Media Literacy is Elementary

Teaching Youth to Critically Read and Create Media

by Jeff Share (Author)
©2009 Textbook XII, 167 Pages
Series: Rethinking Childhood, Volume 41


This book provides a practical and theoretical look at how media education can make learning and teaching more meaningful and transformative. It explores the theoretical underpinnings of critical media literacy and analyzes a case study involving an elementary school that received a federal grant to integrate media literacy and the arts into the curriculum. The ideas and experiences of working teachers are analyzed through a critical media literacy framework that provides realistic challenges and hopeful examples and suggestions. The book is a valuable addition to any education course or teacher preparation program that wants to promote twenty-first century literacy skills, social justice, civic participation, media education, or critical technology use. Communications classes will find it useful as it explores and applies key concepts of cultural studies and media education.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Praise of the author
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Foreword
  • Chapter 1. Introduction
  • Chapter 2. Teaching the Media: Competing Approaches, Media Activism, and Core Concepts of Critical Media Literacy
  • Chapter 3. Critical Media Literacy Is Not an Option: Overview of Media Education in the U.S. and Abroad
  • Chapter 4. Voices from the Trenches: Elementary School Teachers Speak about Implementing Media Literacy
  • Chapter 5. The Earlier the Better: Expanding and Deepening Literacy with Young Children
  • Chapter 6. Photography as Pedagogy with Praxis
  • Chapter 7. Teacher Education: A Launching Pad for Critical Media Literacy
  • Chapter 8. Thinking Critically in a Converging World: Forces of Change in the Information Age
  • Appendix A MediaLit Kit™ Framework
  • Appendix B Critical Media Literacy Chart
  • Appendix C SMARTArt Teacher Pseudonyms and Descriptions
  • Appendix D Interview Guide
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Series index


This book has been made possible by the generous support of many people. I want to thank everyone who helped me with the original edition in 2009, as well as the people who assisted me with this second edition. I am deeply indebted to Shirley Steinberg and her late husband, Joe Kincheloe, for recognizing the value of this work and agreeing to publish the first edition. Then again it was Shirley, while co-presenting at the American Educational Research Association’s annual meeting (AERA), who suggested we publish a second edition. This is a wonderful opportunity to update the work and add chapters about photography and teacher education. From the beginning of this project, while I was still teaching elementary school, Doug Kellner and Rhonda Hammer saw the potential in me and my work. They encouraged me to enter the PhD program at UCLA and investigate critical media literacy as a serious academic study. Since that time, they have been my mentors and cherished friends.

My formal academic career began at Vermont College in beautiful Montpelier, Vermont, where I benefited enormously from my academic advisors, Richard Hathaway and Narain Batra. They guided me on my initial investigations about photography and media literacy as tools for social justice. I am also indebted to Elizabeth Thoman and Tessa Jolls, the first two people to ← ix | x → put me on the track of educating teachers about media literacy. While working at the Center for Media Literacy with them, I learned about professional development and creating curricula. Much of my practical learning about teaching youth came from my students and the staff at Leo Politi Elementary School. I am very fortunate to have worked with so many brilliant students, educators, and a dynamic principal, Richard Alonzo.

While working in the Teacher Education Program at UCLA, I have been privileged to learn from some of the best educators I have ever met. I am a better pedagogue from working with them and learning from them all, especially Annamarie Francois, Amina Humphrey, Sheila Lane, Eloise Metcalf, Marjorie Orellana, Nancy Parachini, Sue Tenorio, and Rae Jeane Williams. The colleagues I have written with have also been essential to my growth and learning about critical media literacy; I am indebted to Doug Kellner, Mohammed Choudhury, Antero Garcia, Steven Funk, Peter Carlson, and Clifford Lee for their writing collaborations.

The following people contributed significantly to Chapter 7 on teacher education by helping develop ideas instrumental in the design of the Critical Media Literacy course at UCLA. They all taught the course, and because of their invaluable contributions, I write often in third person with them in mind: Shani Byard, Peter Carlson, Antero Garcia, Mark Gomez, Clifford Lee, Elexia Reyes-McGovern, and Martin Romero.

Finally, I am most grateful to my family for their never-ending support. My wife and son’s patience and love make me a better person every day, and, I hope, also a better writer.

← x | xi → FOREWORD

Douglas Kellner

Jeff Share has long been an advocate of teaching critical media literacy to children and has seen the importance of making media studies an essential part of education from K–12 through the university level. An award-winning photojournalist whose work appeared in Life, Time, Newsweek, and many other publications, Share turned to public school teaching on the elementary school level when he became disillusioned with journalism. Teaching a bilingual fourth grade class at Leo Politi Elementary School in downtown Los Angeles, Share began integrating media literacy concepts into his core curriculum. He taught his students how to look critically at images and the media that surround them. His students also became media makers and used cameras as tools to communicate their ideas and concerns with people outside their classroom. Share’s fourth graders explored their community, their cultures, and their mediated lives as hands-on social studies researchers and language arts reporters. After 6 years of teaching, Share left the classroom to work on Project SMARTArt (Students using Media, Art, Reading, and Technology), a federal grant, training 23 teachers and artists at Leo Politi Elementary School from 2001 to 2004.

← xi | xii → After these years of teaching media literacy in the trenches of public schools, Jeff decided to get his PhD at UCLA in 2003, and I happily took him on as a student. Not surprisingly, Share wrote his PhD dissertation on Critical Media Literacy, which was concluded in 2006. During this time, we published several articles on critical media literacy, including “Critical Media Literacy, Democracy, and the Reconstruction of Education,” Media Literacy: A Reader, edited by Donald Macedo and Shirley R. Steinberg (2007).

