The Tampa Tribune article “Students Use Technology For Critical Thinking” describes many of the classroom activities of Abigail Kennedy, winner of the 2007 Media Literacy Award, which is presented by NCTEs Assembly on Media Arts. Kennedy, who teaches at Pasco High School in Dade City, Florida, explains the goals for her teaching:
“With media being so prevalent in the world,” Kennedy said, “if theyre not taught how to view it, they can be passive viewers, and can be taken advantage of.” So naturally, Kennedy was thrilled earlier this year when a student told her the young teacher had “ruined” the girls enjoyment of television commercials.Kennedys story gets at one of the bittersweet aspects of teaching: students often resist and sometimes even resent teachers efforts to open their eyes to the ways that texts manipulate people.
Its even more frustrating for me because I love to explore how texts work. Its not just that I want to avoid being a passive audience. I want to know why texts have been put together the ways that they have and how people react when they interact with them. Im sure Im saying nothing new to an audience of English teachers. I suspect most of us feel this way. Our challenge is to try to help students engage with texts in this same way—to find fun and usefulness in discovering how texts work.
People do this kind of thinking naturally all the time. They even accept critical thinking and analysis in some circumstances. Im thinking in particular of sports, and no, not just because my Virginia Tech Hokies are headed for their in-state rivalry game on Saturday.
People have no problem tuning in to a ball game on television and listening to announcers who share not only play-by-play descriptions of whats happening on the field, but also provide analysis of the ways the players line up and the choices that they make. Pre-game shows are built on a foundation of critical thinking and analysis. The former coaches and football players look at the match-ups, analyze the possibilities, and offer predictions. At half-time breaks, they analyze what has happened so far in the game. After a game, they discuss how it all happened—analyzing how the plays were put together and why the different teams reacted to each other as they did.
Ive seen hundreds of people watch football games on television. Yet not once have I ever heard anyone complain that the sportscasters “ruined” the game with their analysis. Never. People even share their own analytical comments, agreeing or challenging the ideas presented by the sportscasters. Why does this kind of analysis come so easily to people? Why are they willing to accept and engage in analysis of a football game but not the beer, soda, and automobile commercials that run during timeouts? If we can figure out the answer to that question—and apply what we learn to the classroom—perhaps students will begin to realize that critical thinking and analysis isnt really ruining things.