Five top tips for new media studies teachers

Tim Sealy
4th April 2016 at 14:40

Subject Genius, Tim Sealy, Five top tips for new media studies teachers

Throughout my teaching career I have attended a number of exam board seminars and courses of varying quality that aim to provide subject teachers with information and guidance on how best to deliver their specification content.  I enjoy attending these sessions as it gives me a chance to meet other media teachers and often I pick up little tips and lesson ideas from colleagues at other schools.  One constant at these sessions is the English (or any other non-media subject) teacher who has volunteered or, as is more often the case, has been volunteered to teach the subject for the new academic year.  Timid hand aloft, “this might be a silly question but…”, “I don’t really DO Media but…” I always feel very sorry for my fellow subject teachers who are put in this position as I can imagine being given an entire new subject to plan and deliver across year groups can be an overwhelming prospect, particularly if you are not a media specialist.  With this in mind I thought that a useful first blog post might focus around some advice and tips for teachers who are new to teaching Media Studies. 

The advice below comes with a health warning that I in no way profess to have mastered my delivery of the subject or have all the answers, but having followed each of the ideas below in my own professional development I feel I am far more organised and confident in teaching Media Studies.  The ideas below are written with someone entirely new to teaching the subject in mind and I have deliberately tried to keep my suggestions broad in order to encompass the wide range of exam boards that now offer the subject.

I have also tried to include a few links to some resources that I have put together myself over the past few years which may prove useful in covering some of the basics – please feel free to download your own copies of these and use them as you see fit in your own teaching practice.


1. Get confident with terminology

Like MFL subjects, Media Studies comes with its very own set of words and phrases that you need to get yourself acquainted with quickly and are vitally important for the students you teach to become familiar with as soon as possible too.  Particularly at AS level, success in Media Studies exams can stand or fall on consistent, accurate use of media terminology when analysing a text.  If you are approaching teaching Media Studies as an English teacher then this is actually quite an easy thing to get to grips with as it is really no different to persistently reminding GCSE students to include appropriate poetic devices and techniques in their analytical poetry responses.  You can download a terminology glossary that I distribute to all my new AS students at the beginning of each academic year by clicking here.  It is by no means exhaustive but the range of terms included should be plenty to provide a solid knowledge base for your students.


2. Get confident with theory

Knowing which theories to introduce to students, when to introduce them, how much detail to explore the theory in and (crucially) how to apply the theory to a media text is often one of the trickiest things about teaching the subject.  I have yet to discover some magic, ‘this is all the theories you should cover’ list to answer this problem, but I have developed my own little group of theorists that I use every year at AS Level and I then expand upon this group with some more complex ideas at A2 level.  Depending on your exam board you may find their specifications actually cite specific theorists to teach and it is also interesting to note that the recently published Government recommendations regarding the new Media Studies specs (found here) also refer explicitly to specific theorists.  In the interests of space I won’t list them all here but you can download a resource I have put together which includes all of my theory handouts by following the link here.  Feel free to adapt and share with your students if you find them useful!  They are intended to offer a short summary of the information I have taught in lessons so you may need to do a little research to expand upon some of them in your own teaching.


3. Get up to speed on the current media ‘landscape’

The thing I love (and others hate) about teaching Media Studies is that the examples you discuss, the texts you analyse and the examples students include in their coursework research are always changing.  To be an effective Media Studies teacher I think it is vitally important that you keep yourself updated on what is happening across the various different media platforms (print, broadcast and e-media) and also what events are taking place in the news.  I’ve lost count of the number of times students will ask “Sir…what’s something similar to Made in Chelsea (*shudder*) that I could use for my coursework research?”  Being able to provide them with a reasonably relevant example not only makes you look ‘down with the kids’ but it also helps the students to broaden the range of their own examples.  I’ll let you decide which of those you think the most important benefit is.

I often say to my students that they should be challenging themselves to view and read new things whilst keeping an open mind and the same should go for you as a Media Studies teacher.  I am terrible for saying this and then moaning when the 5th student that morning uses an example from TOWIE but hey, I’m the teacher so do as I say, not do as I do and all that.

It’s never been easier to keep up to speed with the media, though I’ll admit that I often find just how much is out there overwhelming myself.  If you don’t already then start using things like Twitter and to get quick, easy to understand news and media fixes as well as following more in depth news sources like the Media Guardian website and whichever newspapers you have a personal preference for.  YouTube is an invaluable source of examples as a Media Studies teacher, full of informative videos (though you may have to do some careful searching to sort the dross from the gold) and film trailers that are perfect for some quick textual analysis practice.


4. Learn to analyse

On the note of textual analysis, spend some time practising how to pull apart different media texts yourself and you’ll be surprised how quickly it can become second nature.  Once you are confident at applying the various media terms and theory to a text from different perspectives then you’ll be amazed how much easier teaching the subject can become.  Most exam boards are particularly interested in analysis skills linked to representations, genre, narrative and institutions with a little bit of ideologies and values thrown in for good measure so these are good areas to start your analytical practice around.  Just remember that a good analytical point will draw on close, detailed examples from the media text coupled with accurate terminology and an intelligent explanation that addresses the question asked.  Again, for those of you who are English teachers teaching Media Studies for the first time this should be very, very familiar.


5. Read the specs

Whichever exam board your school goes with for Media Studies, take to the specification with a fine toothcomb and make sure you are 100% about the ‘nitty gritty’ parts of the course i.e. what the structure of the exam is and what the weighting is of coursework marks against exam marks.  Make sure you’re clear about what the coursework briefs are asking of the students – you don’t want to get set to post it all off in May and realise they haven’t written the 1500 word evaluation (I promise this hasn’t happened to me…yet).  Again, this is a little bit exam board dependant, but I know for my particular board each school has a dedicated ‘adviser’ that I can contact with any queries, no matter how small or insignificant they may seem (the question, not the adviser).  Find out who that is for you and harass them, it’s their job after all.

So there’s my 5 main tips for teachers who are new to delivering Media Studies as a subject.  I hope some of the above has proved at least entertaining, at best informative and useful.  Don’t forget that there are plenty of online communities around for further support and advice such as the TES Media Studies forum.

This month I’ve been watching ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’, listening to BBC Radio 4’s ‘The Media Show’ and watching Leonardo DiCaprio slowly turn into a bear in ‘The Revenant’.


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Tim Sealy is a Media Studies teacher and AQA Media Studies examiner who works at a grammar school in Kent.