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Core Principles of Media Literacy Education as a Framework for Teacher Education

A giant stone face at The Bayon temple in Angkor Thom, Cambodia Short paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association in Philadelphia, PA April 5, 2014 as part of the Roundtable Session: Missing the Boat? Examining the Potential Power of Media Literacy Education for Policy and Practice


In 2011, I wrote an article titled, “Building 21st-Century Teachers: An Intentional Pedagogy of Media Literacy Education” that was published in a special issue of Action in Teacher Education. The question I posed was, “Are we helping preservice teachers develop a repertoire of technical skills and pedagogical strategies in the service of democratic practice?” In response to this question, I aligned three bodies of what I as a teacher educator consider to be key sets of standards in education and teacher preparation: 1) Democratic IDEALS of education (Inquiry, Discourse, Equity, Authenticity, Leadership and Service); 2) the National Educational Technology Standards for Teachers (NETS-T); and 3) the stages or cycle of media literacy (access, analyze, evaluate, produce, communicate) (See Table 1). This exercise in standards alignment illustrated how an intentional pedagogy of media literacy education enriches teacher preparation by contextualizing technological proficiency, promoting pedagogical excellence, and catalyzing democratic practices.

Despite more than a decade of NCLB-induced high-stakes testing and accountability, there are many that still believe the primary purpose of schooling is that of cultivating active citizens within a social and political democracy (Collins, Doyon, McAuley, & Quijada 2011; Kubey 2004; Leonard & Stewart 2009; Parker 2005; Sperry 2006). As I argued in “Building 21st-Century Teachers,” an intentional pedagogy of media literacy education provides teachers with a framework for aligning bodies of standards (including the Common Core) towards a more active and democratic ideal of education. The importance of this systematic approach cannot be understated in an otherwise demoralizing climate of standardized testing, high stakes teacher evaluation, and scathing criticism of formalized teacher preparation.

Since “Building 21st-Century Teachers” was published, the educational terrain has shifted: Common Core Curriculum standards have emerged and are currently being implemented, not without controversy. There has also emerged a more robust definition of media literacy education that realizes the essential nature of community engagement to the media literacy process. It is no longer sufficient to merely consume and produce media; we must act upon that which we create. The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) has also revisited their Core Principles of Media Literacy Education (2007) to reflect the evolving definition of media literacy as well as the changing landscape in education. As part of this roundtable discussion on the power and potential of media literacy education, I introduce an intentional pedagogy version 2.0 for building 21st-century teachers.

 At the (Common) Core of Media Literacy Education

Over the past two decades, the emergence of media literacy education as a discipline has expanded the traditional definition of media literacy as the ability to “access, evaluate, produce and communicate using a variety of media forms” (Aufderheide & Firestone 1992) to focus more on understanding how students learn to think critically. A little more than five years ago, the National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) defined the purpose of media literacy education “to help individuals of all ages develop the habits of inquiry and skills of expression that they need to be critical thinkers, effective communicators and active citizens in today’s world” (2007, 1). In a push towards college and career-readiness, the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the National Governors Association (NGA) created the Common Core State Standards that “lay out a vision of what it means to be a literate person in the twenty-first century” (2010, 3). Along this vein, media literacy and the Common Core Standards are inextricably interconnected:

To be ready for college, workforce training, and life in a technological society, students need the ability to gather, comprehend, evaluate, synthesize, and report on information and ideas, to conduct original research in order to answer questions or solve problems, and to analyze and create a high volume and extensive range of print and nonprint texts in media forms old and new. (Common Core 2010, 3)

It is important to note that while the Common Core Standards cast a wide net in terms of literacy, they claim to be explicitly and intentionally non-pedagogical: “The Standards define what all students are expected to know and be able to do, not how teachers should teach.” (Common Core 2010, 6). This has been both a blessing and a curse to teachers who are literally up to their own devices (in some cases, literally) to decide how to implement the standards in their teaching. It therefore is not surprising that in 2014, NAMLE published Media Literacy Education & The Common Core State Standards: An Educator’s Guide. NAMLE’s stated the position that “incorporating media literacy education into, specifically, English Language Arts (ELA) practices, supports the focus of the CCSS on analysis, digital creation, and the use of nonprint texts” (Cooper Moore & Bonilla 2014, p. 1). Implied by this connection is an inquiry-based, reflective pedagogical approach to media literacy education. While the Common Core Standards make explicit the imperative of creating media texts, the standards omit any social or political stance with regards to applying such knowledge and skills in the wider community (although “college and career-readiness” would imply such involvement). In this sense, it is up to the teacher to intentionally enact a pedagogy of social action and civic engagement as an end result of student mastery of the Common Core Standards.

