Using Media Literacy to Engage Students With Summer Learning

Savvas Insights Team

While educators continue to struggle with whether or not to allow smartphones in school buildings and classrooms, two Savvas authors believe that the use of personal devices can actually be a beneficial part of literacy curriculum planning. After all, smartphones aren’t going away. So, instead of fighting the losing battle of getting students away from their devices this summer, take time to teach students how to find the value and meaning in the songs they listen to, the movies they stream, and the various forms of media they find on the internet every day.

“We definitely need to think about how to help young people consume media more powerfully and more thoughtfully,” wrote Savvas author Ernest Morrell in a whitepaper titled, New Directions in Literacy Teaching. “How do we make media literacy learning socially, culturally, and digitally relevant?”

“We have to make sure that the work is relevant, that it matters and that we’re asking students about their passions and concerns and trying to connect our curriculum to those concerns and passions.”

Ernest and fellow Savvas myView Literacy® and myPerspectives® author Elfrieda Hiebert set out to answer this question. When planning summer instruction this year, consider the strategies from these two Savvas authors and literacy experts. Use them to help students navigate the media they consume through the devices they use every day.

Using Media Literacy to Foster Critical Thinking

According to the Academy of American Pediatrics, young people spend an average of seven hours a day consuming media of all sorts, including entertainment and social media, on electronic devices. Ernest suggests that summer is a perfect time to teach students, as part of their English Language Arts curriculum, media literacy skills by equipping them with the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and create media in a variety of forms.

“It would be great to help kids develop their analytical skills by engaging them in deep readings of the media they consume,” Ernest writes in an essay featured in the Savvas eBook, Ideas and Strategies on How to Help Educators Move Learning Forward This Summer.

middle school student working on a tablet

Some of Ernest’s favorite activities include having students select their favorite songs and analyze them for content and themes. He suggests asking: “What do these songs say about you? If you could change any of the lyrics to make them ‘better’ what would you do?” Analyzing video games they play is also a great activity. Ask: “What does it mean to be a hero? Who is cool?

“We have to make sure that the work is relevant,” he adds, “that it matters and that we’re asking students about their passions and concerns and trying to connect our curriculum to those concerns and passions.”

What Can You Learn with a Smartphone?

Elfrieda believes that an incredible amount of information can be learned from books, including those that can be read on smartphones. She suggests that smartphones can be used to gain knowledge and proficiencies on topics that are related to the domains of music, art, cinema, architecture, history, botany, interior design, geography — anything students find interesting.

“Using smartphones to discover and learn about new topics doesn’t happen naturally,” she cautions in an article she wrote for the same Savvas eBook. “By setting the task and structure for learning about something of great interest to students — a passion project — teachers can support their students’ learning over the summer.”

middle school student working on a smartphone

Since the available information on smartphones can be overwhelming, educators need to demonstrate how to use them to learn something new. “Students can get ideas for a passion project by interviewing friends and family about areas in which they have used apps and websites to develop expertise,” she writes. “Has someone learned to play the ukulele? To edit movies?” For their summer learning, ask students to come up with topics for their passion projects and give them demonstrations on how to identify appropriate resources.

In a recent Savvas poll, 100% of middle and high school students said they use their smartphones for educational purposes.

Be sure to check in periodically when they’re not in class through emails or the class website where students can share their successes and challenges. Research has shown that the best way to ensure effective summer learning is from follow-through by educators. Encourage students to share the expertise they gained from their passion project inside and outside of class. Sharing what they’ve learned with others can support students’ immersion in summer learning.

Identifying the Value Proposition of Media

In Ernest’s whitepaper, he refers to the apps, movies, songs, and social media channels that students consume as “media artifacts.” He encourages students to talk about and question what ideas or values are promoted through those artifacts by identifying their value propositions.

“In nutrition and health, there is a belief that we are what we consume,” he writes. “The same concept applies to the media. We are what we consume. If we are consuming media with these value propositions, they will become ours.”

middle school student reading on a tablet computer

He suggests encouraging students to think about how they are being targeted as an audience and what they are being compelled to think or believe. Having students ask these questions helps them think differently about the media they read, watch, and listen to.

This summer, consider having students complete a one-month auto-ethnography of their media consumption. Have them become researchers of their own practices and record every artifact they consume and value its proposition.

“It’s eye-opening for them because at the end of the month we say, are these values your values? They almost always say no, but I say, ‘They are going to be.’”

For more ideas and strategies that you can use to engage students and move learning forward this summer, download this eBook, and explore our summer learning solutions at


About The Author

Ernest Morrell, Ph.D.

Ernest Morrell, Ph.D. is an award-winning literacy education scholar and author of two core Savvas programs: myView Literacy® and myPerspectives®. He is also the Coyle Professor in Literacy Education and the associate dean for the Humanities and Equity in the College of Arts and Letters at the University of Notre Dame.


About The Author

Elfrieda H. Hiebert, Ph.D.

Elfrieda H. Hiebert, Ph.D. is president and CEO of TextProject, a nonprofit that provides resources to support higher reading levels. She is also a research associate at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Dr. Hiebert has worked in the field of early reading acquisition for 45+ years. She is an author for Savvas Learning Company’s myPerspectives® and myView Literacy®, as well as an advisor on SuccessMaker®.