Media Literacy in Schools: Practice, Production and Progression


Andrew Burn & James Durran

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    We are grateful to the students of Parkside Community College, Cambridge, and the teachers and support staff whose work is represented in this book, especially Jacqueline Billing, Emma Bull, Natalie Demain, Andrew Fisher, Jenny Griffiths, Craig Morrison, Kate Reed, Elaine Turnbull, Anne Spink, Fran Wilson, and Angela Webster. Also the students and teachers of Claydon Primary School, Ipswich, and colleagues in the primary Animation Project: Trish Sheil, Louise Spraggon, Lizzie Hobbs, and Andrew Lovett.

    We would like to thank those who have read drafts of the book and given valuable advice: David Buckingham, Mark Reid, Jim Stewart, Steve Connolly, Kai Zhang, and Helen Fairlie, our editor at Paul Chapman.

    We acknowledge with thanks the work of colleagues in the various research projects which inform the book, especially Diane Carr, Caroline Pelletier, Donna Burton-Wilcock, Jeff Woyda, Mark Reid, David Buckingham, David Parker, Sue Cranmer, Rebekah Willett, Shaku Banaji, Julian Sefton-Green, Barney Oram. In this respect, we also wish to acknowledge the support of the Arts and Humanities Research Council (‘Textuality in Videogames’), the Economic and Social Research Council (‘Making Games’, RES-328-25-0001), the Department for Education and Skills (Best Practice Research Scholarships), the English and Media Centre (the ‘Dubble’ project), BECTa (Evaluation of the Digital Video Pilot Project), Creative Partnerships (Rhetorics of Creativity), and the Cambridge Film Consortium and Screen East (Evaluation of the Primary Animation Project).


    We dedicate the book to the memory of our good friend and colleague Angela Webster, whose work was an inspiration to teachers and students, and whose support of the media specialism at Parkside was unstinting.

    Introduction to the DVD

    The DVD which accompanies this book contains films, animations and computer games made by students at Parkside Community College and partner schools between 1997 and 2006, as well as other resources useful to teachers in particular. It represents varied aspects of media production work since the school's designation as the first Media Arts specialist school in the UK in 1997.

    The DVD is organised into chapters which follow the chapters of the book. Each chapter (except Chapters 1 and 9) contains the student work described and analysed in the book, as well as illustrations from the chapter, so that these can be viewed in colour. In addition, some chapters contain schemes of work showing how the various courses are planned; and also additional pieces of work where these might be interesting and relevant.

    Chapter 2: Superheroes

    These are images of the comics designed by Year 8 students in the Superheroes course, so readers can see them in colour.

    Figure 2.2, Super-Ellen, is the photo-story made by one group during the course.


    Scheme of work for the Year 8 Comicstrip Superheroes course.

    Chapter 3: Animation
    Primary Stop-Motion Pack

    The Primary Stop-Motion Pack is a set of resources for primary school teachers to help make their own stop-motion animations. The ideas can easily be adapted to apply to the lower years of secondary school also. The sample films made by primary school children include those referred to in Chapter 3.

    Flight to Freedom is the computer animation made by Year 6 students at Claydon Primary School, and described in detail in Chapter 3. The video file contains a documentary made by the class, describing how they made the film, as well as their completed animation.


    These are images from Chapter 3: the storyboard from the Red Riding Hood animation; photos of the plasticine stop-motion animation; and stills from Claydon Primary School's film Flight to Freedom.

    Chapter 4: Hospital Dramas

    Illustrations from Chapter 4, showing frames from Year 8 students' hospital dramas.


    Scheme of work for the Year 8 Hospital Drama course.


    Example films by Year 8 students showing their hospital drama extracts.

    Chapter 5: Teaching Horror

    Scheme of work for Year 9 Horror Films course

    Robert and Faiza Presentation

    Short film of a Powerpoint presentation about Psycho by two Year 9 students.

    ‘GRABBING THE WEREWOLF: digital freezeframes, the cinematic still and technologies of the social’

    An academic article by Andrew Burn, discussing young people's readings of digital images from horror films.

