Teaching Composition Using Transcripts

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

Prewriting Activity:

  • 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
    • Podcasts
    • 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!
In-Class Activity:
  • 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.  


Writing Grows Out of Many Purposes

Professional Knowledge for the Teaching of Writing, written by a committee of the NCTE Executive Committee, pinpoints 10 key issues in the effective teaching of writing. Over the next few weeks, we will unpack each one. This week, we will look at:

“Writing grows out of many different purposes.”

Writing is not just one thing. It varies in form, structure, and production process according to its audience and purpose. It’s important that our students see the wide range of purposes for which people write, and the forms of writing that arise from those purposes like lab reports, history papers, essay exams, or literary interpretations. Learn more with these resources from NCTE.

Using the Writer’s Notebook in Grades 3-8: A Teacher’s Guide, written by Janet Elliott, provides practical ideas, assignments, and examples of student writing. This book offers a vision of what is possible for young writers—both in writing across the curriculum and in writing workshop.

In a follow up to the May 2009 issue of English Journal, an analysis of the changes in the teaching of writing is detailed. Visits to 260 English, math, social studies, and science classrooms in 20 middle schools and high schools in five states, plus interviews with 220 teachers and administrators, and with 138 students in these schools, and a national survey of 1520 randomly selected teachers are shared in “A Snapshot of Writing Instruction in Middle Schools and High Schools.”

In the final entry in the English Journal column “Innovative Writing Instruction” entitled “When It Happens ‘Across’: Writing as Transformative and Expansive” the author asks the questions: Who teaches and does not teach writing, and why? How can the teaching and doing of writing across the entire curriculum help our students and us better transact within the world? Read the column to learn more.

In Everyday Genres: Writing Assignments across the Disciplines, the author analyzes the common assignments given to writing students in the college classroom, and investigates how new writers and expert readers respond to a variety of types of coursework in different fields. Listen to an interview with author Mary Soliday!

The authors of the College Composition and Communication article “Writing in High School/Writing in College: Research Trends and Future Directions” offers a complex understanding of writing practices at the high school and college level. The researchers are gathered both direct and indirect evidence of how high school and college students and faculty experience writing instruction across the curriculum.

How do you use the NCTE Professional Knowledge for the Teaching of Writing in your classroom?

October 2017 #NCTEchat: The National Day on Writing

Join us tomorrow, Sunday, October 15, at 8 p.m. ET, on Twitter for an #NCTEchat all about the National Day on Writing®.

The National Day on Writing (October 20) was founded by our members on the premise that writing is critical to literacy but needs greater attention and celebration. Since 2008, we’ve watched thousands of people celebrate writing on October 20 through photos, events, and, of course, the written word, using #WhyIWrite. Join the #NCTEchat on Sunday to connect with other educators and get new ideas and inspiration for ways to celebrate the National Day on Writing on Friday!

Here are the questions for tomorrow’s Twitter chat:

1. Why do you write?

2. What is your go-to mentor text? How do you use it?

3. What is your go-to resource for teaching writing? Why is it important to you?

4. How will you celebrate the National Day on Writing?

5. What is one goal you have for writing/teaching writing?

We hope to see you there! Be sure to join us by using #NCTEchat and #WhyIWrite.

Textual Collaborations: Preparing Two-Year College English Faculty

This post is written by members Holly Hassel and Kelly Ritter.

Since two-year colleges have developed an independent identity as sites of education, professional organizations have sought to define the specific type of knowledge and training that leads to successful outcomes for instructors in these settings. The first Guidelines for Junior College English Teacher Training Programs were published in 1971, while the “Guidelines for the Academic Preparation of English Faculty in Two-Year Colleges” were first approved by the TYCA Executive Committee in 2004 (Jensen and Toth 561). Each of these documents sought to distinguish what educational preparation best prepared instructors to work in two-year colleges.

In 2017, updated guidelines appear in both College English and Teaching English in the Two-Year College. Why both publications? They will help those who are hiring instructors and want guidance in evaluating credentials or those working toward developing internal professional development programs. The new document, “TYCA Guidelines for Preparing Teachers of English in the Two-Year College” also engages graduate programs and faculty in the conversation in ways that prior statements did not.

With the rapid collapse of tenure-track lines in English departments nationwide, graduate program directors (and other graduate faculty members who mentor candidates) have slowly come to realize that faculty positions outside the idealized R1 campus are what their students will likely hold. More slowly still, arguably, these advisors have come to realize the value of making positions at two-year colleges visible. But the traditional graduate program does very little to train students for this work. As Kelly considered these professional realities, she concluded that publishing the updated guidelines in College English not only makes (more) visible the history and value of training and expertise among two-year college faculty; it also lays bare the chasm that has long existed between graduate program training in English, particularly literary studies, and the work done at two-year colleges nationwide. As editor of CE, Kelly wanted to make this division known to readers. But perhaps more important than exposing this lack of training and calling for a renewed interest in preparing graduate students for two-year college work, Kelly wanted to make a larger statement about who reads our journals and why. The cooperative relationship between TETYC and CE (and CCC) has always been a strength of those journals; creating more dialogue between these audiences–and a more openly welcoming gesture toward the two-year audience to indeed find itself in the pages of CE is part of making that larger statement.

