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Courageous RI’s Experiential Learning: Creating Meaningful Forms of Expression across Demographics

An article I was reading the other day quoted families who were concerned that their children’s education will be normalized with Zoom calls in this post-Covid era. These families have every right to be upset: an education should not consist of a talking head, a series of memorized facts, and an exam where the student spits back the teacher’s lecture. Such one-directional instruction shouldn’t take place either remotely or in the face-to-face classroom.

There are many instructional approaches that instill structures and skills in learners that have absolutely nothing to do with lecture and memorization. So, in these times in which questions about instructional delivery have taken hold across K-16 classrooms, doesn’t it make sense to grasp this opportunity to reimagine our classrooms so they’re student-centered and vibrant? By accessing practical tools and support that increase tolerance, problem solving, and appreciation of other points of view, we can create classrooms where harmful expression that leads to violence becomes obsolete. That’s where Phase 2 of Courageous RI comes in.

How Courageous RI is Creating a New Method of Inquiry

Courageous RI, with support from the Department of Homeland Security, works to prevent rising violence and extremism in Rhode Island with authentic and respectful conversation. In Fall, 2023, the Courageous RI program will begin a Professional Development (PD) program to help counteract violent extremism using the power of media literacy, active listening, and dialogue and discussion.

This program is competitive. People who live or work in Rhode Island get the highest priority for limited spots. In order to counteract violent extremism, media literacy in combination with active listening, dialogue, and discussion will be the central focus.

Teachers across the state of Rhode Island will have the opportunity to gain knowledge about how to integrate media literacy and active listening into their curriculum and work with a partner to develop teaching and learning ideas, resources, and assignments in a professional learning community. 50 middle school, high school, or college educators will participate in a 10-hour online PD program (consisting of 6 one-hour online programs plus independent reading, viewing and other work).

Participants will receive a $500 stipend and will implement at least one learning activity with their students. Ten CEU hours will be issued to those who complete the program. They will be formally recognized at a culminating event in fall 2024.

How can teachers like these Courageous RI educators who engage in media literacy-based instruction diffuse harmful communication that may lead to violence? It involves active learning, for sure.

Start by Identifying Prior Knowledge

Violence takes a heavy toll on families, schools, and neighborhoods. To create a healthy community of diverse classroom learners, every new unit should begin with opportunities for students to identify what they do and do not already know about a topic. Students and collaborators can get into virtual breakout groups to get to know each other and then introduce each other to the whole class. Enthusiasm to work together sets the tone for upcoming classroom experiences.

Self-assessments can be conducted with Google Forms or Survey Monkey, for example, that include cultural icons and media representations. Slowly roll into anticipatory graphic organizers, before-and-after short film viewings, corners sharing, simulations, or small group brainstorming -- each is a good way to identify foundations of individual and group collective knowledge.

The next step is scaffolding. Transparent, trustworthy, and relationship-centered steps should be process-based and nurturing. The key for the instructor is to have a clear pathway in mind: what types of new skills, structures, and understandings do I want the students to possess by the end of the unit? What step-by-step method do I want to incorporate to get them there? How can media be a way to draw learners together?

Essential questions should be unveiled here that guide expectations and learning activity delivery.

  • What are the greatest challenges to good communication in our class?

  • How important is listening in communication among our classmates?

  • What role do facial expressions, gestures and pauses play in communication?

  • How much do culture, gender, nationality, or social class have an effect on classroom communication?

Multiple Intelligences

Many families have experienced trauma from long periods of isolation, the deaths of loved ones, and economic insecurity as a result of Covid. We need to have empathy for them, and implementing multiple intelligence approaches can address the individual learning needs of all participants. It helps to focus on strengths while supporting areas of growth. Meeting participants at their level is extremely important and infuses all students with opportunities to build learning skills and structures.

The way those scaffolding steps are designed is essential; let’s call them learning activities. Improving communication skills in the classroom as relationship-building is one of the most important and challenging endeavors that educators can undertake. Media literacy -- the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, create, and act using all forms of communication -- is an essential skill in the 21st century and a keen aid to diffuse harmful communication that can lead to violence.

