Diction, Tone, and Point of View: How One Pre-Service Teacher Used Online Informational Texts to Analyze the Media's Portrayal of Mike Brown
by Kathy Garland
I teach a course called, Teaching Literature and Drama in High Schools. It is one of a set of initial courses that our undergraduate students are required to take. During this class, students read Critical Encounters (Appleman, 2009) and Doing Literary Criticism (Gillespie, 2010), anchor texts that demonstrate how to use critical theories, such as gender or Marxist theory in secondary language-arts classes. Additionally, students read a variety of canonical novels (e.g., Black Boy, The Great Gatsby) and young adult novels (e.g., Diary of a Part-time Indian, Yummy) in order to apply the theoretical principles to novels they may have to teach in authentic contexts. And because my research and background are heavily rooted in media literacy education and popular media, I nudge future teachers to consider using everyday texts, such as YouTube videos, documentaries and other media as relevant connections for their future students.
As of late, I’d been concerned that students were learning theories and pedagogy that were antithetical to the scripted and high-stakes testing culture that is omnipresent in many public schools. That was until I received an assignment from Tatiana. Tatiana completed Teaching Literature in 2013. She is currently finishing her practicum with me. Part of her assignments requires that she teach mini-lessons and quantitatively “prove” that students have learned specifically due to her instruction.
For her mini-lessons, Tatiana’s cooperating teacher asked her to reinforce students’ understandings of point of view. Instead of choosing an irrelevant issue, Tatiana decided that one of her mini-lessons should focus on the Mike Brown shooting. When asked why she chose this particular topic, Tatiana said, “I thought it was important to bring what is happening in Ferguson into the classroom in order to create active and educated students.” She began with the idea that English teaching should not only be content-based, but that it should also be significant to students’ lives.
Tatiana had autonomy in text selection. Therefore, her next steps included choosing two appropriate and credible online texts. One was from the New York Times, the other from The Washington Post. Both articles presented information about Mike Brown, but they differed in tone and diction. For example one article depicted Mike Brown as a “thug,” while the other portrayed him as an innocent victim of police brutality, thus illustrating one of her objectives: Students will be able to experiment with the effectiveness of different points of view in writing, comparing and contrasting different points of view.
I was fortunate enough to observe Tatiana’s lesson using these two online sources. Students were not aware that their articles were about the same person: Mike Brown. Students were separated into groups. Each group read one article and then noted how Brown was portrayed. Students also had to provide textual support for their answers. Small groups seemed productive and engaged as they noted specific words that demonstrated a particular tone. Tatiana then drew two T-charts on the board and asked groups to share the diction from their articles. Positive words were written on the first chart, and negative words were written on the second one. After both lists were exhausted, Tatiana revealed that the articles were actually about the same person. She also explained how media use certain language in order to create a specific point of view that may in turn change how a person or a situation is perceived.
This lesson was brief; however, it allowed Tatiana to complete a few academic goals: (1) she was able to scaffold information about tone, diction and point of view, common staples in language arts curricula; (2) she was able to integrate media analysis and present students with a method for understanding how language is used to construct media and shape public opinion; and (3) she was able to conduct a focused discussion centered on a relevant social issue.
Tatiana believes that “it is important to arm our students with the ability to understand when media is creating a certain point of view through the use of language and tone,” and I agree. I would also add that language-arts teachers have a responsibility to teach literacy skills and relevant social justice issues through a myriad of texts. Using online media sources is one way to do this. I’d love to hear about the ways that you have used media texts in order to teach literacy skills and prevalent societal issues. Perhaps we can inspire one another to add a little relevancy to our existing curricula.
Alexie, S. (2007). The absolutely true diary of a part-time Indian. New York, NY: Hachette Book Group USA.
Appleman, D. (2009). Critical encounters in high school English: Teaching literary theory to adolescents. (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
Eligon, J. “Michael Brown spent last weeks grappling with problems and promise.” The New York Times. 24 Aug. 2014. Web. 18 Sept. 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/25/us/michael-brown-spent-last-weeks-grappling-with-lifes-mysteries.html?_r=0
Fitzgerald, F.S. (1925). The great Gatsby. New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s sons.
Gillespie, T. (2010). Doing literary criticism: Helping students engage with challenging texts. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.
Lowery, W., & Frankel, T. “Mike Brown notched a hard-fought victory just days before he was shot: A diploma.” The Washington Post. 12 Aug. 2014. Web 18 Sept. 2014. http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/mike-brown-notched-a-hard-fought-victory-just-days-before-he-was-shot-a-diploma/2014/08/12/574d65e6-2257-11e4-8593-da634b334390_story.html
Neri, G. (2010). Yummy: The last days of a Southside shorty. New York: Lee and Low Books, Inc.
Wright, R. (1944). Black boy. Cutchogue, N.Y: Buccaneer Books, Inc.