No, I’m not the biggest fan of the Oscars per se... but I do love the way that they, like awards in media generally, can provide a springboard for critical thinking and insightful discourse once we go beyond the glitz. Or maybe I should say, “Once we decide that the glitz itself is worthy of analysis.”
Maybe that’s why it surprised me so much to learn that AMPAS, the Oscars’ organizing body, also provides quite a robust series of Teacher’s Guides that would work well in a variety of contexts, from libraries, to media or tech labs, to ELA classrooms. Perhaps best of all, they’re free, and you can access them here.
For a sense of the teaching topics, just browse this list of the guides:
- Art Direction
- Costumes & Make-up
- Film Editing
- Media Literacy
- Visual Effects
While of course all of these qualify as “media literacy” instructional materials, you’ll notice one guide tucked away in there that explicitly focuses on MLE. “Designed for students in secondary school English, language arts, visual arts, and communications courses,” it’s a program that’s basic in a lot of ways, but also very, very solid, covering topics such as “how to read a film,” stereotypes, bias, and so on. And what’s nice is that there’s a particularly strong mix of films used to illustrate the various points, ones that should allow you to adapt the content to a range of student ages while also drawing upon different eras of movie history. Here are the stated objectives:
- To enhance student interest in and knowledge about the motion picture development and production process
- To encourage students to use critical thinking as they learn how filmmakers work
- To engage students in an exploration of film as an art form and a medium of communication
- To help students become more media literate
And, finally, here’s an example of the content… which should encourage you to click on over and download some of this stuff.
Have your students pick a topic such as the presidential election, 9/11, or another event in American history and compare the treatment of that topic in various media such as television, movies, magazines, Internet blogs, and advertisements. Ask them to discuss the ways that the same information can be represented differently to emphasize a specific message.
Oh, and before I forget, a grateful hat tip to Frank Baker, who referenced these resources in his excellent USA Today piece on teaching critical thinking with the movies that appeared in advance of last year’s Oscars. If things go according to plan, we’ll visit with Mr. Baker prior to this year’s ceremonies and dig deep for some media literacy gold.