A Road to Follow: Methods, Structure and Tools for Replication


By Tessa Jolls and Denise Grande


  1. New Guiding Principle in Action: Incorporating Media Literacy Concepts and Key Questions, Visual and Performing Arts Standards (VAPA), and English Language Development (ELD) Standards in an elementary school classroom using Open Court Reading Program
  2. Defining the Approach and Methodology
  3. Providing a Replicable Model with Specific, Readily-Available Tools
  4. Supporting Sustainability within the School
  5. Case Study Detailing Implementation Approach
  6. Integrated Activities using the Five Key Questions, VAPA and ELD Standards and Lesson Plan Samples                    

When Project SMARTArt began, the partners were grateful that the type of funding received was through a federal "demonstration grant," because this project represented a beginning in which there were far more questions than answers on how to combine media literacy and the arts in an elementary school classroom.

New Guiding Principle in Action

By the end of Project SmartArt, teachers demonstrated that combining media literacy and the arts, while meeting CA State Education standards for Language Arts (LA) and English Language Development (ELD), is very possible and fairly easy, with the right training, practice and structure. This notion was validated when, within a one-hour period, teaching teams were able to create engaging, integrated activities for classroom use, while connecting the Five Key Questions of Media Literacy with state standards for ELD, LA, and Visual and Performing Arts (VAPA). These teaching teams were comprised of Project SMARTArt teachers and teaching artists, and divided into two groups (Grades K-2 teachers and Grades 3-5 teachers), so that the activities were relevant and could be used by the team participants.

This type of flexibility in making curricular connections is essential, since every school district in every state uses different combinations of core curricular materials. CML's Five Key Questions of media literacy can apply to any curricular content, and the arts are used in every form of self-expression, in any project students create to demonstrate their mastery of core subject areas. Through state education standards and through an understanding of how to apply media literacy and the arts into core curricular areas, teachers now have powerful and more flexible ways of connecting their classrooms to the real world, and to providing students with the critical thinking and media construction skills that they need to represent themselves effectively.

Approach / Methods

To learn from the Project SMARTArt experience, it is just as important to understand how the project was approached as what the project's goals, structure and tools consisted of. Here are some important points about the approach used:

  • A clearly articulated Philosophy of media literacy was essential, so that the aims of the project were clear. The CML Philosophy of Education emphasizes empowerment rather than censorship or media bashing.
  • The project focused on teaching information process skills, so that individuals learn a systematic methodology of analysis that can be applied to any content. With such an analytic method, individuals are free to draw their own conclusions and make their own choices. Project SMARTArt used the theory articulated in CML's MediaLit Kit™.
  • Each arts discipline (dance, music, theatre and visual arts) was represented Project SmartArt. Teaching artists taught core elements of each discipline, making connections to media and media literacy.
  • Before teachers can teach subjects like media literacy and the arts, they must first develop knowledge, understanding and skills. Professional development and consistent practice are necessary for teachers to be confident and successful.
  • Students were encouraged to learn by doing, taking a constructivist approach. Learning to apply the Five Key Questions takes practice over time, much like learning to tie shoes. Through repetition and refinement, the process becomes automatic.
  • Project SMARTArt Partners were equal learners and had a respectful relationship.
  • Teacher participation was voluntary. Project SMARTArt only appealed to committed teachers willing to experiment.
  • Meeting state education standards was key, as well as connecting to LAUSD's scripted reading program, Open Court, and CML's Five Key Questions of media literacy. Project SMARTArt concentrated on Visual and Performing Arts Standards (VAPA), Language Arts (LA) and English Language Development Standards (ELD).
  • In the national McRel K-12 Language Arts Standards, the four traditional strands are expanded from reading, writing, speaking and listening to also include viewing and media.
  • Project SMARTArt did not rely on technology to be successful. Some classrooms were not equipped with computers or had little access to video cassette players/recorders. The activities were scaleable in terms of technology.
  • Student learning was demonstrated through an ongoing production of artifacts to demonstrate learning; Project SMARTArt was not ultimately geared toward one production project.

Structure of Replicable Model for Implementation

The elements that made up Project SmartArt's structure are:

  • Professional Development. At the onset of each year, Project SMARTArt provided teachers and teaching artists with training in media literacy. The training focused on CML's Five Core Concepts and Five Key Questions of Media Literacy, providing a good theoretical grounding and practice in applying this framework for analysis/deconstruction to teaching. In its final year, Project SMARTArt also provided teachers professional development in dance, music, theatre and visual arts as well as training on using The BOX!, a tool developed by Animaction, Inc. for teachers to help students produce animation shorts.
  • Media Literacy Peer Coaching. Teachers had four one-hour meetings with a media literacy teaching coach. These sessions were sequentially designed to: a) answer questions and, plan b) observe the coach in a demonstration lesson, c) allow the coach to observe a lesson by the teacher, and d) critique and plan.
  • Artists in Residence. Teaching artists representing each of the four arts disciplines (dance, theatre, music and visual arts) worked directly with the students four to six times, providing basic knowledge of each arts discipline and incorporating the media literacy Five Key Questions into their work.
  • Artist-Teacher Planning Meetings. Prior to the teaching artists coming into a classroom, the artist and classroom teacher had an opportunity to meet and plan, so that the artist's work was connected to the teacher's ongoing work with the children and tied into the curriculum.
  • Animation. Students produced 30-second animation shorts as a culminating project, weaving elements of all four arts disciplines into the construction of a replicable media artifact. These animation shorts were created either through a one-day workshop provided by AnimAction, Inc., or through the use of The BOX!, which provides teachers with an in-class animation production studio.
  • Assessment. Although incorporating media literacy and the arts into assessment was not part of this project, student-based assessment could be built into future projects due to the on-going creation of artifacts.
  • Monthly Teacher Meetings. Regularly scheduled meetings supported program implementation by providing participants an opportunity to exchange ideas and information.
  • Quarterly partner meetings. Consistent and frequent coordination between the partners (Leo Politi School, Center for Media Literacy, Music Center Education Division and AnimAction, Inc.) was essential to provide smooth operation of Project SmartArt.
  • Parent Outreach. Parent Outreach involved two different approaches. the first program for parents featured a special showing of student animations produced through AnimAction workshops; the second program offered parents the opportunity to participate in a Family Album Writing Workshop, where they wrote their personal history for the benefit of their families, and learned about media literacy.
  • Annual Evaluation Meeting. Teachers, teaching artists and project partners met each year to critique the project, discuss lessons learned, and plan for the upcoming school year.