For Holly, the publication of the guidelines is both a responsibility of the journal and an opportunity to contribute to the growing body of literature on how graduate education in English MA and PhD programs can evolve to meet the needs of this time and place in higher education. Anchoring the September 2017 issue of Teaching English in the Two-Year College (a special issue focused on graduate preparation for two-year college English teachers), then, the new guidelines are poised to speak to audiences across the range of college English, writing, and humanities programs. The 2004 guidelines outline areas of formal preparation (for example, literature, grammar, composition theory and pedagogy, rhetoric and rhetorical theory, research methods, the adult learner, and teaching reading) and characteristics of effective two-year college faculty—being reflective, flexible, and understanding of diversity; participating in professional communities; collaborating with colleagues; and creating a student-centered learning environment. By contrast, the most recent “Guidelines for Preparation” more squarely calls on graduate programs to partner explicitly and in spirit with two-year college institutions in preparing instructors to work in open-admissions institutions.

In this way, the new statement is a road map for teacher-scholars in all sectors of higher education to recognize and make visible the specific conditions of two-year colleges as sites of employment, to highlight their value as potential employers of MA- or PhD-holding graduates in English programs, and to adjust their programs in curricular and professional work that will prepare their students to be educators who participate in the various organizations within the profession and engage in ongoing development throughout their careers.

What has further inspired College English and Teaching English in the Two-Year College to highlight these new guidelines statements, however, is the imperative for the field of English studies itself to come to terms with some critical realities:

  • The definition of academic labor is shifting; the very shape of the labor force itself has dramatically evolved, as readers know, with anywhere from 60% to 80% non-tenure-track faculty among its ranks, depending upon which figure from any number of studies that one wishes to use.
  • Two-year colleges, like four-year colleges and universities, operate under significant reliance upon non-tenure-track labor; four-year institutions have recently become more cognizant of this labor force and thus should (in our view) see less separation from our two-year colleagues, not more.
  • Additionally, the concerns of four-year faculty—student agency, curricular development, revision, and innovation, shared governance, intellectual freedom, fair working conditions, cross-cultural awareness and sensitivity, to name just a few—are also the concerns of two-year faculty.

It’s impossible to know whether this partnership between us as journal editors and the two issues will bear fruit. Reading audiences are funny things—they appear and recede, they celebrate, they criticize, they evolve. At any one time a reader might be picking up both the CE and TETYC issues and connecting the dots. Or it might be a historian, some years down the road, who pulls each of our issues out of the (probably electronic) archive and says, Hey, what’s this? Part of providing this annotation, this exegesis, regarding our collaborative work is to anticipate that future moment and provide a narrative for it.

But writing here, as we have, is also a way to talk through and to readers of the present, to challenge all of us to ask what kind of relationships can and should exist between two-year and four-year faculty, programs, and professional development? Who do we want our future faculty to be, and how do we want them to enter a story that has long had many tellers with sometimes competing agendas? We can’t answer these questions for all of us, but perhaps knitting the history and purposes of TYCA into the fabric of CE is a place to start.

Works Cited

Calhoon-Dillahunt, Carolyn, Darin L. Jensen, Sarah Z. Johnson, Howard Tinberg, and Christie Toth. TYCA Guidelines for Preparing Teachers of English in the Two-Year College. College English. Vol. 79, no. 6, July 2017, 550–60.

Jensen, Darin L.,  and Christie Toth. “Unknown Knowns: The Past, Present, and Future of Graduate Preparation for Two-Year College English Faculty.” College English, vol. 79, no. 6, July 2017, 561–92.

“TYCA Guidelines for Preparing Teachers of English in the Two-Year College,” Teaching English in the Two-Year College, vol. 45, no. 1, Sept 2017, pp. 8–19.

TYCA. “Guidelines for the Academic Preparation of English Faculty at Two-Year Colleges.” Two-Year College English Association. 2004. http://www.ncte.org/library/NCTEFiles/Groups/TYCA/TYCAGuidelines.pdf.

Holly Hassel is a professor of English and Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Marathon County, a two-year college. Twitter: @prof_hassel



 Kelly Ritter is Associate Dean for Curricula and Academic Policy and professor of English and Writing Studies at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Road to Convention and Beyond: What OUR Students and I Have Been Sharing


We write to live
And live to write
Our eyes on the prize
It’s still in sight
We got something to say
And we won’t speak quietly
We come from the heart
We’re the Red Poet Society                     


“We have to read the hard stories because how will we know what life is really like?”

“This is the first book I have ever read.”

“Really like? How will we know if the literature we read is real to us and how and where we live if we don’t read it?”

“Will Jacqueline Woodson be able to see us ask our questions?”

“Our teacher helps us to understand.”

“Do you read like that character?”

“We have a voice and we think.”

“Do you find yourself when you write?”
(Students to Jimmy Santiago Baca)

“Shakespeare wrote that character wrong!”

