Media Literacy in Schools: Practice, Production and Progression


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To return again to the example at the beginning of this chapter, if we want a model of media literacy which can somehow account for how children engage with the Harry Potter story across book, game and film, we need something beyond language. The study of sign systems, as is well known, begins with amongst others the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure , who forecast a general science of semiology, in which language would become merely one among many systems of signification.

Over the twentieth century many attempts were made to apply the systems of de Saussure and others to a variety of media, especially to the moving image. Some of the more productive of these attempts are still widely used by media studies teachers today. However, the picture is patchy, to say the least.

In our view, a semiotic approach is needed, but it needs to be rationalised, to be extended to cater for new media and to be integrated with the emphasis of Cultural Studies on real audiences and the cultural contexts in which they live. The approach represented in our model is derived from the tradition of social semiotics Hodge and Kress, ; van Leeuwen, This tradition emerges partly from earlier semiotics, especially that of Barthes; but also from traditions of sociolinguistics, which have been particularly influential in the study of literacy, especially in Australia, New Zealand and the UK Halliday, Social semiotics proposes a functional view of all acts of signification.

All texts are seen to fulfil three social functions: These overarching functions mean, in the case of our concern with media, that all media texts will: The function of the last is primarily to serve the other two. However, the means by which these kinds of understanding can be explored is not necessarily or only through abstract analytical approaches. It might be, as we have argued above, by making their own text: Rather, it is a series of processes, which a social semiotic approach encourages us to unpack.

Media Literacy in Schools: Practice, Production and Progression

This unpacking is valuable, not only for analytical reasons — it reveals buried layers of meaning and motivation behind the meaning — but also because of learning, which takes place, sometimes slowly and gradually, throughout these processes. Our image of the semiotic process is borrowed again from a social semiotic model. Kress and van Leeuwen propose a scheme of four strata: To these, we have added interpretation, which forms the subject of another part of their book Kress and van Leeuwen, These strata are offered by Kress and van Leeuwen as a model of multimodal communication: For the moment, the following brief account is enough.

We can see discourses as related to genres, so that human knowledge of some aspect of reality, whether large and grand such as warfare, or the Gothic imagination or small and domestic such as domestic chores or homework will always be coded in particular communicative patterns. We see discourse, not just as the precursor to any act of meaning-making though it is always that , but also as a pervasive medium which completely surrounds it; all aspects of the making of a text are discursively situated and informed.

Design is the choice of mode. To tell a story you need to decide whether it will be told orally, or in writing, or perhaps as a visual narrative. Mode here means an individual signifying system. Multimodality theory, however, proposes that particular media forms integrate different modes: Production involves the choice of medium. Modes are always realised through material media — once we have decided to tell a story in words we have to decide whose voice will tell it; if we write it, we have to decide on the material tools for the writing fountain pen or word processor , the visual design of the writing, the paper on which it will be printed, and so on.

These choices are not insignificant afterthoughts, but part of what makes the text mean what it does, and can affect the process of textual production significantly. The introduction of electronic media goes much further, not simply adding another set of material resources, but changing the nature of representation in profound ways, a question we will return to in Chapter Texts can be distributed in many ways, sometimes through complex technologies, which can reproduce, disseminate, re-design, transform in many different ways.

Media Literacy in Schools: Practice, Production and Progression [With DVD]

In the case of commercial media texts, how they are distributed forms part of the conceptual framework of media literacy, in which we might feel it important for students to understand how TV scheduling works, or how films are distributed to different kinds of cinema which affect how they are presented and viewed. Again, the arrival of digital media opens up a wider range of possibilities here, in which teenagers might exhibit their work on YouTube or MySpace, on their school website or on portable formats and platforms.

Interpretation is a dialogic process — it faces two ways. It is the process through which we understand the media texts we encounter, from an informal chat with friends as we emerge from the cinema to more formal C However, it then faces in the other direction — towards our own production of texts, and our future audiences.

This, then, forms the backbone of our semiotic model of the processes through which media literacy is made possible. One final — but important — observation remains. We are proposing this model for two rather different reasons. One reason is to understand how young people develop media literacy, just as literacy researchers and educators will use linguistic theory to analyse and explain what children are able to do with reading and writing.

This purpose does not suppose that children necessarily acquire this analytical framework.

Media Literacy in Schools: Practice, Production and Progression [With DVD] by Andrew Burn

If, in a study of print literacy, we discover that year-olds use subordinate clauses successfully in their creative writing, this by no means requires us to argue that they know what a subordinate clause is, or that such knowledge would improve their ability to produce one. Indeed, a recent review suggests that there is no good evidence that grammar teaching improves the writing of young people Andrews et al.

