Library Banner (20858 bytes)


Collection: Video and Captioning

purple arrow (1137 bytes)Learning with Captioning

REFERENCE: Kelly, R.R., Samar, V.J., Loeterman, M., Berent, G.P., Parasnis, I., Kirchner, C.J., Fischer, S.D., Brown, P., & Murphy, C. (1994). CC School project: Personal captioning technology applied to the language learning environment of deaf children. Technology and Disability, 3, 26-38.

Loeterman, M.L., Kelly, R.R., Samar, V.J. & Parasnis, I. (1994). The CC School Project: Final report. Boston, WGBH Educational Foundation.

Loeterman, M.L., Rubin, A., Silverman, C., Kelly, R.R., Parasnis, I. & Samar, V. (1994, June). Personal captioning in special education. Paper presented at the National Educational Computing Conference, Boston, Mass.

DISCUSSION: This resource looks at the process of writing captions and the potential learning value for both students who are deaf or hard of hearing and those who are learning disabled.

How Does Caption-Writing Benefit Students?

Captioning is a multi-step process, with different kinds of learning occurring along the way, including planning, organizing ideas, developing ways to link text to video, writing and revising, and working cooperatively with peers. Caption writing differs from other kinds of writing because students write on a computer using video as a prompt; the video monitor and computer monitor are side by side. For many students, video stimulates expressive language and prompts them to use more descriptive and elaborative language than they typically would use. Many teachers have commented that students produce more language while captioning than with other writing assignments. Writing on a computer helps too, since many students find writing with paper and pencil laborious and the editing process time-consuming. The whole captioning process requires students to view the video repeatedly in order to decide what to write and clarify their thoughts and to re-read their captions many times, which may improve reading fluency and provide opportunities to catch mistakes.

What is the Captioning Process for Students?

Students watch a videotape, compose text that links to the video, and combine that text with the video. Often the whole process is preceeded by video production, in which students and a teacher plan and record a videotape to be captioned. After outlining the three broad steps, this resource will offer a few concrete examples of captioning involving different populations and with different learning objectives.

The Videotape: Often the process begins with a group of students and their teacher planning and creating the videotape they will later caption. Some schools have taped schoolwide events that students can caption and add to the school library. Other videotapes focus on part of the curriculum, for example, one teacher has videotaped her science lab, involving her deaf students in each step. Another pair of teachers videotaped a complex procedure and asked their students to describe this process carefully (see below). Other teachers are using commercially available videos, particularly those based on literature, such as "Call of the Wild," and "The Glass Menagerie." For the latter, two students composed captions to represent the themes of the story.

Composing the Text: Students work individually, in pairs or in small groups. They compose text using a word processor as they watch, pause, and search the videotape. There are many approaches to caption-writing: students may transcribe the audio, translate from American Sign Language (or any other language) to English, narrate the video in text, or describe key elements of the video. At the beginning of the writing process, the students may brainstorm narrative ideas with classmates or a teacher to help formulate and organize their thoughts. They alternately play the video and enter text, print it out and revise it, following strategies typically used in process writing.

Creating the Captioned Video: When students are satisfied with their text, they combine it with the video--a process that can be manual or automated. The text and video are routed through a character generator and recorded using a second VCR. To manually sequence captions, the student or teacher plays the video and displays the captions one at a time by pressing a key on the keyboard. Many students find this step the most difficult initially. The activity takes practice and is easier (a) when the captioner is very familiar with the text, or script, and any special cues for displaying or erasing captions, (b) when the captioner has a partner who can provide a prompt for changing captions, and (c) when the captioner or partner has a printout of the caption text to use as a guide.

Real-life Examples:


1: Two fifth-grade boys who are profoundly deaf worked cooperatively to caption a video of Deaf Awareness Day, which was produced by staff from their collaborative in central Massachusetts. The video is action-based, with some incidental sign language and no narration. The boys undertook the task of narrating the video in captions, serving essentially as reporters. Their teacher, Sheila Donahue, worked with the students during several sessions to revise (and revise) their draft; the text had to be correct, since the tape was to be viewed by others in the school. "Being able to play and replay the video has given the boys time to notice details, and this is reflected in their written language," reports Sheila. "I've seen improvement in their punctuation, use of verb tenses and the richness of their vocabulary." For more on this project, see the back page of the NCIP Profile "Reading, Writing and Videotape."

2: Two first-grade students, profoundly deaf, have been using captioning to develop vocabulary and improve spelling. Their teacher began with a list of ten action verbs (e.g., run, jump, hop) that she wanted the children to learn, and videotaped the students acting out the words one by one and then signing them one at a time. The students especially enjoyed acting in front of the camera. They then sat at the computer and entered the English text corresponding to each action or sign. The students worked together and took turns keyboarding, correcting each other, and displaying the captions over the video. This is the beginning of a critical process of learning that sign language and English are two languages quite different from each other.

3: In an integrated program, students who are profoundly deaf or severely hearing impaired captioned Aesop's fables told in American Sign Language. For most, it was the first time they had ever been asked to translate from one language to the other. The students, at the TRIPOD School in Greater Los Angeles, worked independently and received targeted instruction after each captioning session, which took place on a weekly basis over two semesters. Analysis of the students' writing samples and observations of school staff indicated that, over time, the students stories became more elaborate, more closely matched the original story and contained more correct English structures. For more information about this project, see Kelly et al and Loeterman et al in References (above).


4: Students with learning disabilities at Brown Middle School in Newton, Massachusetts, are involved in a fascinating captioning project that targets their development of descriptive language. While the students have varying severities of language impairment, this project targets a writing problem common to all: imprecision and ambiguity. Each student works individually, watching a video of a small building-block construction; each of ten blocks is a different color, size and shape. As they see the construction unfold, the students use the word processor to describe each block, where it is placed and how it is oriented. Afterwards, the script is shown to an adult (from outside the project), who rebuilds the construction following the students' directions. This new construction is used during the feedback process. The teachers at Brown, Sue Lesser-Seltzer and Ellen Waite, are amazed at the students' motivation to write, their perserverance and their strong desire to be accurate. Sue and Ellen are hoping that this project will help the students focus more generally on accuracy in their writing and, after only a few weeks, are already seeing signs that writing is improving overall.


Mardi Loeterman, National Center for Accessible Media, WGBH Educational Foundation, 125 Western Avenue, Boston, MA 02134. 617/492-9258 (voice & TTY)

Collection Table of Contents

[ Home | Library | Videos | Tour | Spotlight | Workshops | Links ]

This material was developed by the National Center to Improve Practice (NCIP), located at Education Development Center, Inc. in Newton, Massachusetts.  NCIP was funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs from October 1, 1992 - September 30, 1998, Grant #H180N20013.  Permission is granted to copy and disseminate this information.  If you do so, please cite NCIP.   Contents do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by NCIP, EDC, or the U.S. Government.  This site was last updated in September 1998. 

ŠEducation Development Center, Inc.