced educators for their thoughts prior to proceeding with the lesson. We took their advice and offered the document prefaced with a rare cautionary note to the teachers related to the commitment to do no harm.

When should you invite someone else into class to assist?
When you recognize that a particular lesson plan might arouse strong emotions in your students, it is always a good idea to check your plan with your school administrator as well as trusted advisors who are familiar with the subject matter. For example, in conceptualizing our lesson "Political Satire or Libel?" in the Media Constructions of Presidential Campaigns Kit on the 2008 election, we considered using a potentially inflammatory cover of the New Yorker magazine portraying Barack Obama in Muslim clothing and Michelle Obama as an armed militant [SEE: Presidential Campaigns, 2000-2008]. We decided to ask a multiracial group of experienced educators for their thoughts prior to proceeding with the lesson. We took their advice and offered the document prefaced with a rare cautionary note to the teachers related to the commitment to do no harm. [SEE: Presidential Campaigns 2008 Teacher Guide] At times it is appropriate to invite a community member in to class to help students deal with especially challenging material. The choice to ask for such support is a choice of strength and clarity on the part of a teacher who recognizes the limitations of any single individual in creating safety for their students. Often the choice to welcome a trusted adult into the classroom can help to ensure civility in classroom dialogue as well as the kind of nuanced perspectives about contentious issues that is essential when addressing complex and divisive social issues.
Who are the individuals who can help students cope afterwards?
Consider contacting community professionals in advance to ask if they would be willing to meet or communicate with students in the event that your lesson brings up strong feelings or memories. This may be especially important when dealing with issues related to personal violence - domestic violence, military combat, racial profiling, gay bashing, bullying - that may have impacted your students or their families, perhaps in ways of which you are unaware. Know the crisis and help center numbers to call when needed.
Processing during and after the lesson
How to respectfully deal with disrespectful messages?

While bringing charged and hurtful media messages into the classroom has risks, it can sensitize students to the power of images and teach them to respect the feelings of others. In our Media Construction of the Middle East lesson "War Crimes at Abu Ghraib - Showing Photos?" our lesson objectives included reflection on possible reasons for limiting public access to certain images and information; knowing that viewing the photos at the center of this lesson could cause distress and be disrespectful to the victims of violence shown in the images. We decided to build the decision over whether or not to view the photos into the lesson plan, with options for respectful opting out of viewing for those students who chose not to view the images. [SEE: Middle East Kit, Unit 3, Lesson 8]