However, this review does suggest that there might be other good reasons for teaching grammar, especially to provide a better understanding of how language works. In much the same way, our argument here is that, when children arrive at school, they bring with them highly developed forms of media literacy already. They have extensive implicit knowledge of how media texts work; and the semiotic approach we describe here can be used to analyse what they are already able to do.

by Andrew Burn & James Durran

As importantly, however, it can be used to outline what we want them to be able to do in addition. We might find, for instance, that they are instinctively able to represent characters and landscapes in their animation, but not so able to manage interactive aspects of their texts: Our second reason for proposing a semiotic model, then, is that, in common with all specialist media educators, we also wish to help students to develop a conception of the semiotic workings of media texts. However, it will also depend on the development in future years of suitable frameworks of the kind we describe here, adaptable for use with young people.

We do not expect English teachers to be professional linguists, but rather to have some informed grasp of how language works, at a level appropriate for their students. The same applies with semiotics and media literacy. We have made a tentative start towards such practice at Parkside, but we will return to this question in subsequent chapters, as we consider how such practice might develop in the future.

Buckingham sees the former as the product of the latter, and we agree with him. The examples we give in this book will give some idea of the processes of teaching and learning in which we hope to develop media literacy along the lines we have proposed in this chapter. Our aim has not been, of course, to produce a cast-iron model in which every gap is plugged, every question answered, every uncertainty resolved. Many of these questions will always remain open to different views, depending on the variety of purposes informing media education; and some of them are genuinely difficult questions to answer from a theoretical point of view.

Our work will reflect a take on media literacy which we hope can be useful to others in our situation: A century ago classrooms were modelled on the mediaeval monastic scriptorium: Half a century ago, tape-recorders and record-players introduced recorded archives of sound: The scriptorium had given way in some respects to the auditorium though the primacy of print literacy persisted. In the last decades of the twentieth century, visual media in the form of television, film, projected images, video and eventually digital audiovisual media grew in importance.

The classroom was slowly becoming a spectatorium, where the persistent C These developments were largely confined to pedagogies of display: In this book, we focus especially on the meaning-making by students made possible by digital authoring technologies, the functions of the different forms of signification involved in such authoring, and the cultural value of what can be said that could not be said before in quite the same way.


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  2. La lluvia amarilla (Spanish Edition);
  3. .
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  5. .
  6. Dossiê Raul Seixas (Portuguese Edition).

We want to look at them through three stages of the Year 8 12—13 year-olds comics course at Parkside, reflecting on three examples of work by students. In the course of this, we want to consider the cultural value of comics and their place in the literacy curriculum; the nature of the literacies involved in understanding and making texts which employ the superhero metaphor; and the way this kind of media production can allow for playful experimentation with social identities.

First, however, we will describe the course at Parkside. In the current version of the course, Year 8 students work on superheroes for a number of weeks. The course begins with watching and discussing the animated film Batman and the Mask of the Phantasm Radomski and Timm, The film is presented to students as imitating quite closely the visual style and spirit of the original DC Comics Batman cartoons: As students watch the film, they make notes on four aspects of representation: Before watching, they are introduced to the idea of representation.

We draw a figure on the board and ask the students what it is, teasing out the point that this is not a person, but a representation of a person. With this conceptual equipment, students are asked to comment on representations in the film. Criminals are stereotyped as broad-hatted, cigarette-smoking gangsters, or — in the figure of the Joker — made exciting and extraordinary. Women are either shallow and weak, or secretly dynamic and physically powerful.

These representations are related in discussion to what students know or can be told of the cultural values and concerns of s America. This discussion is the groundwork for a close reading of the film, through the analysis of still images. Students are presented with specific stills, chosen for their relevance to the four areas students have been looking at in the film.

So, for example, there are two stills in which women are represented, and two in which criminals are represented, and so on. Students discuss the images in groups and present their ideas to the rest of the class. To help them, they have some prompt questions, and the teacher also models ways of reading the images. Students are shown how to read meaning into details; they are also introduced to some conventions of filmic images: The emphasis in subsequent discussion is on how this twentieth-century popular—cultural phenomenon might be part of a continuity across history and cultures.

What is the universal appeal of such narratives? The question of the representation of gender is also raised: As we will see, one aspect of these fantasy characters which appeals to young people can be the symbolic resources they offer to reflect on their own identities: Discussion then focuses on the idea of the mask. Students make their own superhero or villain masks, for invented characters. But first, they watch clips about masks from a range of films: They discuss the significance and function of masks, worn by both heroes and villains. When do they C How do people conceal or alter their identities in everyday life?

While in an obvious sense such work is rooted in contemporary popular culture, it also raises questions about what exactly such culture might mean; where it comes from, and what history of cultural practices it might derive from. Similarly, the formal properties of comicstrip superheroes can be seen as similar in certain ways to those of the heroes of oral narratives of the past, as we will suggest also in Chapter 3 in relation to popular animation.

We can see the culture of comicstrip heroes in this tradition, then, to a certain extent: Of course, essential to all of this discussion is a consideration of audience — of what superheroes mean to people, at various levels. Details in the covers promise cathartic action and excitement, ideals of protective power and fantasies of transformation. They offer dystopian reflections of urban menace and they promise the utopian triumph of good over evil.

