Media Literacy Day '99 Spotlights Successful Skills for Teaching

-- Actors challenge teachers to pull curtain on media 'constructions.' -- 'Visionary' Award honors TV pioneer for commitment to media education

Put 100 teachers in a room for a day to hear thoughtful speakers, attend workshops with practical ideas for the classroom, examine resource tables full of books and videos and lesson plans, network over coffee and muffins and a box lunch with colleagues from Santa Barbara to San Diego and what do you get?

The first annual Media Literacy Day in L.A.!

Held Saturday, October 30, the event, organized by the Center for Media Literacy, featured over 20 in-service presentations by Hollywood media professionals and teacher-graduates of the CML's innovative Felton Media Literacy Scholars Program.

In the eyes of CML president and founder Elizabeth Thoman, the 1999 Media Literacy Day in L.A. was the first of an ongoing series of in-service and professional development projects designed to help Southern California teachers gain insight and skills to integrate media literacy learning throughout the curriculum -- from kindergarten to college.

"One day, we'll fill the convention center," she predicted in opening remarks.

Panel Explores Media Issues

Cornerstone of the event was a kick-off "keynote conversation" featuring classroom teachers interviewing actors Daniel Stern (Breaking Away, Diner, Home Alone) and T'Keyah Crystal Keymah (Cosby, In Living Color, Jackie Brown). Questions focused on personal reflections about the power of media in children's lives and what kids should know about how movies and television are developed and created.

"Media literacy work is critical," Stern told the teachers following a description of the 3-week media literacy unit he volunteers to teach 9th graders each semester at Malibu High School.

Keymah followed her panel presentation by participating in a full schedule of workshops to "do research" for her Cosby character -- who will become a high school English teacher later in the season. Leaving at the end of the day with an armload of books and materials from the bookstore, she pledged to find ways to model media literacy teaching on prime time television.

She also directed a follow-up financial contribution to start a scholarship fund to get more African-American and Latino teachers involved in the field.

Felton Honored for Vision

Named for pioneering TV producer, Norman Felton (The Man from U.N.C.L.E. , Dr. Kildare), whose annual gift provides core funding, the CML's Felton Media Literacy Scholars Program is a model teacher training program with national significance. In presenting a special "Visionary" award to Felton at the beginning of the day, CML executive director Tessa Jolls lauded the veteran broadcaster's generosity and commitment to media education. "When others have seen problems, Norman Felton has seen possibilities. And he has worked and contributed to turn those possibilities into realities. That is a true visionary."

Speaking for teachers whose professional careers (as well as often their personal lives) have been transformed by the program, Christine Honeyman, thanked Felton for "allowing me to wake up to my culture." A prevention/intervention specialist for the Irvine Unified School District, she reported that since completing the program last year, she has presented more than 50 educational presentations, reaching thousands of principals, teachers, parents and students.

Participants came from a wide variety of private, public and parochial schools and included pre-school teachers and parent educators as well as classroom teachers at all grade levels. Though often concentrated in language arts classes, media education, incorporating both critical analysis and production of media messages, is suitable for social studies courses, health classes, art, even math and science.

"We must prepare young people for living in a world of powerful images, words and sounds," noted Thoman, quoting a 1982 challenge by the United National Education and Scientific Organization to educators around the world.

Workshops Explore Multiple Issues

Workshops showcased core concepts of media literacy education along with successful student projects and screenings of new teaching resources. Focusing on strategies to enhance critical thinking as well as student problem-solving, team-building and communications skills, the hands-on workshops held throughout the day explored topics such as:

  • Teaching in a Time of Jerry Springer
  • Advertising and the End of the World: Challenging Consumerism

  • Interpreting the TV Ratings: What Teachers Should Know about the V-Chip

  • Babes & Studs: The Politics of Appearance

  • Whose Stories are Told? Diversity and Identity in a Media Age

"What Makes News?: Inside the Sausage Factory featured Barbara Osborn, host of "Deadline, LA" on KPFK radio interviewing a panel of decision-makers from the news media, including Ron Kaye, managing editor of the Daily News and Tricia Takasugi, reporter for Fox 11 News.

"Exploring Visual Images in the Elementary Classroom involved computer-savvy 3rd graders from Leo Politi Elementary School teaching the teachers how to "read" visual language.

Collaborating organizations and co-sponsors for the day included the Odyssey Network, the Dept. of Catholic Schools of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the Lutheran Schools of Southern California / Hawaii and Unite L.A., a partnership of LAUSD, LACCD and more than 50 education and business organizations committed to preparing all students (K-16) for success as citizens, workers and lifelong learners.

As for the participants, response was overwhelmingly positive: "The quality of the speakers and presentations was great -- and very well organized."

"Gave me a new perspective useful for my classroom."

"The passion of people involved in this field is encouraging and inspiring."

But one teacher said it all in five short words: "I'll be back next year."