To provide a replicable program, specific, consistent and readily available tools are necessary. With these tools, no "cookbook" type of textbook is needed, because (over time) teachers internalize the tools through professional development and everyday practice. Teachers are able to make the linkages necessary to all curricular subject areas; their lesson plans are informed by this new understanding. This provides a creative way to meet standards while incorporating contemporary media content, while teaching information-processing skills. If teachers consistently provide opportunities for students to apply the Five Key Questions of media literacy, then students also internalize this methodology for thinking critically about media content (even textbooks!).

Project SMARTArt was informed by the following set of Tools, which provided guidance for the project organizers and teachers:

  • Clear Statement of Philosophy. Provides ideological guide and unity, so that all participants know at the outset what the "agenda" is for the project. Project SMARTArt used CML's Statement of Philosophy of Education.
  • Core Concepts of Media Literacy.The Core Concepts of Media Literacy have been developed through the years by academics internationally. Without the use of these Concepts, it is impossible to distinguish media literacy from any other critical thinking program. Project SMARTArt was based on CML's Five Core Concepts of Media Literacy.
  • Key Questions of Media Literacy. Although Core Concepts must be understood by teachers as the underpinning for media literacy, Key Questions provide students with a consistent entry point into a process of inquiry and analysis. Key Questions are engaging for children and are open-ended, stimulating further exploration and discussion. Project SMARTArt utilized CML's Five Key Questions of Media Literacy and CML's Key Questions to Guide Young Children.
  • Standards. California State Education Standards for Visual and Performing Arts (VAPA), English Language Development (ELD) and Language Arts (LA) Standards. All academic content must meet state education standards. Project SMARTArt focused on these content standards as an entry point for integrating media literacy and the arts into other curricular areas. Also, since Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) uses a scripted language arts program (Open Court Reading) to teach reading to elementary school children, Project SMARTArt teachers tied directly into this curriculum.
  • The BOX!. With The BOX! (developed by AnimAction, Inc.,) and a personal computer any teacher can turn a classroom into a professional animation studio, giving students powerful tools for self-expression that can be duplicated and disseminated through digital media. As a culminating project, animation provided an opportunity for students to apply their learning in all arts disciplines: storytelling (theatre), drawing (visual arts), movement (dance), and scoring (music).
  • Artifacts for Student Assessment. Written essays, PowerPoint presentations, visual arts projects, choreography, plays and musical compositions are all examples of artifacts that demonstrate the students' mastery of content and media construction skills. Students can be taught to develop rubrics for assessment, so that they learn to set criteria for judging their production pieces.

(Note: Project SMARTArt did not build a model for student assessment. However, learning can be evaluated through portfolios and performance-based assessment of student produced artifacts.)

Supporting Sustainability

Internalizing the Five Key Questions of media literacy through consistent application and practice over time changes the way teachers teach and students learn. As Alvaro Asturias, a visual arts educator, commented after taking part in Project SmartArt, "I'll never see the world the same way again, and never teach the same way again." Other teachers who participated in Project SMARTArt also shared how they have changed their teaching approach and what they are doing to provide their students with media literacy and arts training today.

The work of replicating this program, and spreading it within a K-12 context, has just begun. Much remains to be done and learned in implementing media literacy programs. To help teachers and administrators who do not have access to a program such as Project SmartArt, the Center for Media Literacy has focused on providing free information in its CML MediaLit Kit™ on Theory, Practice and Implementation of media literacy programs:

  • Theory: Literacy for the 21st Century, An Overview and Orientation Guide to Media Literacy Education. This 35-page booklet provides a plain language introduction to the basic elements of media education. It explains the Inquiry Process, the Five Core Concepts and Five Key Questions, plus How to Conduct Close Analysis of a Media Text.
  • Practice: Five Key Questions that Can Change the World, Classroom Activities for Media Literacy. This booklet provides 25 cornerstone lesson plans to help you introduce students to the Five Key Questions of Media Literacy and to master them through practice. Useful for all grade levels and across the curriculum: language arts, social studies, health, math and the arts.
  • Implementation: Best Practices: Project SmartArt, A Case Study in Elementary School Media Literacy and Arts Education. This website subsection provides a complete overview of findings and implementation work done through a three-year federal demonstration grant on discovering innovative strategies for effective teaching and student learning, connecting media literacy and the arts to language arts and English language development within Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD).


About the authors:

Tessa Jolls is President and CEO of the Center for Media Literacy, where she has served for the past six years in designing, implementing and promoting media literacy programs within K-12 education. She consults nationally with school districts, health organizations and publishers on media literacy education.

Denise Grande, Director of Strategic Initiatives for the Music Center of Los Angeles County / Education Division, has more than 15 years experience in arts education programming and implementation. Working in partnership with specific school districts, she currently coordinates and contributes to projects that strategically advance the goal of district-wide, K-12 arts education for students.