Whatever people say I am, that’s what I’m not…

Becky Parry, Institute of Education

This online space has enabled a productive dialogue about aims, ethos and aspirations for media education. However, given the, at times, wilful misunderstanding of Media Studies and the misappropriation of media literacy, it also becomes necessary to pay attention to ‘whatever people say’ – that media education is a ‘soft’ option. Underlying the intractable tone of my title, also the name of the first Arctic Monkey’s album, referencing in turn the film ‘Saturday Night Sunday Morning,’ is the desire to be a little better understood.

In the context of the primary classroom, with some noticeable exceptions, media education remains peripheral and children’s participation in media cultures is often a cause for concern (Lambirth, 2004). To some it is alarming to consider that television programmes, popular music or console games might infiltrate classrooms in place of higher value texts. A traditional defence of the inclusion of popular culture has been that by doing so, we counter media saturation and arm children against influence. These arguments are well rehearsed, but for me, that is something else that media education is not.

Children engage with a ‘narrative web’ of popular culture texts and artefacts through which they explore identity and develop literacy (Marsh, 2005). By the time children go to school they have already built up a repertoire of ‘symbolic resources’ they use to enable talk and play (Buckingham and Sefton-Green, 1994; Pahl, 2006). Teachers too, live media rich lives and have developed tastes and preferences which contribute to their identities and orientation to literacy (Buckingham et al, 2010). At school children are taught to read, write, speak and listen through extensive use of narrative texts. However, for many children there is a disconnect between their home and school experiences of narrative (Parry, 2010). Contemporary policy, restricting the literacy curriculum and prescribing pedagogy result in the shared experiences of children and teachers being left outside the classroom door.

For some children then, everything they know about stories based on popular culture texts is not valued and is therefore not an asset to them. Given the centrality of narrative to literacy teaching, these children are likely to fail and are being failed by current practices relating to the teaching of literacy which rule out contemporary culture and place too much emphasis on writing skills. This is a missed opportunity. Children’s texts are complex, sophisticated and pleasurable narratives and children read them actively, collectively and culturally. If we do not pay attention to how they read media texts and how they might also proceed to make them, we lose the opportunity for them to engage with their own lived experience of literacy, privileging literary texts that are a comparatively small part of their experience.

Media education as a form of protectionism obscures the potential to acknowledge what Williams (1989) describes as the distinct importance of narrative to our culture. The affective, social, and cultural relationships children develop with media need to be valued as part of their experience of narrative. There is also an urgent need to enable children to draw on their experiences of media in order to make explicit their understandings of both narrative and the affordances of different multimodal forms. We still only have emerging models of learning progression for media literacy and limited understandings of effective pedagogy for media education.

The negative perception of media texts and media education obscures these questions and constrains important areas of research. There is a growing body of work however, within the paradigm of New Literacies which explores the relationship between children’s participation in contemporary media, and their emerging literacy and identity practices at home and at school. However, a stronger connection to the subject of Media Studies might also prove productive. Using Media Studies analytical framework, including a focus on media language, audiences, representation and institutions brings children in touch with challenging ideas which relate to their own experiences. As the different contributions to this site demonstrate, these are not (and cannot) be neatly packaged units of subject information, but instead demand critical, creative, independent and collaborative thinking and learning.

As the Developing Media Literacy: Towards a Model of Learning Progression 1 research has begun to demonstrate, it is not enough to value children’s experiences of media. Nor is it enough to develop media literacy in order to enhance school-based literacies. Children as young as six can understand and begin to apply new sets of questions to texts, and experiences which are clearly advancing their understandings of their own lived culture. Last week I observed a Y3 classroom in Croydon where children conducted, collated and analysed audience research, leading them to recognise that different audiences might interpret, make sense and meaning from texts in different ways. Last term I observed a Y5 class in Cambridge make radio news broadcasts, learning not only about the process of production but also about regulation, funding and news values. More broadly both groups of children were learning that texts are constructed, they represent the world in particular ways and audiences, including themselves, respond to them actively, socially and culturally.

As a result of productive pedagogy and the use of the Media Studies concepts the children were able to articulate understandings of abstract concepts such as modality, empathy, point of view, intertextuality; concepts more often left to much older students to grapple with. This leaves us with some interesting questions about teaching difficult, complex, ambiguous, open-ended ideas to students at both secondary and primary level that it will important to come back to and debate further. But to return to my title then, what is it that people say about media education? ‘ A soft option’ is also demonstrably what it is not.


Buckingham, D., Burn, A. Parry, B. and Powell, M. (2010) Minding the Gaps:

Teachers’ Cultures, Students’ Cultures in (Ed) Alvermann, D. Adolescents’ Online Literacies. New York, Washington, D.C./Baltimore, Bern, Frankfurt, Berlin, Brussels, Vienna, Oxford, Paul Lang p.183-199

Buckingham, D. and Sefton-Green, J. (1994) Cultural Studies Goes to School:

Reading And Teaching Popular Media. London, Taylor and Francis.

Lambirth, A. (2004) ‘They get enough of that at home’: Understanding aversion to

popular culture in schools. Children’s Literacy and Popular Culture ESRC funded seminar series. Seminar 6-11 February, 2004, University of Sheffield (Online http://wwwshef.ac.uk/content/1/c6/05/06/97/EG_11_2.pdf)

Lingard, B. (2005) Socially just pedagogies in changing times. In International

Studies in Sociology of Education, Volume 15, Number 2, July 2005 p.165-186(22)

Marsh, J . (2005) Ritual, Performance and Identity Construction: Young

Children’s Engagement with Popular Cultural and Media Texts. In Marsh,

J. (ed) Popular Culture, New Media and Digital Literacy in Early Childhood. Oxon, Routledge and Falmer p.28-50

Pahl, K. (2006) Children’s popular culture in the home: tracing children cultural practices in texts. In: Marsh, J. and Millard, E. (eds) Popular Literacies,

Childhood and Schooling. London, New York, Routledge Falmer p.29-53

Parry, B. (2010) Helping Children Tell the stories in their Heads. In Bazalgette, C.(ed)Teaching Media in Primary School. Los Angeles, London, New Dehli, Singapore,

Washington DC, Media Education Association / Sage p. 89-100

Williams, R. (1989) Raymond Williams on Television: Selected Writings. New York, Routledge

1 ESRC funded project link:  http://www.ioe.ac.uk/study/departments/lkl/21807.html


This entry was posted in Becky Parry. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Cary Bazalgette says:

    Good to see this especially while the NC Review is under way. I worry that the Review will lead to a very prescriptive version of English with “ages and stages” locked in just when we are coming to realise that ages and stages don’t operate in the same way with non-print media. Likelihood of Tim Oates reading Becky’s entry? Not very high, alas.

  2. John Fitzsimons says:

    Media Studies can become the study of the media from the standpoint of many other disciplines. Sociology, politics, economics, communication as examples. A question here is therefore not “is it a soft option”, but exactly what is it? If we removed this facination of applying almost every analytical approach to the media (thus creating a framework that is almost impossible to understand), what are we left with? Can we study the media for what it is? If we did, what would we find?

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *