For media creatures

4th April 1997, 1:00am
Alan Combes


For media creatures

By Carol Dahl

Folens Pounds 49.95


By Barbara Connell, Jude Brigley and Mike Edwards

Hodder Stoughton Pounds 9.99


By Peter Wall and Paul Walker

HarperCollins Pounds 11.50.

Alan Combes looks at what lies behind the headlines and images.

There are two factors that make media such a ripe area for good mixed ability teaching. The first is that pupils are already familiar with the subject matter, such as newspapers, film and television, and do not associate them with previous failure. The second is that the material cries out for active approaches to learning.

So it is that Carol Dahl has originated a key stage 3 media education photocopiable resource that crystallises much of her work at the Wigan Media Centre.

With pedagogical correctness, the pack is organised in four sections, moving out from "Me and the Media" to a final section that involves the pupil actively in using new understandings.

The problem for English teachers, (presumably the target market), is the already crowded key stage 3 curriculum. It would be a shame, though, if some of the highly accessible materials in sections one and two were discarded because of the "media" tag. Presented as media language topics within, say, an English course book for 14 and 15-year-olds, the pages would become well thumbed.

The ubiquitous nature of media makes it ideal for work across the curriculum, and Carol Dahl exploits this most successfully in the units "A Window on the World" (English, history, geo-graphy) and "Making the Media Mine" (art, design and technology). Media Education represents good value for money, but the irritating task symbols are best ignored, if pupils will allow you to do so.

Examining the Media for key stage 4 is densely packed with information and activities. In fact, my one reservation is the lack of white space which, combined with a columned format, could create a sense of claustrophobia among its readers.

The transitory nature of media forms such as pop and film makes textbooks that deal with today's headlines go quickly out of date. This Cardiff-based trio of writers has countered this by basing issues around timeless creations such as Batman and the Disney empire.

Examining the Media is prepared to make learning points and this is to be applauded in a subject area that has tended to overvalue what students bring to lessons. The downside is the patronising tone that occasionally creeps into the set tasks and a platitudinous tone into the "What you have learned" summaries.

A virtue of this text is that it fulfils its claim to give students a grounding for further study in the media, making it particularly useful for 13 to 18 and 11 to 18 schools. Its sections on media issues and access suggest many areas for investigation that would grace any advanced study of media and language.

In Media Studies for GCSE Peter Wall and Paul Walker have created a user-friendly text that, in its final two sections, unashamedly dovetails the entire publication into the Southern Examining Group Media Studies GCSE. Not that this invalidates the book in any way for users beyond the SEG remit.

There is a crisp feel to the production - all illustrations are black and white, but definition is outstanding. The geography of the book is well-mapped so users will know instantly where to turn, and the glossary is comprehensive and concise.

As well as feeling good in the hands of students, the book will provide an ideal teaching framework. The only reservation might be the somewhat token activities littered throughout the pages, although some teachers will prefer the freedom this gives them for task-setting.

In an otherwise excellent section on Audience, it is disappointing to find so little attention given to audience fragmentation, which is surely the next big issue in a subject that needs to be state-of-the-art. Similarly, the Internet, while meriting a decent mention, could well have been allied to a unit on computer software.

But the important point is that what this book does do, it does well. No finer tribute can be paid than to say it is an immensely readable text, regardless of exam commitments.

Alan Combes was formerly head of English in a comprehensive school

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