WORKSHOP REPORT: How to do Assessment and Evaluation in Media Literacy

A Professional Development Seminar with Chris Worsnop

On Saturday, March 18, Chris Worsnop – one of Canada's foremost media literacy teachers, authors and leaders – led an invigorating professional development seminar in Los Angeles about one of the most important issues in media literacy – how teachers can fairly assess student work in film, video, audio and other formats from popular culture.

Sponsored by the Felton Media Literacy Scholars Program at the Center for Media Literacy, the day's events included video presentations, discussions, and role-playing activities to help make theory come alive. With both humor and rigor, Chris covered key concepts in media literacy, active learning activities for the classroom, assessing students' media work, and handling sensitive issues in the media-like violence, sex, bad language, and other "isms."

Co-sponsors for the event included the Canadian Consulate General of Los Angeles and Unite-L.A., a public/private collaboration of LAUSD, LACCD and over 50 area corporations supporting lifelong learning.

Participants came from throughout Southern California to enjoy and learn from Chris' expertise — and from each other. The diverse group included teachers, educators, graduate students, and media professionals. According to high school teacher Cris Gutierrez, the day's event enabled "healthy and vigorous conversation and inquiry." But the seminar was also useful to educators looking for practical ideas for the classroom. Sister Mary Ann Lenore Eifert, BVM, teacher at Holy Family School in Glendale, called the day "so comprehensive, informative, and expanding, every moment can be used in my eighth grade class."

And who better to learn from than from a man who has over 30 years' experience teaching students of all ages, and their teachers, about the media? His first book, Screening Images: Ideas for Media Education, offers teachers a clear, thoughtful discussion of media education theory, with an extensive section on classroom activities. Some call it the "hip pocket guide" to media literacy.

Assessment in Media Education

The highlight of the day was Chris' presentation of issues surrounding assessment in media education. Chris has a strong background in assessment and has worked on a number of large-scale projects in Canada to develop tools for assessing student writing and to adapt courses to performance-based principles and holistic assessment.

More recently, he has used this expertise to address the issue of assessing students' media work and to develop practical assessment tools and resources for teachers to use. His new book, Assessing Media Work: Authentic Assessment in Media Education, offers plain language explanations and illustrations of important assessment issues as well as detailed rubrics and other tools for assessing student work in film, video, audio, and other formats from popular culture.

So, why is assessment so important in media education? According to Chris:

  • An authentic assessment scale, or rubric, can be extremely useful to teachers, students, and their parents throughout the process of teaching and learning about media – especially if it is clear, fair, consistent, has appropriate standards, and looks for the right characteristics in student work. This can help everyone involved better understand and agree on what is expected from students – a process which sets high standards and leads to fewer misunderstandings between teachers, students, and their parents.

  • Students can also use a good assessment rubric as a guide as they plan and execute their work. The traits of the rubric set clear targets for students to strive for, and students are often able to use this knowledge to achieve at a much higher level of performance.
  • Teachers sometimes avoid assigning media production work – such as videos, posters, web pages, or collages — because they feel uneasy about assessing student work that is not in a traditional written format. With clear criteria for assessing media work, many of these fears can be put to rest and teachers can be more confident about what qualities they are looking for in student work.
  • Media literacy is a subject that is frequently attacked, marginalized, or otherwise threatened, and, according to Chris, "one of the best defenses against any criticism of any subject area is to be able to show that your assessment is strong, solid, rigorous and fair, and to proclaim that as a teacher you are happy to be held accountable for your assessment."

Chris emphasized that to really achieve these kinds of benefits, however, you need tools that actually assess the same things the curriculum is trying to emphasize and that support good classroom practice. And with media work being so varied, how do you develop a consistent and appropriate set of criteria or expectations for assessment.

Don't worry, you don't need to — Chris has already done it! His Assessing Media Work: Authentic Assessment in Media Education, really is an invaluable resource.

As a featured part of the seminar, Chris shared some of the detailed rubrics and other tools which he has developed. These include specific traits that teachers can look for in different components of student work:

  1. ideas and content of the piece,

  2. its organization and structure,

  3. how effectively the piece uses the language and rhetoric of its medium,

  4. how the author's voice is present in the piece and how it connects with the audience,

  5. technical competence or how well the author has handled the conventions and the technology of the genre or technology.

The criteria are then scaled into five levels of performance:

Level 5: Consistently Exceeds Expectations
The piece demonstrates a confident command and integration of all is often strikingly complete, insightful, creative and/or imaginative.
Level 4: Consistently Meets and Sometime Exceeds Expectations
The piece shows an effective control and integration of all elements; the content is thoughtful and thorough.
Level 3: Usually Meets Expectations
The pieces shows control of the generally integrated, clear and complete.
Level 2: Inconsistently Meets Expectations
Some control of most of the elements but it may be simple, unoriginal and/or incomplete.
Level 1: Does not Meet Expectations
Shows elementary grasp of some of the basic elements...simple or unfinished. Work that is plagiarized is assigned to this level.
Level 0: Not Present
Shows minimal or no grasp of basic elements...disconnected or fragmented

Participants got a chance to practice applying these tools to assess samples of student media work — a process which sparked lively discussion and helped give teachers a practical sense of how useful assessment tools can be. It's not as easy as it looks! One participant explained her enthusiasm: "I am looking forward to using this rubric in my video production classes. I think it will help my students better understand some of the key elements of doing quality work and know what's expected of them. And it will help me in assessing and reporting the details of what they have actually achieved."

By the end of the day, however, it was clear that one of the best things to come from the event was a growing sense of community, dialogue, and collaboration between diverse advocates and educators of media literacy in Southern California – and a sense of excitement for the work and learning yet to come.

A variety of upcoming events sponsored by the Felton program will be giving more opportunities for people interested in media literacy to build on this important work. Check out the Center for Media Literacy's ongoing series of professional development workshops and seminars on teaching about media.