New Mexico teachers embrace media literacy classes


May 15 – When the pandemic first hit and independent schools in Dulce in far northern New Mexico went into lockdown in March 2020, “it was in survival mode,” recalls teacher Mallory Merritt in college language arts and social sciences.

“All curricula and lesson plans have been scrapped,” she added.

But amidst the confusion and skyrocketing use of social media by students during the pandemic shutdowns, Merritt created a unit on the topic of media literacy – broadly defined as the ability to analyze, access and create using all forms of communication.

Through the unit, Merritt students took the early stages of distance learning learning to use the digital platforms they would need for online school, such as Microsoft Teams and Google Classrooms. They were also introduced to deeper themes – even learning about historical psychological experiments like Pavlov’s Dog and the Milgram Experiment to gain a deeper understanding of human nature and propaganda.

“It was advertising, social media, news media, TV, commercials,” said Merritt, who studied communication in school. “So many times the kids just said, ‘Oh my God, I had no idea.'”

Merritt is part of a growing group of educators statewide who believe in providing a range of skills that fall within the broad spectrum of media literacy – from digital literacy to advertising and news media analysis – to prepare the next generation of new Mexicans, who daily encounter more social media and technology than ever before.

In 2015, a study by Common Sense Media, a tech education nonprofit, found that teens spent up to nine hours a day using media – from music to social websites like Facebook and Instagram. – while 8 to 12 year olds spent six hours a day consuming media.

Merritt said she believes those estimates have only skyrocketed for years.

“There’s nothing in the classroom to help them navigate it — psychologically, emotionally, mentally, factually,” Merritt said. “Nothing.”

Pamela Pereyra, founder of Media Savvy Citizens, a Taos-based nonprofit, hopes investments in media literacy programs approved in a recent special legislative session will serve as a small step to better equip students with ever-changing skills they need to navigate safely. social media platforms – and even upcoming technologies like self-driving cars.

In 2019, Media Savvy Citizens, which also provides training and resources to students in New Mexico schools, used state funding to orchestrate a pilot media literacy training program for teachers. It attracted the participation of 43 middle school English and social studies teachers, Merritt included, from 30 school districts across the state.

Teachers received multiple trainings throughout the year on how to build media literacy lessons and incorporate them into other subjects, even as schools moved away mid-year.

The pilot project represents one of many small, short-term investments in media literacy that New Mexico has made in recent years. Pereyra said the state’s approach to media literacy was, at one point, much more robust.

“New Mexico was at the forefront of media education,” she said, noting that efforts date back to the early 1990s and at one point included standards for teaching media. the subject at school. “There’s a lot of information and pedagogy that New Mexico has created.”

While 2009 legislation allowed schools across the state to hold optional media literacy classes, Pereyra believes the focus on teaching to prepare children for standardized math and reading tests during the No Child Left Behind era of the 2000s largely killed enthusiasm around the subject.

It’s hard to rally people around media literacy today, Pereyra said, because it’s not tied to an in-demand industry in the same way as other electives like computer programming.

“We know we need media literacy,” she said. “How is it going to be part of the education system, even if there is no industry behind media literacy? It’s just the right thing to do.”

Pereyra said the state should consider adopting standards for teachers who want to integrate media literacy into their other classrooms, or organize separate lessons on the subject — especially since the subject encompasses such a wide range of concepts. She said teacher training would likely be the most effective use of the state’s recent $390,000 investment in media literacy programs.

In an email, state Department of Public Education spokeswoman Judy Robinson said the department is still determining how the money will be spent and more information will be available. at the start of fiscal year 2023, which begins in July.

At Rio Rancho Public Schools, education coordinator Kelly Pearce also hopes the state will use the money to invest in teacher training around media literacy. Pearce, a former journalist, previously taught an optional media literacy class at Rio Rancho for middle schoolers. She participated in the Media Savvy Citizens pilot project during the 2019-2020 school year while leading this class.

“We really looked at building lessons and using them in the classroom,” Pearce said of the pilot program in a recent interview. “Children were more present on social media than ever before.”

Pearce’s optional class consisted of a quarterly printed student newspaper, as well as key lessons on analyzing and creating different types of media.

“We would look at all the ways advertising companies would try to identify their audience,” she said. “And then in the end, they would create their own advertisement.”

Pearce said even the widespread availability of Chromebooks in schools is translating into expanded access to media, which underscores the need to better learn how to surf the internet and check trusted online sources for projects. research.

She added that she also hopes more media literacy will help students become aware of their “digital tattoos” – a term describing the footprint people can leave by posting content on social media, even after its deletion.

“Even as adults, it’s difficult to navigate what’s truthful, what’s authentic, and how to be safe online,” Pearce said.

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