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Case Study: Establishing Media Literacy in a Catholic School Setting

Abstract
For three years, from 1999 to 2001, a media literacy pilot program was successfully instituted at Our Lady
of Malibu School and Parish (OLM) in Malibu, CA. Components included: grade-specific lesson plans in
Consumerism, Representation and Violence Prevention; a 7th grade video project, newspaper article
production and an animation workshop for 5th to 8th-grade students. This case study describes how
media literacy supports values-oriented education and outlines key steps toward creating a solid roster of
instruction and activities. OLM is presented as a model for all schools for how to integrate media
education in ways that are empowering for children, manageable for teachers, and supportive of essential
critical-thinking processes. The Center for Media Literacy (CLM) consulted on the project and will use
lessons learned in the development of new programs and curriculum. A primary goal is to formally
integrate media education into state standards and Diocesan educational curriculum.

"The world we live in is clearly permeated with media. We teach our kids how to read and write.
Yet we're not really cognizant of the language of media and its powerful effect. My goal is to help
people become better aware so they can make more informed choices."
– Father Bill Kerze on the importance of media literacy
at Our Lady of Malibu Parish and School
Malibu, California. Where better to introduce media literacy than in a community situated near Hollywood,
"the entertainment capital of the world,"– and one which, itself, is comprised of many actors, production
executives, concerned parents and progressive educators.
The program at Our Lady of Malibu (OLM) School and Parish
met the special needs of this media-sophisticated
neighborhood and is a model for all schools for how to
integrate media education in ways that are empowering for
children, manageable for teachers and faculty and supportive
of key critical-thinking processes generalizable across
curricular areas.
Over a three year period, from 1999 to 2001, media literacy
was instituted in the forms of: grade-specific lesson plans in
Consumerism, Representation and Violence Prevention; a 7th
grade video project, newspaper article production and most
recently, a hands-on animation workshop for 5th to 8th-grade students.
How Media Literacy Supports Values-Oriented Education
The Center for Media Literacy's (CML's) "vision" of media literacy is "the ability to communicate
competently in all media forms, print and electronic, as well as to access, understand, analyze and
evaluate the powerful images, words and sounds that make up our contemporary mass media culture."
This definition supports values-oriented schooling in describing a foundation for empowering young
people to make life decisions based on personal beliefs instead of messages found in television,
advertising, movies, music and the internet. It's really about using media literacy to develop and sharpen
key analytic skills to make informed evaluations.
"Children need to be taught how to be critical viewers of all media. They are inundated with media
messages on an everyday basis and need to be able to make value judgments on what they see and are
exposed to," explained Our Lady of Malibu principal, Terry Miller.
Year One: Start-Up Steps
A first step of the OLM media literacy program was "getting the word out" to area educators. So, in early
1998, media literacy sessions were hosted by CML at the National Catholic Education Association
conference (NCEA) in Los Angeles. "We were the most jam packed of any workshops and everyone was
really impressed with the turnout," recalled Elizabeth Thoman, CML Founder, Chair and Chief Program
Officer.
Tessa Jolls, CML President and CEO, volunteered to head the parish media literacy program and Fr.
Kerze formed a Steering Committee consisting of Jolls, Terry Miller, Pam Litz, Laureen Sills and Ralph
Sariego – all members of the OLM School Advisory Board. This committee took CML's Crash Course in
Media Literacy, a 4-hour workshop taught by Thoman which covered the core concepts of media literacy
and a basic outline of its pedagogy. The class eventually became mandatory for participating as a
program volunteer.
Target audiences for the program were identified as: school faculty, parents
and K-8 students; the Religious Education program; Confirmation classes;
and adult parishioners. CML prepared a proposal for how to reach these
various groups, with an additional aim of serving as a pilot program for the
Los Angeles Archdiocese Department of Education.
Before beginning formal lessons, it was deemed necessary to hold an
information session for parents working both in and outside of media-related
careers. Discussion centered on the CML handout, "What the Media Industry
Needs to Know," which outlines how media literacy is not about censorship
or bashing – but instead, is an inquiry process that allows people to make
their own choices about media messages, and supports individual
expression through the use of media tools.
During this time, OLM teachers worked closely with Elizabeth Thoman on
designing lesson plans for various aged groups. "I had meetings with
teachers from each grade level and they really wanted to do something in
advertising first," said Thoman. "It's often where schools want to start since
it's an area in which kids are particularly vulnerable."
