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Sometimes students (and teachers) need transcriptions from handwritten documents.  When do you think this would be useful for your students or yourself?  Are there times when the original handwritten document would be just as (or more) useful for your students?

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  • Depending on the student I wish I had transcriptions from their papers. In all honesty handwriting is person specific and it is common for people to have difficulty reading hand written documents. Before there was typewriters and computers all documents were hand written and through time and space, ware and tare it is often hard to read documents. Perfect examples of this are the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. My text book I use in class has both of these documents transcribed, but also translated into laymen's terms. Providing a break down older texts is also helpful for not only young students but adults too. Older styles of writing cause many people to struggle to understand their meaning. I am in full support of transcribed and translated documents to assist in the learning process. However, I do believe original documents are helpful too. Students are able to see how people communicated during the past. Seeing, and touching documents from the past provides a certain amount of sentimental historical value for some people, while it can take others for a jouney through time. 

  • I thought transcribing the Kinders journals was tough! Wow, that letter was something.  All those swirls and half formed letters made it very difficult.  Even after transcribing the letter, setting it down and going back to it there were some words I never figured out.  Having a transcription would really be useful if using an original document with a class.  I think it is important to keep students using handwriting.  I know somethings are just easier and look better when they are typed, but kids are losing a lot of history by not being able to read cursive. My own children laugh at me because I leave and send them handwritten notes. 

  • Needing something different to fill that final week after the seniors graduated, I shared the Thomas Jefferson document from the PowerPoint with my students…

    Having “the real thing” is something that attracts a growing number of students. For as many that often want to go against the grain and find themselves in a world of easy access to off-the-cuff opinions, students are learning the importance to be sure about the facts as we discuss. The experience of looking at “the real thing” while examining President Jefferson’s commentary and suggestions transcended what I expected. The Jefferson document shows how there is truly nothing new under the sun. During the discussion my students immediately attacked his opinions of subsistence living and cultural customs. The obvious connection was the comparison to present day subsistence policies here in Alaska. After putting the event in context, and even giving Jefferson some slack (he was considered to have human kindness), students were disturbed that there were no Native Americans at least “polled” as to their feelings, as if Jefferson and others were the only authority on what was best.

    Had this not been an original document, I wonder how much time students would have invested…like asking about first person point of view versus third person. First person draws us in so much more…hopefully students also see the value of looking at primary documents. The language lesson was also a discussion generator that brought a lot of buy-in to this lesson. The variations of vernacular from generation (mine) to generation (theirs) engaged students as well.

  • The thing that most surprised me about the transcription process was how closely I found myself examining the document even after I had read it a few times. I discovered that really looking at each word brought up questions that I had just skimmed over the first time. For example, when I stumbled on the name of a ship that the author was going to take to Alaska I started to wonder about the journey, the size of the ship, the accommodations etc. The process itself forced me to slow down and reflect more on what I was reading. One of my main challenges with my students is getting them to slow down and really think about what they are doing. I think that transcription might be a way to help them slow down. I do think that the handwriting will be an issue for many of my kids. Many of them struggle to understand modern cursive let alone the decorative flourishes that is characteristic of so many of these older documents.
  • Dealing with younger students who they themselves don't always have the most legible handwriting, I can see where transcription would be useful.  Some of the changes in the English language and differing use of words through history may be confusing to students.  Couple that with the amount of ELL students in the classroom.  They are trying to grasp current English, and we want then to figure out what old English words mean.  I found the transcription process difficult myself, I can only imagine how most the 6th graders would feel about it.  My student get frustrated when they can't read a peer's handwriting when we are reviewing work.  I can see were it would be beneficial to let them try a shot at transcription and understanding we are not editing the original document.  There are times when a handwritten document is more useful for students, and giving them a transcription after the fact may be useful to clarify their learning.  Don't even get me started on lack of handwriting standards if we want them to read cursive:)  My own son struggles with his grandparent's cursive letters. 

  • I'm interested in seeing where this dicussion goes, especially in relation to not teaching cursive anymore.

  • Before this lesson, I'd never transcribed a document for my students - I actually tend to avoid documents that are not already transcribed.  After going through this lesson, however, I think that transcribing documents could be very beneficial for my students.  Some high schoolers have a tendency to try to get through things as fast as possible, and I think transcribing a document, and having to look at the context of a document for an indeterminable word or purpose would be a great way to get students to really look at and analyze a document!  I think that there are certainly times when a handwritten document - regardless of its legibility - is more useful for students, and that is when students are basing analysis on the look or characteristics of a document.  This is a good way to look at a document initially, and then perhaps a transcription of the document would have a place when students are looking at the content of the document.

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