Students are encouraged to consider the needs of particular audiences: In this kind of C The Grammar of Visual Design Students then design a cover for an invented superhero comic, and — if there is time in the course — they design a page of the comic too.

We will analyse two examples of comic covers by students in the final section of this chapter, exploring the aspects of literacy and creativity at stake in such work, and providing a more detailed account of the aspects of visual grammar taught in this section of the course. Here, the emphasis is on the semiotic construction of media texts, and especially on the mode of visual design. They were exactly the kind of text demonised by F. Leavis and Denys Thompson, in what is often seen as the first version of media education Behind this apparently enlightened exercise in critical reading was a set of assumptions about cultural value.

A follower of Leavis, David Holbrook, was even more specific about what he saw as the debased nature of visual popular texts in particular, as if the visual image somehow threatened the sanctity of the word, in which the values of English teaching are so enmeshed: It is a visual age, so we must have strip cartoons, films, filmstrips, charts, visual aids. Some teachers fall for the argument. We must never give way: The new illiteracy of the cinema, television, comic strip, film-strip and popular picture paper they accept as the dawn of a new era.

If the image so violently undermined the word, what would we make of other combinations of word and C These examples make it clear that the wholesale assault on the image here is actually an attack on something different: Comics are taken seriously as a vibrant and important popular cultural legacy of the twentieth century, and the superhero genre in particular has straddled the popular media of Japan and America, has been transformed from the print medium into hugely successful film franchises, and shows no sign of losing its energy.

The course we describe here invokes this cultural context, using a film derived from the animated TV series of Batman Altieri, — Meanwhile, studies of how children and teenagers engage with comics and magazines have indicated how they might be important in the cultural lives of young people. The academic field of Cultural Studies has paid most serious attention to comicstrip culture as an element of broader youth culture. Perhaps the best-developed account of comics, the social anxieties they represent and provoke, and their importance in the cultural lives of their fans, is given by Martin Barker This shift is consonant with a general move in Cultural Studies towards a view of active readership, in which readers are more autonomous, more able to interpret, transform and use texts for their own purposes.

However, within this more optimistic turn, there remain concerns about the social meanings of popular culture, and how the contradictory nature of gender identity, especially, is negotiated with difficulty through the mediating function of popular cultural texts Walkerdine, We will explore this theme in relation to a comicstrip design by a girl in this course, later in this chapter. Anne Haas Dyson demonstrates that superheroes are valuable symbolic resources to be appropriated by children for the exploration of identity, a theme we will also further develop later in this chapter.

Styles and Watson emphasise the value of comics as powerful, motivating texts for classroom work; though they also express concerns about the negative attitudes of teachers to the cultural values of such texts. These arguments about the cultural importance of the comicstrip for teenagers, the value of its narratives and metaphors for the exploration of identity, and the benefits it offers for literacy programmes, we consider sufficient justification for the devotion of curriculum time to such texts.

However, such arguments are not to be confused with the difficult question of cultural value, which we have briefly considered in Chapter 1. A recent example can be found in a report from the UK Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, purporting to convey views of English teachers on the relative merits of media texts as against literary texts: Alongside views that media and screen-based texts [can] have their place in English 21 there is the caveat that these should never be at the expense of our rich book-based literary heritage — a point more fully elaborated in terms of the purpose and value of engaging with verbal language: QCA, a; emphasis added This kind of argument can be seen as a diluted residue of the Leavis and Holbrook attack on popular culture.

The authors of the curriculum here display a softened stance on the teaching of texts such as comics, films and television, allowing them a place as part of a wider cultural landscape: Our intention here is to oppose this view, by argument and example. The following piece of writing by a Year 8 boy, John, follows a discussion of an image of Bruce Wayne standing looking up at a painting of his dead parents.

This piece of writing is by a particularly able student — but that is exactly our point, that media texts do provide sufficiently rich cultural resources to stretch any children. It is also suggestive of the pleasure which students can find in such analytic work. This Image appears about halfway through the film, and it comes at a time when Bruce has become uncertain about his future.

He must decide whether Batman takes precedence over Bruce Wayne, or whether the time has come to desert his quest for justice and break through the isolation and solitude that it has created in him. The room he stands in, and its features, symbolises where he stands in life.

This huge empty room, devoid of any homely touches or comfortable furniture, despite being in his very own house, represents how, even within himself he cannot seem to unearth the part of Bruce Wayne that will let him conquer the loneliness and isolation that Batman has breathed into him. In this shot Bruce is indeed just a sad, lonely and vulnerable human being but the fact that he cannot communicate with anyone means that he cannot lead a normal life, because he would have to maintain the secret of his second existence whether from his lover or from a friend.

He stands in this room, a reflection of his life, faced with two options. The portrait of his parents that he is gazing at represents a route to the past and the open window lying behind him is the path to his future: A dark blue, nearly engulfed [sic] him, shrouds much of the room, but it is just being held off by the light from the window. This may perhaps represent how, although he longs to be back in happier times, the Batman side of Bruce is the only thing keeping him from being swallowed up by the C And yet, as the picture shows, it is also the only thing that makes him long for the past as the window sheds light on the portrait letting him see it.

