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Captioned Media: Literacy Support for Diverse Learners

By: National Center for Technology Innovation, Center for Implementing Technology in Education (CITEd)
Captioned or subtitled media is a great tool for teachers looking to differentiate classroom instruction — research has shown that ELLs, students with learning disabilities, and students who struggle academically may all benefit from following along with captions while watching a classroom video. Learn more about the benefits of captioned media and additional resources for captioned material in this article.

In a typical classroom, a teacher may find many students who are struggling readers, whether they are beginning readers, students with language-based learning disabilities, or students who are English language learners (ELLs). One motivating, engaging and inexpensive way to help build the reading skills of students is through the use of closed captioned and subtitled television shows and movies.

Though closed captioning was initially intended for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing, in the years since, captioned media has become widely available and has shown academic promise for a wide variety of learners.1 Because of federal legislation, closed captioning has been a built-in feature on every television set sold since 1993, and captioning is now available on television programming, live newscasts, movies, and sporting events.2 Additionally, web-based applications have made it increasingly easy for producers to caption online video, opening up more options for accessible media.

The increased availability of captioned media, whether on educational videos, popular movies, or live television broadcasts, allows teachers to begin incorporating more accessible media easily into their classrooms. As more teachers began using captions in their classroom, many found that captions could help support a wide variety of learners, beyond their deaf or hard of hearing students.

The use of captioned or subtitled media can be a great tool for teachers looking to differentiate classroom instruction. Presenting information in multiple ways and using motivating media can help address the diverse needs of learners in the classroom and engage students on multiple levels.3 Research has shown that ELLs, students with learning disabilities, and students who struggle academically may all benefit from following along with captions while watching a classroom video.4

For students with LD and struggling or beginning readers, the use of captions or subtitles can lead to increases in:

  • reading speed,
  • word knowledge,
  • decoding,
  • vocabulary acquisition,
  • word recognition,
  • reading comprehension, and
  • oral reading rates.5

Same-language subtitling (SLS or captioning) has been shown to improve reading skills among adults who are non-readers.6 SLS has also been used with some success on popular programming in India to improve the literacy of the general population.7

Research has shown that watching video appears to have a positive impact on comprehension skills, and combining viewing with text or captions appears to boost vocabulary acquisition, addressing skill deficits of struggling readers.8 Though most students do well with captioned media, the speed of captions could potentially pose a problem for very young children or struggling readers.9 For particularly low-level readers, teachers may want to consider using captioned television or movies where vocabulary is less likely to be difficult. These programs may include those where the main characters are children or teenagers, animated movies, family programs, or movies with young children in the cast.10

For students who are learning English (or another language), captioned and subtitled media can also have benefits. The strategy has been shown to be more effective at improving overall listening comprehension than non-captioned movies. Students who watch captioned videos to learn a foreign language have shown improvement in reading and listening comprehension, word recognition, decoding skills, motivation and vocabulary acquisition.11 The use of multimedia to teach a foreign language can also help motivate students and remove some of the anxiety of not knowing the language.12

Students consistently report increased engagement and enjoyment of captioned media over other options (print, uncaptioned media, etc.). Even in studies that have not found a significant improvement in academic objectives when using closed-captioned media have still found that students report preferring captions.13 Because of this, captioned media may also have an effect on students' non-academic skills such as time-on-task, motivation, and behavior as they find classroom reading activities to be more enjoyable.14

Researchers have found that the reading of captions or subtitles is fairly intuitive, so the use of captioned media requires little extra training or instruction for your students. When watching subtitled media, viewers will typically attempt to decode the text, even if they are struggling or beginning readers.15 A further benefit of the addition of captioned media to classroom instruction is that it shifts watching typical classroom videos from a "dominantly picture-viewing activity to a dominantly reading activity"16, providing struggling readers with additional reading practice.

If parents were also to turn on captions at home for pleasure television watching, this could provide students with many additional hours of reading practice, since many students spend a great deal of time watching television and movies.17 Because lower level readers may tend to avoid reading activities, their exposure to print is minimal and development of literacy skills continue to fall behind their peers'.18 Maximizing print exposure through the use of captions both at home and at school can add many hours of reading practice and literacy skill development.19

Though captioned and subtitled media won't replace strong reading instruction for struggling or beginning readers, the added exposure to print can help boost reading skills for a number of students. Given the wide (and inexpensive) availability of captioned and subtitled media on broadcast television, DVDs and online media, it can be a valuable addition to your teaching of diverse learners.