What structures help to provide safety?
It is essential that you create a setting in which personal sharing of feelings will not be obstructed by laughter, mocking, side comments or crosstalk that can hurt individuals and make it harder to discuss sensitive issues. In the Abu Ghraib photo lesson in the Middle East kit, we ask students to pay particular attention to respecting the humanity of everyone involved - their fellow classmates, the Iraqi prisoners and the guards. We recommend that teachers solicit ideas for guidelines in students' decision-making process about whether or not to view the photos (e.g., no name-calling or stereotyping, respect different perspectives arising from diverse political and religious views, be willing to learn from minority opinion viewpoints). We encourage teachers to ask the class for agreement on appropriate responses before presenting this or other challenging material.
How can silent reflection support your goals?
It is important to recognize the power of silence and stillness in the classroom as a means to further personal reflection. In the case of the Abu Ghraib photo lesson in the Middle East kit, we recommend that teachers give the class five minutes to write individually on the question of whether or not to view the photos. If the class decides to view the photos, we recommended allowing students to view the photos in silence and giving them the opportunity to write in continued silence following the viewing. For those not wishing to write, a few minutes of stillness following the viewing will be helpful to gather one's thoughts and emotions. Encourage everyone who wants to speak and respect those who choose to remain silent.
What alternatives exist for students who cannot handle this?
In some cases, it may be important to make plans for students who choose not to participate in discussions of difficult material to have other options. It is important to devise ways in which students can make this choice without being questioned or challenged about it by their peers. This may entail letting students know about the upcoming lesson several days prior so that they have time to reflect and to communicate with you in private should they elect not to participate.
Question Design
Understanding the nature of effective key questions
What are constructivist questions?
Constructivist pedagogy
Constructivist pedagogy assumes individuals construct their own meaning and understanding, each through their own unique perspective The role of education is to help individuals become more aware of the world around them and to reflect on their own meaning-making.
Constructivist questions are inquiry-based and interactive
Constructivist questions invite collective readings about media constructions. They provide opportunities for students to sustain and extend their thinking through consistent probing for evidence. Examples of key media literacy questions that reflect this process include:
  • Who made this document and what was their purpose?
  • What techniques did they use to attract attention to their message? to inform? to persuade?
  • In what context was this message shared with the public?
  • How credible is this information, and what's your evidence that it is credible?
  • Who is the target audience for this message, and what makes you say that?
Constructivist questions are complex
They invite multiple readings that represent the nuanced interpretations that each individual brings to understanding the meanings within media documents. They take into account that there might be several different but equally valid answers, and lead individuals to consider other viewpoints. Examples of key media literacy questions that reflect this process include:
  • Whose perspectives and points of view are reflected in this message? Whose views are left out?
  • How might different people understand this message differently?
  • What information is left out that might be important to know?
Constructivist questions probe for evidence in the document
The Common Core Standards for literacy (ELA as well as social studies and science) require us to teach students to identify the evidence that backs up claims and positions in diverse documents, especially information texts. As educators we should become adept at probing for evidence in student analysis through continual but targeted questioning: Examples of key media literacy questions that reflect this process include:
  • What makes you say that?
  • Where do you see that?
  • What evidence in the document points to that conclusion?
Constructivist questions encourage the development of moral reasoning
Students clarify their own interpretations as they listen to the analysis of their peers and discuss ethical issues. Key media literacy questions that reflect this process include:
  • Who might benefit from this message? Who might be harmed by it?
  • What do you learn about yourself from your interpretation?
  • What actions might you take in response to this message?
Balance content-based questions with interpretative questions
Questions that ask students to apply knowledge (e.g., Who is shown here?, or What process is illustrated n this chart?) should be balanced with interpretative questions (e.g., What is implied about...?, or How does this construction reinforce the interests or bias of the author?).
Making questions personal and transformative
How do questions lead to transformative action?

The purpose of constructivist media decoding is to encourage students to act on their knowledge in their world. Ask students to reflect on how their learning has impacted the values and beliefs they hold and their personal choices. Encourage them to take their learning into action at home, at school and in their community. See the Sustainability in the Finger Lakes teacher guide on sustainable food security lessons for examples of further questions and extended activities that invite transformative action for high school or college students [SEE: Sustainability in the Fingerlakes Kit]. See the Critical Thinking and Health teacher guides for lessons that encourage early elementary students to take transformative actions. [SEE: Critical Thinking and Health Kit]

How can healthy skepticism avoid cynicism and powerlessness?
Cynicism can be rooted in a contempt for the beliefs of others, an attitude that can lead to pessimism, negativity and hopelessness. In the words of 19th century philosopher Henry Ward Beecher: "The cynic is one who never sees a good quality in a man and never fails to see a bad one... The cynic puts all human actions into two classes: openly bad and secretly bad." (Lectures on Young Men: On Various Important Subjects) In contrast, the use of constructivist questions in media literacy education engages learners in the process of epistemology - the inquiry into how we know what we know. An essential aspect of this quest is to raise critical questions about all media assertions - in other words, to become a healthy skeptic.
How can inquiry-based media literacy approaches help students develop healthy skepticism ?

One important goal of media literacy education is to support the healthy skeptic while challenging the jaded cynic. Look Sharp educator Chris Sperry articulated this in his article "The Search for Truth: Teaching Media Literacy, Core Content, and Essential Skills for a healthy democracy" in Threshold magazine. He wrote: "At the end of last year, one of my 10th grade students commented that our English/global studies class had been very difficult for her. It has led her to question everything and lose her idealistic innocence - but she was grateful because she felt that she now had a more accurate view of reality and was prepared to make the world a better place. She was followed by a self-described cynic, who said that the practice of critical thinking had the opposite effect on her - it forced her to reject the simplistic notion that everything is screwed up and there is nothing you can do about it. She said the power of rigorous, informed, and reasoned thought could help her to identify better and worse decisions. I beamed, because both these students were describing the impact of media literacy." [SEE: The Search for Truth Article] For more examples of student comments about the impact of media literacy on their lives and their learning, watch the 3-minute video "High school students speak about media literacy." [SEE: Testimonial Clips]

