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The 20th Year of Media Literacy Week

The 20th Year of Media Literacy Week
Sophie Shulman

One of the most highly anticipated weeks of the year has arrived, and it is a special landmark in school history. Every 8th grader is currently fully immersed in this year’s iteration of Media Literacy Week--Mark Day’s 20th year of running this project. Eighth graders step into the role of media expert to research a topic represented in the media and to create a project that reflects their research. The entire academic week is dedicated to this focus (though, true to Mark Day, students still have PE!), a culmination of the media and information literacy education woven through their years at Mark Day.  

Students work to complete four connected assignments that all revolve around the creation of an original, research-based piece of media that conveys to an audience an important message about media in our society. Two weeks ago, students began working in small teams to select a media topic of personal interest and to conduct research to learn more about it. Earlier this week, students worked to identify in their research what they most want to share with an audience about their topic and began pre-production planning. They are currently in the production phase, which also includes writing a production blog each day.

The 8th Grade Media Literacy Project offers students a multitude of experiences. It’s an opportunity for intensive, deep, sustained inquiry on a media topic of high interest; an authentic environment in which to practice essential metacognitive skills, including curiosity, creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and self-direction; an opportunity to apply and further develop a variety of technical and academic skills, including media production, research, writing, and oral presentation; and a highly focused schedule for sustained learning and activity.

At Mark Day, media and information literacy has been integrated into curriculum since the early 2000s, when faculty were first introduced to the topic during a professional development training. Shortly thereafter, a committee of Upper Division faculty was formed to explore an 8th grade project focused around media and information literacy. The first Media Literacy Week was launched in the spring of 2003. 

The structure of Media Literacy Week has largely remained the same over the past two decades in that each year, 8th graders become media creators to conduct research, develop a product, and reflect on their process. “It’s a true example of project-based learning,” says Bonnie Nishihara, Assistant Head and Director of Educational Design and Innovation. “Students aren’t making these projects as a final show of what they have learned. Rather, the learning occurs through creating their project. The process of working in collaboration with peers on a creative product that is based in research and good thinking is hard and messy—and that’s where a lot of the value lies.” 

While the structure of Media Literacy Week hasn’t changed, the technology, tools and resources available for students to both utilize and study have changed tremendously over the years. Bonnie says, “There will always be perennial topics like gender representation in the media, but it’s been interesting to see how topics have evolved over the years, especially with the introduction of social media.” Access to types of media has also improved. For example, finding examples to support their research has become easier; whereas in 2003, students had to recreate clips themselves or scan magazines into the computer, students today are one quick search away from finding exactly what they need. “It means that students can spend more time thinking about their ideas and production rather than getting raw materials,” says Bonnie. 

On Friday, students will present their work to their peers and a panel of faculty and will deliver an oral presentation designed to articulate the choices they made as media creators. The presentations on Friday are a vital part of the learning process. Not only do students and faculty engage in dialogue about the media topics the students have studied and the production choices students have made, but all students learn from their peers important messages about the impact media can have. An important part of this project is getting students to be aware of the process of learning, which they reflect back during these oral presentations.

With the rise of social media, video games, smartphones, and AI, it’s important for students to be informed and responsible online citizens and consumers. Our media and information literacy program begins in the Lower School as students start to pay attention to the messages they encounter on a daily basis. In many ways, Media Literacy Week is a culmination of their deepening awareness, and we feel confident sending our 8th graders beyond Mark Day’s campus knowing they will make smart choices and impactful content. 

To learn more about the structure of the week or the four main assignments, feel free to visit the "Media Literacy Production Week 2023" website by clicking here.