Consuming Content isn’t Passive!


I’ve been considering this idea for a while, and though my thought process was my triggered by a tweet not quite related, I’ve seen this thought expressed a few different ways.

The prevailing thought seems to be this: Consuming content is passive, producing content is active. This dichotomy makes sense, but I think it is wrong. And I want to explain why.

Traditionally, consuming content seems to be like silent reading: a room full of kids, silently (and mindlessly?) reading. Often teachers participated in this, modelling good reading behaviour too and silently reading. Walk into any room participating in this practice and you’ll see a quite group, blessed calm! I see it in my room too. My students love to consume, and the room is quiet, while they read, listen and view media texts. Compare this to the noise and rumbling that inevitably happens when my students are producing: writing, speaking or representing media texts!

What’s missing from this narrative is all the incredibly complex thinking that is going on while consuming! In our Ontario curriculum within the reading, there is a Reading for Meaning strand, that focuses on, among other things, complex strategies to make meaning while consuming: comprehension strategies, demonstrating understanding, extending understanding, making inferences and interpreting texts, analyzing texts and responding to texts. These are complex skills, and tuning into these processes are extremely difficult. Having students pay attention to their thinking – to think about their thinking – is even more difficult!

This complex and active thinking seems to happen so quickly, its tricky to map it out. However, you can clearly see what you’ve produced because your writing, for example, is right in front of you, clear proof of the active work you’ve been doing. It is more difficult to document and prove your thinking while consuming.

This week, my students have been working on strengthening their Extending Understanding skills. Traditionally, this skill has been called Making Connections, but it is much deeper than that. My students have been learning to connect, compare or contrast to other texts, experiences or issues in order to extend their current understanding. This is some pretty deep and sophisticated thinking, that happens in a matter of seconds!

We watched the full Pepsi commercial that is currently getting criticized for it’s tone deaf approach to current protests. My intent was to watch the commercial and discuss whether students could make sense of the outrage against it: do they have any knowledge or schema on the BLM protests, for example? I was hoping that a few students has a cursory knowledge of these protests, along with maybe a knowledge of the Khardashians. If some students did, they would be able to extend their understanding more deeply than students who didn’t.

We watched the video once and then discussed what was going on. Some talked about the different characters: the musician, the photographer and the model, and how they each joined in the protest. What were they protesting? My students didn’t really know – which we then figured was on purpose. One brave student presented her conjecture: Since there was a sign that one protester was carrying said “Join the Conversion!”, this was a protest that was about LGBT rights, since Kendal Jenner, and her family… you know…

This was fascinating! Some students could keep up with her thinking. Others had no idea. Look what her brain did, all in a matter of seconds! Though she mis-read the sign (it is Conversation, not Conversion), she worked hard to construct meaning of this commercial and extend it further by making connections to what she already knew. She actively worked to deeply understand this text, including details about Caitlyn Jenner.

So though we may not easily see it, the brain works very actively to make meaning, regardless of what we are consuming: listening to music or a podcast; reading a novel or a YouTube comment; or viewing a movie trailer or Instagram picture!

So I leave this here for others to consider. I believe both consuming and producing are very active!



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