Address content knowledge, literacy and critical thinking
General guidelines
Planning your initial questions

Always tie to your goals - but this can take many routes. You may want to start with an open-ended question such as "What do you see here?" to elicit broad responses before focusing on specific details or content. You may want to get right to your knowledge goals with questions about specific content, such as "Who (or what) is shown here?" or "What is the historical context of this image?" You may want to start with a media literacy question, such as "Who produced this, and why?" or "Who is the target audience for this message?" To find models for initial questions, see the Teacher Guides for any of the Look Sharp kits. Also see NAMLE's Key Questions to Ask When Analyzing Media Messages. [SEE: Key Questions Document]

Balancing content and literacy
Common Core Standards make explicit the need for content area teachers, beginning with social studies and science, to teach literacy skills while covering core content. Media decoding enables educators to do this by having students actively apply knowledge, vocabulary and concepts to the analysis of diverse media documents. We can start with content questions such as, “what are the messages here about the primary source of CO2 in the atmosphere?”, or “who are the characters in the foreground and what do they represent?” but then follow-up with literacy questions such as “how was the clip designed to communicate that message”, or “what role does perspective play in communicating that?”
Balancing content and critical thinking
The classroom process of media decoding facilitates both the application and understanding of core content knowledge AND the development of critical thinking skills. We can start with content questions such as, “according to this graph, what is the likely impact of hydrofracking on the water table?”, or “is there any fruit in Fruit Loops?”, but then follow-up with critical thinking questions such as “who produced this graph, where and for what purpose?”, or “why might the commercial make it seem like Froot Loops included real fruit?”
Plan to probe for document-based evidence
It is important for students to practice identifying document-based evidence as part of the decoding process. Students are often quick to draw conclusions from media documents (e.g., “it is saying that fracking is bad”) but they often need help in identifying the specific ways in which the document was constructed to lead to that conclusion. The teacher must train students to understand the constructed nature of media (and all communication) by consistently asking follow-up evidence-based questions such as “what makes you say that?, or “where is your evidence in the document?”. As you construct your lesson questions, think through the follow-up probe questions that will help students to identify document-based evidence for their interpretations.
Choosing questions related to your subject area
English Language Arts

Many ELA standards relate directly to media literacy and can be addressed through decoding multiple types of media, from websites to textbooks, video games to songs, using Key Questions to Ask When Analyzing Media Messages [SEE: Key Questions Document]

  • ELA vocabulary and concepts (e.g., literary elements and techniques) can be taught and reinforced through decoding multiple media forms (e.g., film, TV shows, songs) using decoding questions (e.g., What techniques did the film maker use to develop that character? How did the songwriter use irony?) and then relating this to literature.
  • ELA necessitates reflection on the form of communication (e.g., What are the particular qualities of that media form?") for varied types of media (e.g., Facebook, paintings, literature).
  • Students can apply media literacy questions to their own productions (e.g., Who is my target audience? Who might be harmed and who might benefit from my message?) [SEE: Key Questions Production Document]
  • Contrast similar themes/stories/characters in different media forms (e.g., literature, film, plays) by asking media literacy questions (e.g., Which forms do I like best and why? How does my view of the character change from literature to film?)
Social Studies

Review Key Questions to Ask When Analyzing Media Messages [SEE: Key Questions Document], all of which apply to social studies.

  • The study of propaganda, current and historical, necessitates the practice of media decoding using critical thinking questions (e.g. Who made this and for what purpose, What techniques are used to persuade?, Who was the target audience?).
  • Media decoding is a particularly accessible way of understanding cultural and historical context.
  • Media decoding is particularly effective in helping students to explore, discuss and reflect on controversial issues with teachers facilitating the discussion rather than promoting their biases (e.g., Which document is most truthful and why?).
  • Media decoding enables students to recognize their own biases (e.g., How might different people understand this message differently?).
  • Asking questions about news coverage (e.g., What choices were made in creating this article? What was left out and why? What are the biases or points of views being presented?), thus teaching both news literacy skills and current events.
  • See the media literacy lessons and kits designed for specific social studies topics for examples. [SEE: PLS Curriculum Kits]

While all of the Key Questions to Ask When Analyzing Media Messages [SEE: Key Questions Document] can relate to science, science teachers tend to emphasize certain types of questions.