“Do you think racism is in the DNA? I mean, can anyone ever really leave the family and change?” (Hartford Students to Chadwick)

While the symbolic theme of the 2017 Convention is The Next Chapter, what inspired that symbol and image is the overall theme and the call for proposals: “Teaching Our Students Today, Tomorrow, Forever: Recapturing Our Voices, Our Agency, Our Mission.”

We find ourselves at an interesting moment in time and history in that education—anchored in lifelong literacy—as an imperative for ALL children. We who are privileged to teach ELA, with all of its myriad iterations, find ourselves on a newer, different path of teaching and learning from our predecessors. The key factor in this new and energizing teaching context lies in our STUDENTS, as the Red Poet Society makes quite clear. I continue to be in awe of their energy, passion, and belief in what you and I know so very well: the absolute power of language. This blog update aims to provide our membership with a snapshot of what we will experience at Convention, yes, but I am also seeking to distinguish between our well-seasoned perceptions of today’s students—those post–9/11 and post—Great Recession—whose perspectives and tendencies do not always fit the oft-cited norms. Consequently, the more I have worked with these students, the more I am adapting and learning with them. Essentially, a kind of blending has occurred—I still see the literature, composition, rhetoric, and other ELA components in front of me—canonical and modern—but I “arrange,” “style,” and “deliver,” reading my new audience constantly. This new reading and adapting and delivering now includes NCTE—all of us.

I have always found secondary students to be interesting and dynamic because I began my career as a secondary teacher. However, since 2012, I am finding elementary, middle, and secondary students to be uncodifiable, unstereotypical, probative, opinionated, boundlessly energetic, deliberative, skeptical, and yet, fearless. The students exhibit all of these traits, I have surmised, because for so many of them, regardless of where they live, how they live, what they look like, our time, events, and present upheavals have forged them into an entirely different generation, as research by so many sociologists and psychologists indicates.

Rural, urban, suburban, wealthy, poor, variegated ethnicities, religions, geographical regions, languages, and more, public school, private school, charter school—these are the students with whom I and our keynoters have been spending our time. I have been in classrooms with students around the country in person and virtually, collaborating with administrators and fellow teachers. Oakland, Houston, Hartford, Belmont, St. Louis, Denver, Fredericksburg, New Kent, Cambridge, Hardwick, Sterling, El Paso—these are cities with schools where I have spent the greater part of last and this year, meeting with students and collaborating with their teachers regarding curricular resources and my presence for our 2017 Convention. Along the way—long before I was even nominated for vice president and during the actual preparation for Convention, our teachers, their students, and many administrators and communities have all had a most profound effect and affect on my understanding of why I teach and for the first time, a profound impact on me, personally. Differences, similarities, anticipations, expectations, assumptions, surprises, and much elation and learning has taken place—and not one of us has been left the same. This effect is a keenly good thing.

The students have not only accepted me into their classrooms, but more importantly, these students have privileged my sharing with them and their sharing with me through literature, writing, listening, speaking, viewing, listening, and technology. They have much to express. They do read; they will read when we help them connect the dots they require—relevance to who they are, where they are, and when they are. The text can be Jimmy Santiago Baca’s poetry, Jacqueline Woodson’s prose, Mark Twain’s historical novels, Gareth Hinds’s graphic texts, or Leland Melvin’s autobiography. Texts can be the music of Duke Ellington, a letter of Malcom X’s, a speech of Dr. King’s, a play of Shakespeare, or Beyoncé’s Lemonade. They will read. And they have opinions with hundreds of questions. I know. This has been a significant portion of my life since last November.

What has also struck me has been how many of our students today have what I describe as old eyes—they have already seen and experienced and, some, are constantly surrounded by so much, while still so tenderly young. They have dreams; they have aspirations; some are more voiced—others a bit furtive at our beginning. But to a one, each student expresses initial disbelief that we, NCTE, do care, that we do see them. They ask me why I care; I tell them. They email me; they have an open inquiry forum when we are in class—we are symbiotic.

These students know, and now believe beyond a shadow of doubt, that I will continue to be there with them and their teachers long after Convention. They know that NCTE will be there, too. In so many ways, these students, since 2012, are teaching me that they require more—they require our listening and responding in ways that may at this time not be in books, articles, white papers. Making myself available to them under different circumstances—text, email, looking at their videos, sending questions to answer and I respond—these are different learning/instructional pathways that for me that technology is making possible. The personal touch, too, is still very important. In my case, an African-American-woman-scholar-southerner, now northerner, who wants to listen and interact, learn, laugh, and be curious with them—this is important.

As ELA educators of every ilk, we must rethink, re-envision ourselves, and see our students: listen to them, confer with them, inquire with them, explore and discover with them, thereby, disrupting and exploding the notion of schools as prefabricated prisons from which they will never escape. We must revel in knowledge with them. We are the best and most sustained models they have in education. NCTE holds this place, represents this real ability to recast our classrooms, recapture our agency, enable our students’ agency for life. Our taking up this twenty-first-century mantle individually and as members of NCTE is our mission for the Next Chapter.