Thinking & Learning

Developing Media Literacy

Your child has likely been getting comfortable with technology for a few years now. But in middle school their exposure to the digital world will really take off. What kinds of skills should they develop during these years to navigate the on- and offline media around them?

You might remember learning how to use the card catalog to find a book at the library, or searching for an old newspaper article on microfilm. That was fun, wasn’t it?

The good or bad news for our kids, depending on your perspective, is that they don’t have to do this anymore. They’re digital natives, which means they already know their way around the world wide web—and they’re surrounded by different types of media, all the time. (For better and for worse.) Media literacy is the ability to understand the different types of messages they’re consuming, recognize different perspectives, and think critically as they interact with multiple sources of information. Middle school is an especially important time to build these skills.

Here are some things they’ll hopefully learn to do during middle school:

1

Check their sources. Your middle schooler will learn that they shouldn’t rely too heavily on a single source of information when they’re building an argument. They should know where to look for reliable information, and how to confirm facts with multiple sources (beyond Wikipedia!). They’ll also begin to use different sources and perspectives to develop their own informed opinions on complex issues.

2

Consider the author’s perspective. Middle schoolers are deep into learning that everyone has a different perspective—including the people who create the content they’re consuming. They’ll begin to analyze an author or creator’s perspective, look for biases, and discuss how different perspectives influence messages and stories.

3

Interpret visuals and headlines as well as text. As they learn to think critically about the media they’re consuming, they’ll also learn to look closely at elements like photos or video clips that are being shared, and what headlines go along with them. Visuals, headlines, and editing choices all inform the story a particular piece of media is telling.

4

Make informed and responsible choices. This goes for the media they’re consuming and also anything they’re creating—especially if they’re beginning to have access to social media. (That’s a whole other can of worms, by the way. We’ve got some more thoughts.)