Benvenut* a tutt*! We are so happy to welcome you to our Italian table. We have been teaching Italian at the University of Massachusetts Amherst for the last several years after teaching at a variety of other schools, small and large, public and private, in the Northeast. Throughout our teaching careers, which have spanned a collective thirty years (not to age us), we have taught with almost every textbook currently on the market. While there are a lot of amazing pedagogical resources out there, we had never found a textbook that could serve the needs of all of our students, in terms of cost and representation.
In early 2019, we started thinking about the possibility of writing our own Open Educational Resource textbook to take advantage of the opportunity from the UMass libraries. This seemed like a daunting task for just two people in a short amount of time, and, in fact, we almost decided that it would be too much for us to handle. However, when COVID-19 forced UMass to go online and we were quarantined in our houses, we decided to find a silver lining and to start working on the project in earnest, funding or no funding. When it was suddenly not possible to connect with friends, students, and colleagues in a physical space, the need for community and inclusivity seemed more pressing than ever before. As a result, not only did we create this resource that is designed to be a point of connection for others, but this collaboration for us personally also provided much needed connection, purpose, and levity in a time of almost complete isolation.
It should also be noted here that the “we” includes more than just the two of us. We are particularly proud of the “team” we put together, in a short amount of time and at a distance, to make this resource possible in less than a year. It was truly a collaborative effort and would not not have been possible without the contributions of Jeremy Smith and Erin Jerome from UMass libraries, Melanie Griffith (graphic design–thank you to Patricia Galvis Assmus from the Department of Art for helping us find her!), Hannali Meyer (Blackboard expert), Michael Papio (moral and financial support), Morena Svaldi (editing), and Marco LoBascio (author of the workbook and lab manual, pronunciation guide, and the cultural notes). Marco is also “the voice” of the book, since he provided the audio guide for the vocabulary words listed at the end of each chapter. Overall, our contributors ranged from undergraduates, to graduate students, to UMass professors and librarians, to Five College colleagues.
In writing this book, our goals were to reduce costs for students in the hopes of making Italian a more inclusive language learning experience, as well as to offer the opportunity to learn about Italian language and culture to a more diverse group of learners. Through this project, we want to reduce the technological barriers to learning and create a resource that reflects more diverse experiences, as traditional Italian texts are often heteronormative and tend to minimize more progressive cultural elements and the minority experience in Italy. The intended outcome is for more students to reach higher levels on the ACTFL (American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages) proficiency scale, and to grow our community, especially including traditionally underrepresented groups.
This new open educational resource is for Elementary Italian (Italian 110 and 120, over two semesters). Our goal is for this book to be comprehensive, user-friendly, inclusive, and cost-effective. Tutt* a tavola has two parts, one for each course, with six chapters in each. Generally speaking, each chapter addresses three to four grammatical topics and includes a vocabulary section related to a cultural theme. The vocabulary is also incorporated into the grammatical presentations and exercises. There is also a short reading in each chapter regarding different aspects of culture and language, to address those questions of diversity and inclusion that are often missing from the textbooks we have used in the past. To include more culture, we have also included multimedia: each chapter begins with a song that is used as a starting point for the inductive presentation of the chapter’s content, and ends with a video (a film clip, an interview, social media) that summarizes the ideas covered.
We hope that this book is a useful, engaging resource for all of our learners, and we invite you to join us at our tavola!