Reflections on Rethinking Speech as Text

My name is Alexus Brown, and I am a third-year doctoral student in the University of Pittsburgh’s Linguistics Department with a concentration in Sociolinguistics. My research interests include utilizing interdisciplinary methodology and theoretical bases to explore linguistic, rhythmic, and social patterning in Rap music. I am also interested in discourse analysis which entails gathering recordings of interviews or conversations and transcribing them to analyze the contents within those stretches of speech. For this interest in transcription and the invitation from Dr. Dan Villarreal to work with him in his Linguistic Variation & Change course, I wanted to venture into teaching a module in a way that I have never done before: hands-on teaching of a transcription program.

Prior to teaching my own course this semester, Aspects of Sociolinguistics, and the module for Linguistic Variation and Change, I had next to no teaching experience other than guest lectures and teaching assistant positions. Of greatest importance was to learn how to teach and that is where Dr. Villarreal came in. He was an amazing help in this process of learning and gaining experience in new pedagogical skills. Through his direction, I was able to create teaching materials for my module utilizing the backwards design model for his class that fit into the larger objectives and timeline of the course. The materials that I was able to create included objectives for the module at hand, lesson plans, activities, and assessments prior to the beginning of the semester. Upon the conclusion of the module, students would be able describe the different types of transcription conventions and what methodological purposes the different conventions serve; and apply understanding of those conventions and purposes to transcribe real-world speech data from the Archive of Pittsburgh Language and Speech (APLS) through ELAN, an annotation tool for audio and video recordings. The culminating assessment for my module was the creation was for students to transcribe a 5–8-minute excerpt of an interview which funneled into a portion of their final project for the course.

Though I felt that students understood the purpose of transcription and how to perform it, I did hit some roadblocks in the teaching of the module itself. There were some points where I felt that I was not as prepared as I could have been. For example, in the third class of the module, there were a couple of friction moments where it wasn’t clear how to proceed. This was the day that we finished the transcription activity that we began the previous week, and I did not have the answers in the correct format so there was a bit of explanation that I had to do to circumvent confusion as well as various technical difficulties. However, I learned that I need to be able to move past these challenges in the moment and take more time fully preparing materials prior to class. I think my biggest takeaway was to know that acquiring the skills associated with teaching takes time and I should not expect myself to know all the tricks at first. Overall, Dr. Villarreal affirmed me in saying that though some things could have gone better, the unit went very well. I found great solace in that since I often have a hard time finding the good in what I do and often only focus on the things that could have gone better.

The advice that I would give to people planning a collections-based module would be to prepare as much as you can for your teaching days. This would include trial runs of the material with either the instructor that you are working with or otherwise. This would also include having aspects of your activities fully planned out so that you have a plan just in case surprises arise. Also, it is important to remain flexible because you could plan everything out and things might take longer than expected or technical difficulties arise. I would love for the materials that I generated to be used in any future iteration of this class to be used if helpful to the instructor. I created an abbreviated guide to use the transcription program, which could be used by the instructor for class or other students wanting to explore the program. I am passionate about advancing my skills in the field of Linguistics and that begins with being taught and teaching others to perform digital scholarship and utilize digital methodologies properly. I am glad I was able to have the opportunity to do this module and learn pedagogical skills, as well as foster a mentor-mentee relationship with Dr. Villarreal in the process.

Alexus Brown
December 2021
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