NARRAGANSETT - There’s no escaping media in the 21st century. Communication on a mass scale has grown to include the smartphone and social media, and children these days are exposed to all sorts of information, from all different kinds of sources and platforms, all of the time. With the information overload, navigating the media landscape in 2018 can be difficult even for an adult, and the power of media can sometimes escape us in its camouflage into daily routine. Given this standing, it is vital children develop an understanding of media at the earliest age possible. Narragansett Elementary School Library Media Specialist and media literacy advocate Brien Jennings is helping to do just that with the publication of his new Capstone children’s book series, “All About Media.”
“The sooner kids can be introduced to Media Literacy, the better, because, like it or not, most are surrounded by it from birth,” said Jennings. “We’re pretty deep into the Information Age and we’re getting deeper every day. The future is going to be a vastly different place and I think those who will be most successful will be those who have a real understanding how knowledge and information are created and shared.”
The series totals four books - each dealing with a different aspect of media literacy, and written in a way that is accessible to children - “What is Media?” “What’s Your Source - Using Sources in Your Writing,” “Stay Safe Online” and “Fact, Fiction and Opinions: The Differences Between Ads, Blogs, News Reports, and Other Media.”
Jennings, who has led a career in media for over 20 years, currently works as the NES library media specialist, where he has been teaching media literacy skills to children for 16 years. Jennings said that experience was the basis for the new book series.
“More than anything else, I’m pretty confident about how to communicate with kids,” he said. “Through years of trial and error, and with help from colleagues, I’ve had the chance to figure out the best ways to communicate the concepts of Media Literacy.”
In an age where seemingly thinking about a product results in it being advertised on one’s personal social media newsfeeds, and a time where bots and hackers work to produce fake news and propaganda, literacy in the media realm is a must, according to Jennings. A trained eye, one well-versed in strategies and appearances of various media and platforms, can successfully navigate the landscape with critical thinking. Jennings maintains and imparts that media is empowering to all individuals.
“It’s funny because a lot of the misconceptions kids tend to have aren’t too different from the ones adults have,” he said. ”The misconception I tend to focus on is that using media is something that can only be done passively unless you’re a media professional. Everything I do is designed to get people to start thinking about media differently. As something to analyze and participate in, whether that’s by discussing it or by creating it. We have much more power than most people seem to realize.”
“My own continuing work in media involves working at every level, from marketing strategies to final production,” Jennings continued. “I’m always searching for ways to bring aspects of that into my teaching and it provided me with a unique perspective when it came to creating these books.”
Jennings began writing the books in February of last year, and sent in his final draft for the fourth book in the series to Capstone at the end of June. Each book runs about 20-25 pages, and are available everywhere, from Barnes and Noble to Amazon. The new series has been included in Capstone’s catalogue and is available through any major educational book distribution. The series will be sold internationally, with main markets in the U.S., U.K., Ireland, Canada, New Zealand and Australia.
Jenning’s resume includes a 20-year career in television, music, podcasts and film. When not teaching media literacy at NES, he participates as a member of Rhode Island’s GiveMe 5 Youth Film Labs team and meMedia Literacy Now Rhode Island. Jennings also co-authored a chapter in the textbook, Advancing Next-Generation Teacher Education through Digital Tools and Applications and has presented his media literacy work at several regional, national and international conferences. He is currently in the early stages of other books focusing on the production side of media literacy.