An essay through the lens of Media Literacy*
Yesterday after work, I found myself blow drying potatoes.
Your immediate reaction may be to question my sagacity during a global pandemic - and you’d be right to do so. Let me explain myself, though, through the frame of Media Literacy. After all, this is a blog post, you are a reader, and I am a writer with an agenda. If this situation isn’t ripe for some evaluation, I don’t know what is.
Who created this message?
I am a science teacher at a pretty neat school down here in the southwest corner of Washington State - that is, until March 13th when we received important directives to move our business to the digital realm, but more on that shortly. I’m also an education blogger, thus this post and these as well. Like most parts of the country, I currently find myself making more meals at home as picking something up on my way home isn’t the same process as it was just a month ago.
Further, and for the record, I am a good cook. I’ve loved the science of cooking since I was a very young person and have spent many a year practicing in my own kitchen and those of the restaurants in which I worked through college. With my science background and kitchen engineering, I’m fairly convinced there’s not much I can’t make without quality ingredients, the right tools, and some common sense. However, as it’s a passion, I’m always looking for inspiration to hone my craft. This also applies to my instructional practice; while I wouldn’t wish a pandemic on anyone, I’m choosing to take our current events as an opportunity to take my abilities to a new level and am willing to be inventive.
In other words, I’m a content-creating educator with a solid hobby and enough of a willingness to take risks to keep things interesting. This is all in first person, though, incredibly suspect, so keep on with the analysis.
Which techniques are used to attract my attention?
Where to start? To begin with, if you came to this post via Twitter, it was likely shared with a carefully-worded tweet intentionally curated and word count-cognizant in order to reference my current reality as someone #remoteteaching with students who are #remotelearning.
Further, this article is within a word count range that’s intended to make the text blocks look substantial enough to be worth reading yet not so long as to drain a willingness to read. I incorporate questions as headings so that readers can scan quickly to assess applicability and check if I’m including multiple access points. To further break up the text, I include several images to give your brain a break between chunks of content, such as this motivating poster I found on the wall of the coffee shop I visited on my one venture out of the house this week. Unfortunately, since I'm mostly at home and not in an exciting school building with lots of activity, these images, while well-intended, lack in excitement. I'm trying to make up for that with my prose.
I also included a colorful, yet tasteful cover image with an imbedded, positive quote to move you into the article, along with a subtitle that connects my title to an education concept to seem relatable. Speaking of the title, I used a word pattern I’ve noticed is often used in clickbait.
Perhaps most importantly, I opened with an unexpected juxtaposition intended to startle the reader into perplexed internal questioning:
- Is it safe to use hair salon equipment in the kitchen?
- Could this be the next cooking trend?
- What kind of person does such a thing?**
How might different people interpret this message?
This is where it starts to get tougher. Some folks may interpret my message as a caring educator who wants to engage others in considering the benefits of teaching Media Literacy, particularly with current events. A few may think that I’d resorted to surviving off sour gummy bears and finally motivated myself to cook something with nutrients. As a science teacher, I may have a personal agenda to bring more people the awareness that comes from data literacy which absolutely requires a strong analysis of sources. Others might find my use of common strategies tiresome, especially if they are well-versed in Media Literacy and could have written the second subsection for me. Still others may find themselves bemused by my use of voice and personal example to talk shop.
Which lifestyles, values, and points of view are represented -- or missing?
This one is both easier and harder. As this is a first person narration, it is safe to assume I am representing my own perspective. You might guess I represent others in my industry that have similar experiences or backgrounds. In further consideration, you note the organization that hosts this website I also embrace its values in publication.
Further down this rabbit hole, you consider that I represent my industry as both a parent and an educator and that I represent a culmination of influences from all the organizations for which I’ve worked. You may note the caption for the photo accompanying this section and guess I’ve been reading social media to ascertain the perspectives of others when choosing high-leverage skills to teach in understandably truncated learning structures.
That said, while you may give me the benefit-of-the-doubt that I work to represent a broad interest base, you know my personal biases and limited experiences will not include all perspectives. You’ll conclude that while I may have done what I can to be culturally responsive in my post, I should continue to hold this goal. Whatever the ostensibly sound reason for my kitchen escapade, you are going to read with these filters in mind - as well you should.
This was a challenging section for which to capture a representational image, so I shared the bowl of dandelions I collected at lunch. The new lifestyle I represent is of someone who pulls weeds during her break and turns them into salad for dinner. If you are following media literacy guidelines, you could now consider if I am actually a wildcrafter or someone seeking to create that illusion. Either way, dandelion greens aren't bad mixed in with spinach, feta, and a nice vinaigrette.
Why is this message being sent?
You may infer my goal is to inform you of a useful structure for evaluating media, to persuade you to consider teaching media literacy to your students at this very essential junction in their lives, or to entertain other educators working from home with a charming story about how going above and beyond in my culinary activities after a long day of teaching through the internet has become a moving meditation for decompression and resetting through keeping my hands busy with complex techniques for Instagram-worthy results. Or maybe just share a better way to make oven fries. You’d be right on all counts.
Moving the work of my classroom to a digital format requires me to hone my media acquisition strategy. Not only do I want to provide quality sources from which to learn, I want to give all students the tools to unpack the science of pandemics and subsequent recovery. Knowing how to evaluate their media consumption will guide them through sensemaking and allow them to become effective contributors.
Back to potatoes. After an intense yet rewarding day of Zoom calls, unit planning, and emails aplenty, I started craving oven fries. Not just any fries, mind you, but the kind that are so dinner-worthy they beg for a top-notch ketchup. I started fishing through recipes for not positive reviews and a tempting picture, but a reference to some science behind that perfect crispy-on-the-outside while soft-on-the-inside texture. I noted that while recipes varied in their combination of spices or affinity for oil flavors, most insisted the cut tubers be void of moisture prior to tossing in oil. This lined up with my knowledge that dry spuds would allow the oil to facilitate Maillard reactions necessary for that tasty, brown crust. You can take the science teacher out of the classroom, but you can’t...well let’s just say you can assume I sought a tool to transfer some serious thermal energy.
I’m sending the message that if you are an educator putting in hours behind the screen only to find yourself making self-care happen through Pinterest recipes, gardening, video games, or what-have-you after hours, this is normal, this is okay. Film the best tiktok dance off, jog your way to 10K, trace your ancestry back to the Revolution, or just breathe. You are working incredibly hard and being incredibly brave to educate our future doctors, farmers, and voters through a global pandemic so that they have a chance to prevent similar disasters from impacting society. Read blogs about new instructional practices to try, or don’t. Take care of you, in whatever way speaks to you, because students need your best self again, tomorrow.
My results of said practice? The best plate of fries to come from my oven and a blog post about evaluating media you consume, including this post.***
*From Common Sense Education, and an awesome tool for teaching students to navigate media created during this very unique time in which we find ourselves. Each of these headings is one of five questions posited as useful in evaluating media for consumption.
**See subheading #1.
***After soaking your cut fries in cold water (to remove much of the starches, more science!) lay them out on a kitchen towel and use a hairdryer to dry them until they look and feel dry. Toss with oil, your favorite spices, and then bake, first at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes, raise the temperature to 425 and then bake for 25-30 more minutes until they are just right, noting that thicker cuts will take a little longer to cook - because again, science.
- media literacy
- Social Media