The connected learning model is a tool for understanding and supporting learning. It allows for intervention as we analyse the ever changing social, economic, technological and cultural society we are in. This model aims at creating a dynamic of mindsets, so not everyone thinks the exact same thing, but all ideas work for a greater whole. The connected learning model also prioritizes the learning through others, so not just one idea, but various ideas bouncing off of the other. It’s a framework that valorises collaboration, equitable learning, and encourages meaningful learning through interests, experiences, etc. When a learning model as such, contains such great values, it becomes the perfect formula to creating life long learners.
Conjointly, it is not only the students who are learning from one another but the educators as well. It is common that teachers feel like they lack peer support. With the connected learning model, educators support one another; they share resources, lessons. Those who were lacking or limited in material/knowledge are no longer. Through this model, we also gravitate towards technology as a tool to connect those who were out of touch, for example, through online resources, students who are unable to go to libraries, purchase books, etc., they have more access to knowledge. The connected learning model unites schools, community and the home, rather than in the past where traditionally these were separate.
Jurassic Park is a science fiction media franchise that produces a series of films. Every film is centered on an attempt to create a theme park of cloned dinosaurs that escape their confinements, only to seek and attack the visitors. In 2015, the franchise released their fourth movie titled Jurassic World. In this movie, Claire who’s the park manager is a single woman with no other priority in her life but the park. Regardless of her adequate ability to run this park, she fails to save herself without the help of the manliest man, the protagonist Owen, whom she later falls in love with.
Looking at this film with a critical lens, the female is portrayed as either the mom who looks like a mess and can’t wait to get a day off, or the ice queen, the workaholic and has no time for family, friends, essentially life outside of work.
Claire is the ice queen. She is running around the entire park (forest and mud included), while in heels and business attire. Her ideas frequently get dismissed because she’s in a man’s world, and she couldn’t possibly know what she’s saying. When she has a moment of saving the manly man Owen, Claire’s heroic act gets quickly covered by a kiss, which re-asserts his power and control over her, reducing Claire to a blushing and embarrassed girl.
This film stereotypes women as weak. The woman needs a hero, her opinions aren’t helpful, she is only good for producing children, she can’t have a balanced life, she must be pretty regardless of the circumstances, etc.
Let’s say this movie was played in a mainstream classroom. Stack and Kelly suggest that:
“Educators need to engage students by analyzing that which is playful as well as engaging in an ideological analysis of that which is serious.” (Stack and Kelly, 2006, p.13) A film as such could be playful, yet contains the means of a serious ideological analysis. That would be teaching critical media literacy.
“Indeed, teaching critical media literacy should be a participatory, collaborative project.
Watching television shows or films together could promote productive discussions between teachers and students (or parents and children), with emphasis on eliciting student views, producing a variety of interpretations of media texts, and teaching basic principles of hermeneutics and criticism.”
(Kellner and Share, 2007, p.5)
In watching popular media in a collaborative way, students get the “opportunities to inquire into, and debate, who controls the media system and whether a predominantly corporate commercial media system is compatible with democracy.” (Stack and Kelly, 2006, p.9-10). How much choice do we get with the media system?
Murphy states: “post-feminism, which would claim that the female characters in these stereotypical roles chose to be where they are” (Murphy, 2015). It’s important to relate choice with the point of democracy when dealing with critical analysis. Nevertheless, is it really choice, or it a result of preconceived biases that led Claire to choose this role?
According to Durham, “Mass media representations of adolescent girls constitute a facet of the cultural shaping of girls' training in femininity, and they are particularly effective at that developmental stage” (Durham, 1999)
Who’s developing our children? Are the individuals making their own choices, or is it the mass media forming them?
Durham, M. G., (1999) Articulating Adolescent Girls' Resistance to Patriarchal Discourse in Popular Media, Women's Studies in Communication, 22:2, 210-229
Kellner, D., & Share, J.(2007). “Critical Media Literacy Is Not an Option.” Learn Inq, Kluwer Academic Publishers
Murphy, J.N., (2015). “The role of women in film: Supporting the men -- An analysis of how culture influences the changing discourse on gender representations in film" Journalism Undergraduate Honors Theses. 2.