Captioning resources

Described and Captioned Media Program: Free lending library of accessible media.

The Periodic Table of Videos: Science videos from the University of Nottingham; many videos captioned (available in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Indonesian, and Italian).

Hulu: Source for watching television shows and movies online; many shows are captioned.

National Center for Accessible Media: Research and development group focusing on accessible media; offers resources and information about captioned media.

Endnotes

Endnotes

Click the "Endnotes" link above to hide these endnotes.

1 Koskinen, P.S. Knable, J. E. Markham, P.L. Jensema, C.J. Kane, K.W. (1995). Captioned television and the vocabulary acquisition of adult second language correctional facility residents. Journal Educational Technology Systems 24(4), 359-373.; Linebarger, D. L. (2001). Learning to read from television: The effects of using captions and narration. Journal of Educational Psychology, 93, 288-298. Available at: http://www.asc.upenn.edu/childrenmedia/Research_View.asp?code=660T22G9I27.

2 Bowe, F. G. Kaufman, A. (2001). Captioned media: Teacher perceptions of potential value for students with no hearing impairments: A national survey of special educators. Captioned Media Program.

3 Evmenova, A.S. (2008). Lights! Camera! Captions!: The effects of picture and/or word captioning adaptations, alternative narration, and interactive features on video comprehension by students with intellectual disabilities. George Mason University, College of Education and Human Development. Available at: http://mars.gmu.edu:8080/dspace/bitstream/1920/3071/1/Evmenova_Anna.pdf; Neuman, S. (1990). Using captioned television to improve the reading proficiency of language minority students. The National Captioning Institute, Inc.; Spanos, G. Smith, J.J. (1990). Closed captioned television for adult LEP literacy learners. Adjunct ERIC Clearinghouse on Literacy Education for Limited-English-Proficient Adults Washington DC.

4 Evmenova, A.S. (2008). Lights! Camera! Captions!: The effects of picture and/or word captioning adaptations, alternative narration, and interactive features on video comprehension by students with intellectual disabilities. George Mason University, College of Education and Human Development.; Goldman, M. E. (1993). Using captioned TV for teaching reading: FASTBACK 359. Available at: http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICDocs/data/ericdocs2sql/content_storage_01/0000019b/80/15/4b/d3.pdf; Steinfeld, Aaron. (1998). The benefit of real-time captioning in a mainstream classroom as measured by working memory. Volta Review 100(1), 29.

5 Bowe, F. G. Kaufman, A. (2001). Captioned media: Teacher perceptions of potential value for students with no hearing impairments: A national survey of special educators. Captioned Media Program. ; Evmenova, A.S. (2008). Lights! Camera! Captions!: The effects of picture and/or word captioning adaptations, alternative narration, and interactive features on video comprehension by students with intellectual disabilities. George Mason University, College of Education and Human Development.; Linebarger, D. L. (2001). Learning to read from television: The effects of using captions and narration. Journal of Educational Psychology, 93, 288-298.; Rickelman, R.J., Henk, W.A., Layton, K. (1991). Closed-captioned television: A viable technology for the reading teacher. The Reading Teacher 44(8), 598-599.

6 Bowe, F. G. Kaufman, A. (2001). Captioned media: Teacher perceptions of potential value for students with no hearing impairments: A national survey of special educators. Captioned Media Program. ; Kothari, B., Pandey, A., Chudgar, A. R. (2004). Reading out of the "Idiot Box": Same-language subtitling on television in India. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Information Technologies and International Development, 2(1), 23-44. Available at: http://mitpress.mit.edu/journals/pdf/ITID-2-1_23_0.pdf.; Spanos, G. Smith, J.J. (1990). Closed captioned television for adult LEP literacy learners. Adjunct ERIC Clearinghouse on Literacy Education for Limited-English-Proficient Adults Washington DC.

