Why Leggiamo! ?
The idea of this work came after attending some workshops presented by instructors and second language acquisition experts. They highlighted the crucial importance of reading to reach the goal of being successful language learners. I reflected on the amount of reading that is usually present in our standard textbooks for Italian 101 and 102 and I immediately noticed that the difference between what research tells us and what is common practice in our classrooms is huge. The lack of reading opportunities (and input in general) for our students is striking while noted experts like Stephen Krashen and Bill Van Patten keep reminding us that input is necessary for language acquisition. Since the beginning, it seemed obvious that TPRS (Teaching Proficiency Through Reading and Storytelling) had a lot to offer as a way to re-establish the key role of comprehensible input in our language classes.
I won’t describe TPRS in details. At this time it will be enough remember that it evolved from the famous TPR (Total Physical Response) developed by James Archer and that it is a method that focuses on presenting a great amount of comprehensible input to students. For more about TPRS, you can read “Fluency Through TPR Storytelling - Achieving Real Language Acquisition in School” by Blaine Ray and Contee Seely that reached the 7th edition(!). There you can see how the technique is not just focused on reading. There is much more to it. However, one big part is reading.
But in order to have students reading in the target language comprehensible and compelling stories, there is the need to have these stories available. Unfortunately, there are very few resources. Blaine Ray at TPRS Books and Carol Gaab at Fluency Matters are arguably the two publishing companies who are developing the majority of resources on the market. However, from my perspective, as an Italian instructor who teaches at a community college, I find that most of the resources are compelling more to a high school or middle school level than to students of community college. And even more important, these companies develop resources mainly for Spanish and French, but very little for other languages.
In order to start filling this void, I decided to embark in this project. I also hope that releasing the material as open resource ad presenting at conferences, more instructors will get familiar with TPRS and hopefully will contribute with their own resources. In this way, we could increase the size of this little library of comprehensible Italian texts.
In developing this material, I followed some of the main books about TPRS. Especially “Look, I can talk! (Spanish)” and “Mini-Stories for Look, I can talk more! (English)”.
The first six units of Italian 101 present each a mini-story followed by an extended reading that expands the content of the mini-story. The format is modeled after the textbook Mini-stories for Look, I can Talk More!. This format allows students to repeat and slowly get used to longer readings while it minimizes difficulties and new vocabulary. In this way, the students should feel gratified that they are able to read texts in Italian with low effort and should develop an interest and motivation in keep reading. This is really the main objective of the format of the entire work.
The stories have several different topics. From Chapter 1 to Chapter 4 topics are mostly dictated by the little vocabulary available to students and the stories are short, with one day devoted to the mini-story and the following day to the extended reading. However, in Chapter 2 we do have a longer story that keeps students entertained for the entire two weeks. The story is divided in short chapters and each of them has a mini-story and an extended reading, so the format does not change. Starting with Chapter 5, we consistently have longer stories, always divided in short chapters. I touched mainly on food, history, and art, trying also to make some connections with the history of Italian Americans. These are usually the topics that students find more interesting in an Italian class. However, the goal of these readings is not to present a complete lesson plan for a specific grammar point, nor to present an historical event in its entirety. The main goal is to awake students intellectual interest toward the rich cultural heritage of Italy and to motivate them to keep reading and studying languages and cultures. The instructor that wants to use this material can take it as a point of departure to develop a lesson plan.
Starting with Chapter 6, there is no more a division between mini-story and extended reading. We only have extended reading. At that time, after having already read around 100 pages in Italian, I believe students should be ready to move to a more standard chapter book format.
In Italian 102 I choose a different way to proceed. Because in 102 students already have a base, I decided to push them to approach one of the most important, if not the most important novel of the Italian literature: I promessi sposi (The betrothed in the English translation) by Alessandro Manzoni. This novel presents a synopsis interesting and quite easy to follow. It should be captivating for students. Of course, the adaptation was done following that same TPRS concepts already explained for Italian 101.
While the main goal of the stories is to present a certain amount of repetition of the most important structures without giving the feeling that the language is too forced or unnatural, it is important to highlight one core idea of TPRS: in order to increase students comprehension of texts it is not important to follow a strict progression of grammar structures (it would be pretty hard to agree on what this progression would look like anyway), but it is more important that students are able to understand vocabulary. In other words, in these stories I focused more on scaffolding vocabulary, not grammar. For this reason, when a new term comes into story and it is unlikely that the student encountered it in class, I provided the English translation. However, as I stated previously, any instructor adopting the material can make the changes s/he believes necessary to make it work in their class.
In creating these stories I very loosely followed the curriculum presented by the textbooks Al dente 1 and Al dente 2. I did it because I am familiar with these texts, having worked on Al dente 1. However, I believe these stories can be used in any Italian 101 and Italian 102 course.
Open Educational Resources
I believe Open Educational Resources (OER) represent the future of the educational system. There are two reasons why I strongly support OER. These resources are free for students and this is of great importance especially at institutions like community colleges. Having access to free quality resources is the first step to improve equity in our educational system. Cost of resources, however, is not the only plus. Often, regular publishing companies do not embark in new projects even if they are supported by tons of academic research. A fairly new field like second language acquisition is developing quickly and research can provide very important inputs to develop new, more effective teaching material. However, despite the scientific foundation, these new trends have a hard time to find ways to be published. Publishing companies are market driven, so they often prefer to keep producing old fashion texts that are safe to sell instead of investing in new ideas. OER can fill this void allowing the dissemination of new and better teaching resources.
The entire material you find in this website is released with license Creative Commons (CC): www.leggiamoitaliano.weebly.com. This license allows all instructors who want to use the material to do so. They can also modify it as they think it is best for their classes. My goal is that all instructors who use the material will leave a comment in the blog page and hopefully upload the modified version they used with some notes on the nature of the changes. Of course, partial use is also encouraged. The goal is to have an increasingly better product with many variations that other instructors can also adopt for their classes.