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Considering Captioned Media

I arrived at a school recently to observe a seventh grader
in English class. The class had just finished reading Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In
preparation for performing selected scenes in small groups, the class would be
watching the movie for character inspiration. The shades were drawn, the
projector shone blue on the screen and the desks were pushed aside to allow space
for students to sit closer on the rug. As the students filed in, excited
chatter about a movie filled the room.

A boy (not my student) approached the teacher. “The movie
will have subtitles, right?” he asked. After the teacher confirmed that, yes,
there would be subtitles, the boy exclaimed quietly, “Yes!” and headed to the
rug. In this class, captions are for everyone, not just my student with hearing

As teachers of the deaf, we often remind school teams about
the importance of using captioned media in order to ensure that our students
have access to the information presented. As students get older, it is
important to engage them in the process as part of building self-advocacy
skills. Once captions are used consistently, all students begin to see the
benefits, as with the student above. Helping classroom teachers see how captions
benefit the whole class lessens the burden on the student with hearing loss and
increases the likelihood that captions will be used as a matter of course. Here
are a few things to keep in mind when working with school teams:

  •  Many factors make it especially challenging for
    students with hearing loss to access information presented in documentaries and
    educational videos through listening alone, including background music,
    narrators with accents, unfamiliar vocabulary (including names and places), and
    the inability to always see faces for speechreading cues.
  • Watching an educational film is different from
    watching a TV show or movie for fun. Most of my students use closed captions at
    home as well, but for those who do not, sitcoms and “fun” movies typically have
    an easy to follow, predictable plot line and missing pieces may not affect the
    overall meaning. In contrast, educational films do not have the same
    predictability, students are generally less familiar with the topics and are
    expected to walk away with a comprehensive understanding of the information
    presented. Missing even a small piece will affect their understanding of the
    overall meaning. Even when movies are “just for fun” at school, captions are
    still necessary in order for our students to feel included and to participate
    in casual conversations afterwards. 
  • Media is frequently used to enhance a lesson,
    introduce a new topic or conclude a unit. Without captions, students with
    hearing loss may misunderstand or completely miss information, creating
    confusion rather than improving their understanding of a topic.
  • When new information is presented through media,
    enabling the captions allows all students to correctly identify people, places
    and events. Teachers can pause the video with the captions on the screen to
    discuss aspects of the video, providing all students with access to the information
    being highlighted by the teacher.
  •  The student with hearing loss, as well as a few typically
    hearing peers, can take ownership of captioned media. I’ve worked with students
    as young as third grade who have learned to enable captions on the classroom
    computer and projector with adult supervision. These students have written out
    directions in their own words and included illustrations for turning on the captions.
    This ensures that even when the teacher is out, my student with hearing loss
    will have access to the media presented.
  •  That said, movies are often left for substitute
    teachers. Captions should be enabled, or clear directions for how to do so must
    be left.
  • Many websites claim to host videos with closed
    captioning. Be sure to preview any media with the captions enabled if you are
    not sure about the quality of the captions. For example, while YouTube offers a
    closed- captioning option, if the captions are not already embedded, the
    captions that can be viewed will be via Beta Captioning. These instantaneous
    captions are often incorrect – or even inappropriate –because the technology is
    not quite there yet in terms of accuracy. More reputable options are BrainPop
    or Discovery Streaming. Both require the school to purchase memberships but
    host videos on a variety of topics with reliable captioning. You might also
    encourage schools to sign up for a free membership to the federally funded
    Described and Captioned Media Program ( Captioned DVDs can be accessed
    free of charge from their lending library, and webstreaming is also available.
  • Enabling captions does not mean that students
    with hearing loss can take notes while watching films. Students will continue
    to require notes from a teacher (preferably prior to watching the movie) or
    from a peer so that they can read the captions without having to look away to
    write, missing the next segment.
  • Placing the FM microphone near the speaker does
    not enhance the quality of sound for most students with hearing loss. Use of a
    splitter is preferred by my students; it allows the FM to be plugged directly
    into the computer or TV without changing the sound for the rest of the class. (See
    “Maximize FM Use” for more information
    on use of splitters).
  •  All students can be encouraged to add captions
    to their own media projects when shared in class. With the increasing
    integration of media in the classroom, students are expected to create projects
    using a variety of computer programs. iMovie, for example, makes it easy for
    students to add subtitles to their own movies using the “subtitles” option.
  • Work with your student to determine how teachers
    should discuss captioned media in class if questions arise. Generally,
    statements that highlight the full class benefit rather than singling out the
    student with hearing loss are preferred.

The most recent AG Bell email newsletter included links describing the new captioned media guidelines. That information can be found here:

On a final note, my colleagues and I often find
that once teachers become used to using captions and they see how they benefit
all of their students, they often continue to use them as standard practice
long after the student with hearing loss has moved on to the next grade. It can
be reassuring for a first-timer know this! How do you help teachers incorporate captioned media?

Hear Me Out

The Hear Me Out blog provides unique resources for students who are deaf or hard of hearing. It's a forum for itinerant teachers of the deaf to share their experiences as they grow as professionals! It is produced by Clarke's Mainstream Services team as part of our mission to support children with hearing loss and the professionals who serve them.

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About the Hear Me Out Blog

Itinerant teachers of the deaf (TOD) provide direct services to children with hearing loss in mainstream schools, consultation to their teachers, and professional development to school staff. Itinerant TODs travel to a child’s neighborhood school to provide one-on-one educational support, foster listening and spoken language development, and help children build social and self-advocacy skills. They also act as a liaison between the family and their mainstream school. Hear Me Out provides a unique forum for these special teachers to share their experiences as they grow as professionals.

Hear Me Out is produced by Mainstream Services at Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech as part of our mission to support children with hearing loss and the professionals who serve them.

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Hear Me Out Blog

About the Author

Heather Stinson (CAGS, MED, S/LP-A) received her master’s degree in Education of the Deaf from Smith College in 2006 and a graduate certificate in Children, Families, and Schools (with a concentration in research methodology) from the University of Massachusetts in 2012. In addition to her many years of experience working with children with hearing loss who communicate using listening and spoken language, Heather has also worked as a preschool classroom teacher.

Heather has presented both locally and nationally on issues related to mainstreaming students with hearing loss and is a contributing author to Odyssey magazine. Heather currently works as an itinerant teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing at Clarke Mainstream Services, a program of Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech.

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