The fireplace below the portrait is empty and this adds buckets to the cold inhospitable atmosphere of the room. It also represents for me what will happen to him if he tries to grasp out for the past. The way Bruce must crane his neck to look up at his parents and the way that they look down on him, implies that they are just out of his reach. If he tries to haul himself up to them he will slip and be swallowed by the huge gaping mouth of the fireplace. This again implies the current importance of the past to Bruce, and the desperation to turn away from the remaining possibilities.

Indeed, because the light is now coming from the left and we see it first, the picture seems brighter. However, l believe that the light coming from the open window is the most important part of the picture; it shows strongly the influence of Batman on Bruce Wayne, and that for me is the main thing about this character. This example speaks for itself: While it does not grapple with formal semiotics, it is in fact a systematic reading of what Hodge and Tripp call the synchronic syntagm: This rather technical term means that the image is representing one moment in time synchronic rather than a sequence of events over time diachronic.

Syntagm is the technical term in semiotics for a combination of signifiers as C Paradigm is, then, the plane of selection, so here we could say that the author of the image has chosen Bruce Wayne from various possible categories male rather than female, superhero rather than villain, protagonist rather than other character types ; and combined him with other elements in the image — the location, the view through the window, and so on — each of these also drawn from larger categories.

This compositional act is the syntagm, or plane of combination. This can be seen most clearly in the last paragraph, in which John considers the meaning contributed by the left—right organisation within the image. Their costumes, so outrageously at odds with the grey banality of everyday clothing, suggest fantasy, fancy dress and carnival. The merchandise which surrounds the release of films in particular provides ready-made elements of superhero costumes for children to wear: This kind of dressing up can be seen as a feature of committed fan behaviour, a form of textual appropriation, of the kind Henry Jenkins describes Jenkins, It is a use of dramatic form to make meaning: This kind of roleplay is often regarded as essentially trivial: It is certainly true that superhero dressing-up among young children is likely to be light-hearted, accompanied by laughter, and not a form of the extended or developed roleplay which more formal theatrical modes expect.

But this does not mean it is trivial, nor that the meanings it conveys are worthless. Anne Haas Dyson demonstrates how dramatic activity based around superheroes can allow children to explore questions of social identity and power. For the Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky, play allows young children to learn to manipulate symbolic objects a broom used as a horse is one of his examples in ways which later become internalised as imaginative thought. By the age of the children in our comics course 12—13 , creativity can function as internalised play Vygotsky, [] ; so it is worth asking why a secondary teacher would employ methods apparently more suited to the developmental stage of much younger children?

Two points need to be made. This connection between concept and imaginative thought is, for Vygotsky, a feature of adolescent creativity. We will explore the links between play, imagination, creativity and concept development further in Chapter 3. This allows them to extend their thinking in a social space with others, testing it out through exaggeration, parody and other kinds of transformation; and finally to be able to create in their own minds new representations which draw on these resources.

At the same time, this hybrid of drama and print employs key conventions of comicstrip composition: From this highly collaborative, playful exploration of the iconography of superhero comics, we turn to individual productions, which form the final part of the course. This kind of work allows the teaching and learning of conventions of visual design in a framework which derives from the social semiotic approach we described in Chapter 1.

The Grammar of Visual Design , which argues that the visual image does have a kind of grammar which can be systematically described and analysed. Images represent the world in various ways — for instance, as visual narratives a superhero fighting a supervillain , or as conceptual structures in, say, diagrammatic form a diagram of the circulation of the blood. They also work interactively, to position the viewer in certain ways — looking up or down at the image, directly at, from the side and so on. Finally, they use specific elements of composition to indicate what is important which might be larger, more central, more densely coloured , or how they want the viewer to read the image in what order, what to prioritise, how to make connections between the elements.

They also use physical subsections of the image to suggest particular meanings — top and bottom, left and right, foreground and background. We look at narrative, at the grammatical function of the characters and objects represented on the page and the suggestions of movement and intention associated with them; at the locative functions of background; at genre, and how it is suggested by the image. In particular, there is an emphasis on the process represented in the image — the system of meaning described in linguistics as transitivity. In this kind of narrative image, the process will usually be actional — representing some kind of narrative action — or presentational, representing a key character, in this case the superhero.

In some ways, this corresponds to the well-known grammatical pattern of the typical sentence in English of subject—verb—object, though the terms here are those Kress and van Leeuwen draw from functional linguistics. In terms of the narrative, though, the question is reasonably straightforward: This kind of analysis, and the terminologies it uses, raises a number of questions we have explored in Chapter 1.

