Almost Snow. Not Quite Rain. Definitely Not Hail.

Gloria DeGaetanoMedia Literacy

Media literacy means giving kids words to engage high level thinking.

As a transplant from the east coast several decades ago, I still miss winter snow in the Pacific Northwest. Real, verifiable snow comes our way rarely when certain conditions, depending on your altitude, make it so. Usually it’s 33 degrees F, bringing the coldest rain possible without morphing into actual snow. Even though this happens so often I should anticipate it by now, Mother Nature’s trickery usually feels like a betrayal. I wanted to walk in a winter wonderland! What kind of barely identifiable rain is this anyway? Not the pure rain of the Pennsylvania woods I knew and loved, that’s for sure.

Living my adult life in the rainy city, I have come to appreciate, and finally understand the Eskimos’ use of “50 words for snow.” In Seattle, we could use more words for rain. After all, you can’t easily talk about a thing if you don’t have a word for it. You can’t communicate the tender traces of “almost” nor can you make understandable “about this, and not that”—if no word exists to describe layers of nuance. Drizzle, dew, mist make fine attempts, but they don’t come close to describing all the varieties and suggestions of rain we Seattleites experience. More words would definitely help.

Such a day of non-defined water from the sky brought me to today’s main topic:

Media Literacy. Media Literacy relies on words—foundational to any form of literacy.

Words equal thoughts. Think about it for a minute: Once a person knows a language—whether a spoken language, sign language or Braille—that person now can take their thinking to greater and greater heights—actually as far as their vocabulary will let them. Any form of language is a symbolic system for thought.

Therefore, children and teens who are in a process of developing “a symbolic system for thought” are limited in their thinking skills by the constraints of their vocabulary. When I share with the parents I work with that words are the basis for higher level thinking skills, they usually tell me they have never thought about words like that before. And they usually change their stance to their kids’ vocabulary building exercises—from ho-hum spelling/language arts assignments to the most important thing a parent can do to help their children become literate, high-level thinking adults.

Without words and a progression toward literacy, media literacy isn’t possible. While a literate person uses words to engage high level thinking skills across a broad range of print topics, a media literate person uses words to engage high level thinking skills across a broad range of topics seen and heard on all forms of screen-machines—TV, cellphone apps, movies, computer and video games, etc.

Fortunately our media-saturated environment gives parents plenty of opportunities to grow a child’s or teen’s vocabulary while exercising their cognitive muscles. When I recently found out that NBA star Kyrie Irving said he thinks the world is flat, I thought, “If my sons were still kids, this would make a great media literacy discussion.”

Here’s what I would have done to get a media literacy discussion going.

First, I would have read the quote from Kyrie Irving and asked what they thought about it.

Then, I might have asked some or all of these questions:

  • What does “verifiable” mean? (New vocabulary word!)
  • Can you verify that Kyrie Irving actually said this?
  • Can you verify that Kyrie Irving actually believe this?
  • Is it a fact planet earth is a globe? Why or why not?
  • Is it an opinion planet earth is flat? Why or why not?
  • Is Kyrie Irving entitled to his opinion the world is flat? Why or why not?

Some Places We Would Go:

The Flat Earth Society

“…the earth is a flat disk centered at the North Pole and bounded along its ‘southern’ edge by a wall of ice, with the sun, moon, planets, and stars only a few hundred miles above the surface of the earth.”

Who Discovered the Earth is Round?

“One of the most enduring myths that children grow up with is the idea that Columbus was the only one of his time who believed that the Earth was round; everyone else believed it was flat. ‘How brave the sailors of 1492 must have been,’ you might imagine, ‘to travel towards the edge of the world without fear of falling off!’”

Strange, But True: The Earth is Not Round

“It may seem round when viewed from space, but our planet is actually a bumpy spheroid.”

10 Easy Ways That You Can Tell for Yourself the Earth is Not Flat

“The evidence is right in front of you.”

It may have been an NBA star’s off-hand comment but it gives a lot to think and talk about. And…this is but one little example of the potential out their for family media literacy opportunities. You can use our surrounding screen world anytime you like to keep kids on their toes and using their heads.

Or you can always look outside for inspiration to get started.


Copyright, Gloria DeGaetano, 2017. All rights reserved.