  • Questions about accuracy, currency and credibility are central in science ("How do you know this is accurate?" "Where does this information come from?" "Is the science credible? Why?")
  • Media decoding prompts students to think critically about controversial issues free from the biases of their teacher (e.g., "What are the messages about global warming?" "Which sources about hydrofracking do you think are more credible, and why?" See Media Constructions of Global Warming [SEE: Global Warming Kit], Media Constructions of Sustainability [SEE: Sustainability Kit].
  • Help students to recognize the fallacies in their own thinking about scientific issues (e.g., "Why might you think that tarantulas are poisonous?") [SEE: Fact or Fiction Lesson].
  • Give students practice in asking critical questions that model scientific reasoning (e.g., "How might the data reflect the point of view of the producer of the message?" "How might your own biases skew your interpretation of these data?"). See relevant teacher-created science lessons [SEE: Science Lessons]
  • Media decoding questions give students the skills to become lifelong users of the scientific method (e.g., "Is this fact opinion or something else?" "What is your evidence for that conclusion?").
  • Asking questions about popular culture helps connect science to students' lives and media use (e.g., "What is accurate and inaccurate about tornadoes in this clip from the film Twister?" [SEE: Twister Lesson].

Review Key Questions to Ask When Analyzing Media Messages [SEE: Key Questions Document], and identify which might apply to your math topics.

  • Media literacy questions reinforce logical reasoning, careful observation and critical thinking (e.g., "Who produced this, and for what purpose?" "Is the information accurate, and how would you know?" "What is left out of this message?").
  • Ask questions about accuracy, currency and credibility that tie to your goals when analyzing popular media examples. (e.g., "How do you know these conclusions are accurate?" "What is the source of the information, and is trustworthy? How do you know?" "Are they using the correct statistical analysis here? Why not?").
  • Evaluate quantitative data for sourcing and bias (e.g., "How would one determine the facts about this topic?" "How does the way this information is presented reflect the goals and purposes of the person who made it?").
  • Compare data presented from different sources about the same issue (e.g., "What are the messages in each of these charts? Can both be correct? How do the charts reflect the biases of the groups who created them?").
  • Have students collect and present data that relate to a controversial topic, and present those data in different ways to highlight different types of conclusions (using graphs, tables, or descriptions of the findings).
  • Have students conduct a quantitative content analysis using a sample of media messages, emphasizing issues of reliability and validity. [SEE: Media Constructions of Sustainability, Lessons 4 and 5].
  • See also a compilation of media literacy resources for the math classroom. [SEE: Math Media Lit Resources]
Health (and Physical Education)

The health curriculum dovetails beautifully with many of the Key Questions to Ask When Analyzing Media Messages [SEE: Key Questions Document], especially related to advertising (e.g., "What are the messages here about nutrition?" "What have they left out of this message that might be important to know, and why?" "Who might be harmed by this message?").

  • Asking questions about audience and authorship helps students analyze messages about health (e.g., "Who produced this message, and for what purpose?" "What techniques were used to target young children?" "What tricks are they using to make this product (cigarette, alcoholic beverage, etc.) look cool or fun to use?").
  • Questions about credibility and impact help students to think about healthy and unhealthy choices (e.g., "Is this portraying a healthy choice? Why or why not?" "Who might benefit from - and who might be harmed by - this message?").
  • Media decoding can help students to reflect on their own decision making (e.g., "How am I affected by these messages?" "What actions can I take in response to this message?").
  • Students can create their own constructions to counter unhealthy media messages by creating "counter-advertisement" posters which are their own advertisements (e.g., "What would an ad look like if they actually told the truth about this product?") or documentaries (e.g., on body image in the media).
  • Physical education is a great context for evaluating advertising and infomercials about exercise and fitness products.
  • See the introduction and lessons in Look Sharp's Critical Thinking & Health Kit. [SEE: Critical Thinking and Health Kit]
  • See also a compilation of media literacy resources for the Health classroom. [SEE: Health Media Lit Resources]
Fine Arts

Review Key Questions to Ask When Analyzing Media Messages [SEE: Key Questions Document] and identify those that most relate to your discipline.

