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Hillary Frank, Peter L. Rennert-Ariev, Ph.D.

The Effects of Media Literacy Activities on Student Engagement in Non-Fiction Texts

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While it seems obvious that student engagement can improve both the teaching and learning that happen in the classroom, it is also easy to allow this engagement to fall by the wayside in order to give priority to standards, assessments, and accountability measures. However, when students are motivated, teachers can support and challenge students instead of merely working to engage them on a basic level. Prior research has suggested that, due to their appeal and relevance to students’ lives, media literacy activities are one possibility for engaging students in the classroom, while also providing the additional beneficial opportunities to actively participate in and create their own learning experiences, and build the skills necessary to be an active member of their society.

This action research study explored how the implementation of media literacy activities impacted student engagement and understanding of nonfiction texts in an eighth grade English Language Arts classroom. A wide range of media literacy activities were incorporated into a new nonfiction-based unit, titled “Freedom,” centering on historical nonfiction, particularly famous speeches of historical American figures. Data was gathered through observation, exit slips, field notes, student artifacts, and formal interviews.

In the analysis of results, it was found that the incorporation of media literacy activities positively impacted student engagement and understanding. The students’ levels of engagement and understanding increased due to the inclusion of the media literacy activities, such as watching and listening to deliveries of the historical speeches and creating their own media product based on research pertaining to the freedoms protected by the Constitution. Evidence of their increased engagement and understanding was demonstrated in the students’ interviews with the researcher and in the class responses on the end-of-unit exit slip. Students referenced a range of factors that led to their engagement and understanding, but most often referred to the emotional connections they were able to make through viewing deliveries of the speeches, as well as the student choice and creativity that was inherent in their creation of media.

Media literacy activities are powerful teaching strategies that can be used across grade levels and subject areas; however, in order to be most effective, they should be used purposefully, with a particular objective in mind. Ideally, the students will be made aware of the purpose for the inclusion of media as well. Limitations faced in this study included a small sample size and the combined roles of teacher and researcher. Overall, this action research project suggested the positive impact of media literacy activities on student engagement in and understanding of nonfiction texts; however, research discerning which types of media have the most impact on engagement and understanding is still needed.

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