Jeff Share: New Book Encourages Critical Media Literacy Skills in Schools

Former photojournalist and bilingual teacher addresses teaching climate change to K-12 students through English Language Arts and Critical Media Literacy.

In his former career as a freelance photojournalist, Jeff Share has documented issues such as poverty and social activism, including his award-winning coverage of The Great Peace March for Global Nuclear Disarmament of 1986. Today, the faculty advisor in UCLA’s Teacher Education Program turns his lens upon two critical issues facing educators and students: climate change and ultimately, the need for critical thinking skills to decipher the barrage of real and alternative facts in the media.

Share, whose photos once appeared in The Washington Post, was recently interviewed by the Post on his critical media literacy courses at UCLA, where he prepares current and future teachers (K-12) to show their students how to deconstruct media, create their own alternative messages, and even separate “fake news” from facts. His upcoming book, “Teaching Climate Change to Adolescents: Reading, Writing, and Making a Difference” (With R. Beach and A. Webb. New York: Routledge. 2017) takes a look at using the urgent challenges facing life on Earth as a conduit for teaching English Language Arts in middle and high school.

Share, who taught in bilingual classrooms at Leo Politi Elementary School in L.A.’s Pico-Union community, says that using a timely issue like climate change fulfills a dual purpose.

“By engaging students in such an important and current topic, students can use the literacy skills they are learning inside the classroom to become better readers and writers, while at the same time analyze and create messages for people in the world beyond the classroom,” he says. “This pedagogical approach to making learning culturally and socially relevant provides students of any age the opportunity to experience the power of literacy, through using it to become agents of change.”

In “Teaching Climate Change,” Share and his co-authors present a variety of teacher and student voices that illustrate the ability to blend climate change into already existing curriculum. Classroom activities provide opportunities for students to pose questions, engage in argumentative reading, writing, and critical analysis, interpret portrayals of climate change in literature and media, and adopt advocacy stances to promote social change around the issues.

Share says that “Teaching Climate Change” features a wide range of teaching resources and methods used successfully by teachers across disciplines.

“Fedora Schooler at El Sereno Middle School in Los Angeles, describes in the book how she brought climate change lessons into her 7th grade English and Social Studies classroom, and Nick Kello at UCLA Lab School, tells how he did it through music instruction,” notes Share. “Both teachers took very different approaches while experiencing similar successes as their students demonstrated increased engagement in the classroom and a sense of empowerment to use the knowledge and skills they were learning to make a positive change in the world.”

At a discussion in April hosted by the Nonprofit Communications and Media Network, Share joined a panel of educators, journalists, and experts to discuss the respective responsibilities of the public and the media in relation to “fake news” and alternative facts. He described the mission of critical media literacy training in the Teacher Education Program as helping teachers “to educate kids to be critical thinkers and to be able to build skepticism about all information, whether it’s coming from a teacher or from a website. That shift from censorship to empowerment is very important.”

Drawing on his experiences as a photojournalist, Share teaches his students that no one is truly objective.

“It’s really important that people move beyond this notion that there’s bias and then there’s objectivity,” said Share at the panel discussion. “We’re human – nobody can be completely objective. To think that somebody can be unbiased is naïve; that’s not how communication works. But that should be a goal, especially as journalists, to try to be as objective as possible, as fair and as balanced.”

Share earned his Ph.D. at UCLA’s Graduate School of Education & Information Studies in 2006. He has served as Regional Coordinator for Training at the Center for Media Literacy where he wrote curricula and led professional development. Share continues to provide professional development training in critical media literacy for teachers in LAUSD as well as for educators throughout the United States and internationally. In 2015, Share published a second edition of his 2009 book, “Media Literacy is Elementary: Teaching Youth to Critically Read and Create Media.”


Photo by Michael Dressler