Creative Agency, Deep Learning and Real Outcomes for Students

When students have greater ownership of the creative process through media making, learning becomes more immediate, relevant and engaging. This creative agency supports the development of critical skills and literacies needed for full engagement in our increasingly digital world, and it creates awesome opportunities to practice and demonstrate achievement of academic standards. Not to mention, making and sharing digital media is the natural communication medium for this generation of students. 

I’m not the first to assert that media making belongs in the classroom. As a high school teacher for 20 years, I saw how empowering it was firsthand with my students. As Managing Director of KQED Education, I’ve seen this play out in classrooms around the country. I’ve also seen how impactful it can be when teachers give themselves the time and permission to build these media literacy skills. While I’ve seen many benefits come out of media literacy teaching, here are three important reasons to bring media literacy to your classroom.

  1. Media making requires a complex collection of cognitive and physical skills that enhance opportunities to be awesome. Instead of academic work that favors certain learning styles over others, well-designed media projects ask students to, among other things, read, write, choreograph, design, rehearse, refine, perform, record, edit and publish. It is almost certain that you will discover talents in your classroom you never would have seen otherwise talents you can celebrate and encourage in ways that more fully connect students to their learning and that lead to growth in other areas. 
  2. Storytelling has never been more in style. People tell stories lots of stories about lots of things. Instead of learning something simply for a grade, storytelling with media allows the added opportunity to make change, influence others, or even bring joy to the world. We tend to think of storytellers as artists and certainly many of them are. However, we are more and more aware of the role storytelling plays both in future careers and in ensuring healthy communities. While the stories we heard were previously limited to the relative few with access to the tools of production and distribution, we know that providing young people with the opportunity to share their story provides immense benefits. And stories are told in all subject areas, in all professions, in all walks of life. 
  3. Real and relevant audiences lead to better learning. Consideration of audience is the single most important aspect of media project design. When designing a media project for your students, ask yourself, “Who will care about this? Who will want to see it when it’s done?” If the answer is no one besides you, reevaluate your plans. Simply put, if a media project is worth the effort required to make it great, it deserves to be seen beyond the classroom. And, in my experience, an authentic, real audience encourages students to produce better work than they would for me alone. Audiences might include peers, families, local leaders or policy makers whoever has a stake in the stories your students will tell. Instead of an audience of one, media making encourages an audience of many and can act to connect the classroom to the culture of its families and communities in profound ways.

In our inaugural Youth Media Challenge, Let’s Talk About Election 2020, we saw evidence of all of these things in the amazing content that was shared by students from around the country. The intelligence, passion and commitment shone brightly throughout the hundreds of responses submitted, showing students grappling with the same critical issues that impact us all as we consider the future of our country. The power of their voices provides strong evidence that when young people are given the platform to speak their truths with an opportunity to influence others, they consistently shine. 

This Fall, KQED is launching five new Youth Media Challenges designed to get your students writing, producing and sharing media with peers from around the country and, in some cases, on KQED or other public media stations. These new challenges offer a diverse set of media making experiences across a variety of topics, all aligned to national standards. And, of course, they are also built around the principles outlined above, with storytelling for audiences beyond your classroom at their center. 

  • Engineering for Good is a challenge that, as the title implies, asks students to use the engineering design process to develop and propose solutions to problems in their community. By connecting engineering to local problems and encouraging students to share their solutions with others from around the country, we can begin to develop the habits of solution sharing and collaboration around common problems that will support students throughout their lives. 
  • If Schools Could Dance is a companion project to KQED’s award winning series If Cities Could Dance. If you’ve watched any TikTok at all, you know dance isn’t just for the studio and everyone’s doing it. How might movement inspire learning in your classroom?
  • The Perspectives challenge is based on our long running KQED show, um… Perspectives. This project is all about developing voice and skill as a storyteller. The results are often amazing and provide avenues for students to explore and communicate their passions. 
  • Podcasting With the California Report asks students to create and produce audio feature stories following the editorial guidelines of the award-winning California Report. This project creates a great opportunity to explore deeper forms of storytelling that include interviews, ambient sounds and more complex narratives. The prompt is open-ended and allows students to explore topics that matter to them. 
  • Political Cartooning With Mark Fiore will use the teachings of our long-time KQED and Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist, Mark Fiore, to support students in the creation of their own opinions. This is your chance to enhance an assignment you might already do with guidance from an expert. 

At KQED, we believe that by providing an opportunity for students to develop and express their voice, both the student and those who hear them are enriched from the experience. It is our intent to get youth voice in front of audiences that matter to them. I encourage you to explore our new challenges to see how we might support you in bringing these meaningful media making opportunities to your classroom.

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