This Wiki explores the use and necessity of multimedia texts in urban classrooms. The purpose of this exploration includes the following:READERS.JPG

  1. to inform readers about the rift that exists between the literature used in the traditional school canon and the culture of urban students
  2. to inform readers about what urban students find appealing
  3. to inform readers how to use media in the classroom to bridge the gap between what urban students like and what they need to know

As a teacher who works in an urban school district, I have heard my colleagues complain a lot about how standardized tests are “white” tests written for “white” students. They complain that the reason minority students do not do well on these tests is because they are written from a different cultural perspective, in a cultural language that is unfamiliar to minority students. According to Baszile and Lomotey, “although the language of cultural deprivation is no longer very popular in the educational literature, the idea that in order for African American children to be academically successful, they must strive to assimilate to the mainstream cultural values, continues to influence much of our everyday thinking about race and education.” If this is true— if urban, minority students do not pass state requirements due to a differing cultural language— teachers have a responsibility to build a bridge between the cultures. If I move to France and take a test written by a Parisian, I presume I will have difficulty passing, because I am unfamiliar with French culture. The same applies to minority children in the classroom.

Literary concepts need to be taught to urban students in their own culture’s context in order for them to have the ability to apply these concepts to other cultural texts. In “Toward A Critical Pedagogy of Popular Culture: Literacy Development Among Urban Youth”, Dr. Ernest Morrell, an urban literacy activist, states the following three quotes:

  • Often, the failure of urban students to develop “academic” literacy skills stems not from a lack of intelligence but from the inaccessibility of the school curriculum to students who are not in the “dominant” or “mainstream” culture. These theorists believe that such students are literate but that their literacies have little connection with the dominant literacies promoted in public schools (New London Group, 1996; Street, 1995). (72)

  • Mahiri’s work suggested that the critical teaching of popular culture is one way to make connections that are relevant to all students in diverse urban classrooms. (72)

  • The critically literate can understand the socially constructed meaning embedded in texts as well as the political and economic contexts in which texts are embedded. Ultimately, critical literacy can lead to an emancipated worldview and even transformational social action (Freire, 1970; Hull, 1993; McLaren, 1989; UNESCO, 1975). (73)

You can also listen to Dr. Morrell’s opinions by clicking on the videos below:

(In this second video, Dr. Morrell discusses the importance of teaching students how to critically look at media. I will touch more upon this later on this webpage.)

So, what is the answer to the dilemma of “urban failure”? Teaching students through the use of media literacy is the start of the answer. If, by introducing media that appeals to an urban child’s culture, students can learn concepts the state deems they need to know, a bridge can be built between where they are and what they know, and what the state requires them to know.

The necessity for this practice transcends beyond students passing state tests. The necessity for this practice stems from the fact that schools traditionally have been taught for Caucasians using texts that appeal to Caucasian people. It isn’t about a test; it’s about blending white and minority culture. More minority written and accepted texts need to be introduced in the urban classroom, because these texts are the way the students will learn their material. According to Fordham, when minority students (specifically in this case, African Americans, but this principle applies to all non-White students) are submerged in White culture and asked to “act White”, “the individual feels at risk of losing his or her African American identity and becoming, inadvertently, a raceless exile in both the African American and White communities” (9). Minority students want to learn what the elders and the popular people from their group of people have to say to them. They want to know about injustice from an African American’s point of view. They want to know how Tupac went from rags to riches. They want to read about two Latino people falling in love with each other. They want to talk about Chris Brown and Rihanna’s relationship. They want to identify with someone who lives life the way they do. They want to read and experience what they know and at the rapid pace at which these experiences are created. The canon does not sufficiently fulfill these desires.

So urban teachers (and all teachers, really) need to compensate for the sterility of the canon. They need to be educated by their own students. They need to know what interests their students or else they are going to constantly fight to get them to do schoolwork. And finally, teachers need to reach an understanding of their students’ culture in order to appeal to the students in the way they need.

Last year, almost ¾ of our seventh graders went on a field trip, while the math teacher and I split the remainder of the students between the two of us. My group begged and begged for me to play music while they worked on activities in small groups, so I created a playlist for them based off of what they wanted to hear and what I wanted to hear. More than 75% of the songs they asked me to add to the playlist were completely unfamiliar to me: rap songs, Latino music, Latino artists, old music their parents listen to. I listened to the popular radio station at the time, so we all agreed on a couple of the top 40 hits. Then I added my own songs I thought they would like: Bob Marley, Backstreet Boys, Monica, TLC, old Usher songs. I put the songs on shuffle, and began walking around to the different groups to monitor their progress. When their songs came on, they’d get really excited. Girls would squeal; boys would playfully push each other when their favorite lines would surface; they’d sing along at the refrains; they’d wiggle in their seats and tap their feet. When my songs came on—mind you, I thought they’d like these songs—their faces turned blank. They unanimously asked me to change the song to the next one. They’d complain that it’s too slow, too old, too corny. They stopped bopping in their seats. They stopped being excited. They stopped doing their work. They started getting frustrated, and some even got mad at me for not changing the song.

