Tag Archives: critical literacy

Antflick. Ms Antflick, 007.

My favourite days as a teacher are the days when I am able to make curricular connections to world events. Our calendar is full of special days celebrating, commemorating or raising awareness about social issues, and whenever possible I try to tie these events in to whatever course I’m teaching.

Earlier this year, on World Toilet Day, I had my grade 9 Geography students discuss global sanitation inequities while squatting beside their desks (see: The Big Squat). On Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January, I screened the “I have a dream” speech to introduce rhetorical devices to my grade 9 English classes, and had the students write their own “I have a dream” reflections.  In my grade 11 Social Science class, we looked at MLK as a social sceintist (the lesson is available on my other blog – SAP on the Web).

This week, I had another opportunity to spend a few minutes opening kids’ eyes to the world outside our classroom walls. The 100th annual International Women’s Day was a couple of days ago (March 8). The evening before, this video of Daniel Craig, the most recent James Bond, appeared on a few of my friends’ Facebook pages:

I showed it in all of my classes and discussed International Women’s Day. We had interesting discussions based on one of the student’s questions, “Why isn’t there International Men’s Day?” My students – both boys and girls – made some great comments and seemed to really be paying attention to the video’s message.

  • In Geography, we discussed why gender is an important measure when studying demographics. We also discussed the status of women in Canada vs. in other societies around the world.
  • In English, the students wrote their daily “Credo” in response to the video and to our discussions. We also linked International Women’s Day to our discussion around the status of Portia and the other female characters in Merchant of Venice. For the media strand, it became a lesson on critical media literacy – unpacking what 007 stands for, if and how the role of the Bond Girl has evolved over the decades, and why Craig dresses as a large breasted blonde.
  • Finally, in my Sociology, Anthropology & Psychology class we tied it in to our Sociology unit and talked about gender norms, zeroing in on the idea that in this video, the man, and not the woman, is “seen, not heard” while Judi Dench in the role of M is heard but not seen.

I was inspired by my students’ questions and comments, and my conviction in these tiny activist measures was reaffirmed when I got home to find an email from one of my student’s mothers, saying that she tried to show her 14 year old son the video at home and he replied,  “Oh, I know, the thing with Daniel Craig wearing a dress.  Ms. Antflick already showed it to us.  She’s a feminist!” She went on to thank me for exposing her son to such progressive ideas (progressive? in 2011?).

It’s the little things that make the hours of lesson planning and marking worthwhile (she writes as she blogs instead of preparing for her third and final teacher eval…)


media literacy – a simple lesson on a complex topic

Today I attended Upstream – a conference organized and facilitated by the high school students who make up the Anti-Oppression Coalition at the school where I did my first practicum. An inspiring day overall and a refreshing taste of anti-oppressive education in practice, in contrast to the dry, disconnected, beat ’em over the head with it anti-oppressive rhetoric I’ve been getting in class the last few months.

One of the sessions I attended, delivered by TDSB teacher and activist Amy Gottlieb, was called “Where do you get your news?” The hour-long session provided a useful and straightforward framework for a media literacy lesson that could be used in a high school English or Social Studies class. It’s nothing revolutionary, but sometimes the most simple ideas can give students the space to have deep and meaningful discussions.  In today’s session, the students were engaged, insightful, and came up with a range of interpretations and ideas.

Gottlieb started by posting three statements on the board:

  • All media messages are constructed

  • All media have embedded values on points of view

  • Mainstream media is organized to make a profit and to gain power.

The three above statements seem to have been adapted from the Centre for Media Literacy’s Five Core Concepts, part of their Media Literacy Kit:

Core Concepts and Key Questions from CML's Media Literacy Kit

Gottlieb handed out four articles to the students on two of the current hot topics in the Canadian media – the Vancouver Olympic Games and the Haitian earthquake crisis – two articles on each subject, written from widely divergent perspectives. The challenge for teachers using this activity is to find articles that are short, offer a clear but not overly obvious or narrow perspective, and activate some prior knowledge so the students aren’t overwhelmed with new content.

In small groups, the students read the articles and analyzed them, answering five questions on a sheet of poster paper:

  1. Who created the message?

  2. What is the underlying message?

  3. Who is quoted?

  4. What is omitted?

  5. Why was this message published?

With very little prompting, the students came up with good answers to these questions, although in a longer lesson, I think the discussions could have gone deeper. Beyond the perspectives expressed in each of the articles, the activity prompted students to examine their own biases as they read and reacted to the texts. I would also suggest – as an overall literacy strategy – giving the students some sort of graphic organizer where they can record and reflect on the evidence for each of their answers.

Taking up the questions afterward, the facilitator stressed the importance of decoding and deconstructing ALL media messages – even those from alternative news sources with whom the readers generally agree (case in point – one of the articles was written by Naomi Klein, a journalist who these students know and are likely to trust as an authoritative critical voice).

The session ended with an encouraging message: the world has opened up, and the internet has democratized news media. There are countless possibilities for young people to access alternative media outlets, as well as to create their own messages. Each one of us has a valid perspective and a story to tell, Gottlieb told the students, and this DIY media landscape is a positive way for youth to get engaged in their communities. The other side of this is that in a world where anyone can create sophisticated media messages, critical literacy becomes even more crucial.