Critical Media Literacy and Early COVID-19 Media Coverage: Participatory Action Research with a Fifth Grade Girl

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University of Alabama Libraries

This eight-week participatory action research (PAR) study took place in the summer of 2020. The participant, "Crystal,” was eleven years old and in the 5th grade at the time of the study. In this inquiry, Crystal and I explored a jointly devised research question: How have popular news media covered the science and politics of Covid-19 from January to March 2020? Additionally, I asked: How do the elements of critical media literacy (CML) help produce a 5th grader’s scientific knowledge and sociopolitical practices related to the Covid-19 pandemic? Data collected included descriptive and reflective fields notes, lesson plans, transcribed audiovisual recordings, and student-generated formative artifacts. The data yielded three key findings in relation to the first research question: 1) Analysis of rhetorical appeals was a point of entry into CML analysis and production; 2) Analysis of multiple news sources produced insights about trustworthiness; and 3) Conservative news media (e.g., Fox News) defended Trump’s handling of the pandemic and spread mis-, dis-, and information while liberal news media (e.g., CNN) critiqued Trump’s handling and focused on spreading information.Regarding the second research question, four key findings of the study were: 1) Practicing CML with popular culture texts (PCTs) demonstrated how Crystal’s background knowledge usually aided her analyses, but at least on one occasion, it presented barriers to analysis; 2) Analyzing 38 news media clips using CML helped Crystal become more adept at identifying trustworthy scientific news sources and analyzing multimodal rhetorical practices; 3) Crystal sometimes experienced “productive unease” (Kellner & Share, 2019, p. 33) when engaging with CML; and 4) Crystal was animated by the ethics of media production about Covid-19 (e.g., saving lives) coupled with the desire to produce engaging videos.The study yielded four major implications for further teaching and research: 1) CML requires significant preparation by teachers; 2) CML requires teachers and students to build contextual knowledge texts under analysis; 3) CML requires taking action. This study adds to the literature promoting CML instruction in schools and provides a detailed case of CML instruction for practitioners and teacher educators to adapt for use in their own classrooms.

Electronic Thesis or Dissertation
critical media literacy, media literacy, participatory action research, Qualitative research