This post is written by members Kate Artz, Danah Hashem, and Anne Mooney.
One of the biggest challenges of teaching composition to a new group of students often isn’t what they don’t know, but what they do know. Bad writing habits and rigid, formulaic structures can become a comfort zone for insecure student writers, holding them back from more authentic and effective writing. A potential strategy for helping students break out of those comfort zones is teaching the skills of composition through unfamiliar genres of writing. Written transcripts of audio compositions such as podcasts, speeches, or interviews are a particularly useful genre for helping students explore compositions in new and different ways. Using transcripts to teach composition enables students to make meaningful rhetorical decisions about how to write, what to include, and what to exclude from their writing.
Transcripts are compositions
We believe that transcripts of audio work hold equal value and weight to the original piece. In many cases, transcripts are treated like the silver medal consolation prize for those who are unable to access the real work, the audio work. A transcript can be a way of exploring more deeply the work being transcribed and requires an intricate set of rhetorical decisions in which the author carefully considers audience, goals, and genre.
The importance of being comfortable being uncomfortable.
By teaching transcripts as composition, we are allowing our students to take more risks with their learning. Because they are likely unfamiliar with the genre and the act of translating a piece from one mode to another, there will be less pressure to be perfect (they won’t easily recognize what perfect is). This not only promotes play, flexibility, and creativity, but it creates a more even starting point for our students. Students who often struggle may find themselves learning at a similar pace to their more advanced peers, and the students who are used to moving at a faster pace are prompted to slow down and carefully consider their writing process.
Valuing all of our students’ means of expression.
Having students produce work in this new genre promotes their unique ways of creating and expressing themselves. For students who struggle with more traditional writing, transcripts may offer them a new and meaningful way to engage in composing. Incorporating lessons and assignments that foreground transcript writing asks students to seriously undertake the task of creating alternative ways of approaching a particular composition. This prompts them to engage multiple modes, ways of thinking, and genres, creating more opportunities for authentic student voices.
Promoting inclusivity in the classroom.
By familiarizing our students with the process of transcript writing and its inherent value, we reaffirm that inclusivity and accessibility concerns are normal parts of the composing process. Students are clearly able to see how conveying a message in multiple modes, genres, and styles increases the audience and enriches the message. Although a written transcript can’t always capture perfectly every aspect of an audio composition, there are also things a transcript can convey that audio cannot. Therefore, multiple modes and styles can support one another and can be taken together as part of one rich and complex composition, to the benefit of all audiences.
Often we approach inclusivity in the classroom from a teacher-centric perspective; however, using transcripts to teach composition places the responsibility and empowerment on students. This approach asks students to build and direct a culture of accessibility within their own learning communities. Incorporating more inclusive and accessible ways to experience compositions, by creating high-quality transcripts, becomes a creative, student-motivated endeavor.
Transcription in practice.
We have created an assignment that gives students an opportunity to explore some of the rhetorical complexities involved in transcription of audio pieces. As outlined in the assignment, after a discussion on the rhetorical strategies of transcription, students each create individual transcripts for a single piece. Once students have completed their transcripts, they can trade with a partner or work in groups in order to collaboratively consider the different approaches, understandings, and perspectives that led them to their different rhetorical choices. This simple activity enables students to understand and discuss the individual and often subtle choices that different authors make. Additionally, students will be able to explore the idea that no text is neutral; even the smallest rhetorical choice, from font choice to punctuation placement, expresses the perspective and intention of its author.
Audio Transcript Assignment
- Give everyone a transcript for a common audio piece.
- Read these transcripts individually and answer the following questions:
- What do you expect the speaker(s) to sound like?
- Do you expect music or sound effects? If so, what kind and how much?
- What do you expect the tone of the audio piece to be?
- Listen to the chosen audio piece.
- Individually answer the following questions:
- Was there anything in the audio file that you did not expect or that was distinctly different from the way you imagined it?
- In what ways did the audio file meet your expectations based on what you read in the transcript?
- What is something specific that the transcript author did that you found particularly effective or interesting?
- Discuss answers as a large group.
- Choose 3 audio clips. Below are some recommended categories to choose from (Suggested audio clip length: 1.5 to 3 minutes):
- Radio commercials
- TED talks
- Famous recorded speeches
- Divide the class into 3 groups with each group receiving one of the selected clips.
- Individually, each student writes a transcript for the clip they have received. It is important that they do not discuss their process with their group members until after the transcript is written!
- Within their groups, have students get into pairs and swap transcripts with one another.
- Read transcripts and annotate while reading.
- Answer the following questions on a piece of paper that will be returned to the transcript’s author at the end of the discussion:
- What is something specific that your partner did in their transcript that you found particularly effective or interesting?
- What is something that your partner included in their transcript that you omitted in yours? Why do you think they may have made that choice?
- What is something that your partner omitted in their transcript that you included in yours? Why do you think they may have made that choice?
- What do you think the author’s rhetorical goal was overall?
- If you could propose one potential change to your partner, what would it be and why?
- Reassemble into groups and discuss answers within each group.
- Students are encouraged to point to textual evidence in their partner’s transcripts.
- Students are encouraged to explain their rhetorical choices and corresponding goals to their groupmates.
- Students return annotated transcripts and question answers to transcript authors.
- Allow authors to review comments and reflect on the impact of the choices they made.
- Authors should submit answers to the following questions:
- Would you adopt the change your partner recommended? Why or why not?
- Did any part of your transcript have an unexpected impact on your partner? Explain.
- What is one thing in your transcript that effectively did what you wanted it to? Explain.
- What is one thing you might do differently if you were to rework this transcript? Explain.
- Alternative options for responding to these questions:
- Reflection Essay
- Journal Entry
- Blog Entry
- Post-Class Discussion Forum
Although it can be intimidating to bring a new genre into the classroom, if we ask our students to take risks and push themselves outside their comfort zones, we must be willing to do the same. Students may not often compose transcripts; however, the rhetorical awareness and skills that transcription teaches are broadly applicable to a variety of situations calling for effective writing.
Kate Artz is a PhD student and Teaching Associate at University of Massachusetts Amherst in Amherst, MA. Her academic and research interests include feminist and queer theory, digital and multimodal composition, creative writing pedagogy, and issues of accessibility in composition. Follow her on Twitter at @artz_kate or on her blog at www.kateartz.com
Danah Hashem teaches tenth-grade World Literature at Lexington Christian Academy in Lexington, MA, where she pursues her passions for and scholarship in digital literacies, Middle Eastern literature, and student-centered learning. Follow her on Twitter at @DanahRHashem or via her blog, www.pencilsandpatience.wordpress.com.
Anne Mooney teaches eleventh and twelfth grade English at Malden High School in Malden, MA; her academic interests of digital literacies and trauma theory have inspired both her classroom and her scholarship. Follow her on Twitter at @ammoons or on her blog, www.habitsofela.wordpress.com.