Critical Media Literacy: Too Hard a Challenge?

the-stress_292296by Priscilla Warren

Conquering one’s fear can take a few minutes, a lifetime and sometimes never. For some, this fear of the ‘unknown’ becomes an insurmountable barrier that holds them back from exploring new ideas, new people, new situations and new possibilities for the future. This fear becomes evident when talking to school teachers who ‘want’ to teach critical media literacy in the classroom but are held back by their own perceived lack of technical know-how. Looking at research from New Zealand, we will explore what critical media literacy looks like and how we can narrow the divide between what teachers think and what is possible.

According to Bruce, Ladbrook, Villers, Gaerlan-Price & Hoben (2015) “Critical literacy for teachers and students alike involves developing awareness about the construction of power in society that may lead to action to bring about equality” (p.2).

This involves asking “a range of key questions, appropriate at both the primary and secondary school level of education and irrespective of curriculum area:

  • Who created this text?,
  • for whom is it designed?,
  • with what in mind?,
  • with what authority?,
  • how are we being positioned?,
  • who is present or absent, privileged or marginalised?, and
  • what is the effect on us, on them, on me?”
    (Luke and Freebody, 1999; as cited in Bruce, Ladbrook, Villers, Gaerlan-Price & Hoben, 2015, p.3).

Bruce (2015) believe ‘very young’ children can engage with critical thinking questions like those listed above. The difference between ‘critical information literacy’ and ‘critical media literacy’ is the change of focus from “libraries, archives, museums, and other non-news or entertainment information providers” to “news media and popular culture as its focus” (p.4).

“In a similar fashion to critical literacy, critical media literacy ask questions such as:

  • What view of the world is the text presenting?,
  • what different interpretations of the text are possible?,
  • and who produces and who benefits from the text?” (Bruce, 2015, p.5).

It is through this critical media literacy approach that “teachers and students become the agents and architects of an accessible, inclusive, and socially just approach to mean making, knowledge creation, and transformation” (Bruce, 2015, p.3).

Here is an example of what critical media analysis in the classroom looks like:

Media Smarts: Kids learn how to navigate the multimedia world. Viewing time 7:37

Even to this present day, critical media literacy is not yet a compulsory part of New Zealand teacher training or professional development for current teachers. So their perceived fear in providing this necessary part of education is understandable. Left to their own devices, it has been up to individual teachers that have the necessary skills and enthusiasm to bring critical media literacy into the classroom. Bruce argue:

“if teachers are to be effective in enabling young people to successfully navigate an increasingly digital, mediated, information-saturated, and fragmented world, there needs to be a concerted effort within ITE and teacher professional development programmes to prepare and support them for this role” (2015, p.1).

Until these structures are in place, what should teachers do? Another way to ‘bridge the gap’ is to up-skill one’s own technology learning and experimentation online. Teachers can become more confident users but in order to do so, that first step must be taken. Below is a variety of sites I find helpful in ‘stretching’ my own perceived beliefs about what I can do within the online domain and may be of use to others who need some encouragement to begin.

How to use YouTube in the classroom by Edutopia. Viewing time 4:04

How Twitter can be used in the classroom. Video made by a 12 year old student. Viewing time 4:24

How to use blogging with young children at primary level. Viewing time 3:31

How to use digital photography with students. Viewing time 2:40

It is my aim with this blog to encourage teachers to develop their confidence, knowledge, technical skills and enthusiasm about the possibilities that come from stepping outside their comfort zone and into a new and exciting learning era. By extending one’s technology know-how, the prospect of extending one’s students to think critically in media contexts becomes less daunting. As Bruce (2015) aptly puts it:

“Critical media and information literacy should not be a privilege afforded to students whose teachers have the access, skills, and motivations to teach it, but a right for all children and youth, and indeed all citizens, who must navigate their way through a rapidly developing digital future” (p.7).


Remember – if we as teachers can see the possibilities and are given a map (even if we have to draw it ourselves!), then anything is possible!

As the saying goes:

‘A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step’.

Explore your possibilities today!


Bruce, T., Ladbrook, J., Villers, H., Gaerlan-Price, E., & Hoben, N. (in press, 2015). Media and Information Literacy: A 21st Century Human Right? In J. Morgan (Ed.). 21st Century Curriculum. Auckland, NZ. University of Auckland.

Picture 1 attributed to stressed&page=1&position=1

Picture 2 attributed to walk&page=1&position=18


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