Saturday, April 01, 2006

Responding to Media Texts

The year 12 students at my school are studying persuasive language techniques in preparation for their Responding to Media Texts SAC. I have heard a number of teachers say that teaching this section of the course is dry and boring, not only for the students but also for themselves. But I think that it depends on the way it is framed. If this study is seen as an exploration of the language of power, the students may more readily see its relevance to their lives. So much depends on the way the teacher presents this task. A friend of mine similarly is disturbed by the glib assumption that school literacies are boring. She talks about her classroom and the way that students are doing things in the classroom which show they are really into what they are learning. Few students would say in public that they love it but their actions and discussions show another side to this. I too have seen students reluctant to leave the class when the bell goes because they are discussing something that is important to them or they are writing something or sharing something that has to do with what they are learning about.

As a result of going the Meet the Assessors program put on by VATE I have started asking students to report on an aspect of persuasive language use they have seen in the course of their day or week, something on a billboard, or a tv ad or a headline in a newspaper or whatever they like. It is very engaging, at least so far, and students are gaining practice in using the metalanguage needed for their analytical work. Often it leads to a continued discussion as students share their own experience with that particular persuasive strategy. It reminds me of the podcast I listened to by Wes Fryer on the importance of informational texts for our students. For so many of our students the only texts that they will read when they leave school will be informational or persuasive texts and thus the importance of being deeply literate is incalculable. I am really interested in following the path of looking at how the language is being manipulated and showing and demonstrating to students the way they too can have power over the language and be in command of strategies instead of being uncritical consumers of whatever is dished up. Although I do wonder sometimes if people in ‘real life’ (those not in classrooms) go around identifying rhetorical strategies and techniques and analysing their effect.


  1. As always, Jo, you have identified the problem and the solution: connection. Anything and everything is boring if you don't see a connection to it. Too often we teach concepts in a vacuum. I know I do, anyway. But when we can help students see real life -- preferably their real life -- applications, they connect and don't find it boring anymore. It is, as you say, a question of framing.

  2. I think "issues", in the broad sense, are the most valuable thing kids do in VCE English, and certainly the study of persuasive language is crucial. It's about critical thinking -- wasn't that a buzz word some time back? -- and I think you're probably right that a lot of people DON'T think critically, to their own detriment. Why else would Coles have a radio ad saying "We have specials on the really important things, like 2L bottles of Coke!" and nobody bats an eyelid? Because through highly persuasive advertising the Coca-Cola company has convinced a LOT of people that Coke is actually very good!

  3. So if we want students to think critically and really develop their own communication skills, as well as abilities to understand and react when they are being manipulated by the world, aren't we talking about needing them to read the WORLD as well as the WORD, as Paulo Freire wrote? I think this can be cast in a framework of global citizenship, as Dr. Michael Byers of UBC did recently in a podcast. We should NOT just want students to passively learn and complete their lessons: We should want them to learn about things that matter, injustices that are being perpetuated, and get mad enough about them to take action! There is an activist / critical educational theorist agenda to be advanced here, which is tied closely to the ideas of getting students engaged in their learning and studies, and working on issues that matter.

    Maybe I am off the primary thread here, but if you're talking about getting kids to write persuasively for example, then I think we should be engaging them on topics that really matter-- like human rights and genocide prevention.

    Sadly, as one of my friends has observed, many parents may not send their children to schools so they can have their worldviews challenged and really develop critical thinking skills. I am sure perceptions of that vary considerably across the globe, and even neighborhood to neighborhood in the same city.