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Why Common Sense Media’s Curriculum Worked for our School

Audrey Stokes | September 22, 2011

We recently met with educator Diana Graber and discussed what she has been doing with Common Sense Media’s curriculum. We were so excited about her efforts, that we asked her to write it up and share it with you. Here’s what she wrote:

Why Common Sense Media’s Curriculum Worked for our School

In a world where the average 8- to 18-year old spends seven hours and 38 minutes using media every day (Rideout, 2010) asking students and their families to restrict media use to weekends only seems extreme and unrealistic.

Yet, this is a typical policy at most private and public Waldorf schools.

Waldorf education focuses on the various stages of child development and infuses learning with art, drama, hands-on experiences, and human interaction. These schools advocate for limited media use in a child’s early years out of concern that it inhibits the development of a healthy imagination and limits opportunities for the social interaction that helps establish strong behavioral skills.

But as media and technology have become a more integral part of our culture, Waldorf schools are grappling with how to integrate digital media into the curriculum in a manner that stays true to the values of the schools and prepares students for the 21st Century with a core set of “new media literacies.”

This challenge was my core area of investigation as I pursued a masters program in Media Psychology & Social Change and completed my thesis: “New Media Literacy Education- A Developmental Approach.”

In it, I suggest that Waldorf schools are actually laying a strong foundation for new media literacy without using technology at all because the social skills at the center of a Waldorf education are closely aligned with those that key researchers suggest are at the center of being a successful participant in today’s media- and technology-driven culture.

For example, in his white paper, “Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century” (2006), researcher Henry Jenkins writes that the new literacies are essentially social skills developed through collaboration and networking. These skills include: play, performance, simulation, multitasking, judgment , networking, and negotiation. Jenkins and nearly every scholar writing about digital media today have identified ethical thinking as the most critical of the new literacy skills.

Helping students develop ethical thinking and moral reasoning skills is also one of the hallmarks of a Waldorf education. Research conducted by Hether (2001) found that Waldorf-educated students score unusually highly in moral reasoning –in a range more commonly associated with college graduates. The pedagogy’s strong emphasis on face-to-face interaction from an early age on is seen as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.

Still, even as these schools are on the right track to media literacy in the early years, they are still faced with the challenge of helping their students learn how to extend these skills into cyberspace. And for my school, Common Sense Media’s curriculum has offered the perfect solution.

Common Sense Media

I love that Common Sense Media’s curriculum is research-based and offers a range of activities that emphasize critical thinking, ethical discussion, and decision making. It is a perfect fit for Waldorf schools because it solves the problem of finding a way to introduce media that honors their developmental approach. Here is what I like about the curriculum:

1. It can be taught with or without computers. Whether your school has a fully equipped computer lab or no technology at all, the skill-building lessons and activities in this curriculum can be taught without technological tools.  As one of my favorite professors drummed into my head… it’s not about the tools. Media literacy is about behavior. Besides, as anyone who has spent five minutes alone with a young person and any piece of technology already knows, they generally figure out how to use the tool in the time it takes us to read the operations manual!

2. It is completely customizable. Each lesson is modular, can be taught as a unit and/or combined with a variety of subjects.

3. This is my favorite one… it is a proactive approach to digital literacy. Rather than emphasizing fear and “stranger danger”, Common Sense Media’s curriculum empowers students to be safe, ethical and responsible users of the powerful technologies of their day.

Using the Common Sense Media Curriculum at Journey School

I approached the administrator at my children’s school, Shaheer Faltas, and asked him if we could use the Common Sense Media curriculum in my daughter’s sixth grade class at Journey School, in Aliso Viejo, CA. He agreed to let me turn their weekly civics class into “Cyber Civics.” My daughter’s teacher, Mr. Keller, was also an avid supporter of the idea, so last year we dove into Common Sense Media’s Digital Citizenship strand.

We learned about digital footprints by letting the students design their own, imagining the virtual impressions they would leave on the world in ten years. We piggy-backed onto a business math block they had just completed, pretending that we had to do a digital background check on possible employees for their thriving pie-making business. They made Facebook pages on construction paper, experiencing the consequences of posting embarrassing comments in the safety of their classroom. I kept an ongoing blog of our lessons, compete with photos and video at ( to share with teachers and/or administrators who may be considering integrating this terrific program into their own curriculum.

Not just for Waldorf Schools

Although my experience introducing “New Media Literacy” to a school that advocates for no exposure to media during the school week is extreme, it is not unique. Adult concerns about online safety and privacy appear to be one of the biggest roadblocks to getting digital media into the all kinds of classrooms. I believe that taking Common Sense Media’s approach to digital literacy is a smart choice for all schools, particularly in a climate where  “stranger danger” is taught more readily than digital preparedness. Perhaps if we arm students with the skills necessary to navigate the ethical decisions that loom in cyberspace, adults will have confidence in their ability to make wise digital choices and maybe even encourage digital media usage for education!

One thing I’ve learned using the Common Sense Media curriculum (and I’ve learned a lot) is that grownups need to be educated just as much, or perhaps more than, our children. This understanding led to the birth of, a new website that one of my classmates and I started to help parents and educators understand and learn about new media tools to invigorate education. On our site we encourage everyone to start with digital citizenship.

As for Journey School? This year all the middle school classes will be using Common Sense Media’s curriculum. I can’t wait to see what we’ll learn


Hether, C. A. (2001). The moral reasoning of high school seniors from diverse educational settings (Ph.D. dissertation, Saybrook Graduate School and Research Center). Retrieved November 10, 2010, from Dissertations & Theses: Full Text (Publication No. AAT 3044032).
Jenkins, H., Purushotma, R., Clinton, K., Weigel, M., & Robinson, A. J. (2006). Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century. Retrieved September, 12, 2010 from
Rideout, V.J., Foehr, U.G., & Roberts, D.F. (2010). Generation M2: Media in the lives of 8- to 18- year olds. A Kaiser Family Foundation Study. Retrieved October 18, 2010 from

Diana Graber is co-owner of Graber Productions, an award-winning film and video production company. In addition to her production work, Diana is currently pursuing an interest developed while earning an M.A. in Media Psychology and Social Change—helping the next generation of storytellers become “new media literate”. Along with colleague Cynthia Lieberman, she just launched CyberWise ( to help parents and educators understand and use new media to invigorate education. She is also teaching “Cyber Civics” at Journey School, a public charter school in Southern California, where she is on the school’s Board.