My Search for Cultural Content

Lisa Howie, OFLA Executive Treasurer
Spanish Teacher, Smithville High School

As the newly elected treasurer of OFLA, I thought I would be required to submit an article about finances and I thought, ¡Qué aburrido! So I decided to talk to you about something that has been consuming me the last few years. Disclaimer: I do not work for nor am I receiving any remuneration from the publisher.

About six years ago, after having used the same TPRS materials for more than 10 years, I was kind of bored and wanted a change, for myself! I began looking for new CI materials, and I wanted something that included real cultural content and authentic materials. I looked around for a while until one day I saw an intriguing ad from Teacher’s Discovery in my inbox.

I looked at the fledgling, web-based Nuestra historia curriculum from Voces Digital. I signed up for the free trial and began exploring. The first thing that caught my attention was the authentic materials in use as the basis for activities to practice all the skills. Then there were integrated performance assessments already written for each unit. (I had slowly been writing my own.) On top of all that, the cultural content was overflowing. There is culture embedded into the readings, authentic videos that demonstrate what was just read, panoramic photos that allow students to explore, interviews with native speakers, and cultural articles to read. Plus, there are fun vocabulary videos by the likes of Profe Loco and Señor Jordan, games, and so much more. I went to my curriculum director and asked to buy level 1 subscriptions for the next year and I started experimenting with the classes I had.

Now I am in the fourth year of my Nuestra historia journey. I have added a level each year. Each level gets better and better! The stories in Levels 3 and 4 are so compelling that I spend way too much time reading them just for my own enjoyment. Many times they lead me to do my own research on a topic to learn more. That is why I used the word, “consuming” earlier. I get caught up in reading the novels that are included and I lose track of time. My favorites are the ones by OFLA member Bryan Kandel.

Since I began, the team at Voces Digital has added other languages- French, Italian, and German as well as ESL. They also have non-CI series in Spanish and French and added a fifth AP level for Spanish and French. 

It has been a pleasure to work with the people at Voces Digital. They are incredibly responsive and have helped me in real time in the middle of a class. They have organized three virtual conferences to help teachers get the most out of the materials – all of which are customizable, by the way. They have integrated CI teacher training by OFLA member Gary DiBianca. Even the 2009 OFLA World Language Teacher of the Year, Gretchen Petrie, is a significant contributor to both French series.

Now you see why I put the disclaimer at the beginning. If you would like to check out the Our Story series in your language, follow this link to the main page where you can ask for a Free Trial. Wait, I forgot the best part – many of the activities are graded by the computer and, when you sync with your LMS, will go into your grade book like magic! 

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