Literacy in a media world

The photo of kids glued to their phones in front of a Rembrandt painting

I’m sure you’ve seen the image of a bunch of teenagers staring at their phones while sitting in front of a Rembrandt piece. It is the perfect metaphor for us grown-ups pining for the days before technology was such a part of our lives, when kids used to really SEE paintings, and how terrible it is that social media has taken over these innocent children’s minds.

Look, I’m right there with you that social media obsession: it’s a bit much. But really, kids have never really SEEN paintings in a museum or have been 100% in tune with a museum experience or an academic class. After the image of these students circulated the Internet, it actually became known that they were researching the history of Rembrandt and enriching their museum experience with other knowledge to supplement their learning. So they were actually more engaged than a kid wandering bored through a museum without a phone!

Ignoring the power of social media is rather ignorant, especially when it comes to teaching. Why would I harp on some boring ol’ story from a millennium ago when I could get students interested in reading/writing/drawing/academics through multi-faceted technology-heavy teaching? The issue is how to effectively use technology in a way that can enhance teaching/learning without getting too off-task from essential understanding concepts. Check out the media literacy website below for an introduction into what that all means:

In my classroom I used a website called Today’s Meet to have students write with me on a specific topic (ex.: how’s your day going? or: write one sentence to add on to a story-starter) in a Twitter-style format. We wrote using 140 characters or less, nothing too scary, and the students were able to feel more comfortable in an environment that was familiar to them and not as intimidating. I was able to see if my lesson was dull to them or if another direction would be better for teaching.

I also tried to talk about social media literacy in my class in order to help students realize that the decisions they make on Snapchat or Instagram can come back to haunt them. I even brought up 50 Cent’s bankruptcy issue when he wrote the word “broke” with all cash piles, and a judge found out about it. Natural consequences, people!

Christensen’s final chapter in Teaching for Joy and Justice is about “Letting Go of Grades.” Aren’t grades intrinsically tied into how we feel about ourselves, and even stick with us from elementary school all the way until we’re older? Students who receive a failing grade at some point have read the setting around them as they are failing life. I can remember most dismal grades in my life far more than any A+ for sure. Students with difficulties in traditional school environments are not failing, the system is failing them.

School does not need to take place at sterile desks under florescent lights with a boring, lecturing teaching yapping on about who-knows-what. School can be project-based, community-based, interdisciplinary, non-traditional, you-name-it! Students can work together or work independently, we can tie in vocational trades to academic learning. Literacy is vital for all disciplines because every one of us uses literacy in all areas of our life. When we give students the option to learn about the world, we offer them a key to freedom.

Isn’t that the best literacy lesson we can provide?


Christenson, L. (2009). Teaching for Joy and Justice. Milwaukee, WI: Rethinking Schools.