  • * Ask students to analyze the roles of sound or visuals or words in a media message by removing the other aspects of the production (e.g., watch a commercial without the sound or read the lyrics of a music video without seeing it). Compare the impact of that single element with the full message, and discuss which modes are most influential, and why.
  • Practice analyzing a particular genre or art form (e.g., black & white photographs, theater sets, contemporary songs), continually probing for the compositional elements and techniques that communicate meaning (e.g., "What feeling do you get about the subject and how did the artist communicate that using this technique?").
  • Have students reflect on the qualities of different media forms (e.g., "How would this be different if it were a play instead of a video?" "What role does the music play in this cartoon?").
  • Have students use the Key Questions to Ask When Producing Media Messages [SEE: Key Questions for Producing Document] when creating their own media.
Global Languages

Review Key Questions to Ask When Analyzing Media Messages [SEE: Key Questions Document] and identify the categories of questions that best tie to your context and goals.

  • Questions about communication and cultural meaning-making will relate to the language curriculum (e.g., "What are the messages here about ___ and how does that reflect the culture and language of ___?" "How was the pacing and dialogue in that video clip different from most US films?").
  • The global language curriculum lends itself to an understanding of stereotypes (e.g., "Are there stereotypes portrayed here? How are they reinforced?" "Do you think this construction perpetuates or challenges cultural stereotypes or makes generalizations about a culture or a group of people? What is the difference between those two?" "What stereotypes about the United States might people from other cultures have, based on the media content they see?).
  • Media literacy can help students to recognize the limitations of our own understanding (e.g., "Is that an accurate portrayal of the culture?" "How might different people understand that message differently?" "Can we really understand a different cultural perspective?").
Designing effective probe questions
The nature of probe questions
What are probe questions?

Probe questions are teacher questions that follow up on the students' responses to the initial question by asking them to identify and explain their comments and perspectives, justifying their conclusions or interpretations. Examples include: "What is your evidence in the document?" "What makes you say that?" "Where do you see that?" "How do you know?"

Why ask probe questions?
Probing makes students identify and articulate their views and observations, helping students become more reflective about their own meaning-making and more analytical in their thinking. Probing allows the rest of the class to hear and understand the observations and thinking of their peers. Students are often better at communicating complex ideas to their own peers than teachers are - probing allows teachers to hear students communicating with each other and to guide the discussion in ways that are respectful and illuminating.
The process of probing
How do I choose when and where to probe?

Always be grounded in your goals and clear about what you want students to learn. It is almost always important to probe a little for the evidence behind a student's response, so they get into the habit of thinking in terms of evidence to support their conclusions or interpretations. Use probe questions to distinguish between evidence from the document itself (e.g., the techniques used to create an impression, context of a written passage, words used in a headline) and evidence from prior knowledge or experience (e.g., information the students have already learned about the topic from their reading or class conversations, or personal experience that an individual student might have about that place or subject). Probe when it will help the class to learn or reinforce key concepts and knowledge, adding information as needed from background knowledge (e.g., identifying individuals seen or referenced in the message) and correcting inaccurate statements if necessary (ideally by asking the class if that information is correct).

How do I get better at asking probe questions?

Look for experienced teachers who can model effective probing. Watch the demonstration videos on Constructivist Media Decoding on the Project Look Sharp website

Purchase and read Chapter 4 in The Teacher's Guide to Media Literacy, "When are Questions the Answer?" [SEE: Teacher's Guide to Media Literacy]

Develop culminating and further questions
The nature of culminating questions
What is a culminating question?
A culminating question is typically the essential question (or set of questions) that you have designed the activity around. Typically a culminating question will bring together information and concepts from numerous decoding activities.
What are examples of culminating questions?

Culminating questions are modeled in most Project Look Sharp kits and lessons, typically at the end of the lessons and units (see the Teacher Guides).