Our argument is that social semiotic and multimodal theories of textuality offer a coherence which is lacking in the approach to texts within the conventional conceptual framework of media education. This approach encourages students to see connections between language grammar and the semiotic structures of texts in other media: Thus, the idea of Actor here a functional linguistic term opens up the possibility of discussion with children of grammatical categories on the one hand the subject of a sentence, for instance ; and narrative, dramatic and social ideas of agency on the other: Similarly, the notion of Vector here a line of intention signalling an action can lead to discussions of the significance of action in the world and in fiction, as well as the way such action is represented in texts in formal structures like verbs in language, vectors in still images, dramatic movement in film, or player interaction in computer games.

After presenting their own analyses, also using projected images, students go on to design their own superhero. The idea is that they use this to work on the metaphorical significance of the superhero as explored earlier in the course, but this time attributing their own meanings to the figures they invent; but also to practise the visual grammar of comicstrip design.

At one level, this work can be seen as a form of consolidation, an opportunity to internalise the conceptual C In particular, we expect it to engage with the cultural and critical functions we outlined in Chapter 1. Because superheroes provide such rich raw material for the representation of identity, this function is one we would expect, though exactly how different students might exercise such a function, how seriously they might take it, how important it is to them, are all matters that cannot and should not be controlled or policed by us.

The following analysis considers two products of the course, one by a girl, one by a boy. As well as evidence of their control of the semiotic resources of comicstrip design, these pieces of work are evidence of the motivation of their makers to represent ideas, aspects of identity and forms of cultural commentary which are significant to them.

Like any form of language, her work shows an extensive implicit understanding, increasingly made more explicit by the processes of articulation and reflection invited by the course. Most of our analysis of her work centres on her construction of narrative, within a particular set of genre conventions; and how this operates as a version of the real and imagined world. We also briefly consider how she constructs the imaginary relationship between author, represented participant and audience. This is not entirely a narrative image, however: Tiger Woman is not actually doing anything, but rather presenting herself, in a stance typical of many superhero comic covers.

It is a presentational image: As with SuperEllen Figure 2. However, this is just a starting-point for Sarah. What it means to be female, to be a girl moving into womanhood, is a concrete, personal affair as well as a generalised political statement. These are aspects of tweenhood that she, in fact, has not experimented with, but must be aware of as a world of tantalising possibility, laden with moral and sexual ambivalence, opening up a route to adulthood, but also to risk and name-calling.

The exaggerated perspective on the hands is another genre convention, associated with superhero power and the projection of that power towards the reader. The nails dominate the image, and all other elements are subordinate to them. In a way they are more threatening than anything else: The nails also relate to the glamour of the character: As with the figure of Tiger Woman generally, Sarah has constructed the organisational aspects of this visual text to emphasise the meanings she wants to convey: Tiger Woman is not real, she is in a dream. The girl that dreams about her is disabled and has spent all her life in a wheelchair.

If Tiger Woman can be interpreted as an image of tween-girl fantasies of sexual confidence, then it seems reasonable to interpret her wheelchair-bound alter ego as a metaphor for the constraints of shyness, lack of confidence, uncertainty and moral regulation that lie on the other side of the tightrope that girls of this age are obliged to walk. However, the relationship between Tiger Woman and Fang can also be seen as a finer set of distinctions in this representational field of girlhood and sexuality.

Fang has an exposed midriff and short skirt; Tiger Woman is fully covered. The masked Fang conforms to the genre convention of the sexually provocative female villain; standing triumphant before the threatened city, she echoes the image of a supervillainess on a comic cover that the class had analysed earlier, who postures victoriously before an already burning cityscape.

In the conventions of comic covers, as opposed to comicstrips, speech is replaced by gesture. The attractiveness of the villain is another genre convention. The evil character must be attractive — funny, or clever, or witty, and always appealingly amoral. The excitement represented by the villain character reflects a fascination with what is forbidden.


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The background images are no less significant, and serve a locative, descriptive and affective function. The enlarged moon works as a genre signifier, a piece of iconography which Sarah had observed and commented on in actual comic front covers she had studied, such as an image of the Marvel superhero Daredevil, outlined against an enormous moon. In terms of the visual composition of the page, it has a framing function, highlighting the hand of the villainess holding the explosive trigger, emphasising a central image of the narrative which signifies threat, conflict, challenge to Tiger Woman , the immediate future.

The cityscape is another typical genre icon, signifying urban threat, insecurity, alienation, in all the same ways that it does in the traditions of the DC and Marvel comics in which the superhero narratives have been played out C The lit windows complicate the contribution this image makes to the affective quality of the image and the narrative — they suggest human warmth in contrast to the blackness of the towerblocks, and make the threat of the dynamite all the more powerful.

The relationship between the image and the reader what Kress and van Leeuwen call the interactive function of the text is dominated by the gaze of the central figure. The eye vector straight out of the picture is involving and inclusive of the reader in the narrative. It is the equivalent of the imperative mood in the grammar of verbal language. As the villainess, Fang, is also looking directly at the reader, the central demand here may be to respect the power of the dominant female, and all the suggestion of risk, as well as enticement, offered by both heroine and villainess.

