This month, our Organization Member Spotlight is on the Labragirl Media Project, based in Louisville, Colorado. Emily Bailin Wells, spoke to founder, Laurie Chin Sayres, about the importance of adult media literacy education, Labragirl’s upcoming West Coast tour, and the reason for the organization’s recent name change.
LCS: We support teachers, administrators, and parents to think critically about the media’s influence. We work primarily with teachers through professional development programming and integration services after the PD, like team teaching, which is the time when we get to interface with students. We aim to integrate media literacy as a language and perspective into schools, helping people understand not only how to read and process images, but also to recognize media as a universal language that shapes the way we perceive others and the world around us. The goal is for our work to ultimately reach the students by creating a large base of teachers trained in media literacy skills.
Labragirl Media Project’s main programs include our in-school professional development, three-part luncheon series, parent salons, and media literacy tour.
One of our main goals is to be collaborative as we promote awareness in media literacy. There are so many great organizations doing amazing work, all trying to raise awareness about media literacy and support critical thinking skills. Media literacy has become a vast field so it’s important to view other organizations as potential partnerships and for us, collaborating with the various constituents at each of our partnership schools allows us to integrate as fully and meaningfully as possible at every site.
Working towards full integration in our partnership schools can be challenging. There are many passionate teachers who believe in media literacy, but the challenge often lies in getting the entire school on board, to see how media literacy fits into subject areas beyond language arts and social studies.
History poses a different challenge. There seem to be two main perspectives when it comes to media use in history and social studies classrooms. The first is that it is beneficial to use media but teachers are not sure about best practices or how to incorporate it in academically meaningful ways. The second belief we encounter is that media doesn’t belong in the history classroom and there is a stigma attached to incorporating media literacy. However, this leaves students without the skills to understand the way media has shaped our past and our ideas of the past. Our goal is to help teachers learn how to use media as primary sources from the time period the media was produced and also to explore the ways images have shaped our cultural memory and understanding of the past. Because media use in history classes is so important, we have developed a PD workshop dedicated to integrating media literacy into history classes.
But we have had some really successful integrations which I think happen as the result of our teacher support, we do a deep dive into the content with them, provide detailed lesson plans, and comprehensive resources. Adults need to be media literate as much as children, so we work closely with administrators, teachers and parents to develop and strengthen the skills to critically think about media, particularly moving images.
The luncheon series is offered during the spring, summer, and fall for educators, administrators, community members, and parents in Boulder and Denver. The goal of the series is to raise awareness and discuss media literacy education as a way to create a community of teachers dedicated to helping students gain essential 21st century critical thinking skills.
Our parent salons are a four part series where we focus on what media literacy is, why it’s important, and how to open up a dialogue with your child about media and digital citizenship. Parents come away with skills and tools that empower them to deal with media in their household.
Beginning in July and running through November, the Labragirl Media Project will be on the road, traveling up and down the West Coast on their “Moving Images–Moving Forward Media Literacy Tour,” which will consist of one day workshops on topics such as media literacy methodology, media literacy 101, and digital literacy (i.e., cyberbullying).
EBW: What makes your organization stand out? What would you say is the most unique thing about your organization?
LCS: I’d say our first specialization or niche is focusing on the visual images versus the content – helping teachers and students understand how moving images create ideas and images that, in turn, create a visual language. Then, from this place we can add in discussion of content (elections, etc.)
The second point that we specialize in is our focus on full school integration. Schools are more successful when they realize media literacy is not a separate subject, but a language that applies in all disciplines and all age-groups.
Because of the stigma media use has in history, we feel we can make big strides in history and social studies classrooms. This is an important area for us because the media shapes our understanding of the past and the world around us, yet the images in our popular culture are dramatically different from what we study in the classroom. Our focus is on helping teachers and students understand how media images shape our cultural memory of the past and how to use media as primary sources from the time period they were produced NOT the time period portrayed in the film/tv show/etc. For example, Glory is used to learn about 1989 society and NOT the Civil War.
EBW: What are recent projects or new resources that your organization would like to share with other NAMLE members?
LCS: We are currently working with several schools in Colorado, Massachusetts, and Canada. We work with a select number of schools each year in our full integration program. To spread the word and create a trained base of media literacy experts, we are also adding a one-day media literacy intensives and next year we will launch our teacher media literacy education certificate program. The certificate program will give educators the opportunity to become the “media literacy expert” in their schools, facilitating ways to promote and raise awareness about media literacy education in more productive and efficient ways.
EBW: You recently changed the name of your organization, why?
LCS: Yes! The organization’s name change was a long time coming. We’ve always been a media literacy company, but as we’re branching out throughout the West Coast and into Canada, it’s become increasingly clear to us that Labragirl Media Project is much more representative of the work we do and the range of topics that we cover. We still focus often on film and moving images, but “media” encompasses production, analysis, and more.