New reading books for English language learners! This time they’re digital, ready-to-print books for young adult learners of English, based on author Lauren Piovesan’s work with low literacy, refugee background learners in schools. She’s also been an AMEP volunteer tutor, and you can see her awareness of issues that learners face in her books at eslreads.com
Lauren, tell us what got you started on the writing path? Who inspired you?
My work got me started! Being an EAL teacher with that adolescent cohort, I found myself writing so many texts. There weren’t many resources out there, and I wanted to see if I could fill that gap. There are books I really like, like the Our Stories series from Paula Withers at TELLS. The Bow Valley Readers are awesome too, because they’re levelled. Ultimately though, I just saw a need and got started!
Who was your target audience with ESLREADS?
I wanted to write for adolescents, because they have different issues from children or adults, though I’m hoping that some of the titles will also work with AMEP and SEE learners. I’ve mostly worked with refugee background students, but I’ve tried to encompass everyone in the topics.
What made you decide to provide the same stories at 4 levels?
A lot of what I do is based on my experience, and those are the levels I teach. I’d like to have gone lower, but then you lose the narrative structure.
I’ve found that a lot of reading books are at a higher level. Mine are for learners who still need visual support, but at the same time I’ve introduced inferencing, idioms, and more complicated vocabulary at level 4.
I love the Levels Guide on the website
Thanks! I aimed to capture things like the text features and font, so that teachers would know what they’re getting. These are my own levels, but I’ve drawn from the Victorian and the WA EAL curriculum.
How did you decide on your (clearly very relevant) topics?
These were the common challenges that students would bring in to class. The titles so far are Filan and Mariam Go to a Café, Layla Wants a Job, Sayed’s Test, Taw Meh Can Speak and Zahra Has an Appointment. I’m working towards covering five different themes: health, social and emotional wellbeing, everyday life, work, and civics.
So there are more books in the pipeline?
Yes, I have more written, but they need illustrations…
The illustrations are lovely, by the way. Who did them?
The first two books have my auntie’s pencil sketches that I digitised and coloured. Then the next ones I decided to illustrate myself.
Oh my goodness, I didn’t spot that!
Yes, I decided that if I wanted to get the books out there, I’d have to learn to do this myself. It’s been quite a learning curve, using Adobe Illustrator and InDesign. I also created the website.
I am so impressed by your talent AND by your patience. I’d be wanting to throw the computer out of the window. This is all just you?
My partner created my logo and provides wonderful IT support. Otherwise, yes, it’s just me, on my non-working days – and I do have moments like that!
Tell me what teachers actually get when they purchase a book.
These are a digital purchase, meant for schools to print out themselves. So a when a teacher or department purchases a book, they get an email with a download link to a pdf file. The file is formatted to print with the pages in the right order – there’s a video about how to do it on the website.
Are you planning to offer other support?
Yes, I’d love to add audio, but I’m still working on that. Something like the Bow Valley Reader books, with the embedded audio, would be amazing. I’ve contacted them to try to find out how they did it.
I’m also working on a Teacher Resource, giving teachers ideas, extra activities, things like vocabulary cards, but time is the issue. There are so many ways teachers could use the books.
How long has all this taken?
I started back in 2019, writing in the school holidays, and trialling with my students, but the bulk of the work was done in the last four months, when I had some time off work. That’s three years.
Now I’m working part-time, in a Learning Support role, which has some really interesting crossover, but also some big differences from EAL. So I’m writing and working on the books in the rest of the time.
What’s your philosophy of teaching?
I try to work with the whole student – all the strengths they have, the rich cultural background – all the things they bring to the classroom. It’s easy to be caught out by assumptions about what they know or don’t know, or about what’s going on in their lives, so I think an important thing for me to bring is curiosity.
I love the way the books have arisen from learner needs. Can’t wait to see the next ones.
Thanks! Keep an eye on my website, eslreads.com, for updates. And I’d love to hear from teachers who are using the books, to find out how they’re going.
Thanks, Lauren! Great to talk.
UPDATE 19/03/22: Lauren just announced the launch of her first resource pack, to accompany Zahra has an Appointment! (Follow her on FB to find out more…)