The form of the comicstrip, then, and the symbolic figure of the superhero and her dual identity, offer ways for Sarah to explore the contradictions of sexual identity as experienced by girls between childhood and adolescence. These issues, and representations of them in the media, are of concern to children, but their concerns are often swamped by adult fears and paranoias, constructed as the destruction of childhood innocence. Valerie Walkerdine sees education as particularly prone to this anxiety; and the figure of the working-class girl as the most significant threat: The little working-class girl presents, especially to education, an image which threatens the safety of the discourse of the innocent and natural child.

She is too precocious, too sexual. While she gyrates to the music of sexually explicit popular songs, she is deeply threatening to a civilizing process understood in terms of the production and achievement of natural rationality and nurturant femininity. Social class may, then, be one of the variables in the cultural mix which surrounds her, though binary oppositions are perhaps not helpful here, and certainly not easy to distinguish. The important thing, from our point of view, is that this kind of activity allows the child to produce the imagery: It is negotiated — experimental, non-committal, playful; and distributed: Parodic texts are subversive, offer opaque meanings, challenging more straightforward representations.

For Bakhtin, carnival referred to mediaeval rituals in which ordinary people were able, if only temporarily, to upset the usual relations of power exerted over them by church or state Bakhtin, The Toaster is not, properly speaking, a superhero, but much more like the anti-heroes produced by Marvel comics in the s: He skilfully employs a range of features typical of posts comics: However, these conventions are wittily combined with a quite different tradition of funny comics, ranging from those for children such as Dandy and Beano to adult comics such as the British comic Viz, which specialises in politically incorrect and scatological humour.

Visual elements which recall these influences are comically exaggerated bodies, shiny, bulging eyes, steam-clouds bursting from the ears and huge teeth. The use of this visual style produces the parody, refuses seriousness and introduces a note of anarchic humour which oddly complements the urban pessimism of the Marvel anti-hero tradition. Unsurprisingly, the reaction is to grasp the opportunity for a pleasurable exploration of these familiar texts on the one hand, while developing mildly provocative variants of the task on the other.

For Sarah, the exploration of the imagery of teenage girlhood, and its relation to conflicting social identities, is the point. Her interest is primarily in aspects of representation which test out, explore and extend through playful fantasy some of the dilemmas faced by girls on the brink of adolescence.

For Chris, there is also a pleasure to be had in the playful exploration of gender stereotypes, in this case the gleeful exercise of fantasy violence to break through the boring prohibitions of conventional adult morality. Both their productions display projections of identity: At the same time, they can both be seen as examples of critical literacy.

At the same time, they display a grasp of the textual conventions of the genre: First, there is a consonance between the textual material chosen for work in the classroom and the cultural experience of the students. They are experts in the history and iconography of superhero narratives; though it is important not to homogenise their experience, which is very varied. Most know something about superhero franchises on TV or film; the Batman animated series was regularly watched by children on this course when we began it in the mids. This consonance, then, can be seen as a form of what the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu called cultural capital Playful here means, on C As teachers, we need to welcome and understand these kinds of contradictions and ambiguities, not suppress them or iron them out.

Thirdly, the cultural function connects with the critical function. For Sarah, possible fantasy identities are both a form of pleasurable aspiration and a critique of the roles really available to her in the world. For Chris, a sophisticated parody of mainstream comicstrips is an assertion of his cultural credentials, his artistic prowess, his ironic stance: The pedagogic stance of the teacher needs to be open to such varied and unpredictable representations of self and forms of critical judgement, and find ways to give them room to develop.

These kinds of literacy can flourish, as long as our approach to forms of popular culture such as the comicstrip can finally shake off the shadows of Leavisism still lurking in the beliefs and actions of curriculum policymakers. The wide consensus among teachers and academics is that comics have value as complex, pleasurable, powerful narratives, entirely capable of inspiring sophisticated and sensitive analysis. And through their own productions, children can enter, passionately or ironically, wittily, exuberantly, into the ways in which comics explore the nature of human identity, employ central symbolic images of our culture, provoke the intense pleasures of the unofficial culture we too often undervalue in our classrooms.

The making of these short animated films raises the question of media-specific literacies, in the sense used in Chapter 1: It also raises the question of creativity, especially as they are constructed in many ways as media arts projects. We have worked with animation in many ways: We will return to some of these uses in Chapter 8.

One, based on the story of Red Riding Hood, is a stop-frame animation made with Year 3 and 4 children 7—9 years old , as part of a series of projects with primary schools, aiming to provide the primary teachers with the knowledge and resources to repeat or adapt the projects themselves. The other is a film called Flight to Freedom, made by Year 6 children 10—11 years old , a computer animation made during a series of more elaborate animation projects involving local cinemas and artists-in-residence.

Before looking more closely at the projects, we will briefly consider the question of creativity: In particular, it carries rather different meanings in art education and media education, and in many ways animation projects cross the boundary between these territories. In arts education, the notion of creativity is inevitably associated with artistic intentionality, and the aesthetic properties of the work of art.