Part of this curriculum involved the videotape, Buy Me That, which illustrates how television commercials
are specially crafted to entice consumers. "In the video, you see children happily and successfully
jumping up and down on a bouncing ball product," explained Miller. "But then outtakes are shown with
actors consistently falling off and having trouble maneuvering them. It's a real eye opener for students to
realize … that the media sometimes twists things around to make them look good."
Fr. Kerze conducted an outstanding workshop on sexual identity and media images with the Confirmation
Class. "The goal of our Confirmation process is to exercise leadership. And some of the biggest issues
that young people deal with today are related to sexual identity and relationships," said Fr. Kerze. "We try
to help them realize that they are, in fact, receiving media messages - then get them to make choices
about which ones they want to accept and which they wish to reject."
Year Two: Reports and Changes
Due to teacher "overload," in the program's second year, it was deemed more practical to have parent
volunteers create and teach in-classroom media literacy lessons as separate, pullout sessions from the
regular schedule. It was also realized that individualizing pre-designed media literacy curriculum was
much more time-efficient than creating it from scratch.
In the fall, Fr. Kerze, Ralph Sariego, Elizabeth Thoman and Tessa Jolls gave a report to the Los Angeles
Archdiocese Superintendent of Schools outlining progress made within the program - and presented a
proposal for additional Diocesan involvement. A key recommendation was that until media literacy is
incorporated into curricular guidelines and linked to educational standards, it would be difficult to motivate
teachers to consistently teach lessons in a purposeful way.
Year Three: Final Events and Activities
During the program's final year, a significant event took place in the form of media literacy workshops for
teachers sponsored by the Los Angeles Archdiocese. Held as a means of introducing the subject into
Catholic elementary schools across the city and led by Elizabeth Thoman, the intensive, daylong courses
reached an average of 20 teachers per session.
"We conducted these classes with the purpose of providing
teachers with skills needed to help children develop higher
order thinking skills," said Rina Gno, Archdiocese Curriculum
Director and K-12 System Testing Coordinator. "Children need
these abilities since media plays an important role in their lives.
And information coming to them is so overwhelming that they must be able to make sense of it in line with
the values being taught in school."
Another special day for the Confirmation class was created through bringing in youth leader, Michael
Danielson to conduct a discussion about media messages. During this dynamic session, Danielson
helped students understand the basic principals of media literacy and how they relate to such everyday
experiences as movie and television watching.
In a departure from previous years, 5th to 8th-graders received an advanced media literacy activity in the
form of hands-on animation workshops. The event was sponsored by OLM's Cultural Affairs and Media
Literacy committees to hone students' creative thinking skills as well as animation production knowledge.
"The rationale behind this particular workshop was that doing something in either visual arts, animation,
digital arts and/or video would be more relevant for kids," said Jane Smith, Cultural Affairs Department
Chair. There was also a financial benefit since both divisions' budgets were used to meet costs.
Under the tutelage of Los Angeles-based animation-education company, AnimAction, Inc., students wrote
and produced their own animated stories which were presented to parents and teachers at a festive,
evening "Premier Night." The animation workshop was so overwhelmingly successful, that it is the
cornerstone for future media literacy activity at the school.
"I think the workshop gave students a newfound appreciation for animation and that it could be used for
something besides trivial entertainment," said Dr. Barbara Burgan, OLM teacher and Faculty Coordinator
for the AnimAction program. And in an exciting turn of events, the segments were actually aired on
Malibu's local public access station.
Generalizable Abilities Acquired Through Media Literacy
"...Creating and performing a rock song or scripting, shooting and editing a video takes adolescents out of
their consumeristic passivity and unleashes their energy and imagination. If combined with research,
discussion, writing and other traditional modes of instruction, producing popular art media could refine
and advance adolescents' evaluative abilities. And as they explore this new ground, young people will find
their own voices in their own local setting" (Schwarz, 2000).
In utilizing media-themed, meaning-centered curriculum and reflective thinking processes, students may
become more "connected" to standardized school subjects while developing a position of empowerment
through pro-active and disciplined questioning, reasoning and knowledge acquisition.
Support for this rationale comes from concepts such as:
Media Literacy as Meaning-Centered Curriculum.