    Chapter 6: Selling Chocolate
    Kika Dubble Brief

    A brief for making an advert for the Fairtrade chocolate bar Dubble, by Kika Dixon, the product champion for Dubble. The full teaching pack for this project can be found in The Media Pack: Units for GCSE English and Media, published by the English and Media Centre, 2002.

    Sample Student Ads

    Examples of GCSE students' adverts for the Dubble chocolate bar.

    Chapter 7: Game-Literacy

    Scheme of work for the Year 8 computer games course.


    Screen-grabs from Year 8 games analysed in Chapter 7, and made using the games authoring software Missionmaker.


    A game for English, based on Robert Browning's poem ‘My Last Duchess’. The game was made by James, using Immersive Education's games authoring software Missionmaker, and illustrates how the software can be used by teachers to construct game-based learning experiences. Download the Player application in order to open the Castle-Quest mission file. The pictures and PDFs in this folder show how the game was constructed.

    Student Games

    Level 6 of Jimmie DeMora is the game level made by a pair of Year 8 students as part of the computer games course described in Chapter 7.

    Player Application

    Download this piece of software in order to view the student games.

    Chapter 8: The Horizontal Angle: Media Literacy Across the Curriculum

    Example films made by GCSE Dance students (described in detail in Chapter 8)

    • Stop-frame animation of volcanoes made by Year 7 students (described in detail in Chapter 8)
    • ‘Defending the Coast’: documentary about coastal erosion in North Norfolk made by GCSE students.

    Example animations made by Year 9 students using Macromedia's Flash, demonstrating mathematical concepts.


    Short films by students of scientific experiments (described in detail in Chapter 8)

    • Films of their own bilingual poems, by GCSE students
    • Animated film of a scene from Macbeth, made by Year 10 GCSE students using The Complete Animator.
    Modern Languages

    Animated film of ‘meetings and greetings’ in French, made using Kar2ouche, by Immersive Education.

    • The Bare Blob Project – animated film based on the Garden of Eden, by an after-school animation club
    • Duke of Edinburgh – a documentary made by students about a Duke of Edinburgh excursion
    • School Song 2001 – winning entry for an annual college anthem competition, by Year 7 band Mundane Threat.
    Chapter 10: Back to the Future: Possibilities and Pitfalls for Media Literacy

    Images of Babbage's Analytical Engine, Daguerre's Daguerrotype, and an Acorn Archimedes, illustrating Manovich's thesis of the histories of technologies of representation and of information-processing, converging in the multimedia computer.

    School Song: RIDE. Video of a winning entry for the college anthem competition in 2000, edited by the band's drummer, whose work is referred to at the end of Chapter 10.


    We write this book from the context of a school in which we have both worked: Parkside Community College in Cambridge, which was the first school in the UK to be designated a Media Arts College under the UK government's specialist schools programme, in 1997. Parkside, which has a history of generously accommodating reform and change, and has been in its time an Edwardian Central School for Boys and Girls, a girls' grammar school and a comprehensive school (since 1974), has been an exhilarating context in which to work. In socioeconomic terms, the student intake has a substantial proportion of middle-class students, although the proportion of children with special educational needs is ‘broadly in line with the national average’ (OFSTED, 2000). In addition, about 7% of students are from minority ethnic backgrounds, and up to twenty languages are spoken.

    Since designation as a Media Arts College, we have explored with students a wide rage of media forms: comics, music videos, films, hospital dramas, horror films, computer games, sports TV programmes, news television, to name some. A sample of these different forms, and the literacies associated with them, form the subject of most of this book. We have also worked with colleagues in other subject areas to see how media forms and genres could be used in Music, Maths, Geography, History, Science, Modern Foreign Languages, Dance and Art; and we will describe and discuss in Chapter 8 how media literacy might operate in these subjects. Finally, we have evolved some idea of how media literacy in schools might develop through the five years of compulsory secondary schooling, the subject of Chapter 9.

    Media Arts Colleges in the UK need, perhaps, further comment. The government's use, in this designation, of the word Arts indicates an emphasis on a desired trajectory from education into the creative industries, seen by New Labour in particular as a key element in the UK economy (Buckingham and Jones, 2001). In this respect, the initiative belongs to a rhetoric running through the era of New Labour in which creativity is defined as a regenerative force, with the ability to promote values of community and inclusiveness, develop collaborative, problem-solving approaches in the workplace and to create a workforce equipped for the creative industries and the hi-tech sector (Seltzer and Bentley, 1999).