Such production may be undertaken to help students grasp new concepts, to expose ideological meanings, to prepare students for work in the C Moreover, it is common among media educators to mistrust certain notions of creativity, as Buckingham explains. In particular, Romantic notions of creativity as a form of divine inspiration, mystically conferred upon a small number of individuals and denied everyone else, clearly conflict with democratic impulses in arts education Robinson, , and with the aspirations of education generally, which must develop rational notions of the skills it aims to impart.

However, attempts to redefine creativity for democratic and educational purposes have often produced further problems. If creativity is associated with development as all other skills acquired by children are , how does it develop, and how can such development be evaluated by teachers Sefton-Green and Sinker, ? If creativity is in fact a glorified form of problem-solving, a desirable social and professional quality for workers in the new economy Seltzer and Bentley, , how do we account for creative acts which seem to be subversive, anarchic, even destructive?

And if creativity is some spark of originality which happens in the mind, how is it connected with culture? If creativity has to be original, does that mean it cannot involve imitation? If creativity is about cultural production, how is it connected with cultural consumption? However, textual production always involves some kind of response to texts previously encountered by the author. In the case of this project, while on the one hand children may be quite literally interpreting literary texts such as Red Riding Hood, transforming them into audiovisual form, they are also, as we shall see, incorporating elements of visual design from the discourses of popular animation.

The discourses which form the cultural contexts in which these films are made come, in effect, from two sources: While there is some cultural dissonance between the two, as we shall see, this also allows for ironic, subversive work by the children. Discourse here can be seen, as we suggested in Chapter 1, as knowledge of some aspect of the world: Discourse is often seen also as the negotiation of unequal relations of power Tyner, In relation to this project, the visual discourses of popular cinema and television may be less well regarded by, say, artists working in the project than by some of the children; so as narratives and images are chosen and designed, these different emphases will be negotiated.

The processes of design and production form a kind of sequence as we tell the story of the making of these two films. Stories, images, dialogue, music, sound effects are all designed in turn and feed into the later processes of editing. The design modes are various: Meanwhile, the physical media used for production are various. The first film uses plasticine, plastic models, digital film and digital editing software.

The second uses drawing, painting, collage, computer animation, musical instruments, vocal performance and digital editing software. In many cases, these media contribute to the meanings created by the children. In particular, the affordances of digital media allow for certain processes of design and production which were not possible with older analogue technology.

These features are summed up in our previous work Burn, as iteration, feedback, convergence and distribution. These categories are adapted from earlier work, such as Reid et al. Feedback is the capacity of authoring tools to show the edited work in real time as it is changed by the author, thus feeding into the cycle of improvement. Convergence is the ability of authoring packages to handle different modes such as moving image, graphic design, music, speech all within one software, either by importing material made in other digital composition packages, or the creation and editing of such material within one multipurpose package.

Distribution represents the capacity of digital media to be output in different formats, and displayed on different platforms. This last affordance relates to the final stratum in our semiotic framework, of course. Distribution is, in the case of these films, determined by the opportunities offered by digital display, exhibition and publication possibilities.

In this project, as we shall see, the ability to screen the films in a cinema, or take them home on DVD for parents, makes real differences to all participants in the project. This kind of exhibition moves their work beyond the context of simulation which so much school work is often constrained by. The software allows them to capture single frames, fifteen per second; to review captured frames running as a film, at any point; and to delete unwanted frames as often as necessary. To simplify the process, rather than animating drawings on a computer, they animate toys, such as small plastic figures with movable limbs and heads, or homemade clay models.

Media Literacy in Schools Practice, Production and Progression

The webcams have a very flexible focal length, and can focus closely enough to take full-screen close-ups of heads a centimetre across. The films are based on well-known tales chosen by the primary teachers, who often select stories which more or less fit the conventional canon of the primary literacy curriculum: These kinds of story belong to discursive worlds that many children are familiar with from an early age: Though folktale and fairytale have become part of the world of print literacy, and grist to the mill of Early Years literacy teaching, they retain qualities of the oral narrative cultures from which they derive: For many children, the story chosen by the teachers is only a part of the cultural resources available to draw on.

The children, unsurprisingly, draw on the visual discourses of popular culture, especially forms of animation which they have enjoyed, as we shall see. They watch a short animated film, and then look at how a series of still frames from the film can be run together to create the illusion of movement. They are then introduced to the software and the webcams, and they practise animating toys or other objects as smoothly as possible.


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  • At this age, they need very clear reinforcement of essential concepts and of routines for animating, and there is a need for more demonstration than with older children. However, children as young as 7 find the process accessible and enjoyable. This process appears to put production before design: The children storyboard the film carefully, working first as a whole class.

