Commentary #3 – The imperative of developing critical media literacy skills



 Kellner and Share’s article “Toward critical media literacy: Core concepts, debates, organizations, and policy” (2005) focuses on the imperative need for new pedagogical approaches and strategies to help students develop critical media literacy skills.  They state that “Critical media literacy not only teaches students to learn from media, to resist media manipulation, and to use media materials in constructive ways, but is also concerned with developing skills that will help create good citizens.”(Kellner and Share, 2005, p.372)

Such a pressing need for teaching critical media literacy skills has emerged as a result of the rapid developments in today’s technological society where “information, education, advertising and entertainment are becoming seamlessly interwoven.” Canada’s Media Awareness Network (2008). 

The other contributing factor is related to the reality that although inexplicitly, “media culture is a form of pedagogy that teaches proper and improper behaviour, gender roles, values and knowledge of the world (Kellner, 1995a, 2003). Canada’s Media Awareness Network (2008) observes that media literacy helps students “develop an informed and critical understanding of the nature of the mass media, the techniques used by the mass media, and the impact of these techniques on individuals and society.”

While the emergence of new technologies affords a myriad of opportunities to promote active learning or “student-centred” approach due to the abundance of interactive functionalities and tools, Canada’s Media Awareness Network  raises the concern that “the majority of “media” courses still focus on using media as an educational tool, or using media to produce learning resources. Courses that focus on bringing critical thinking skills to popular culture, or on classroom strategies for media education, are beginning to grow in number but they are still relatively scarce” (para.30).

In describing the challenges of developing critical media literacy skills, Kellner and Share (2005) highlight that “it is not a pedagogy in the traditional sense, with firmly established principles, a canon of texts, and tried-and-true teaching procedures.” (p.373)

So, what is critical media literacy and what can be done to help our students develop those much needed critical media literacy skills?

Canada’s Media Awareness Network (2008) defines critical media literacy as “the ability to understand how all speakers, writers and producers of visual texts are situated in particular contexts with significant personal, social and cultural aspects.”

Kellner and Share’s (2005) definition of critical media literacy goes beyond understanding the message; it extends to the development of the ability to critically analyze and “criticize stereotypes and dominant values and ideologies, critically dissect media forms, to investigate media effects and uses and to construct alternative media” (p.372).

Developing critical media literacy skills therefore means that students develop the competency to understand and interpret media messages of any form and that they question and challenge the purpose and the meaning behind the message and, analyze the impact it has on their daily lives. It also means that students realize that the message may be perceived and interpreted differently by different people – an attitude that helps to foster responsible citizenship in a diverse, global society.

In this video clip, Tessa Jolls focuses on the definition of media literary and five core questions that I think all of us educators should strive to teach students to consider at all times. Upon a close analysis, I see these questions as the foundation of pedagogical approaches that help students develop critical media literacy skills.

1. Who is the author of the message and what values, lifestyles and viewpoints are being represented or left out in the message?                              (questions 1 and 3 merged)

Developing critical thinking skills is connected to activities that encourage students to question and analyze media messages. In trying to answer this question, the students will start to discern facts from opinions and also distinguish whose values and viewpoints are being represented through the media message; whose viewpoints and values are not included. Kellner and Share (2005) explain that “along with critical discussions, debate, and analysis, teachers ought to be guiding students in an inquiry process that deepens their critical exploration of issues that affect them and the society. (p.373) For example, involving students in conducting research and presenting and discussing how their favourite character from a movie or show influences their everyday lives would be most beneficial.  

2. What techniques are being used to send this message?

Being exposed to the process of media production is bound to increase awareness and understanding of media tools used to influence a specific behaviour or value. Amongst other authors, Sholle and Denski (1994), Buckingham (2003), Semali (2000b), suggest that “critical discussions about the political nature of media texts and the audiences for which they are created should be accompanied by media production.” (Tobias, 2008)    The process of creating or experimenting with media tools helps students to explore what the representation of concepts or content means and uncover the real purpose for using those tools to accomplish the desired representation and message.

3. How might other people understand this question different from me?

Being involved in collective discussions prompts students to reflect on the images and messages and begin to see them in a different way as a result of sharing of diverse views among group members. Scharrer (2002) argues that one of the pedagogies is “to incorporate activities related to watching and experimenting with media tools and leading collective discussions to discern, interpret and discuss messages respectfully and critically.” (Tobias 2008)

Kellner and Share (2005) point out that “the ability for students to see how diverse people can interpret the same message differently is important for multicultural education.” (p.375)

4. Why was this message sent?

Such a question helps to address the importance of understanding the real purpose of the message that more often than not is to influence opinions and behaviours of target audiences and gain power over them. Kellner and Share (2005) explain that “too often students believe the role of media is simply to entertain.” (p.376) Students will better understand the real purpose behind the media, if involved in activities where they research and explore the type of “corporation that produces the media.” (Kellner and Share, 2005, p.377) This exploratory activity followed by a discussion can help students understand biases and hidden agendas behind the media message.

In conclusion, as Pat Kipping (1996) once said “Critical media literacy is an important resource we must develop in our children. It would be a form of violence to deny them this resource while we wait for something better to come along.” (para.10)


Centre for Media Literacy (2011) Media Education Foundation: Media Literacy, Education and Choice Retrieved from

Kellner, D., Share, J. (2005) Toward critical media literacy: Core concepts, debates, organization, and policy Discourse: studies in the cultural politics of education (26) (3) 369-386.

Kipping, P. (1996, January-February) Media literacy: an important strategy for building peace Peace Magazine Retrieved from

Media Awareness Network (2008) Media Education in Canada: An Overview Retrieved from

Tobias, J. A. (2008) Culturally Relevant Media Studies: A Review of Approaches and Pedagogies Simile, 8 (4), 1-17. Retrieved from

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1 Response to Commentary #3 – The imperative of developing critical media literacy skills

  1. Lynette Manton says:

    Hi Leonora,

    Did you notice our similarities? Twins separated at birth? I think our adult ed context brought us t0 a similar place….

    Interesting read!


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