Illinois Teacher Applies Closed Captioning To Help Youngsters Learn Vocablulary

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), passed in 1990, has motivated schools to purchase closed captioning equipment to ensure that hearing-impaired students are not denied information when viewing television programs.

Like subtitles, captions display spoken dialogue as printed words on the TV screen. Captions also may identify speakers, sound effects, music and laughter. Currently, the majority of programming on the commercial broadcast networks is closed captioned.

Many cable networks also offer captioning for their most popular programs. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 requires all new video programming to be captioned within eight years. This provision will further enhance disabled studentsí access to knowledge.

For Mainstream Audiences

In schools across the country, educators have discovered that closed captioning carries benefits for mainstream audiences as well. Terry Roso, a first-grade teacher at Sheridan School in Lake Forest, Ill., uses captioned videos to aid vocabulary development, reading comprehension and content retention.

Rather than rely on existing programs, however, Roso invites students to create their own captioned videos. In the broadcast world, adding captions to a 30-minute program can take up to 15 hours and cost thousands of dollars. Yet Roso performs the task herself with the help of an inexpensive encoding box and software from International Computers, of Wauwatosa, Wisc.

The teacher became involved with captioning early last year, when one ESL student had difficulty in reading. ìI used it quite informally at first,î Roso recalls, adding that she soon started to experiment with different applications.

The following semester, students worked cooperatively to produce videos on a wide range of subjects. For example, some kindergartners starred in a talent video relating to the Olympics. Sheridanís media center loans Rosoís class the necessary equipment, such as a camcorder, VCR and TV.

A Simple Process

Once students have finished filming, Roso takes the videotape to a Windows PC equipped with International Computersí Closed Caption Encoder (ccE) and running the firmís captioning software. An external box, the ccE plugs into the PCís serial port.

As the video plays back from the camcorder into the encoding box, Roso types in the text she wants to appear on the screen. Before adding the captions, a teacher can review the script for errors or omissions. When ready, another tape in a VCR records the programming with the associated captions. ìItís very easy. You just click on the captions iconÖ and press return.î

Generally the next day, students watch each othersí captioned videos. In some cases, Roso may urge her young viewers to pay attention to specific words that will be covered in upcoming spelling lessons. On occasion, she turns off the captions and administers an informal spelling test.

According to Roso, the captioning reinforces learning by tapping into kidsí natural interest in TV. ìKids just love seeing themselves on TV. Itís something they ask for everyday.î

Roso also finds the ccE valuable for building childrenís core vocabulary. Students are videotaped speaking a given word then animating or describing that wordís definition. When Roso encodes the video, she carefully paces the captions such that the audience must watch the speakersí demonstration before seeing the word onscreen.

Kids Take Videos Home

As a bonus, Roso also gives her students copies of the videos they make, allowing them to share their experiences with parents. Approximately 60 million homes in the U.S. have televisions that can display closed captioning. (A federal law mandates that all TVs with screens 13î or larger manufactured after 1993 contain built-in closed-caption decoders.)

Roso believes that schools can utilize the technology for a variety of curricula and student populations. For example, based on her success with ESL instruction, Roso suggests that educators experiment with captioning in foreign language lessons. ìHaving [students] hear a word and see it can support their language development,î Roso says.

The authors of the ADA and Telecommunications Act probably never imagined that their legislation would potentially have such a far-reaching impact in education.

This article originally appeared in the 05/01/1997 issue of THE Journal.