Media literacy is contextualized based on analysis of
television, film, websites, video games, commercials
and music that children use and watch in the real
world. So, instead of disconnected fact learning, this
form of education has real, immediate applicability to
the decisions students make in their everyday lives.
Constructivist Pedagogy. The core of constructivist
pedagogy is empowering students to construct their
own understandings through playing with ideas,
exploring issues and encountering new information
(Brooks and Brooks, 1993). Many elements of this popular concept of teaching and learning are
ingrained in media literacy education, including: presenting real-world possibilities and
encouraging students to analyze, synthesize and evaluate problems and solutions; using primary
sources and hands-on materials; encouragement of teacher-student and student-student
dialogue; and stimulating student inquiry through asking thoughtful, open-ended questions
(Brooks and Brooks, 1993).
Key Elements for Starting a Media Literacy Program
• Committed Leadership.
• Media Literacy Training and Staff Support.
• Lesson Plans and Accessible Media Literacy Resources.
• Researching popular forms of media to enhance in-class use and analysis.
Lessons Learned
• Children are sophisticated with regard to media issues such as consumerism. There's no need to
"water down" presentations to them.
• Strive for a professional, institutionalized program since even with the most dedicated of
volunteers, the program will not be as thorough or as consistent over time without these
components. This may involve hiring a special media literacy teacher or the outsourcing of
complicated programs to outside companies.
• Support must come from the top, down. The Pastor and Principal must absolutely be behind the
program. They must also be committed to helping "sell" it to school faculty and parents.
• Parents should be informed. They should be assured that the program has appropriate content
and that children are learning valuable skills - not just passively watching videos.
• Teach the positive aspects of media. Valuable and worthwhile aspects of media should be
incorporated since, as young people are taught to think analytically, it can be easy to steer a
program in the direction of being overly negative.
• Incorporate hands-on, multi-media projects which can be good skill-builders.
The Future of Media Literacy
This case study began by looking at how media literacy is tied to values-oriented education. However,
these processes extend beyond the teaching of any one educational program or subject and generalize
into the ways in which young people evaluate, construct and reflect upon knowledge in all curricular
areas.
The steps and stages of Our Lady of Malibu's program have provided a rich knowledge base for both its
creators – and students. For OLM and the Center for Media Literacy, lessons learned will apply to
designing future media literacy programs. For kindergarten through 8th-grade participants, it has brought
about an awareness of media literacy and honed key, analytic abilities. "It's been three years since we've
been working with OLM," said Thoman. "And now they've been through various lesson plans and
activities and are getting pretty savvy."
A current undertaking which would permanently position media education in OLM's Religious Education
program is the creation of curriculum modules and supportive resources for Catechists to follow and
teach. These are being developed by a parent, Jim Ricor, in conjunction with Tessa Jolls.
It is hoped that the future of media literacy at the Diocesan level will have just as strong of a future.
"There has been recognition on the part of the Archdiocese that progress in media education is
dependent on 'interweaving' it into all subject areas, and incorporating these expectations into the
curricular guides which all teachers use," said Jolls. "This is a challenging task that requires funding and
long-term commitment. With new leadership at the Archdiocese, it is too soon to tell which direction will
be taken – but regardless, important lessons about viability and sustainability have definitely been
learned."

Center for Media Literacy


The Center for Media Literacy advocates a philosophy of "empowerment through education,"
incorporating the steps:
• Media literacy is education for life in a global media world.
• The heart of media literacy is informed inquiry.
• Media literacy is an alternative to censoring, boycotting or blaming "the media."
Embracing this philosophy, we are committed to media education as an essential and empowering life-
skill for the 21st century.
• A not-for-profit organization established in 1989.
• Provides public education, training and educational resources nationally for the media literacy
field.
• Media literacy books and products may be ordered through our distribution center, GPN
Educational Media at: 800-228-4630.
