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Bad or Misunderstood?

Inspiration comes in all shapes, sizes, and colors and sometimes it can arise from a brawl outside your classroom. That is where the idea for my project “Bad or Misunderstood?” came about.  A fight between two boys broke out that took two GIANT teachers and me to break up. When we finally were able to get one of the boys into my room he proceeded to wreck it, knocking down my shelves, throwing desks, and trying to jump out the window. He kept saying to me “Mrs. Colao, I can’t stop, I can’t stop” with tears in his eyes. His anger and frustration were heartbreaking. I finally got him calmed down and administrators showed up to take him. In the meantime, my class was outside my door waiting for me. When they all sat down everyone was looking at their phones. I asked what they were looking at and one of my girls said: “They filmed the fight”. Needless to say, I had to catch my breath so I didn’t lose it. As I exhaled I saw a teachable moment come to light.


The planned lesson for the day was scrapped and I pulled up the COURAGEOUS RI lesson plan on media literacy. I said nothing about their filming the fight. Instead, I proceeded with the lesson. The kids were blown away by how far “litter boxes in the bathroom” had gone and wondered why the mainstream media had not done a better job of checking the facts.  It was then that I had them take out their “fight video” and go through the media literacy questions. The conversation suddenly became uncomfortable as they could see the many consequences of posting that video as well as the questions they didn’t ask themselves when they shared it. We now have the media literacy questions posted all along the entire right side of my classroom so we can refer to them every time we are looking at video or text. The very next class we were together we were able to utilize the questions again this time with a lesson about the events at Fort Sumter and the beginning of the Civil War. We did a quick overview and then analyzed articles from two newspapers, Fremont, from Ohio, and the Daily Dispatch, of Richmond VA, describing the events of the day. Using the media literacy questions students pointed out the bias in both articles and how bias and propaganda can be used to push social, political, economic, and environmental agendas. Connections were made but more importantly, more questions were asked and more information gathered.


The same day the fight broke out I began to teach the concept of cultural relativism in sociology. We have completed the Courageous RI lessons on Media Literacy and Influencers having great discussions and finding examples. Lingering in the back of my head was the fact that the kids who filmed the fight never asked the question “Why had the fight begun?’. They assumed they knew the answer.  The assumption part of our conversation was unsettling and I was trying to figure out how I could use it in sociology for a project idea.  That is where I came up with the idea of rewriting a fairytale from the “villain's” perspective, bad or misunderstood


The lesson provides students the opportunity to immerse themselves in “cultural relativism”, and generate empathy for “the other,” a task that is often challenging even in our daily lives. In this series of tasks, students will critically analyze a fairytale using the media literacy questions,  rewrite the fairytale from the villain's perspective, demonstrate an understanding of cultural awareness in storytelling, recognize authority and how it affects storytelling, evaluate authenticity in the portrayal of the villain, use creativity to tell their story, and then reflect on the role of culture and media on storytelling. Though I know this sounds like a daunting task, I believe my students will embrace it at all levels. Students will work in diverse groups to allow for a variety of ideas and interpretations.  I am excited to see their storylines and the analysis that will take place.  We will be beginning this week. 


I have been teaching high school social studies for well over 30 years covering a gamut of content as well as teaching students of diverse backgrounds and skill levels. My brain is constantly making connections to people, places, and things but I have struggled to keep up with the changing tech and social media outlets and have been frustrated and mystified at the lack of questioning of media. Every time I think I understand the digital world, something changes. If I am being honest, the TV remote(s) are often enough to push me over the edge. I would be lying if I told you I consistently keep up with all the changes that have come to pass or are in the process right now; it is more like running but never catching up to the crowd.


Please know that I am thankful for the opportunity this course has provided by enabling me to tackle media literacy in a strategic, and user-friendly way incorporate in my lessons, and share it with my students.  I have learned so much. The experience has allowed me to tackle questions, content, and solutions to things I come across every day with my students, friends, and family.  In addition, the conversations with John Palella and my thought partners have been collegiate and supportive. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to participate. I look forward to sharing all I have learned with my students and colleagues. 


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