  • Media Constructions of Global Warming kit has many lessons that end with culminating questions, including Lesson 4 - "Is anthropogenic CO2 causing global warming?" and Lesson 8 - "What are the ways that you can seek more informed truths when evaluating scientific claims made in the media?" [SEE: Global Warming Kit]
  • Media Constructions of Social Justice kit ends each slide show with a culminating (essay) question such as "Would the U.S. benefit or be harmed by a more open immigration policy?" [SEE: Social Justice Kit]
  • Causes of the American Revolution kit, Lesson 6 ends with the question "What events led to the writing of the Declaration of Independence?" [SEE: American Revolution Kit]
Culminating questions and assessments
Can culminating questions be used as assessments?
Yes! Typically these would take the form of an essay or formal presentation to assess individual student learning. Informally, student responses should always help us to assess the effectiveness of our activities and lessons.
Where can I see models of culminating questions used as assessments?

For models of document-based assessments, see Media Constructions of Presidential Campaigns [SEE: Presidential Campaigns Kit] and Media Construction of War [SEE: War Kit].

Further questions
What questions promote personal reflection?

Consider questions that ask students to develop their own evaluative judgments (e.g., “What messages do I most agree or disagree with?”), the moral implications of media messages (e.g. “who might be harmed by this message?”), and the student’s on biases (e.g., “how do my own experiences or identities shape my understanding of this message?”). See many examples of Further Questions at the end of each lesson in Look Sharp’s Media Construction of Sustainability kit [SEE: Sustainability Kit]

What questions inspire action?

Consider questions that provoke action such as: “What actions could you take as a result of this message?, or “How would you design an advertisement that highlighted the health and safety impact of this product?”

Lesson Elements
Providing background information
Deciding whether background knowledge is necessary
Identifying prior knowledge necessary for the activity
Following your lesson objectives - and keeping in mind your assessments - make a preliminary list of the terms, historical events, names and concepts that students will need to know in order to successfully complete this lesson. Distinguish between information that is needed to get started on the activity vs. information that can arise during the process of decoding and discussion. It is often a good idea to keep background information to the minimum required for initial understanding, adding more information as the discussion proceeds.
Document-specific background knowledge
As you identify media documents to include in the lesson, evaluate whether there is specific background information that students will need in order to adequately interpret the information and images presented in that document (e.g., names and roles of individuals mentioned or portrayed, historical context of events, understanding of vocabulary)
Options for inviting student co-learning prior to the activity
Student teams (jigsaw classroom)

Assign student teams to analyze different documents for presentation to the class. [SEE: Sustainability in the Finger Lakes Kit, Lesson 21]

Role playing and debates

Have students each research the work of an individual or group who has a particular perspective on a topic, analyzing the media document(s) from that perspective and prepare to debate the issue and content of the document from that perspective. For an example [SEE: Sustainability Kit,, Lesson 6]

Options for teaching background knowledge
Providing readings for homework or in-class review

Relevant reading might be assigned from a textbook or short articles. Students might demonstrate their understanding of the reading material through participation in the class discussion, or by answering one or more written questions at the beginning of class using their notes on the reading.

Present background material orally to the class, prior to or at the beginning of that day's media literacy lesson

Teachers can present necessary material in many ways, including using an inquiry based discussion to find out whether students already know the key information or not. [SEE Peace Kit Teacher Guide, Unit 1, Lesson 1]

Choose a document for class analysis that includes key background information embedded within it

Key information might be included as part of the text, visual or audio elements. Teachers can use inquiry-based pedagogies to confirm the students' awareness of the information, and to clarify any questions or confusion they may have about it, either prior to or during the process of the document decoding. [SEE: Economics Kit, Lesson 3 Videos]

Find or construct a presentation that communicates key background information

This could include creating a handout or chart with key terms or other information for students to use as a resource during and following the media literacy lesson. [SEE: Global Warming Kit, Lesson 4 PowerPoint]