As we continue to critically analyze popular culture and its mass consumption, we also must take the time to investigate its impact on children through the various outlets, such as their toys.
In Wendy Varney’s article OF MEN AND MACHINES: IMAGES OF MASCULINITY IN BOYS' TOYS, she says
“Many toy stores of the Western world have boys' sections dominated by toy representations of cars and weapons, action figures, and, interestingly, since the mid-198os, a range of toys that blend these categories and locate men as machines.” (p.153, Varney, 2002)
Toy stores haven’t change since the 1980s. It has been more than a quarter of a century, where boys (and girls) have been predisposed to believe what their gender entails. As Varney continues to say:
“[…] they transmit to children, in concert with other cultural apparatus, particular views of gender relations, examples of appropriate behaviour, and character models” (Varney, 2002).
Boys are therefore represented as machine, tough, heroic, powerful, and etc. As such, girls cannot be represented by those particular adjectives because they belong to the boys.
One toy I’d like to reference is the Nerf gun. This is a type of ‘gun’ that shoots out darts. The guns, varied in sizes, but didn’t stray away from the male gendered coloured such as: blue, grey, black, orange and green. Just recently, in 2014, a new line was released called Rebelle that targets ‘girls’. How so? Well, the guns are pink or purple, glittery, and are named after words like diamond and dolphin. Let’s also not dismiss the way the name of the Nerf gun line is spelled, ‘reBELLE’, as in, princess Belle from Beauty and the Beast, or perhaps the French word for ‘pretty’. How else could guns be made for girls if they are not pink and pretty? Not only that, but the line implicitly implies that while you are holding this gun, you are a ‘rebel’. What makes the child a rebel? Is it because they are holding a gun? Or is it because, guns are meant for boys only and if you’re a girl with a gun, you must be a ‘rebel’?
In Damsels in Discourse: Girls Consuming and Producing Identity Texts through Disney Princess Play, Karen E. Wohlwend says:
“All cultural artifacts, from children’s scribbled drawings to manufacturers’ franchised toys, bear traces of the social practices that produced them” (p. 58, Wohlwend, 2009)
Whether it’s the Rebelle line of Nerf guns or just the regular one, we see Wohlwend’s point in effect. The social practice is that men are machines and girls are pretty. The social practice is that men go to war, while the women stay home to take care of the house and the way they look. Men are dirty, women smell nice. We may have progressed throughout the years, but we haven’t completely changed.
We live in a society that carries a large demand on having literate individuals. So far, in the Western society, a decent job has been done in ensuring that students can read and write. However, literacy is not confined to the 4 walls of the classroom or the school,
“[…] literacies exist outside of the world of the classroom and can and should be included in academic instruction.” (Morell, p.235)
A lot of students carry stories with them into class that may prevent them from understanding the literacy being discussed, simply because it does not incorporate any current or realistic points of view. So, those are the literacies outside of the classroom that should be included in a powerful academic instruction.
“[…] For any progressive literacy educator interested in reaching students and helping them to achieve must involve examining the everyday language and literacy practices of students to make connections with classroom practices.” (Morell, p.238)
With examining the everyday language and literacy practices, arises the concept of critical literacies. This form of critical literacy, takes powerful academic instruction through another dimension, because it’s not only using the everyday language and events, but it is comparing texts and understanding the underlying relationship between power and domination. Furthermore, it’s a mechanism that creates a platform where students can re-write their world. A literate student can be able to read and write, however, that doesn’t prevent him from viewing the world with a racist lens, a sexist lens, ageist, homophobic, etc. That’s why it’s important to understand the nature and the purpose of the literacy they read. Moreover, if the literacy they tackle in class is in conjunction with what they are experiencing outside of the classroom, it creates relevance, fuels passion and engages the students to thoroughly investigate, challenge and critically examine their world.