7 Kothari, B., Pandey, A., Chudgar, A. R. (2004). Reading out of the "Idiot Box": Same-language subtitling on television in India. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Information Technologies and International Development, 2(1), 23-44.

8 Koskinen, P.Wilson, R.M., Gambrell, L.B. & Neuman, S.B. (1993). Captioned video and vocabulary learning: An innovative practice in literacy instruction. The Reading Teacher, 47(1), 36-43.; Koskinen, P.S. Knable, J. E. Markham, P.L. Jensema, C.J. Kane, K.W. (1995). Captioned television and the vocabulary acquisition of adult second language correctional facility residents. Journal Educational Technology Systems 24(4), 359-373.; Linebarger, D. L. (2001). Learning to read from television: The effects of using captions and narration. Journal of Educational Psychology, 93, 288-298.

9 Koskinen, P.Wilson, R.M., Gambrell, L.B. & Neuman, S.B. (1993). Captioned video and vocabulary learning: An innovative practice in literacy instruction. The Reading Teacher, 47(1), 36-43.

10 Goldman, M. E. (1993). Using captioned TV for teaching reading: FASTBACK 359.

11 Evmenova, A.S. (2008). Lights! Camera! Captions!: The effects of picture and/or word captioning adaptations, alternative narration, and interactive features on video comprehension by students with intellectual disabilities. George Mason University, College of Education and Human Development.; Goldman, M. E. (1993). Using captioned TV for teaching reading: FASTBACK 359.; King, J. (2002). Using DVD feature films in the EFL classroom. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 15, 509-523. Available at: http://www.eltnewsletter.com/back/February2002/art882002.htm.; Koskinen, P.S. Knable, J. E. Markham, P.L. Jensema, C.J. Kane, K.W. (1995). Captioned television and the vocabulary acquisition of adult second language correctional facility residents. Journal Educational Technology Systems 24(4), 359-373.; Neuman, S. (1990). Using captioned television to improve the reading proficiency of language minority students. The National Captioning Institute, Inc.; Shea, P. (2000). Leveling the playing field: A study of captioned interactive video for second language learning. Journal of Educational Computing Research 22(3), 243-263.

12 Huang, H.C., Eskey, D.E. (1999). The effects of closed-captioned television on the listening comprehension of intermediate English as a Second Language (ESL) students. Journal of Educational Technology Systems, 28(1), 75-96. Available at: http://baywood.metapress.com/app/home/contribution.asp?referrer=parent&backto=issue,8,9;journal,38,146;linkingpublicationresults,1:300322,1.; King, J. (2002). Using DVD feature films in the EFL classroom. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 15, 509-523.; Neuman, S. (1990). Using captioned television to improve the reading proficiency of language minority students. The National Captioning Institute, Inc.; Shea, P. (2000). Leveling the playing field: A study of captioned interactive video for second language learning. Journal of Educational Computing Research 22(3), 243-263.

13 Evmenova, A.S. (2008). Lights! Camera! Captions!: The effects of picture and/or word captioning adaptations, alternative narration, and interactive features on video comprehension by students with intellectual disabilities. George Mason University, College of Education and Human Development.; Koskinen, P.Wilson, R.M., Gambrell, L.B. & Neuman, S.B. (1993). Captioned video and vocabulary learning: An innovative practice in literacy instruction. The Reading Teacher, 47(1), 36-43.; Rickelman, R.J., Henk, W.A., Layton, K. (1991). Closed-captioned television: A viable technology for the reading teacher. The Reading Teacher 44(8), 598-599.

14 Evmenova, A.S. (2008). Lights! Camera! Captions!: The effects of picture and/or word captioning adaptations, alternative narration, and interactive features on video comprehension by students with intellectual disabilities. George Mason University, College of Education and Human Development.; Holmes, K. Russell, W. B.III. Movitz, A. (2007). Reading in the social studies: Using subtitled films. Social Education, 71(6), 326-330.; Koskinen, P.Wilson, R.M., Gambrell, L.B. & Neuman, S.B. (1993). Captioned video and vocabulary learning: An innovative practice in literacy instruction. The Reading Teacher, 47(1), 36-43.; Linebarger, D. L. (2001). Learning to read from television: The effects of using captions and narration. Journal of Educational Psychology, 93, 288-298.; Rickelman, R.J., Henk, W.A., Layton, K. (1991). Closed-captioned television: A viable technology for the reading teacher. The Reading Teacher 44(8), 598-599. ; Spanos, G. Smith, J.J. (1990). Closed captioned television for adult LEP literacy learners. Adjunct ERIC Clearinghouse on Literacy Education for Limited-English-Proficient Adults Washington DC.

