Literature is a luxury; fiction is a necessity.
- G. K. Chesterton
Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a
dog, it's just too dark to read.
- Groucho Marx
I got a note from a scholarly sleuth down in Brisbane asking me about the PRACE Page Turners and matters related to reading materials with Australian content for ESL or adult literacy learners. She was wondering how I came across the PRACE readers, why I decided to buy them, and how I used them. A wise and fair-minded Australian, she noted that I am "obviously an experienced and dedicated literacy teacher." That being so much better than the "self-important Gickeleshut wearing Fanfarrón" I'm always getting in those angry emails from Europe, I decided to answer her right away.
Sadly, I had no idea how I came across the Aussie readers. I'm guessing I saw them in a Grass Roots Press catalogue circa 2007-2008. Nor do I remember exactly why I decided to buy them, except that I used to specialize in helping adults with very low literacy levels, and I was always looking for more resources for individual or group reading.
As for how I use them: I use them eighteen ways from Sunday. I use them in group reading (each learner taking a page). I use them in one-on-one reading. I leave them behind as part of home visits. I lend them to teens and adults from the bookwagon or storytent - sometimes people I don't help in any other way. I use them for a quick self-assessment of reading level ("Sort these books into three piles: too easy; too hard; just right"). I use the text in cloze exercises and 'choose the right verb tense' exercises. I use them a lot, and I value the sheer number of titles PRACE has on offer.
My researcher friend asked about a comment I'd made about the narrative tense used in the elementary readers; specifically contrasting the Pageturners' use of past tense with the Grass Roots Press use of present tense. I replied:
The first low-level stories I worked with came from Grass Roots Press (Canada). Their books are all written in the present tense. PRACE gave me an assortment of books written in the past tense, which provided something new and different, as well as balance. But, more than that, it gave learners the chance to see things written in the tense that - in my perception - we most often use in journaling or writing notes and letters. (Think about the classic back-to-school writing assignment: how I spent my summer vacation.)
Later, I recalled that the Pageturners also mix up narrative voice, writing stories in both the first and third person. GRP Readers are only written in the third person.
My correspondent told me the latest PRACE Pageturners collection (Series 5) uses a mix of past and present tense in the level 1 stories. That's interesting. It's also a reminder (to me) that I haven't picked up any readers from that series. My discretionary spending on adult learning materials over the past year has all gone into GED-prep level materials - a sign of how the focus of my paid work has shifted. In any case, I was pleased to hear PRACE was providing stories in both past and present tense. It's hard to imagine what it would be like, but a collection of writings using the future tense would also be useful to learners.
My last epistolary remark was that I have a whole language, read-in-context, make-learning-functional approach to supporting basic adult literacy. These books offer my learners 'real life' examples of written English, which I judge to be superior to word lists and de-contextualized conjugation exercises.
That was a learning for me; that I think of 'reading literature' as 'functional literacy' (and consider stories like What? to be part of the canon of 'literature'). But it doesn't surprise me.
I noticed sometime back that I come to literacy work first and foremost as an ambassador of English written well. I don't mean to say that I write well - I have far too much fun with language to be a good writer. What I mean is I read prose and tell stories and share poetry and tinker with sentences with my learners because I like that kind of thing. I like English. And I like helping other adults discover what a rich and wonderful place written English can be. I'm not interested in fixing people, much less training them. I'm not really interested in that kind of education at all. If they get a job or pass a test or learn to read their phone bill - well, that's nice. But mostly, I want to show them the wonders of a well written sentence.
Learn to read, and the whole of English history and philosophy and literature and written dreams of future hope is open to you. I like the Pageturners because they are one part of a tradition and treasury I have found easy and pleasant to share.