    Each shot is given a defined length, which is converted into a number of frames. The storyboard is created on A4 sheets, each containing one shot. After the process and the outcomes have been modelled, the class divides into small groups to continue planning the film. Each small group is responsible for designing and animating a small portion of the overall work. As the project is constructed, the whole process may take just three or four hours.

    The software is very easy to learn and to use, and there is very little post-production work to do. In this respect, the project is easily replicable by any school wishing to begin work with animation. The explicit learning objectives of the activity are to do with moving image literacy.

    On the table-top, the children are able to construct a range of camera shots, and they quickly and easily acquire a vocabulary with which to describe and analyse these, as they storyboard and as they translate their ideas into animation: Victor There is a continual emphasis in discussion on how moving pictures can tell stories, and how the images which the children are creating can best do that.

    Much of this discussion takes place at the storyboarding stage. The emphasis here is on how pictures tell stories. This example is the beginning of a storyboard, designed in discussion with a class to model the process and outcome Figure 3. The script divides naturally into three sections, each of which is then represented by a camera shot.

    The choice of shot type reflects the way agency operates in the script, as represented by verbs. The shot type suggested is therefore a close-up of the wolf, taking the audience close to this inner experience. It always involves further kinds of meaning-making; but since the attention of the teacher is likely to be on the practical production process, it is here that unexpected, improvisatory meanings may appear.

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    The important features of the act of production are that these ideas of how cartoon animals might behave are made possible by the physical medium, the Plasticine, which contributes to the semiotic work. Production here, then, continues the design process, but begins to exceed the rather neat constraints of the storyboarded planning conducted with the teacher, and to improvise new kinds of meaning.

    Similarly, in one of the stop-frame animations The Boy Who Cried Wolf, by Year 3 children at Newnham Croft Primary School , the children improvised a quite different scene from the one planned on the storyboard. This was a much more pleasurable way to manipulate the toys they were using for the animation, and produced a more dynamic film. As we shall see, creativity, play and media literacy are all facets of the same social process of making a media text.

    The construction of meaning here continued a process of thinking and invention from the earlier design stages. Primary teachers comment on how cognitively challenging the work is for young children, requiring the planning of whole texts the film and component parts of texts scenes and shots , which must be visualised, represented in quite abstract ways on a storyboard and then interpreted with models and camera positions. The children have to think in complex ways about both the spatial and the temporal nature of the moving image: Interestingly, a lot of the challenge derives from various kinds of limitation.

    First, there are the technical and practical limitations of the technology of the medium, which determines what is possible, and therefore what can be planned. These have to be considered at every stage: These constraints demand thoughtful planning; they also promote problem-solving thinking and talk. Secondly, there are creative constraints, necessary for continuity: The conceptual challenges of the medium are accompanied by the physical and social demands of the process: It is the latter which is commented on most of all by both the primary teachers and the children, when asked about learning in the project.

    It ran over five years to , expanding to work with six local schools as well as other primary schools in the east of England, in a development of the project funded by the regional screen agency, Screen East. Although Parkside conceived the project, and remained central to it, it became a collaborative venture of the Cambridge Film Consortium, involving Parkside, Anglia Ruskin University and City Screen, an arts cinema chain who own the Arts Picturehouse, an arts cinema in Cambridge.

    The part played by the cinema was important. The children were able, at the beginning of the project, to spend a day there watching a special screening of animated film, and taking part in workshops that demonstrated key aspects of animation, the importance of music and the processes of design, scripting, storyboarding, sound work, filming and editing. At the end of the project, the children returned to the cinema for a screening of their own films. The next stage of the project involved the choice of a story or theme with the primary school class teachers, scripting a story, storyboarding it and making the artwork for the animation.

    The processes involved media specialists from Parkside team-teaching with primary class teachers; but also the involvement of a professional animator-in-residence throughout the project. The final stages included making the animation itself, using a cheap digital animation software tool called The Complete Animator; composing the music and recording the music, sound effects and dialogue with the composer-in-residence.

    This resource helps secondary teachers develop media literacy across the curriculum and features a CD-ROM that contains examples of high-quality student work drawn from case studies. Paperback , pages.

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    Media Literacy in Schools: Practice, Production and Progression Media Literacy in Schools: Practice, Production and Progression
    Media Literacy in Schools: Practice, Production and Progression Media Literacy in Schools: Practice, Production and Progression
    Media Literacy in Schools: Practice, Production and Progression Media Literacy in Schools: Practice, Production and Progression
    Media Literacy in Schools: Practice, Production and Progression Media Literacy in Schools: Practice, Production and Progression
    Media Literacy in Schools: Practice, Production and Progression Media Literacy in Schools: Practice, Production and Progression
    Media Literacy in Schools: Practice, Production and Progression Media Literacy in Schools: Practice, Production and Progression
    Media Literacy in Schools: Practice, Production and Progression Media Literacy in Schools: Practice, Production and Progression
    Media Literacy in Schools: Practice, Production and Progression Media Literacy in Schools: Practice, Production and Progression
    Media Literacy in Schools: Practice, Production and Progression

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