How things change! Back in March 2022 I talked to Lauren Piovesan about her new readers. The stories offered terrific cultural and language support for learners with low literacy / refugee background, at four reading levels. She had so many plans and goals for her ESL Reads project, and such a lot has happened since then, including an expansion of her target audience…
Lauren, I keep seeing positive comments from AMEP teachers…
That’s right! As the project expanded, I realised that my books spoke to all ages. So while my focus started as 16-25, I’ve been including topics that both young adult and adult learners can relate to. I’ve had some great feedback from AMEP teachers who have used the stories, as well from IECs.
That’s so good. And the other changes?
If you look on my homepage, eslreads.com, or on social media, you’ll see a little video explaining what’s now available. There are now 11 stories at 5 levels, with more coming. They’re now in audio e-book format, as well as pdf (plus paperback for libraries).
Please explain ‘audio e-book’…
If you’ve ever used the Bow Valley readers, it’s that technology: a digital flip-book with audio. Students can use a QR code or link to access the book, and read the version at their level, on any digital device (including phones), with audio.
You can see it in action in my video, or there’s a sample audio e-book on the ESL Reads website.
I love the phone access, as so often that’s all my learners have! What else?
Worksheets, so that teachers can develop the language from the stories. That’s something that teachers asked for. There are currently over 150 worksheets available in pdf format. I’m working on adding digital quizzes, but they’re not ready yet.
Can I also ask about levels? There were 4…?
That’s right, but again in response to feedback, I’ve added a Pre-Level 1. That’s one of the most popular downloads now. So all the books are now at 5 levels…
And are there more ESL Reads books coming?
There are. The aim is to release a new one every 2 or 3 months; that’s why I switched to a subscription system. Once you’re a member, you don’t have to buy the new books; you just get automatic access to the audio e-book and the pdf versions of every title, plus the worksheets.
How did you decide on the topics?
Requests from my subscribers for more settlement topics, plus areas of need I’ve seen with my classes… at the moment I’m doing a couple of workplace stories. The books are colour-coded, if you hadn’t realised. Workplace themes are yellow, Everyday (Settlement) themes are blue, Social/Emotional are red and orange, and Health themes are green. Obviously there’s some overlap.
Lovely illustrations. Are you still doing those?
I am, though I’d love to outsource more. A student from a previous school I taught at did the illustrations for Carlos Starts School, which was wonderful. It’s getting easier the more I do, but it has been a big learning curve for me. That’s why there are 4 new titles waiting to be illustrated…
You’re full-time on the project this year, though?
Yes, which has been both scary and good. It’s really helped me to get the project moving. I wanted to build things up and get some feedback, to help me see which way to go. I’m planning to do a bit of relief teaching soon, just to get back into the classroom.
How about the blogging?
That’s been on pause for a couple of months, and I want to get back to it. I really like teaming up to talk to other professionals about what they do. So many teachers have such a wealth of knowledge and don’t get the chance to share it. The work teachers do is incredible and unrecognised…
Yes, indeed! What about teachers who are interested in your books?
I’d suggest they go to the website Resources page, where there’s a list of book titles, and a complete sample book at all 5 levels, in pdf format. There’s also a sample audio e-book, plus sample worksheets at the 5 levels. That should give a real picture of the resource levels.
Then if they look at the list of Resources and click on a cover, they can compare sample pages for each level of that particular story. Remember, members get access to all the pdf versions (which they can print out) and all the audio e-books, which can be shared with learners, as well as the worksheets.
What if someone only needed a couple of stories?
Get in touch! I’m sure we can work something out.
Great. And if they have questions?
They’re so welcome to get in touch, and have a chat, or to attend one of my webinars, where I step people through the resources and answer questions about how they might actually use them in different contexts, teaching the different macroskills.
When will the next webinar be?
The next one is the 27th of September. Look out for announcements on LinkedIn or the EAL/D Teachers’ Network Facebook group, as I run webinars regularly.
Any in-person events?
Yes! If you want to look at the paperback versions of the books, or to chat face to face, come and meet me at the VicTESOL Symposium on October 13. I’ll have a stall there and I’d love to hear from you about how you’ve been using the resources, or answer questions about them.
You’ve done so much since we last spoke…
The writing is the easy part! The digital learning is what has taken my time: using the e-authoring tools, creating a website, making a video… That has been the biggest thing to wrap my head around. I have been getting other people on board, and now have editors and sensitivity readers, which is great.
What’s next or new?
I’m working on finding authentic community voices for the audio in future, using people from the appropriate cultural background. I’ve already done that for Carlos Starts School. It takes more time to find the right people, but I think it’s really important.
I’m also planning some authentic learner stories. Of course, all the books are inspired by learner experience, but I’d like to do some where a real person tells their actual story. This can be very motivating for learners. I’m working on one at the moment, about pathways to work.
Very exciting! Thanks so much for talking to me!
(And a final note that as well as interviews on her own blog, Lauren has just written a really interesting post for SBS, with tips from successful learners, so I’ll share that link here…)