This is how students feel about the content we are currently teaching to them. They need to know the importance and validity of learning what we want them to know and what we think they should know, but they should also learn what we want them to know and what we think they should know in the context of their own media texts. Otherwise, they will be lost. They will stop wiggling in their seats and tapping their feet. They will stop singing along.

My Own Quest for Urban Media Consumption Knowledge

In order to present some ideas I included further down this page, I asked a group of ten minority students currently participating in the summer school program at an urban middle school in southeastern Pennsylvania some questions about their media habits. Most of these students are going to summer school because they failed two or more major subjects during this past academic year. The other students are attending summer school classes as enrichment. The questions I asked them are as follows:

  1. What are your top 5 favorite movies?
  2. What are your top 5 favorite TV shows?
  3. What are your top 5 favorite songs?
  4. What are your top 5 favorite videogames?
  5. What are your top 3 favorite commercials?
  6. What are your top 5 favorite websites?
  7. How many hours per day do you watch TV?
  8. How many hours per day do you use the Internet?
  9. How many hours per day do you play videogames?

My Findings
Survey Results

From the information I gathered from the survey, here are the points I found most interesting:

  1. All but two of the students identified at least one of their favorite movies as a new release still in theaters. Ted was the most popular movie listed among the participants.
  2. The Scary Movie series was listed as a favorite by five of the ten participants.
  3. Snooki and Jwoww was chosen by four of the participants as being a favorite TV show. This show began only two weeks ago as a spin-off of The Jersey Shore.
  4. Three of the four participants that listed Snooki and Jwoww also listed The Jersey Shore as one of their favorite TV shows.
  5. Of the 43 songs listed, I know 8 of them.
  6. 7/10 of the students listed Call of Duty Black Ops as a favorite videogame.
  7. Only 12 different commercials were listed.
  8. YouTube and Facebook are the most popularly used websites for these students.
  9. On average, students are watching 6.85 hours of TV a day.
  10. On average, students are using the Internet 5.9 hours per day (this may be slightly unrealistic, as one student said his or her average Internet usage was 20 hours per day).
  11. On average, students are playing videogames 2½ -3 hours per day.

What I’ve Concluded From These Points Combined With Further Research:

Students enjoy watching newly released media.

The Scary Movie series was created by the Wayans brothers, who are popular figures for minority groups. According to IMDb’s website, the last movie in the series was released in 2006. These movies are obviously no longer current; however they have certainly made a lasting impression for these students. There is something about this series that appeals to them, and I wonder if it is because they are written at least partially within the context of their own understood culture.

These students are interested in connections between two different texts (TV shows in this case). If they were asked to compare Snooki and Jwoww to Jersey Shore, interesting discussions could result. Discussions about character development and how setting affects character could also emerge from a comparison of these two shows.

Music is a crucial element to a culture. It is interesting to note that although these urban students stay very current with cinema and television, the music they choose to listen to is primarily not top-40 pop music. I would be interested in knowing where urban students hear about new music that appeals to their culture if it is not coming from the main source I use to stay current.

I don’t know anything about Call of Duty Black Ops. I went on a quest to try to find out about the writers and creators of the game and came up empty handed. It’s interesting that this media does not give credit to its main authors and developers as is what happens for literary and cinematic texts. After reading a little synopsis of the game on Wikipedia’s website, I’ve determined the following:

  • This videogame should be analyzed in English and Social Studies classrooms. The story of Black Ops references and spans World history from the time of Nazi Germany and World War II, to the Cold War, to the Vietnam War. If students are ill informed of these events, they will not appreciate the game to their maximum potential. Depending on how these events are depicted in the game, the students could potentially be misinformed about the particular event in history for which they are supposed to be acting out missions.

The fact that only 12 commercials were listed indicates to me that students do not take notice of the commercials and ads they view. This is not to say that they do not internalize the messages stated to them in ads, but rather, they are not paying enough critical attention to the ads in a way that makes these ads memorable to them. Of the 12 commercials listed, 2 of them were associated with famous celebrities, and 1 of them was associated with a top-40 pop song. The other 9 commercials were vaguely described, with the exception of the Pepsi and baby commercial. If the students thought more critically about the messages conveyed to them in commercials, perhaps they would be more noteworthy for them.

I decided to take a look at the one student’s favorite website: I looked at 3 different videos on the site and perused the thumbnails of over 25 movies listed. 2 of the 3 videos I watched had heavy swearing in them. The thumbnails had depictions of drinking alcohol and doing drugs. Depending on the theme of a story we were reading in class, or a project I wanted the students to create, I might use this website for its seemingly limited PG rated materials. I did find one video of a 6-year-old rapper promoting Adidas that students could possibly use as a model for creating their own classroom projects. I will explain more about this in the Activities section of this webpage.