Adding additional information
Differentiating between background and additional information
What information is essential for document decoding?
Background information (presented prior to or during the decoding activity) is essential in order for students to be able to discuss and interpret the content in the media document (e.g., Who is this person? What is that organization's purpose?) or to analyze the media construction itself (e.g., Who made this? When was this made?). Background information might also include essential vocabulary and information that students will need to successfully complete the lesson assessments.
What additional information will deepen the discussion and lead the students to greater understanding?
In preparing the lesson or activity, the teacher is likely to know or come across a great deal of information about this event, the individuals involved, the historical context, and the creation of the media document. While not absolutely necessary (given the time constraints teachers often face), incorporating some of that additional information into the discussion during or after the decoding activity can provide a critical role in deepening awareness of key content or media literacy goals beyond the initial decoding questions.
Purposes for providing additional information
Deepening the students' understanding of the topic or issue
For some students, having a visual or audible link to knowledge will enable them to remember information. Consider providing additional information (ideas, stories, etc.) after decoding a document so that students have an image or sound to help codify the knowledge.
Raising additional media literacy questions

Additional information can be particularly powerful ways to raise questions about authorship, meaning and credibility. For example, the painting Discovery of the Mississippi by DeSoto [SEE: Page 64, Scheibe Article] can be discussed and decoded with very little background information presented up front (other than the title). When additional information is provided concerning who commissioned this painting (the U.S. Congress) and why, and that the painting is one of eight paintings hanging in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol representing the history of the U.S., the you have an opportunity to probe more deeply about the ways in which media messages can be shaped by sponsors and settings. For more ideas about how additional information can enhance media decoding related to this example, see the discussion about this painting by purchasing The Teacher's Guide to Media Literacy. [SEE: Teacher's Guide to Media Literacy]

Prompting students to action

Additional information about the impact of a particular media message or document - especially if contains erroneous information or presents a distorted impression of an issue - might lead students to take action about that topic or issue. See, for example, a middle school science lesson that begins with students analyzing advertisements of household products, then conducting product testing through lab experiments, and finally creating their own PSAs that highlight the health and safety impacts of their products.

Using primary sources for background or additional information
Why primary sources are important
Primary sources help students to distinguish between the meanings and messages gleaned from original media constructions and the subsequent meanings and messages that occur when others reconstruct those messages in light of their own interpretations and editing. By viewing the original sources and comparing them with those later reconstructions, they can ponder how the original meaning and information might have been altered (e.g., what information was left out, how was the wording changed to give a different impression), and why. Lead students through a discussion about whether the reconstruction was a fair or accurate representation of the original source, and if not, how that might influence the receiver's understanding of that topic or issue.
Helping students differentiate between primary and secondary sources
Students often receive the majority of their information from secondary sources (e.g., textbooks), it is crucial for them to understand the difference between primary and secondary sources (especially in high school and college). Ask how the author or creator of the message knows the information they are including (e.g., observed or discovered it themselves or read something written by another person). Discuss when it is important to cite sources for specific information, and why. Depending on the grade level, explain how to cite primary vs. secondary sources.
Extending the activity
Inviting personal reflection
What personal choices does this lesson suggest for students?

Challenge students to reflect on how their learning about this topic may have impacted their personal choices and behaviors. Use reflection papers, fishbowl discussions and blog posts as a means to welcome individual reflections. [SEE: Sustainability in the Finger Lakes Kit, Lesson 25, Handout]

Does this lesson promote questions for students' families?
Encourage students to interview other family members or members of their community regarding their perspectives on the issues and media documents under discussion. Have students ask their family questions concerning their opinions about and memories related to topical issues and historical events. Invite family discussions about the information and ideas that the students have learned in the media literacy lessons, building on their understanding and critical thinking skills as opportunities arise at home and in other venues outside of school.
Encouraging further research on the topic or related issues
Further research on the topic or content

Students can be encouraged to find out more about the topics or issues raised during the discussion, especially as a result of questions raised that the teacher doesn't know the answer to. Asking students on a regular basis "How can we find that out?" and then encouraging them to investigate those answers on their own can be very empowering and can develop regular habits of inquiry that they can use throughout their lives. For an example of an entire lesson based on content research using media literacy tools, [SEE: Sustainability in the Finger Lakes, Lesson 21 on Bioregional Economy].