    We do not dissent entirely from this vision, except when it becomes a constraint. As we will explain later, our conception of creativity allows for a wider set of social and artistic purposes, including dissent, critique, subversion and self-representation, none of which obviously fit within the doggedly pro-social policy rhetorics of the New Labour policy formulation.

    Similarly, the development of a group of Media Arts Colleges in the UK has had its own momentum, its own imperatives, its own interpretations of media education, media literacy and media arts, which, naturally, vary from school to school. It is fair to make one general point, however: the Arts emphasis has tended to shift the centre of gravity of media education in these schools away from its traditional home in English, towards the other Arts subjects. While it remains true that most media teachers in the UK are English teachers (QCA, 2005b), these schools have been active in promoting cross-curricular media work, especially in the Arts; and in synthesising media work, especially creative production, with the traditional pedagogies of Art, Music, Dance and Drama.

    This emphasis may also explain some apparent gaps in our account. We do not, for instance, include any account of work on the news media, which we do not see as related to the media arts. Similarly, it is not yet clear to us that the Internet, whose primary importance for children and young people is communicative, is a distinct component of the media arts. While the authoring of web-pages does involve the aesthetic and compositional work we see as typical of media arts work, its primary significance in relation to the media arts is as a medium of exhibition (which we consider in relation to the distribution of student work). However, much of this may change in the future, and we consider possible developments, especially in relation to new media, in the concluding chapter.

    Nevertheless, we are both English teachers by training. In this respect, we have always been close to the details of print literacy, and the cultural interests of the literature curriculum, though we would locate ourselves closer to the ‘cultural analysis’ model identified originally in the Cox report (DES, 1988) than any of the other models. However, the emphasis on a semiotic approach in this book can be traced back to our interest as English teachers in systems of signification: how they are used by children, and how they can be understood by them. No doubt this background will colour our account. However, we do not pretend to paint any kind of ideal, general picture of what media education should look like. On the contrary, we expect it to be richly diverse.

    The account we give of our work represents an interrelation between research and practice. James still teaches at Parkside as an Advanced Skills teacher; Andrew lectures and researches at the Institute of Education in London, but worked as a teacher for 23 years before that, 17 of them at Parkside. While our current jobs produce inevitably different emphases, we have both always been involved in writing and research as well as teaching. Also, while our work has sometimes been focused inwards on the classroom, it has at other times been directed outwards, in dialogue with colleagues in the UK, Europe, Australia, the United States, Korea, China, New Zealand. While this is inevitably a very local account of the learning and teaching of media literacy, we hope it will bear some traces of this wider dialogue.

    This book, then, emerges from researched accounts of our work. Every chapter has involved some kind of reflective analysis, whether as part of large, funded research projects, or small, informal action research efforts. While the accounts of media literacy work here may serve as examples other teachers might want to explore in their own classrooms, they are also intended to show how practice and research intermingle. We hope, then, that they will suggest ways for teachers to think beyond instrumental models of the curriculum. For these purposes, we are not offering detailed templates, but rather suggestive accounts of what can be achieved and, as importantly, how we might think about what students get out of it. All the projects described here are, in principle, replicable without any need for expensive equipment or special resources.

    The book is also intended to indicate to researchers how the daily detail of work in the classroom over long periods of time can feed into the analytical and theoretical processes of research.

    We hope that our account will complement other books about media education which currently address important needs in this field. David Buckingham's Media Education (2003) gives a valuable overview of both the history and the current debates in this field. Julian McDougall's The Media Teacher's Book (2006) gives practical advice about how to develop programmes of media education. Our book, by contrast, gives an account of research and practice in one school over ten years or so. While it is a book about media education, its focus is on media literacy. We are looking through the lens of what the student is doing, making and learning, rather than the lens of what the teacher is doing. In practical terms, this means that most chapters in this book provide a descriptive account of the processes students go through in various projects, followed by an analysis of selections of their work. The final three chapters consider how media literacy can be addressed across the curriculum, how it can develop as students move up through secondary education, and what it might look like in the future.