One of the keys to successful communication is being able to understand how your message is received. Because only 20% of the population learns by listening, teachers must mix lectures with analysis, logical rationalization, visualization, peer consulting, movement, illustration, mindfulness, and other types of multiple intelligences-oriented instructional delivery. Media literacy can help accentuate communication, because it’s about raising the stakes—motivating consumers of media to care about the messages they’re seeing or hearing, to learn how to decode these messages, and to share their own views.

Drawing upon multiple intelligences applications is more possible than ever in the digital media environment in which we communicate. That’s because opportunities exist for instruction to resemble the genres and modalities of everyday life. The multimodal -- digital, audio, video, visual, print -- ways of presenting information and ideas should be varied and differently paced and draw on multiple intelligences. They should build into a sequential, conscious, cohesive design that captures students’ interest and attention and motivates them to want to learn more.

It can look like tweets and Instagram and TikTok posts. It can mean meticulously selected and previewed video games and cartoons and computer platforms and programs. It can incorporate online newspapers from around the world, magazine visual analysis, and case studies from divergent points of view. It can zoom in on television shows and documentaries and celebrity bio-pics and issue-based debates. It can incorporate podcasts and song lyrics and talk radio shows segments.

Gradual Release of Responsibility

Vygotsky describes how the zone of proximal development is essential to construct deep learning experiences. Learners get stuck at a certain point of difficulty unless there is a guide to lead them to the next stages of meaning-making. Sometimes broken down into “I Do -- We Do -- You Do,” gradual release of responsibility can assume many forms.

When trauma and conflict frame student classroom interactions, teachers can shift slowly and intentionally from modeling, to joint responsibility between teachers and students, to independent practice and application by the learner. Regardless of the content area, gradual release of responsibility addresses underlying drivers of fragility, conflict, and violence. As an intervention, it sensitizes students as it integrates conflict considerations across learning activities.

It is possible to transform young people’s relationship with media and equip them to perceive the world differently. With educator support, they can evolve from passive consumers into informed change agents with their own messages to share.

Instructors can adapt Nanci Atwell’s mini-lessons. They can create e-learning modules (aka webquests), where inquiry and problem solving are reciprocal processes. Jigsaw sharing of targeted readings, sentence starters, freewriting, ideology puzzles, small group collaborative idea-making -- there are dozens and dozens of ways to instill small but sequential amounts of new knowledge and skills in students without lecturing. Students can collaborate and teach each other, more advanced learners as guides to others.

Not Tests but Multimodal Composing

Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy points to composing as the highest level of learning achievement. Doing well on objective tests sits on the lower rungs of meaning-making. So students who have truly accommodated new knowledge, skills, and structures can apply them to media literacy activities which can help them recognize biases and how biases may affect their perception of an event or issue.

What does multimodal composing look like in the classroom? It can take many and varied forms: publishing blogs, creating infographics, designing instructional student-to-student websites, vocalizing spoken word, writing letters to the editor, solving real life problems using the scientific method, designing and storyboarding a stage set, coding a topic-based video game, constructing an argument with Tweets/ Threads and images, persuading with an academic paper that’s submitted for editorial review, designing a blueprint for engineering, extrapolating key information to solve word or number problems, labeling linguistic patterns to identify points of view, creating their own lesson plan, conducting a statistical analysis and applying it to social problems, or offerings multimodal solutions to municipal problems.

Final Thoughts about Using Media Literacy as Experiential Learning to Diffuse Harmful Communication

All of these ideas speak to the inherent creativity within learning when instruction is applied to authentic contexts, connected experiences, and honest collaboration among students. Such a media literacy program can reduce the hate that leads to violence by building a coalition of empowered people who recognize, analyze, and resist harmful forms of expression and communication.

In today's rapidly evolving information landscape, media messages can reduce people's ability to trust. Media literacy is essential because it helps people understand the messages that are being communicated to them. By integrating media literacy into education, students can learn the nuances of online communication, develop critical thinking, and engage responsibly in digital spaces.


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