In 2013, a key group of NAMLE members undertook the task to revisit the Core Principles of Media Literacy Education since their original inception in 2007. As part of this reflective, deliberative process emerged the key concept that through media literacy education learners actively and effectively participate in a democratic society by analyzing, creating, and using media. In other words, the group placed at the forefront democratic citizenship as both the ends and means of media literacy education. The purpose of schooling is therefore to create opportunities for students to learn modes of expression and develop their voice(s) to catalyze their civic participation and ultimately to usher them into adulthood, which includes readiness for college and career.

The same year the Common Core Standards were published, The Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy released a white paper, Digital and Media Literacy: A Plan for Action. Its author, Renee Hobbs, defined digital and media literacy as “a constellation of life skills that are necessary for full participation in our media-saturated, information-rich society” that requires the competencies of analysis, creation, reflection, and taking social action as a member of a community (vii-viii, italics added). The assumption here is that it is insufficient to merely engage in media consumption, criticism, creation or communication—without leveraging them towards some sort of social change within the larger community. This broadening of media literacy education through “active citizenry” is relatively new despite its historical roots in social and political activism during the 1970s (Center for Media Literacy, 2011). It is therefore not surprising that media literacy education in teacher preparation is rare (Goetze, Brown, & Schwarz 2005).

 Moving the Teacher Education Agenda Forward

An active citizen approach to media literacy and teacher preparation requires the creation and sustaining of effective partnerships with non-school based entities. Such examples include, but are not limited to, community organizations, non-profit agencies, afterschool programs, and university-based teacher preparation programs. Media literacy in teacher preparation is usually overshadowed by the political emphasis on technological proficiency and the need to integrate it with curriculum. Technological proficiency is pre-requisite to the active citizen or civic engagement approach to media literacy education (and the Common Core); at the same time, it has been the Achilles’ heel of public education.

Ultimately, civic engagement through media literacy can only happen through increasing field-based course experiences for pre-service teacher candidates. Pre-service teachers in particular can engage in service learning within school districts or community organizations by applying their technological skills and knowledge through the design and implementation of an acceptable use policy, providing in-service training on Copyright and Fair Use, and/or facilitating workshops on online safety or digital citizenship. From this roundtable discussion will emerge additional inroads to action-oriented media literacy education in the context of teacher preparation.


Aufderheide, P., & Firestone, C. (1992). Media literacy: A report of the National Leadership Conference on Media Literacy. Queenstown, MD: Aspen Institute.

Center for Media Literacy. (2011). “Media Literacy in the USA: History of Media Literacy in the USA—Decade by Decade.”

Collins, J., Doyon, D., AcAuley, C., & Quijada, A. I. (2011). Reading, writing, and deconstructing: Media literacy as part of the school curriculum. In G. Wan & D. M. M. Gut (Eds.), Bringing schools into the 21st century (pp. 159–186). New York, NY: Springer.

Cooper Moore, D. and Bonilla, E. (2014). “Media Literacy Education & The Common Core State Standards”

Domine, V. (2011), “Building 21st-Century Teachers: An Intentional Pedagogy of Media Literacy Education,” Action in Teacher Education, 33: 194-205.

Goetze, S. K., Brown, D. S., & Schwarz, G. (2005). Teachers need media literacy, too! In G. Schwarz & P. Brown (Eds.), Media literacy: Transforming curriculum and teaching. The 104th Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education (Part I, pp. 161–179). Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Hobbs, R. (2010). Digital and Media Literacy: A Plan of Action. Washington, D.C.: The Aspen Institute.

Kubey, R. (2004). Media literacy and the teaching of civics and social studies at the dawn of the 21st century. American Behavioral Scientist, 48(1), 69–77.

Leonard, J., & Stewart, L. (2009). The mis-underestimation of the value of aesthetics in public education. In P. M. Jenlink (Ed.), Dewey’s democracy and education revisited: Contemporary discourses for democratic education and leadership (pp. 187–202). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

National Association for Media Literacy Education. (2007a). Core principles of media literacy education. Retrieved from

Parker, W.C. (2005). Teaching against idiocy. Phi Delta Kappan, 86(5), 344–351.

Sperry, C. (2006). Seeking truth in the social studies classroom: media literacy, critical thinking and teaching about the Middle East. Social Education, 70(1), 37–43.

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