“By honouring and drawing upon local literacy practices and the everyday culture of youth, educators can prepare curricula that simultaneously increase academic literacies while also reaching into the worlds of students, facilitating empowered identities among these students, and making connections between their local practices and global concepts of educational and social justice.” (Morell, p. 235)
When I was in school, I remember my English teacher taking up the song “Where is the love” by the Black Eyed Peas and I feel that experience works very well as an example to what Morell is trying to say in his readings. My teacher used a hip-hop song to discuss with us literary devices and more importantly controversial topics (world peace, KKK, drugs, etc.).
An activity like that trains students to listen and observe carefully what is in their environment, then to assess the meaning behind it. Something a teacher might notice is students approaching her/him with other songs they heard that could produce insightful debate. An effective inquiry-based learning strategy would be to take up that song as a class and see if the students can critically view it on their own. I can’t wait to use this strategy in my classroom!
As a society, we’ve come a long way in regards to representations; people have learned to become more inclusive. That being said, there is still much work to be done and that starts in the classrooms of the children. As Stack and Kelly mention in their journal: children are inundated by the media with all kinds of advertisements - good and bad. Media influences their ideas. Therefore, it is important that schools become the hub for informed representations that are unbiased.
“If we set as one of our goals the ability of our students to read the world in multiple ways – to see things through a variety of lenses – we need to acquaint them with the lenses of colonialism and postcolonialism.” (p.87, Columbus did What?)
As a student, I was not misrepresented. However, I do recall some of my classmates experiencing ‘different treatment’ due to their race and gender. “Girls have the tendency to be better in art, whereas the boys are better with math. White kids are the best students and the best at sports, anyone else, especially the black kids don’t compare. Black kids are the trouble makers.” (Excuse the language, but that’s what was heard)
“Although we are far from living in a truly participatory democracy, many everyday acts of resistance go unnoticed and unreported by mainstream media.” (p.11, Stack & Kelly)
Based off that quote, there could have been some students who tried to resist these misrepresentations in my school, but were censored.
Ironically, it is also through the media that we can learn the different lenses to view the world with. For instance, there’s a video on YouTube from a Ted Talk (a nonpartisan non-profit devoted to spreading ideas) called “The danger of a single story” (link below) which demonstrates the consequences of always promoting the same lens. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a Nigerian immigrant who was frustrated from seeing all the literature showcasing the picture perfect Caucasian girl who was good at everything. She wondered about the African-American girl who was just as talented. This literature is so prevalent, that her university roommate was so concerned about Chimamanda being uneducated and always listening to tribal music. When really, she was educated at the top schools and shared the same taste in music.
To sum up, media may provide misrepresentations, but it’s important to constantly search for the right ones. We must put out critical lenses to view the world.
Literacy in conjunction with popular culture is a tool often used, in order to communicate different ideas and thoughts that society might enjoy, at the time of consumption. As popular culture progresses into new concepts, it’s important to modify the literacy involved. In Alvermann’s text, she notes the ‘autonomous model’ of literacy; where essentially, students are taught and required to achieve a certain level (pre-set by the educator) in reading and writing. However, in time, researchers discovered that reading and writing weren’t enough. People have different methods of communicating ideas and they should be given the freedom to do so. In their classroom, those modes of communication are used to express ideas within the social constructs of their environment. From that point, the notion of New Literacy Studies (NLS) came to be. All forms of communication are welcomed: visual, oral, gestural, linguistic, musical, kinesthetic, and digital to be used.
When multiple forms of literacy are in practice, it is inevitable to be faced with controversial opinions in regards to limiting the parameters of consumption. Alvermann discusses three debates in her essay; one of them that strikes the most is the second, “A question of Transfer”; which in summary is literacy moving from an informal to a formal environment. Although much research has shown that this practice can be difficult and educators find it difficult to maintain an instructional aspect to the informal environment, with enough experience, this could be a successful approach in literacy studies. The example of using Harry Potter as the “theoretical lens” in order to create their own situations, remixes and then to later share ideas on the fan fiction website, is a success story. That’s capitalizing on a student’s interest, taking learning from an informal environment to a formal one. The student is engaged in their work and the educator does not need to worry about texts that “serve to resist school and authority” (p.17). Educators ought to be listening and observing to the needs of the classroom, not imposing their own requirements. After all, students learn best when they want to.