Learn critical thinking through media literacy education

According to the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), in order to gain government funding, the state must submit a plan relating how it will:

“[ensure] that high-quality academic assessments, accountability systems, teacher preparation and training, curriculum, and instructional materials are aligned with challenging State academic standards so that students, teachers, parents, and administrators can measure progress against common expectations for student academic achievement” (NCLB, 2002, Sec. 1001.).

For Pennsylvania, those standards for measuring progress are Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) standardized test scores. The PSSA tests are given to students in grades three through eight and grade 11 to determine if students are making “adequate yearly progress” (AYP) compared to grade-level standards. (“PSEA,”2010).

Since NCLB was passed, teachers have had to adjust their curriculum to incorporate standardized test preparation into lessons (Ellis, 2007). According to interviews completed by Charles R. Ellis, some teachers integrate the information slowly in intervals and others prepare students for the state tests during the 4-week period leading up to the test (2007). Regardless of the method, “valuable class, teaching and learning time is consumed with pretests or drills of test material in order to improve the students’ scores on the state mandated skills tests” (Ellis, 2007).

The PSSA test scores, being part of the measurement for government funding, take on great importance for school districts. Sue Lockwood Summers, author of Get Them Thinking! : Use Media Literacy to Prepare Students for State Assessments, has realized this importance and come up with ways to help teachers change the way they are studying for standardized tests. Instead of focusing lessons on specific test topics like reading, writing and mathematics, and other subjects, Summers believes that “educators must integrate critical thinking into all curricula to generate a lasting impact” (2005, pp. 2).

Summers states, “Teachers who recognize the goal of teaching thinking rather than just imparting knowledge help students make connections beyond the content of the coursework” (2005, pp. 2) She suggests teaching critical thinking by applying it to the study of media literacy. This practice gives students the skills and knowledge needed to “access, analyze, evaluate and communicate” (NAMLE) media messages.

Her book applies critical thinking to five media literacy questions (Summers, 2005, pp. 8-9):

1)    Who created the message? – This helps students think about the author, his/her point of view, and the intended audience.

2)    What is the message? – “Thinking skills include investigation of writing style, word choice, and image; determination of whether the message is fact or opinion, fiction or nonfiction” and more.

3)    How was the message delivered? – This can focus on the context and genre of the message and how it captures audience attention.

4)    What is the impact of the message on me? – This involves personal reflection, helping students judge the reliability of the message.

5)    What is the impact of the message on society? – This helps students to “draw conclusions, make inferences, predict, and judge the worth of a message.”

It is beneficial to all participating: students develop critical thinking skills and learn about media literacy; students use their critical thinking skills to score higher on standardized tests; school districts therefore have stronger test scores and more government funding. It is a cycle that teachers must take part in. Rather than teaching facts, teachers can use Lockwood’s ideas to give students something more valuable than good test scores; they can impart critical thinking skills through media literacy education.

(For more information and ideas to include media literacy into curriculum in studying for PSSA standardized tests, please see Sue Lockwood Summers’ book Get Them Thinking! : Use Media Literacy to Prepare Students for State Assessments.)


Ellis, C. R. (2007). No Child Left Behind – A Critical Analysis. Curriculum and Teaching Dialogue, Vol. 9, Numbers 1 & 2, pp. 221-233.

No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 Sec. 1001 (Last modified 2004). Retrieved October 24, 2010, from: http://www2.ed.gov/policy/elsec/leg/esea02/pg1.html

Pennsylvania State Education Association, The (2010). Retrieved October 24, 2010, from:

Summers, S. L. (2005). Get Them Thinking! : Use Media Literacy to Prepare Students for State Assessments, pp. 2, 8, 9.

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