Students today are inundated with advertising from any number of sources, including television commercials, online advertisements, billboard and print ads. These advertisements are carefully planned to appeal to certain age groups, and make it seem as though the consumer can't live without the coveted object of their desire. Meanwhile, students are also faced with texts at school which seem to be the exact opposite. They are not marketed to appeal to student interests, and bring to light the "contradiction that exists between the educational system and the sociocultural environment into which students are born" (Funes, 2008, p.166). Schools need to shift their thinking and begin helping students become literate in the ways of audiovisual advertising.
It is no longer up to the teachers to be the ones with all the knowledge, while the students happily consume what they are told. It is more important than ever for our students to develop critical literacy skills. Teachers need to embrace the cultural norms of today, and use them in their teaching practice, rather than turning back towards the teaching methods of the past.
This means adopting new practices that go beyond simply reading and writing, and incorporate mediums like online texts and images. Schools need to meet students where they are, and bring the outside world of Instagram and Twitter into the classroom. Students are in need of guidance about how to navigate our sound-bite, image-obsessed culture. School should be the place where we provide our students with guidance about how to navigate the world.
An example of this is using commercials for popular products, for example McDonald's food or iPods, to develop critical thinking schools. The goal is to present the images or commercials free from any implied bias on the part of educator and allow the students to reflect on what they are seeing. "The aim is to achieve an action-reflection-action process in which the student starts from his or her own experience...The teacher's role is to stimulate the analysis and reflection process" (Funes, 2008, p. 170). Instead of being the all-knowing disseminator of knowledge, the teacher steps back and allows students the freedom to develop their own ideas about what they are being presented with. In this way, our schools need to become places in which students are guided as they learn how to think for themselves and become savvy analyzers of culture rather than innocent consumers.
Funes, V. S. (2008). Advertising and Consumerism: A Space for Pedagogical Practice. In D. Silberman-Keller, Mirror Images (pp. 159-177). Peter Lang AG.
Further Ideas for the Classroom:
If ideas were fashion, would our students become more engaged? Is there a chance that ideas and knowledge could become as important to our students as Minecraft and Shopkins?
In their article, "If Ideas WERE Fashion," David Wong and Danah Henriksen propose the idea that the world of fashion can be used as a template for how teachers can make education more engaging and relevant to their students (Wong and Henriksen, 2008, p.180). It is no surprise to teachers that their students would rather be somewhere else a lot of the time. My students in grade 3 would much rather be playing Minecraft or Lego or Shopkins than learning about place value or how to find the author's message in a story. So it is up to me, the teacher, to find a way to engage the students in curriculum expectations so that they care enough to do their best work.
Wong and Henriksen give several reasons why they think using ideas from the world of fashion might be helpful to education. First of all, they point out that "the attraction to fashion has been evident in a wide variety of people for long periods of time" (Wong and Henriksen, 2008, p. 180). Therefore, as an educator, I need to look at they why and how of the ways the world of fashion attracts people's attention in order to utilize these tools in the classroom. I do want my students to be absorbed and interested in what we are learning, however, here is where I hit a roadblock. How likely is it that my third grade students are going to be as engaged and absorbed in adding two-digit numbers as they are in playing video games? I can picture engagement happening with some content-area subjects like Social Studies or Science, where there are issues, people and hands-on experiments to connect with. But when it comes to something like Math, I feel less engaged myself. It is a tool that is necessary in order to move about in the world, certainly, but I am hard-pressed to think about any math topic that is as engaging as the latest Nintendo DS.
With respect to specific products, Wong and Henriksen point to the Apple iPod and its advertisement "Silhouettes" to emphasize the power of images in getting people's attention and making something "in fashion." (Wong and Henriksen, 2008, p.188). I can definitely see using more powerful images to attract students' attention in class, and to make connections between the student and the content. But once again, I am struck with how this idea fits better with some subjects than with others. Showing students images of artifacts can be deeply engaging, as students use the images to bring to life the story of what it was like in the early days of life in Canada. What images would I show them in math class to make subtraction more exciting?
In focusing on teaching, by using the show "What Not to Wear," I felt a connection with the idea of there being no one-size fits all solution to the fashion problems of the contestants on the show (Wong and Henriksen, 2008, p.191). The hosts fabricate specific plans for each person, in order to personalize the experience. This is definitely possible in education, as we think about differentiating our instruction to meet a variety of students' needs. This also puts emphasis on the idea of the educator making a connection with each student, so that they can gauge what works well for each individual. Looking at our students as individuals rather than a collective is definitely in line with each person fashioning an education for themselves.
Wong, D., & Henriksen, D. (2008). If Ideas WERE Fashion. In P. Lang, Mirror Images (pp. 179-198). Diana Silberman-Keller et al.