Review of Discovering Media Literacy: Teaching Digital Media and Popular Culture in Elementary School.

Dana Robinson

Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, IL

Hobbs, R., & Moore, D.C. (2013). Discovering media literacy: teaching digital media and popular culture in elementary school. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, a SAGE Company.

ISBN: 9781452205632

Pages: 241

As an elementary school teacher and self-proclaimed “techie”, I often hear about new ways to incorporate digital media into my instruction. More often than not, these ideas and tools are best fit for secondary students. Privacy and age restrictions prohibit my creativity. I struggle to find age appropriate tools and resources for my little ones. Does this sound like you? If it does, Hobbs and Moore have heard our cries with their book, Discovering Media Literacy: Teaching Digital Media and Popular Culture in Elementary School. This book was developed as part of the Powerful Voices for Kids (PVK) initiative, in which Renee Hobbs was a creator and David Cooper Moore was a facilitator. The PVK initiative was multi-faceted, incorporating a summer program for students ages 5–13, a professional development component, a parent outreach program and a curriculum development outcome. Hobbs and Moore share stories of students and teachers from the initiative as they explore various aspects of teaching digital media and popular culture to both primary and intermediate elementary students.

Each chapter unites these stories and content, while including recent research and theories. The chapters close with a take away lesson relating to the content discussed in the chapter. These detailed lessons are aligned to learning targets developed by the authors from their research and PVK experience. Each lesson is so well defined, it could easily be adapted for individual educator use. Scattered throughout the book are website or app resources that align with the content being discussed in the chapter. These also provide the reader with instant take a ways that can be used with students immediately after reading the book. While helpful and seemingly engaging, some of these resources require email addresses and personal account information, which can eliminate elementary classroom use.

The authors begin the book with an introduction to the PVK initiative, which frames the content in the chapters to follow. Understanding the framework of the initiative helps the reader to engage in the stories through which lessons and ideas are explored. The authors then provide information into their own backgrounds and motivations for teaching digital media and popular culture. The introduction ends with an outline of the book, as well as some potential implications for educators. The authors suggest that the information provided in the book and on their website (www.powerfulvoicesforkids.com) are turnkey and educators can try them with their own students. They also imply that these resources can be used to lead a staff development program. The website is more informative than the book itself and should be used to supplement the content.

The first part of the book describes why digital and media literacy matters. This is a great way to give the reader background on the topics. The section begins with a chapter defining digital and media literacy. Statistics on the affluent use of technology in society lead into the connections found between learning, literacy and life. “…getting a chance to display one’s funds of knowledge and knowledge of mass media, popular culture, and digital media activities enables children to bring their at-home media and technology experiences into the classroom,” (p.16). The authors then discuss ways in which technology use at home can be integrated with technology use at school. Motivational aspects of digital media and technology use are then explained and tied to recent research. “One reason technology may motivate…is that digital media, mass media, and popular culture help children make connections between the classroom and their ordinary everyday experiences,” (p. 21). This statement lends itself for the reader to ask, why do you need technology as a resource to accomplish this?

As the authors conducted professional development workshops and institutes, they began to notice trends in teacher motivations. They developed a list of eight motivations for teaching digital and media literacy. These motivations can be situated into four distinct categories: engaging student voice, understanding media systems, cool tools and cool teachers, and civic engagement and new literacies. Each motivation is defined and then an educator example is provided. This real world connection allows the reader to identify with one or more motivations. As you proceed through the book, you view the content through the lens of these motivations.

The following section focuses on working with intermediate students. While the emphasis of the chapter is on intermediate students, the content, as well as lesson ideas, can be adopted for younger students. Since the authors provide real vignettes from real educators, the reader connects with the content and begins to uncover ways ideas can be flexible for individual application. Digital and civic citizenship are addressed as the book details ways to connect classroom and culture. The chapter on asking and answering questions aligns with the goals of the Common Core State Standards on questioning. Different question types, as well as activities that promote student questioning, are discussed in detail. Examples of appropriate and inappropriate questions are given, addressing a common fear associated with including popular culture into the classroom. Another common fear is addressed in the chapter, Making Media. Many educators fear the messy design of integrating digital media and popular culture into their daily instruction. The authors suggest some classroom management techniques to calm worried teachers that are not used to the noise and appearance of chaos that can accompany this type of instruction. A section about creating a climate of mutual respect remind even veteran teachers of the significance this holds for student learning and engagement.

Part III is dedicated to work with primary students. Media literacy for young learners looks different for students that are just learning the fundamentals of reading and writing. These students have different needs and possess different gaps than the older elementary students. The first chapter focuses on providing instruction on differentiating between real and imaginary media. A trivial concept for most, this can create large gaps in student learning and it is important that this is addressed at a young age. Story development is also a focus for this chapter. The reader begins to see the progression of media and digital literacy as the chapter continues. Enabling students to see themselves as authors can move to the backburner but the authors remind us of its importance. Tied with this is the concept of a target audience. Any creator of media must always keep in mind their target audience. This is something that can be embedded in even our youngest authors.

The final part of this book concentrates on the impact for teacher education. The main focus is on professional development and these ideas can be a part of a teacher training program. This aligns with one of the proposed outcomes provided by the authors of using this book (and accompanying website) as a professional development tool. A brief section outlines the power of teacher creativity, which for a moment, leaves the reader feeling strong and empowered. The section ends with the benefits of a strong professional learning community (PLC). The authors offer some suggestions as to how to accomplish this. A review of the chapters perfectly captures the important elements highlighted in the book. Resources are provided at the end of the book and can be of value to an educator. The learning targets created by the authors are outlined and broken down by K-2 and 3–5. A glossary of terms that students would need for comprehension of digital media and popular culture are provided, as well as a glossary of concepts. The latter glossary is helpful for those less familiar with the field of digital media. A final resource provided information on each of the instructors of the PVK initiative that were cited throughout the book. This aids in connecting with these individuals as they guide you through the concepts.

Overall, Hobbs and Moore provide a framework for teaching digital media and popular culture in the elementary classroom. Background on the topic is provided, along with motivations for teaching in this way. The reader can identify with these and become encapsulated with the stories used to describe the concepts. Dividing content by primary and intermediate age levels allows teachers to feel comfortable teaching to their desired grade, as well confident they are meeting the developmental needs of their students. The authors provide their ideas of implications this book can have on the practice and this encourages readers to internalize some of the ideas or tools given. As an educator of young students and a tech geek, I would recommend this book to my colleagues. It is written in a way to appeals to those less comfortable with technology yet provides a solid research base to convince skeptics. Resources are provided to encourage educators to try new things without having to endlessly search the internet and detailed lessons encourage you to implement it tomorrow. The website supplement seals the deal. Hobbs and Moore have created a supply of resources that will allow even the most hesitant educator to integrate digital media and popular culture into their professional repertoire.