6th and 8th graders explore media literacy

Students' ideas on media literacy
Ed/Tech Coordinator Christopher Warner and Upper School Counselor Rush Sabiston Frank recently completed a four-part media literacy series with 6th and 8th grades.The series began with a discussion about what media is and why it matters: where we find it, how it finds us, what forms it takes, and what messages--hidden or overt--it holds. The group explored how to be more mindful and critical about what they see, hear, and read in the constant stream of media around them.
From there, students watched clips from the youth version of The Mask You Live In and Miss Representation to discuss one aspect of media literacy: how gender roles and stereotypes are reinforced through the media. The clips focused on
  • friendships among boys in elementary and middle school;
  • neuroscience vs culture as they relate to gender;
  • how toy companies market separately to boys vs girls;
  • how boys are often told it's not ok for them to assume what are often viewed as "feminine" attributes--showing feelings like sadness and fear, communicating deeply, or valuing connections and relationships;
  • how girls and women are often judged based on their looks;
  • often-unrealistic media images of girls and women;
  • the lack of strong female protagonists in books and movies, and a tendency for the few female protagonists to be sexualized and/or looking for a man to love her;
  • the lack of strong women role models in government leadership, science and tech fields.

After each clip, Christopher and Rush facilitated group discussion around what the students found relevant, interesting, confusing or untrue. In one exercise, they asked students to think of a positive male figure in their lives and try to identify (silently or out-loud with the group) what characteristics made them respect or admire that male figure.

The sessions closed with the students brainstorming what kinds of media they might encounter in their everyday lives, and how they might be more mindful of the messages they receive from that media. Ideas included social media, radio & TV news, magazines, websites, print-ads and television commercials. The upcoming Super Bowl presents an excellent opportunity for students to practice their media literacy and critical thinking skills around what they see and hear.
Also as a closing exercise, the 8th graders also compiled advice for the 6th graders to help them manage the world of media. Some of that advice, as well as written feedback from the students, is included below. We hope parents and teachers will continue these conversations at home, on campus, in the car, and out in the world.
  • Don't try to live up to unrealistic expectations.
  • Recognize that not everything you see or read is true.
  • Put what you see in the media into perspective, and don't let it change who you are.
  • Don't pressure your peers to be a certain way.
  • Look for positive role models.
  • Everyone has a different body shape and size. "Perfect" is not real.
  • Be friends with people who make you feel good about yourself.
  • Don't follow someone on social media if they're spreading negative messages.
  • Be yourself.
  • Do not listen to the stereotypes; you can do what you want.
  • Sometimes the media can try to brainwash you.
  • Enjoy life off of your screen.
  • Eat healthy, but don't starve yourself.
  • Be aware of gender roles and images in the media.
  • Get ad-block.
  • Look at media skeptically.
  • Make educated decisions.
  • Watch women's sports.
  • Admire celebrities because of their capabilities, not their looks.
  • Don't focus on Hillary Clinton's choice of business suits.
  • Accept yourself. You're beautiful the way you are.
  • Choose more media with values you agree with. Do you agree with the lyrics of the music you listen to?
  • Be aware of what you put out on social media.
  • This was very helpful to me, and I could relate to much of it. I'm taking away that there are other people out there who feel like me.
  • I learned to be more aware of stereotypes.
  • I thought this was good but could've been longer.
  • My brother never talks about his feelings.
  • It made me really think about others' feelings.
  • I'm realizing how many stereotypical commercials I've seen.
  • I really liked watching the videos.
  • I learned that boys sometimes can't show their true selves.
  • There are many more gender stereotypes for boys/men than I thought.
  • I learned that boys often try and act tough.
  • I never thought of advertising being bad until now.
  • This makes me think of how I am going to shape my future, how we want it to be.
  • I learned that some boys are taught not to show feelings.
  • I look at media differently now.
  • I learned that young girls look up to women in the media who set unrealistic beauty standards and are not usually portrayed as intelligent and independent.
  • I wonder how the social dynamic changes from middle school to high school.
  • All women/girls should have the same opportunities that boys/men have.
  • I thought it was interesting that the number of girls who want to be President is equal to boys when they are young.
  • I never knew that the media had so much to do with everything.
  • I believe learning about gender expectations and stereotypes at an earlier age would be more effective.
  • I now notice when I watch TV and movies the gender roles and how set they are.
  • Mulan was the only Disney princess who wasn't focused on a man.
  • If there wasn't a figure that all women tried to look like, would men see beauty in a different way?
  • Are men or women more "guilty" for negative stereotypes?
  • Women need to be shown in more diverse roles.
  • Watching these films has made me question the amount of time I spend on my phone and watching TV instead of hanging out with my friends/family. I think it has changed my attitude.
  • After watching the movie, I think I understand myself better.
  • I didn't know by saying "don't cry" or other little things, you can impact the child without knowing.
  • I didn't realize small phrases like "be a man" could effect someone so much.