ProLiteracy is celebrating 50 years of its publishing division, New Readers Press!
In 1967, New Readers Press officially became the publishing division of ProLiteracy’s founding organization Laubach Literacy, which was started by Dr. Bob’s father, Dr. Frank C. Laubach. Since then, New Readers Press has grown by leaps and bounds and its catalog now includes hundreds of adult literacy, HSE test preparation, English language learning (ELL), and teacher resource materials.
We interviewed one of NRP’s early authors, Martha (Marti) Lane, to learn about her roots in adult basic education and English for speakers of other languages (ESOL), and her work with the publishing division and its founders.
Q: Please introduce yourself.
A: My name is Martha Lane, but please call me Marti. I've lived and worked in many places, but now reside in the far western part of North Carolina, just a few miles from both Tennessee and Georgia. There aren't any literacy organizations close by, so I do most of my volunteering through church and local schools.
Q: Why are adult education and adult literacy important to you?
A: Adult education was very important to my family. I was the first in my immediate family to go to college. I was living on a farm in Frog Pond, Oregon at the time when I realized that I wanted to know what the world was like, plus what options college would offer.
Q: When and why did you begin writing for New Readers Press?
A: Well, I did not set out to write for NRP. I was in charge of some volunteer, church-based ESOL centers in Chicago when I first met Dr. Frank.
At the time, we were mainly teaching people from Thailand, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and a wide range of folks from various European countries. We tried teaching them by using the basic Laubach literacy skill books. We decided to develop an adaptation aimed specifically at ESOL adults and eventually found something that worked for us.
At this time, I heard that Dr. Bob was going to be in Chicago. I asked if I could meet with him and show him what we had done. He seemed to like it and took a copy back to Syracuse, New York. Eventually, NRP invited me to co-author the materials with Dr. Jeanette Macero from Syracuse. What we had created was simple—she expanded and polished it to ultimately develop Laubach Way to English Teacher’s Guide.
Q: Describe your passion for writing for new adult readers.
A: One of the greatest needs I continue to see is the development of literacy materials for local situations—that’s what got me started in writing literacy materials. It continues to be my passion. My last big writing project, for example, was specifically for ESOL adults living in Pinellas County, Florida. With the invitation of Pinellas County Schools, plus support from United Methodist Cooperative Ministries and the County of Pinellas, we collaborated on a multi-year project that included videos, print-based materials, and also some online related activities. The videos, though dated, can be found online at https://www.youtube.com/user/lit4all2.
Q: Talk a little about any collaboration you had with Dr. Bob Laubach.
A: Aside from helping to get me started with NRP, most of my experience with Dr. Bob Laubach had been as a literacy co-worker and personal friend. He had often visited projects I was involved in, from Chicago (Chicago Area Literacy and Reading Centers -- CALRC) to Tulsa (Literacy & Evangelism International) to Florida (the Southeast Asian Preschool -- the name is now Children of the World Preschool, reflecting the changing faces of immigrant and refugee families --and family literacy programs for United Methodist Cooperative Ministries). We often talked about literacy materials and the need to have free and inexpensive materials available to people all over the world.
Perhaps you can imagine then, how thrilled I was to hear of the Dr. Bob Laubach Publishing & Innovation Fund's first project. It means a great deal to me that its target audience includes both low-literate adults and women.
Q: As a supporter, New Readers Press author, and an experienced tutor (one who has seen all sides of the spectrum), how would you describe the importance of innovative and relevant materials for new adult readers?
A: I don't have the words to describe how important relevant and innovative materials are. They must be provided in whatever communication tools are most available to a specific group of students (and tutors). They must be affordable—or free, whenever possible. And they must be both current (subject matter-wise) and local (as materials specifically for/about Pinellas County). In my work overseas with a variety of church-related groups, I've seen the importance of books, but also of technology-based teaching, training, and learning, whether by phone, radio, TV, computer, internet—whatever is available.
I was very happy, therefore, to be a small part of the team that drafted the new ESOL tutor training for ProLiteracy and to see that it will be offered in both face-to-face training and online training formats. I feel sure that it also will be used quite often for hybrid workshops.
Q: Why do you still continue to support ProLiteracy’s work in adult literacy?
A: Because the need for work in adult literacy continues and ProLiteracy continues to be one of the strongest voices for it in the world. ProLiteracy is the strongest voice for literacy students, teachers, and trainers, provides materials for those of the lowest literacy levels and greatest need, and advocates for literacy and literacy funding, and takes that message to the general public, governments, and nonprofit groups alike.
Q: What is different to you about working with an ELL vs. ABE student? Or training volunteers to work with these learners?
A: They are two different groups, with different experiences, and different immediate needs. Sure, some things overlap, but the more specific one can be, the better the teaching and learning experience is.
For example, an ELL adult may be highly educated and already speak multiple languages. How that person is taught must take such information into consideration. That’s what Dr. Frank meant by “go from the known to the unknown.”
Here in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, where I now live, are many under-educated adults. Some of my neighbors read little or nothing. It is taking years to win their confidence—they are so hesitant, and so private about their literacy levels. We work with school children for now, hoping to someday reach the entire family.
Q: What do you think Dr. Bob would say about the Dr. Robert S. Laubach Publishing & Innovation Fund making Laubach Way to Reading available for free in Arabic?
A: Dr. Bob loved the Middle East- his son lives there! So, he would have been thrilled that Arabic was selected as the first language and that it’s targeted to women.
Just a few months before Dr. Bob passed away, we talked about making LWR available universally. We talked about this often, as Bob believed the delivery system of materials needed to remain updated, and we both felt that the need for free literacy materials was great.