Drawing on his PhD research and further theoretical reflections on media literacy, Jeff Share has been developing his investigations into how to engage children and teach them critical media literacy. At the same time, he has been involved in critical media literacy training exercises with students and teachers and making presentations on critical media literacy at many schools and conferences while writing up his research and ideas in this book. Share is currently serving as a faculty advisor at UCLA in the Teacher Education Program and running a critical media literacy class that is now required for all new teachers at UCLA, something Share discusses in a new chapter for the second edition of his book, which I engage below.

In his teaching and writing, Share focuses on the literacies and pedagogies necessary to teach critical media literacy to young students on the K–12 level and to empower students and citizens to become media literate and active participants in their society. Students can then become teachers and citizens, helping their peers, teachers, and parents understand media and become media literate, while using media to express themselves and transform their society and culture.

Using the case study of Project SMARTArt, Share returns to the teachers he trained and questions them about their experiences and thoughts regarding teaching media literacy in elementary school. The teachers share anecdotes, articulate many fascinating ideas about teaching media literacy, and express their frustrations about the current challenges they face in the age of back to basics and high-stakes testing. The lack of research and literature of media education in the primary grades makes Share’s investigation even more meaningful.

In particular, Share explores in this book the potential of teaching critical media literacy to young children from preschool to first grade, between the ages of 3 and 7. While critical media literacy is a subject that is seldom considered with young students, Share argues that it is essential for educators to begin teaching critical thinking and media literacy as early as possible, ← xii | xiii → especially in relation to topics of media and democracy and social justice. Since the first public pedagogy that most children encounter comes right into their own homes and surrounds them in society in the form of cartoons, songs, toys, food packaging, clothing, home decorations, and so on, Share proposes that social researchers should investigate the best ways to help students understand and negotiate these multimodal messages, ubiquitous media and consumer culture, and new information communication technologies.

Share argues that critical teachers need skills to help them question and understand the highly constructed mass-mediated messages that are too often embraced as merely entertainment, all the while positioning, framing, and shaping the viewer’s perceptions of her/his self and world. Exploring classroom examples of work in critical literacy and multimedia literacy with children from preschool on up, Share frames his interpretation of their work within the context of theoretical work by Carmen Luke, Alan Luke, Stuart Hall, Peter Freebody, Paulo Freire, Douglas Kellner, David Buckingham, Marsha Kinder, and others. His inquiry aims to expose theoretical as well as practical possibilities for building some of the first steps toward critical media literacy with young children.

The studies in this book thus show some ways that educators can teach critical media literacy, illustrating both positive pedagogies and the challenges that teachers face, especially with difficult issues of decoding media representations of sensitive topics like gender, race, class, and sexuality. Share frames his own conception of teaching critical media literacy within the context of Freirean critical pedagogy and aiming at social justice. Share’s analysis is also Deweyan in that it promotes education for democracy and calls for a reconstruction of education to help create a more democratic society.

For the second edition of Share’s book, he adds two new chapters, while revising and updating many parts. A new chapter, “Photography as Pedagogy with Praxis,” builds on Share’s background as a photographer and explores the unique qualities of photography that make it an ideal tool to use in classrooms for teaching a wide range of subject matter, as well as an expressive and political medium to teach about, while also empowering students to document their own lives. Share’s argument is that photographs have become part of every student’s life, although rarely do they question the construction or bias of the pictures that surround them. Hence, using a critical media literacy framework, photography can also support democratic pedagogy by providing teachers and students a tool they can use to co-construct knowledge and create alternative representations of their world.

← xiii | xiv → Another new chapter, “Teacher Education: A Launching Pad for Critical Media Literacy,” begins with a brief review of the literature of programs that teach teachers media literacy. Drawing on his own experiences and pedagogy while teaching the Critical Media Literacy course at UCLA, Share explores how UNESCO has recently created curricula for teaching teachers media information literacy that focuses on issues of citizenship and democracy. He also discusses how different teachers (elementary to secondary math, science, English, and social studies) have been able to apply these ideas right away in their K–12 teaching, thus providing varied models of current critical media literacy training, all of which enable student voices to be included. Thus, Share updates the new edition of his book with relevant examples from his own teaching of critical media literacy and with a survey of other practices in the field that have emerged in recent years since the publication of the first edition.

← xiv | 1 → ·1·


A media culture has emerged in which images, sounds, and spectacles help produce the fabric of everyday life, dominating leisure time, shaping political views and social behavior, and providing the materials out of which people forge their very identities. (Kellner, 1995, p. 1)


XII, 167
ISBN (Softcover)
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2008 (December)
case study curriculum social justice civic participation Grundschule Medienkonsum classroom teaching media
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2009. XII, 167 pp.

Biographical notes

Jeff Share (Author)

The Author: Jeff Share worked for ten years as a freelance photojournalist documenting situations of poverty and social activism on several continents. He spent six years teaching bilingual primary school in the Los Angeles Unified School District. After working as the Regional Coordinator for Training at the Center for Media Literacy, Share earned his Ph.D. in the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at UCLA. His current research and practice focuses on the teaching of critical media literacy in K-12 education. He is currently a faculty advisor in the Teacher Education Program at UCLA.


Title: Media Literacy is Elementary
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273 pages