Students need to be empowered to become agents of change in the world. Digital communication and social media are powerful tools that our students are already familiar with; showing them how to utilize these tools to enact real change allows them to reshape the media landscape that surrounds them.
Having already looked at targetted writing focused on gender normativity during our previous RAFT assignment, students are familiar with how to write about their concerns. Now they will be shown how to take that writing outside of the classroom, and send it to those that can make a difference.
This lesson is part of a large mini-unit on Teaching Gender Representation in the Media. It can be used as a stand-alone piece or part of a larger conversation.
There are three separate things that should be on the board at the beginning of class. Students should be encouraged to choose one, two, or three of the activities to engage with. Depending on their level of interest, they may be willing to completely focus on one of the pieces, or they may wish to quickly complete each of the three.
The Set Up
The first thing you will need to do is pick a still image or video that displays problematic gender messaging. This could be the picture of a toy store, a specific toy, a commercial, a television show, a video game, or anything else that depicts problematic gender messaging.
Once you have selected and displayed the image, students will be able to choose one to three of the following activities to complete using that piece.
Students should think of hastags that draw attention to the problem. Hashtags are normally short (less than twenty characters) terms that draw attention to something. Using sarcasm or irony is a great way to interest a reader and lead them to share it on their own social media account.
Students should also be asked to find at least three social media accounts they could share the hashtag with. These could be accounts owned by the creator, or related critics.
Students should feel free to use their personal devices during this activity, sharing their hashtags with the internet if they feel comfortable.
Students should consider three people they might write in order to raise the problematic nature of the piece you have selected. Similar to the Hashtag #Problems assignment, students may choose the creator or a critic. They may also select newspapers or magazines that run reader letters. Publications relating to the content of the piece, that run stories with a favourable bias are best. They may also consider a number of politicians or not-for-profit groups that draw attention to their concerns.
Social Media Engagement
Students should make a list of their top three social media platforms (these may include, but are not limited to, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube, Tumblr, Pinterest, etc.)
Students should write a sample post, 50 words or less, that they could post on one of those sites in order to get their concerns across. @ing, or #tagging specific users or terms should be encouraged as a great way to spread their message.
Students should then look at their three pieces, and consider what similarities and differences exist between each of them. Through this activity, they will gain an understanding of the different strengths and weaknesses of each social media tool.
Once again, students should be encouraged to use their personal devices, actually posting their written pieces to their social media accounts, if they feel comfortable.
Once the Minds On activity is complete, you should host a discussion with your students, sharing the ideas and concepts learned throughout this part of the activity.
After the discussion has concluded, you should move on to the focus of the lesson, where students will write long-form pieces, sending them to an appropriate address in hopes of enacting real change in the world.
The focus of this lesson will be on enacting change through letter writing. Once students have a focus for their piece (a television show, advertisement campaign, song, story, etc.) they will need to select a target audience that has the ability to make the change they are looking to create.
Who to Contact
Students may choose to write to one of the categories below, but they should not be limited. The landscape is constantly changing and those that can create change often come from previously unknown sources.
In 2017 Pepsi pulled a large-budget advertisement based on public pressure. The advertisement used Black Lives Matter Imagery suggesting Pepsi could solve their problems. Public backlash was successful in making real change in the advertising landscape. They can be reached through a number of mailing addresses, both electronic or otherwise.
Due to the ubiquitous nature of content creators’ internet presences, there are many ways to directly contact an author about something that a reader finds concerning. Social media accounts, e-mail addresses, and snail mail addresses attained through the publisher are often easily accessible. J.K. Rowling has been the target of a number of protests throughout her career. Many contemporary authors will directly reply to those who write in – either with questions, concerns, or praise.
After the American Psychological Association demanded researchers take links to their articles down from their websites, there was heavy backlash looking to enact change in how the system works. Concerns were raised over the use of the DMCA to restrict the rights of authors. E-Mail and Snail Mail addresses can often be found on the contact page of their websites.
Before contacting a politician, it’s best to focus your ideas. Are you writing to express displeasure in something, or is there a legal backdrop to your complaint? The Canadian Criminal Code Section 318 – 320 deals with Hate Speech. This may be useful in making a number of complaints. You’ll then need to decide who to contact. In Canada, it’s easy to find your Member of Parliment. A quick google search should yield similar results for other locations.
Writing the Letter
Now that students have selected their audience, they will need to write their letter. The letter should be similar regardless of the target.
I suggest having students hand write their letter, providing stamps and envelopes for them to be mailed out. However, it can also be a powerful experience to e-mail their messages as well. The important part is that the letters are sent to their audience after they are submitted to their teacher.
While it is important for students to create assignments within their classroom, it’s far more valuable to show them how to create impact in the world around them.
There are ten main pieces that should be included in their letter:
- Polite greetings
- An introduction of who the writer is
- A paragraph explaining the problem through specific details
- An explanation of what change they would like to see
- A suggestion for how the change could be created
- An offer to help work with the target to create the change
- A thank you for taking the time to read the letter
- A request for a reply
- A reply address
Teachers can use the Enacting Change Letter Assignment which includes a sample outline. Once students feel comfortable with the format they are free to use the period to create their piece.
Students should submit a second copy of the letter which will be mailed out by the teacher.
Students will fill out the Communication Venn Diagram exit slip before they leave the class. Using their personal knowledge, combined with what they have been taught through class lessons, they identify the areas of strength for enacting change through three different forms:
- Social Media
- Letter Writing
- Phone Calls
They will use the diagram to take note of similarities and differences between the three forms, allowing them to select the best tool for their situation.
This is the final lesson in the Gender Representation in the Media unit. The next page includes some final thoughts that will provide you with a suggested timeline. As well, it offers some extension ideas for how to continue to weave the thread of representation throughout your curriculum.