    We imagine that the readers of this book may be quite diverse. Among them will be teachers of specialist media courses, teachers of media within English and perhaps teachers of other subjects who use, or would like to use, the media and its associated technologies in the kinds of ways we describe. We have worked with many teachers in many different subject areas over the years, and hope that we can offer something of interest across many different contexts. We have also worked with teachers at many different stages of their careers. Some readers of this book may be newly qualified, or still in training, with elements of textual, cultural and media theory fresh in their minds from university courses, but keen to know how such knowledge can be mediated for the classroom. Others may be experienced teachers, with a wealth of classroom practice, interested in reflecting on the implications for schools of new media and the cultural practices associated with them.

    Similarly, readers who work in academic research will, we know, have a range of different backgrounds and interests. Some may research the cultural lives of young people; some may be interested specifically in how young people engage with the media; others may be interested in the practice of media, literacy, ICT or arts education. We have tried to give some sense for this audience of the analytical and theoretical backgrounds which lie behind our accounts. We have also given ample references to more detailed or more technical accounts of the projects which have been the subject of specific research projects.

    Finally, we know from experience that descriptions in words, even with illustrations, never do justice to the variety and inventiveness of media production work by young people. For this reason, the book is accompanied by a CD-ROM, which contains the pieces of work by students which Chapters 2 to 9 focus on. It also contains additional examples where appropriate, and other information, such as schemes of work.

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    Film and TV References
    Adamson, A. (2001) Shrek. USA: Dreamworks.
    Altieri, K. (1992–95) Batman: The Animated Series. USA: Warner.
    Besson, L. (1997) The Fifth Element. France: Societe des Etablissements L. Gaumont.
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    Burton, T. (1990) Batman. USA: Warner.
    Cameron, J (1986) Aliens, USA, Fox.
    Cameron, J. (1991) Terminator 2: Judgment Day. France/USA: Le Studio Canal+.
    Clements, R. and Musker, J. (1989) The Little Mermaid. USA: Disney.
    Columbus, C. (2002) Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. USA: Warner.
    Coppola, F.F. (1992) Bram Stokers Dracula. USA: American Zoetrope.
    Craven, W. (1984) Nightmare on Elm Street. USA: The Elm Street Venture.
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    Crichton, M. (1994) ER. USA: Constant C Productions and others/Warner Television.
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    Groening, M. (1989) The Simpsons. USA: Fox.
    Hay, A. and Bridgeman-Williams, E. (1999) Holby City. UK: BBC.
    Hitchcock, A. (1960) Psycho. USA: Universal.
    Honda, I. (1956) Godzilla, King of the Monsters!Japan: Toho Company.
    Hooper, T. (1982) Poltergeist. USA: MGM.
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    Lasseter, J. and Stanton, A. (1998) A Bug's Life. USA: Pixar/Disney.
    Ocelot, M. (1998) Kirikou et la sorciere. France: Exposure.
    Park, N. (1989) A Grand Day Out with Wallace and Gromit. UK: Aardman.
    Power, J. (1993) The Tommyknockers. USA: Konigsberg/Sanitsky.
    Radomski, E. and Timm, B. (1993) Batman and the Mask of the Phantasm. USA: Warner.
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    Game References
    Age of Empires (1997) Ensemble/Microsoft.
    Call of Duty (2003) Infinity Ward/Activision.
    Crash Bandicoot (1996) Naughty Dog/Sony.
    Goldeneye 007 (1997) Rare/Nintendo.
    Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002) Knowwonder/Electronic Arts.
    Hitman 2: Silent Assassin (2002) IO Interactive/Eidos.
    Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) Hypnos: EA.
    Manhunt (2003) Rockstar/Rockstar.
    Resident Evil 2 (1998) Capcom/Capcom.
    Silent Hill (1999) Konami/Konami.
    Spiderman (2002) LTI Gray matter/Activision.
    The Sims (2000) Maxis/Electronic Arts.
    Tomb Raider 4: The Last Revelation (1999) Core/Eidos.

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