To find out more about CML, contact:
Elizabeth Thoman, Founder, Chair and CPO Tel: 310-581-0260
Tessa Jolls, President and CEO Fax: 310-581-0270
Center for Media Literacy Email: cml@medialit.org
3101 Ocean Park Blvd. Ste. 200 Web: www.medialit.org
Santa Monica, CA 90405
Our Lady of Malibu School and Parish
"Our mission is to educate the whole student: spiritually, intellectually, physically, psychologically,
aesthetically and socially. To help them become aware of the world around them and how to deal with
issues that confront them on a daily basis is our goal. We also feel that the shared values we teach and
show by actions will prepare our students for life." -Terry Miller, OLM School Principal
• K-8, private, Catholic Elementary School
• Under the jurisdiction of the Los Angeles Archdiocese Dept. of Education
• Serving 200 students in a traditional school year format (Sept. to June)
For more information, please contact:
Fr. Bill Kerze, Pastor, OLM Parish School tel: 310-456-8071
Ms. Terry Miller, Principal, OLM School School fax: 310-456-7767
Our Lady of Malibu Rectory tel: 310-456-2361
3625 Winter Canyon Road
Malibu, CA 90265
AnimAction
"We started AnimAction in 1989 with a single purpose in mind - to give young people the opportunity to
experience the spirit of collaboration, develop new skills and exercise their freedom of expression through
the medium of animated film. I'm proud to state that these goals have been more than met in hundreds of
AnimAction workshops."
– Clifford Cohen, Executive Director
• Conducts animated public service announcement (PSA) workshops for schools and communities.
• Has trained thousands of students throughout the U.S., Canada and Europe and student-
produced PSA's have been seen on Kids' WB, Fox Kids, Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, Toon
Disney, and in Los Angeles on KLCS.
For more information, please contact Clifford Cohen at:
AnimAction Tel: 323.464.1181
1529 Cahuenga Blvd. Fax: 323.464.1191
Hollywood, CA 90028 USA Email: workshops@animaction.com
Web: www.animaction.com
References
1. Alvermann, Donna E., Hagood, Margaret C. (2000) "Critical Media Literacy: Research, Theory
and Practice in New Times," The Journal of Educational Research, Washington, D.C., v. 93, n. 3,
p. 193-205.
2. Costa, Arthur, L, Kallick, Bena (2000) "Getting Into the Habit of Reflection," Educational
Leadership, v. 57, n. 7, p. 62-62.
3. Schwarz, Gretchen, (2000), "Renewing Teaching Through Media Literacy," Kappa Delta Pi, v. 37,
n. 1, p. 8-12.
4. Thoman, Elizabeth, "Skills and Strategies for Media Education," Center for Media Literacy, Los
Angeles, CA., www.medialit.org.
5. Resnick, Lauren B., Klopfer, Leopold E., (1989), "Toward the Thinking Curriculum: Current
Cognitive Research," Alexandria, VA, p. 1- 17.
6. Dewey, John (1910), "How We Think: A Restatement of the Relation of Reflective Thinking to the
Educative Process," Boston, MA, D.C. Heath and Company.
7. Brooks, Jacqueline Grennon, Brooks, Martin G. (1993), "In Search of Understanding: The Case
for Constructivist Classrooms," Alexandria, VA, Association for Supervision and Curriculum
Development.
8. Katz, Lillian (1994) "The Project Approach," ERIC Digest-clearinghouse on Elementary and Early
Childhood Education, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign-Children's Research Center.

Footnotes
References
1. Alvermann, Donna E., Hagood, Margaret C. (2000) "Critical Media Literacy: Research, Theory
and Practice in New Times," The Journal of Educational Research, Washington, D.C., v. 93, n. 3,
p. 193-205.
2. Costa, Arthur, L, Kallick, Bena (2000) "Getting Into the Habit of Reflection," Educational
Leadership, v. 57, n. 7, p. 62-62.
3. Schwarz, Gretchen, (2000), "Renewing Teaching Through Media Literacy," Kappa Delta Pi, v. 37,
n. 1, p. 8-12.
4. Thoman, Elizabeth, "Skills and Strategies for Media Education," Center for Media Literacy, Los
Angeles, CA., www.medialit.org.
5. Resnick, Lauren B., Klopfer, Leopold E., (1989), "Toward the Thinking Curriculum: Current
Cognitive Research," Alexandria, VA, p. 1- 17.
6. Dewey, John (1910), "How We Think: A Restatement of the Relation of Reflective Thinking to the
Educative Process," Boston, MA, D.C. Heath and Company.
7. Brooks, Jacqueline Grennon, Brooks, Martin G. (1993), "In Search of Understanding: The Case
for Constructivist Classrooms," Alexandria, VA, Association for Supervision and Curriculum
Development.
8. Katz, Lillian (1994) "The Project Approach," ERIC Digest-clearinghouse on Elementary and Early
Childhood Education, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign-Children's Research Center.