15 Kothari, B., Pandey, A., Chudgar, A. R. (2004). Reading out of the "Idiot Box": Same-language subtitling on television in India. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Information Technologies and International Development, 2(1), 23-44.

16 Ibid, p. 29

17 Koskinen, P.Wilson, R.M., Gambrell, L.B. & Neuman, S.B. (1993). Captioned video and vocabulary learning: An innovative practice in literacy instruction. The Reading Teacher, 47(1), 36-43.; Kothari, B., Pandey, A., Chudgar, A. R. (2004). Reading out of the "Idiot Box": Same-language subtitling on television in India. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Information Technologies and International Development, 2(1), 23-44.

18 Koskinen, P.Wilson, R.M., Gambrell, L.B. & Neuman, S.B. (1993). Captioned video and vocabulary learning: An innovative practice in literacy instruction. The Reading Teacher, 47(1), 36-43.

19 Koskinen, P.Wilson, R.M., Gambrell, L.B. & Neuman, S.B. (1993). Captioned video and vocabulary learning: An innovative practice in literacy instruction. The Reading Teacher, 47(1), 36-43.; Kothari, B., Pandey, A., Chudgar, A. R. (2004). Reading out of the "Idiot Box": Same-language subtitling on television in India. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Information Technologies and International Development, 2(1), 23-44.

National Center for Technology Innovation, Center for Implementing Technology in Education (CITEd) (2010)

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Comments

I'm a special education teacher in Hawaii, and very interested in subject of literacy. SLS is a very simple and affordable idea for improving the literacy amongst struggling reader populations. (In reality the majority of USA High School students are ‘struggling readers with Reading below 7th Grade Equivalencies) The application has many possibilities in both television and in education. This approach to enriching reading is legitimate --Google gave a 25 million dollar grant to the India based study: http://planetread.org/home.php and the OLPC program has a version of this program with music pre-loaded on their laptops. This format includes not only the viewing and responding to subtitled media but also the opportunity for students to design and create their own surtitled projects. For class activities we use a free program called Karafun (www.karafun.com) My students really love it, it is easy, intuitive, and can use any mp3, jpeg, or even .avi to rapidly make dynamic syllabicated subtitling. My students also use it with poetry and famous speech. You can see samples of my student's karaoke projects at my study web site: www.sls4reading.com, just look for SLS samples: Musicals and Other Genres. SLS has enormous educational potential --even if just added to MTV. I do know of teachers besides myself who have used SLS format however there are very few if any published studies. I am hoping that other researchers will be interested in this use of technology and do additional studies and help to validate my observations. Thanks for reading this and I hope you will consider some of these ideas for exploration. For further info please access and explore: Greg McCall , Hawaii: www.sls4reading.comAlso --just for fun check out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eem6EApCQlk -- sample of SLS done by a student.

This is a particularly interesting subject and it is the focus of what we are working on here at Zane Education - http://www.zaneeducation.comWe have recently completed the development of over 1,000 online videos all of which are purposely subtitled and they are developed to teach 11 K12 subjects and 260 curriculum topics. We also provide online assessment and testing for each topic in the form of online interactive quizzes containing a total of over 23,000 curriculum based questions which are designed to also help continue the learning process.When we first embarked upon this project, we anticipated that by providing this online subscription based service, that it would be primarily of benefit to children and students in classrooms and homeschools by enabling them to study and learn curriculum material while at the same time also enabling them to improve their reading skills and literacy levels. We have also developed a better understanding of how, by combining the use of educational videos with subtitles, we are providing each child with the option of watching, listenting to, or reading each presentation, and thereby being able to provide for different learning styles and levels of academic ability.By working with a range of children with a variety special needs we discovered that by introducing a variety of techniques as to how the videos were used in each particular situation, we are able to provide significant benefits to a wide range of of children with various types of special needs. We have also discovered that gifted students can also benefit greatly because the use of video enhances the ability for the child to learn and study at their own speed and thereby achieve their greatest potential. However what we did not anticipate that what we have produced would have significant value in the ESL market. By enabling each child to see each word, hear how it is pronounced, and then better understand the context in which it is used enables those children learning English as a Second Language to use what we produced to significantly improve their ESL studies.We are currently establishing new offices in India and China to complement what we are doing here in the United States and we are always interested to look at collaborating with those academics, individuals, companies and other organisations that have a similar interest in this field.A lot of research has been successfully conducted in respect of the benefits of linking video subtitles with the improvement of literacy levels, however we seem to be the first to combine the learning of curriculum subjects with improved reading at the same time, and provide an online solution for special needs children.