Further research on media constructions

Content analysis of media messages on a particular topic can be very engaging for students, developing good analytical and critical thinking skills as well as opportunities for summarizing and presenting information effectively (including the development and practice of quantitative literacy skills). For examples, [SEE: Sustainability Kit, Lessons 4 and 5].

Inspiring local action
In what ways can students turn learning into action?

The goal of media literacy education is to educate in support of democratic citizenship, which requires a blend of action with reflection. In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire wrote "Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other." (p.72) Encourage students to take actions based on what they've learned as part of the regular class discussion. See, for example, the lessons for early elementary students in Look Sharp's Critical Thinking & Health kit [SEE: Critical Thinking and Health Kit].

Who are the local stake holders involved with this issue or topic?
Consider the individuals in your community who are committed stakeholders regarding this issue or content area. Invite them to present to your class on the media representation of your topic, to suggest media documents for analysis or to participate in student research projects. Consider local media makers who have constructed materials related to your subject. How might you involve them with your students in understanding the media constructions related to this issue or topic?
How might this lesson encourage school involvement?
In what ways is your school itself a potential locus for student engagement? What media are presented within the classrooms, building facades and hallways of your school? What school clubs, committees or ad hoc groups are concerned with the subject matter you are studying? How can your students engage others within your school in actions and discussions related to this issue and topic?
Is your school a forum for corporate advertising?
A rich discussion can ensue when students debate the opportunity for fundraising (sponsorship, banner ads, etc.) and the need for an educational environment free from advertising.
Incorporating media production
What types of media production complement this activity?

Ideally, media literacy education blends media analysis and media production. What forms of media production (e.g., creating video documentaries, public service announcements, letter to the editors, blog postings, tweets, Power Point presentations) can become avenues of expression for your students? How can these student-produced media forms be shared with others and create interactive dialogue? For examples of how to approach media production from a media literacy lens, [SEE: Key Questions to Ask When Producing Media Messages Document].

Who are local media producers who can help?
Local media producers can be great allies in introducing students to analytical and technical skills related to media production. What local groups involve students as interns, assistants or mentees in media production? Have students help to create a community database of media production professionals, including newspaper editors, television reporters, radio announcers, webmasters, and social network strategists.
Evaluating student learning
Using existing assessments
Modifying your existing assessments to fit this activity
Consider adding media literacy questions about authorship, sourcing, techniques, etc. to existing assessments. For instance, if a test asks students to identify information in a text/document, e.g. "According to the chart, what happened to the Cuban economy under Castro?", consider adding a media literacy question, e.g. "What information could one present in a chart that would highlight positive aspects of Castro's rule?"
Identifying other sources for applicable assessments
Seek diverse media forms to assess student knowledge and skills. For instance, have students demonstrate their understanding of literary elements and techniques through analyzing a sort film trailer, or have students apply scientific or historical knowledge to a TV clip or political poster.
Creating assessments that evaluate knowledge and understanding
What content learning outcomes do you want to measure?
Review your objectives to identify specific content learning outcomes for this lesson. Design an assessment that will show student learning in these areas. Your activities and materials (document, background information, probe questions, homework, etc.) should be designed to prepare students to be successful on the assessment.
What media literacy outcomes do you want to measure?

Review your objectives to identify specific media literacy learning outcomes for this lesson. Use Key Questions to Ask When Analyzing Media Messages [SEE: Key Questions Document] to choose specific questions and lines of inquiry that will meet those objectives.

Using media documents in the assessment
Using the same media documents to assess understanding

After the activity is completed, you can ask students to do a deeper or comparative analysis using some of the same media documents the class has been analyzing, including "document-based questions" (DBQs) that ask students to write essay responses drawing from a number of media documents to craft their answers. For examples, see the unit assessments in Media Constructions of Presidential Campaigns kit. [SEE: Presidential Campaigns Kit].

Using additional media documents to assess understanding

Even for lessons and activities that don't involve media decoding, media documents can be used as part of the assessment process by asking students to analyze a media document with respect to what they've just learned about this topic or issue (especially with an eye towards what information is credible or true - based on what they've learned - and what is not). For an example, see the lesson Twister [SEE: Twister Lesson].