This was a very eye opening experience for me. The students who took this survey introduced me to new media, gave me new insight into their interests, and compelled me to pursue my own research into their media. I recommend giving these surveys to your own students and using their information to fuel your class discussions and further readings.

Activities Related to Media Trends of Urban Students

Activity #1: Author’s Purpose

Watch the music video for FrankOcean’s song “Thinking About You”:

Answer the following questions:
  1. When examining just the lyrics to this song, do you think this is a love song? Why/Why not?
  2. What message do you think Frank Ocean was trying to convey through this video? Is the video a representation of love? How is the video different from the song? How is the video similar to the song?
  3. Why do you think Frank Ocean chose zombies for his video? What do the zombies do for the storyline?

Further NonfictionReading:

Frank Ocean, Target: Retail Giant Won't Sell 'Channel Orange,' Says It's Strictly A Business Decision

  1. Explain howFrankOcean’s career is affected by this decision.
  2. How do you feel about this issue?
  3. Write a letter to Target persuading them to put his CD on their shelves.

Activity #2: Analyzing and Creating Product Advertisements

Watch Stephen Stash’s Adidas Ad

Answer the following questions:
  1. Use Golden’s SOAPSTone chart to examine this text. (Golden 273)

Text Name:







  1. What cinematic techniques does the director use in this commercial?
  2. Create your own ad using Golden’s Nonfiction Storyboard chart. (Golden 274)
Nonfiction StoryboardTitle: Director:_ Sequence #: ___
Visual/Text Track
Audio Track

Activity #3: Examining Influence of Setting on Characters and Compare and Contrast Characters

Watch 32:03-33.01 of Episode 10, Season 4 of Jersey Shore. In this clip, Snooki and Jwoww hug each other after a fight.

You can use 14:43-15:30 of an MTV special called Snooki and Jwoww Best Friends Forever (see video below).

Watch 11:29-11:55 of Episode 3, Season 1 of Snooki and Jwoww. In this clip, Snooki and Jwoww are walking into a restaurant called “Ninja” where restaurant employees dressed like ninjas jump out from hiding places and scare customers. Snooki and Jwoww are hugging each other in fear as they ride the elevator to their table.

  1. How are the two situations different?
  2. What are the girls doing in the first clip versus what they’re doing in the second clip? Which scenario is more likely to make the girls agitated with each other? Why?
  3. How do the girls look in the Jersey Shore clip versus how they look in the Snooki and Jwoww clip? How do their appearances contribute to their situations?
  4. Which clip seems more believable and less like reality television? Why?
  5. Do you think these girls truly are friends? Why/Why not?

Click the image to read an interview where the girls share their DOs and DON'Ts of friendship.
Snooki Jwoww.JPG

Answer the following questions:
  1. How does this article relate to the clips we watched?
  2. Which piece of advice meant the most to you? Why?
  3. Add a do.
  4. Add a don’t.
  5. How does this picture portray friendship? What techniques did the photographer use to convey this message?

Works Cited

Baszile, Denise Taliaferro. "Cultural Deprivation." Encyclopedia of African American Education. Ed. Kofi Lomotey. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2009. 197-99. SAGE Reference Online. Web. 7 Jul. 2012.

"Call of Duty Black Ops." //Call of Duty Black Ops//. N.p., 2010. Web. 13 Jul 2012. <>.

"Call of Duty: Black Ops." //Wikipedia//. 2012. Web. 13 Jul 2012. <>.

Fordham, Signithia. "“Acting White”." Encyclopedia of African American Education. Ed. Kofi Lomotey. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2009. 9-11. SAGE Reference Online. Web. 7 Jul. 2012.

Golden, John. Reading in the Reel World.Illinois: National Council of Teachers of English, 2006. Print.

Makarechl, Kla. "Frank Ocean, Target: Retail Giant Won't Sell 'Channel Orange,' Says It's Strictly A Business Decision." //Huffington Post//. (2012): 1. Web. 13 Jul. 2012. <>.

Middle School Students. Survey. 12 07 2012.

Morrell, Ernest. "Ernest Morrell Talk 3." Center for Peace Education and Social Justice. University of Cincinnati School of Education. Cincinnati, Ohio. 04 03 2010. Speech.

Morrell, Ernest. Personal Interview. 06/01/2011.

Morrell, Ernest. "Toward A Critical Pedagogy of Popular Culture: Literacy Development Among Urban Youth." //Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy//. 46.1 (2002): 72-77. Print.

"Scary Movie 4." //IMDb// (2006): n.pag. //Internet Movie Database//. Web. 13 Jul 2012. <>.

"Snooki and Jwoww Best Friends Forever." //Snooki and Jwoww//. MTV: 01/06/2012. Television. <

Stash, Stephen, perf. //Adidas x Sneaker Friends//. Prod. Niko DJ Greg Street. 2012. Web. 13 Jul 2012. <>.