August 2010 M-Passioned Member: Kara Clayton

Kara Clayton & Her Students1) What do you do?

I am about to start my 16th year of teaching Media Studies classes at Thurston High School, which is located in the South Redford School District of Southeast Michigan.  Long story, short: I created a popular media program that includes courses in media literacy, an introductory media production class, and an advanced television production class.

2) What can you tell us about your latest work or project in media literacy?

I absolutely LOVE Orca whales and I wanted to share that love with my students.  So about 14 months ago I started developing a fantasy trip in my head where I would take students to San Juan Island in Northern Washington to video tape the whales in order to teach the world about how wonderful they are, and how they are struggling for survival.  In this fantasy, we received thousands of dollars in grant money for this project.  Well, reality hit.  We applied for grants, large and small, but did not receive a dime.  Time for Plan B:  Fundraising. When all was said and done, we had raised $25,000…enough to get 13 students and four chaperones to San Juan Island from June 26-July 2, 2010.  The trip was a risky endeavor; it’s not like I could call the whales up on the hydrophones and ask them to be “in town” while we were there, but we were incredibly lucky and they did cooperate.  We saw whales each day, interviewed marine naturalists, and even spent a full day with filmmaker Suzanne Chisholm (The Whale, formerly titled Saving Luna). We acquired hours of great footage that is being edited into PSAs and informational videos to help explain why these whales are so important to our environment and to The Salish Sea.  More importantly, my students have become ambassadors for the Orcas.  You can watch the example below, and check out more from our first set of videos on our YouTube Channel.

3) What is your favorite form of media?

Social Networking.  I have to admit that I’m pretty addicted to Facebook.  However, I find that Facebook has so many great uses:  I can do pre-production planning with my students, write scripts with them online, check in with them about equipment use, and, when necessary, find out why they weren’t in class that day.  And of course, it’s a great way to work with other educators to discuss lesson plans.

4) Why is media literacy important to you?

Media literacy has been important to me since I started teaching.  At first, it just sort of happened as I was planning my curriculum, but then it became a natural integration into just about everything I did in my classroom.  I find myself having frequent conversations with students about the media choices they make, and the power they have to impact society based on their media production decisions.

Here’s an excerpt from a recent exchange I had with one of my students (on Facebook!):


Can you explain to me your justification as a filmmaker why you would use a gun shot
in a video about a whale?  And don’t answer with LOL

Student  It was an explosion and thought it sounded cool at first

What does it have to do with orcas? With the environment? With PCBs?

Nothing =/

What does it have to do with perpetuating a stereotype about African American teenage males?

lmao. ouch, never looked at it that way lmao

You shouldn’t be laughing. I cannot tell you how disturbed I am by this. And I hope that your laugh is because you are uncomfortable. Because you should be. African American teenage males have the highest level of violence in our society.


that’s why I laughed because I didn’t view it from that perspective. and it did kind of feel uncomfortable =l


And it won’t go away because of little things like gunshots as transition points in videos. You have the power as a media maker to make a change. Are you going to use that power effectively and positively?  Or are you going to perpetuate the stereotypes of your race. You get to make the CHOICE.

5) Why do you think media literacy should matter to others?

I think that example should be one reason. Too many people do not get that they are perpetuating stereotypes about themselves (or others) because they are making thoughtless decisions regarding media production.  The discussion I had with the student about the gunshot sound effect resulted in him thanking me for pointing out this perspective.

6) Can you tell us about how your work has been recognized?  Awards you’ve received?

Several years ago, I was a finalist for Cable in the Classroom’s Leaders in Learning Award, this year I received the USA Today Courageous Persuader Award.  There have been a few other awards along the way as well.  However, the local, state, and national recognition my students have received for their own production work is far more exciting than my own awards.

7) What’s been your proudest moment in your work in media literacy education?

I think my proudest moment in media literacy education was being told that my program was so successful that our district was going to go for a bond initiative in order to build a studio for my program.  I think that showed our community that we had a track record of success and that was so incredibly rewarding. Being able to invite all of my former students back for an open house once the studio facility was open was icing on the cake.

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