Captions in the classroom: a hidden literacy tool

Wednesday, 13 March 2013 15:19pm

Education manager and Itinerant Teacher of the Deaf, Anne McGrath, talks through key pieces of research which identify the link between captions and literacy.

Videos and multimedia are being used more and more in the classroom – a trend the new Australian curriculum certainly encourages. Using video not only allows for variety and engagement, but for a real benefit for students’ literacy: captions. Similar to foreign language subtitles, captions are the text version of audio, including speech, sounds and music.

Captions are essential for students who are Deaf or hearing impaired and also have immense benefits for students learning an additional language, struggling readers, and visual learners.

Linebarger (2001) conducted a study which considered the effect of captioned television on children’s word recognition. It noted that “when captions were present, they appeared to serve as a focusing agent” (p.297) because the captions themselves would emphasise the most important components of the multimedia material.

It is interesting to consider that even in instances when children are at a comfortable level of reading, Linebarger perceives that they should continue to view multimedia content with captions to avoid the distraction and enable concentration.

Chai and Erlam (2008) considered the experience of twenty Chinese students using captions as a compentent of their learning of English. The study focused on the specific learning of new individual words and expressions rather than the overarching understanding of content.

It was found that the students who viewed the video content with captions were better able to learn new words and phrases than those who watched the same content without captions (p.35.)  More specifically, it was noted that “the use of video plus captions can help students learn colloquial language and how and when native speakers use it” (p.36). The findings were supported in student reflections, with one student stating that “reading is easier than listening” (p. 34).

One study of Deaf adults identified that watching video and reading captions simultaneously achieved higher levels of comprehension than simply reading a transcript. Jelenik Lewis and Jackson (2001) found that:

"There were higher scores for tests of comprehension and information recall with the captioned video condition compared to the printed text of […] captions, suggesting combining captions with video provides an information advantage to students who are deaf" (p.50).

Captions are becoming widely available in education media, with the new ABC’s teacher resource site Splash featuring closed captions on all videos. Our annual CAP THAT! campaign aims to turn teachers into captioning advocates in their schools.

Anne is presenting Teaching the Australian Curriculum Using Captioned Multimodal Texts and Audio Visual Resources at the Australian Council for Educational Research conference this Sunday.

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