October 2011A Partial Solution for Teaching Our Young to ReadA number literacy organizations have done a masterful job of summarizing the needs of the young population of this country. What has been overlooked by many is the contribution that free TV captions can make to improve the reading ability for those who watch a lot of TV. Free TV Captions Help Millions. In a brief video, former President Bill Clinton, at his Clinton Global Initiative, praises the use of same language subtitles that have taught 150 million in India to read from television. See the Clinton video that comes up as you open www.captionsforliteracy.org along with a short video of a boy learning to read and write with free TV captions. Make Sure Children Are Ready to Learn If kids aren’t ready to learn when they arrive at school, teachers can’t always bring them up to speed. Underprivileged children often don’t have families available or able to help them. To bridge the achievement gap, the ubiquitous resource of free TV captions may be what toddlers need to develop print awareness to start kindergarten, what young students need in early grades to be ready to read or what older children need to reinforce reading skills with practice at home, especially young black males. The Reading Achievement Gap For Blacks & Latinos. As you point out, when NAEP results are analyzed by ethnicity or language, over 50% of black and Hispanic students fail to read at the basic level by the 4th grade. How can we help underprivileged kids who can’t read or read well but who do watch a lot of television? Turn On TV Captions To Help Learning To Read. Free TV captions create an unrivaled opportunity for learners to connect hearing the spoken word with seeing the printed word in the context of the action unfolding on the screen to explain and reinforce the meaning. When the average child watches television 4 to 7 hours a day and 97% of our households have a television set, turning on free TV captions provides thousands of hours a year for millions of students to expand their classroom lessons by practicing reading at home. Not More Television, But Better Television With TV Captions. We know that TV captions cannot substitute for the warmth of a family member reading to a child. But when there is no family member available to read to the kids, where there is only a single parent with two jobs and little free time, where a foreign language is spoken at home because the adults cannot yet read English or where the reading skills of the family are shaky, other help, such as TV captions, is urgently needed. Of course free TV captions are only a supplement, not a substitute, for credentialed instructors. To use TV captions in classrooms, teachers can assign age-appropriate programs to their students to be watched as homework with TV captions turned on, with further study in later classes. The federal Department of Education believes in using television and awards PSB and others millions of dollars each year to produce Ready to Learn television programs. Federal Legislation Is In Place, The Research Has Been Done. Since January 2006, federal mandates, initially for the deaf, require TV captions to be available 20 out of 24 hours a day (generally not between 2am and 6am) on virtually all programs on almost all stations. Though TV captions are free for viewers, they’re expensive for producers or others who provide the captions. It seems scandalous to squander the price producers pay to provide TV captions free to viewers but not to tell viewers of their educational power. Over 25 years of rigorous scientific studies validate the effectiveness of TV captions for learning to read. For a list of such studies, see the Research tab at www.captionsfor literacy.org. How To Open Closed TV Captions. Free TV captions can be turned on with a click of the CC button (if there is one on the remote control) or, if not, with the use of the set’s menu. Using the television’s menu often needs a reader to plow through menu choices. Teachers can also show students in class how to use the menu at home. Dissemination And Implementation Are What We Need Now. The problem is that many families (and many teachers) are unaware of the near universal availability and the learning value of free TV captions. We need to harness these organizations formidable platforms to alert children, families and teachers to the near universal availability of free TV captions and their educational value.

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