A Lesson Plan and A Day Provide a Lifetime of Valuable Media Lessons
By Gail Osgood, Internet Reporter
Most parents struggle for ways to get their children to stop spending endless amounts of time gazing at the television. But, this was not the case over the last month for 150 Massachusetts students. These kids were actually encouraged to watch more television, not for entertainment purposes, but for education.
The students actually studied what they were watching using a school-based curriculum called Creating Critical Viewers (CCV). The curriculum was designed eight years ago as part of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (NATAS) media literacy program, and it is provided to schools by each of the 17 regional chapters of NATAS.
"Kids need to have intellectual savvy to understand what the media is all about," said Carol Wintle, the New England NATAS media literacy program/CCV coordinator. "They need to decode it, understand it's a business and that people are making decisions every minute on what we see and what we hear."
According to NATAS, nearly two-thirds of teenagers have television sets in their rooms, and most teens report that their parents don't monitor what they watch. Concerned about the influence certain programming can have on kids, NATAS hired two Yale University professors to create the CCV curriculum for teachers to use in conjunction with their education goals.
According to Wintle, the media can have a "huge impact" on children, and kids need to discern between reality and fantasy with all types of television programming. Most kids, she said, are watching 20 to 40 hours a week of television, therefore it is important for them to actually see, and understand, why certain decisions are made in the media so they can make clear decisions for themselves.
"The goal of the program is to increase the positive impact television can have on young people," she said.
In order to enhance the experience of students involved with the CCV curriculum, each NATAS region was to think of "something special" to conduct at a regional and annual event appropriately titled CCV Day, according to Wintle. She thought, instead of simply having guest lectures or a conference, why not match classes with television stations to create real dialogue and interactivity between them.
Wintle developed a CCV Day Student/Station concept where students are instructed to focus on one station, watch one full day of programming, and then provide a full analysis to station decision makers analyzing the material they've watched. Most of the 17 NATAS regions use this model and the New England region has used it for five years since CCV Day started. Six Massachusetts schools participated with six stations this year.
Wintle said the program is designed to meet national educational standards and "it is not an add-on," it helps teachers meet their goals.
Students Watch and Learn
Sociology teacher Beth Fitzpatrick from Hudson High School, in Hudson, Mass., has been using the curriculum for four years and she says it ties into her studies on ethics, American studies and the how media has shaped history.
"One of our goals is character education, and helping students to be critical thinkers and consumers of media is one step closer to developing character," said Fitzpatrick.
Her class' annual visit to a television station in Boston helps to foster those goals. After studying units like television news, the business of television, and television and values in view, Fitzpatrick's class of juniors, seniors and one sophomore, broke into viewing groups to prepare for the field trip to Channel 56.
The three groups, each assigned a different category and time segment, analyzed the station's programming on a 24-hour basis. Watching shows like Friends, Jerry Springer and Channel 56's morning and evening newscasts, one group monitored the violence and aggression in programs, another watched for diversity, and the third analyzed ethical behavior. The students then prepared a critical assessment of their findings, along with a visual project, to present to Channel 56 directors and producers on CCV Day.
"The kids tell me this is one of the most powerful field trips they take," said Fitzpatrick. "They start out thinking they know the difference between right and wrong, but they really do begin to question the images that are portrayed. Many have even become concerned about what their younger siblings are watching."
"It was very educational," said Addie Donaldson, program manager for Channel 56 when asked her thoughts on the Hudson presentation. "So many of them are involved in other activities, and not even watching television. I was impressed with the kids and I learned a lot."
Each group formally presented its assessments to the panel of news and program directors at Channel 56. Two representatives from each stood in front of the panel that was seated at the anchor desk in the news studio, and like young decision makers, displayed their conclusions and offered recommendations on the station's programming during certain rotations.
Some obvious findings were made, like the inappropriate and violent nature of shows like Springer and Jenny Jones that air mid-morning. The ethics group said talk shows like this "have no redeeming qualities whatsoever." And, if a child is home from school "nursing a headache" as one youngster said, these shows would be dangerously unsuitable.
Another student said he "had a real problem with the violent nature of cartoons" that are aired early afternoon. Jeff Bartell, a junior, suggested including disclaimers at the end of certain cartoons, that contain considerable amounts of violence, to tell kids not to try that particular behavior at home. In addition, some shows did not contain "peaceful resolutions" to problems, which were cited as being important to the students.
In early afternoon and evening programming on Channel 56, the students found the shows' characters range in racial diversity as well as gender and age. In the evening, the drama Dawson's Creek had "zero diversity on all aspects," while 7th Heaven was "a really good example" of racial diversity because of an episode that dealt with prejudice against a Middle Eastern girl shortly after the September 11 attacks.
"While the station promotes diversity, it does not have much control on certain programming," Kristen Holgerson, director of community affairs and public relations for Channel 56 explained to the students. "Most of the content we air comes directly from the network."
Fitzpatrick said the kids also spent time in class watching news programs from competing stations, conducting role plays, and deciding which stories are newsworthy and should be aired. Hudson students gave Channel 56 newscasts, along with other print and broadcast media they had analyzed in the course, high marks, according to Fitzpatrick. Not all the students were as optimistic, however, as one girl didn't agree with how the media displayed pictures of people jumping out of the World Trade Center and another disagreed with the recent barrage of news on the Catholic Church scandal.
Greg Caputo, news director at Channel 56, "hopes CCV curriculum helps kids to understand that there are choices to be made [on what airs during newscasts]."
"Television is one of the largest influences for social culture and [kids] are learning how to be a member of society by what they're seeing on TV," said Fitzpatrick. "It is important, from day one, to monitor what kids are consuming in terms of information and messages. There needs to be partnerships with media, parents and schools."
Fitzpatrick said the trip to Channel 56 is challenging for students because it takes their thinking to another level and it asks them to substantiate their reasons why certain programming or reporting is good or bad, why it is important and who the information should target.
"The kids walk away with some beneficial insights about their lives as consumers of media," she said.
To obtain a free copy of the CCV curriculum and to learn more about the NATAS media literacy program, contact Carol Wintle at 617-787-6576 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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