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Critical Thinking and Elementary Media Literacy

In October I was taking part in OTF’s Critical Thinking Conference with teachers of all subject areas and grades who are new to the Critical Thinking Framework as defined by the Critical Thinking Consortium (TC2).  Garfield Gini-Newman was the lead presenter, along with some other TC2 folk, and my colleague Peter Skillen and I are involved in providing additional on-going professional learning support to OTF members through the facilitation of Elluminate sessions online.  We’ll be facilitating sessions throughout the year in the hopes of allowing teachers to continue the Critical Thinking conversation.

Our first webinar was this week and we had a really engaged group of people attend who were gracious enough to participate and share what they are doing in their classrooms…this made it a great session!

We are trying to nurture a supportive online community of teachers who are interested in improving their practice around strategies for critical thinking.  In our first session,  Peter and I brought a couple of ideas for elementary school lessons related to exploring the conventions and techniques of television advertising, and using open-ended questions to help deconstruct media from the Centre for Media Literacy.

We are defining Critical Thinking as:

  • a complex activity, not a set of generic skills (frontal lobe activity)
  • concerned with judging or assessing what is reasonable or sensible in a situation
  • focuses on quality of reasoning rather than the recall of information
  • depends on the possession of relevant knowledge
  • can be done in endless contexts and is required whenever the situation is problematic
  • it’s effortful but not necessarily negative

We are also assuming that a person is thinking critically only if he/she is attempting to assess and judge the merits of possible options in light of relevant factors or criteria.  When learning the critical thinking framework from TC2, we focus on designing critical challenges like the following:

  • Critique the piece
  • Judge the better or best
  • Rework the piece
  • Decode the puzzle
  • Design to specs
  • Perform to specs

In the past I’ve explored tv advertising by having students watch this great movie about conventions and techniques and then having them analyze some commercials using a recording sheet that includes the possible conventions and techniques you’ll see here:

http://mediaeducationlab.com/tv-smarts-how-do-they-make-things-look-so-good

In order to bring this into the realm of critical thinking, we did what Gini-Newman would call ‘tweaking’ the lesson.  They still watched the short film and analyzed a few commercials to become familiar with the concepts and vocabulary, and to gather some background knowledge about television advertising, but then we moved on to have students set their own criteria for what makes a good tv advertisement and they came up with the following:

1.  persuasive pictures and words
2.  some knowledge and information about the product/service
3.  believable
4.  commercial needs to fit the audience
5.  catches your eye (hooks you in)
6.  using techniques well (conventions of tv advertising)

We then watched a few commercials to see if our criteria fit well.  Were we able to assess the commercials using the criteria we had created?  Did we need to change anything?

We then used a ‘judge the better or best’ critical challenge to go further.   The students imagined that they had been hired by Gatorade to help them with their recent ad campaign.  Gatorade had created two commercials, and the students were asked to assess the commercials using their criteria and decide which one should be selected to air on tv and the reasons for their decision.

Here are the two commercials:


You can see our other Media Literacy resources here at Tech2Learn and our next OTF Webinar is Secondary Media Literacy on Nov. 24 at 8:00 pm EST.  A primary session on Thoughtful Books will follow on Dec. 1st.

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3 responses to “Critical Thinking and Elementary Media Literacy

  1. Excellent. I am writing to alert you to my website: THE MEDIA LITERACY CLEARINGHOUSE, (www.frankwbaker.com) designed to help educators better incorporate media education into instruction. Frank Baker fbaker1346@aol.com

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  2. Thanks Brenda for so generously sharing your work. In our classroom, we refer to critical literacy as “Brain Drain” thinking and questioning. I like how these activities drive students towards that same place. Great resources!

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    • Thanks for your comment Heather. It’s great when kids experience that hard thinking that can be so transformative and lasting. I love your term ‘Brain Drain’! Hope you can join us for one of the webinars.
      Nov. 24 – Secondary Media Lit
      Dec. 1 – Thoughtful Books – Primary
      Dec. 8 – Tweak and Fortify – Changing up lesson to promote critical thinking

      8:00 – 9:00 pm and we’ll tweet out the link.

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