An Interview with an Adult Literacy Author Part 2
Posted by Jennifer Vecchiarelli on October 11, 2017 in categoryStories from the Field

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 best-selling authors and product developers, Caren Van Slyke, to learn about her roots in education and what motivates her as an educator, publisher, and company founder.

Q: Introduce yourself.

A: My name is Caren Van Slyke, and I am a teacher, author, content developer, and the president and founder of Learning Unlimited, a book development and teacher training organization. 

Q: Why is adult education and adult literacy important to you?

A: I started out as a GED® teacher on the Near West Side of Chicago about 40 years ago—I’ve always had a passion for teaching adults. While I taught, I became very interested in the learning materials, and I wanted to help bridge the gap between what I could see that the students needed and the available materials out there when I was teaching in the 1980s. This ultimately drew me into the publishing sector of education. 

I worked at Contemporary Books Adult Education (now McGraw Hill) as an editor and ultimately as the editorial director. When I was working at Contemporary, I encountered New Readers Press and admired its products and commitment to adult education.

Q: When and why did you begin writing for New Readers Press?

A: When I left Contemporary, I started my own book development house/book packager where I would perform editorial and writing services for publishers.

My very first client was NRP whom I helped with publishing MathSense. It was the first of any instructional material that combined basic math skills with work skills, consumer skills, and higher-level problem solving skills. Voyager was my next publication, followed by the Pre-High School Equivalency Workbooks, GED preparation materials,Scoreboost®, and Kaplan GED® Test Strategies, Practice & Review.

I worked closely with NRP—providing conceptual development and insight from my experience as a teacher and editor, and I collaborated with NRP through the entire product development process.

What always stands out about NRP is its commitment to students and teachers—it’s exemplary, and it’s the spirit of what we are doing for adult literacy. We look at materials, familiarize ourselves with what’s difficult for adult learners to understand, come up with ways to inspire them, and develop quality, organized materials. It’s always about the learners, the instructors, and the tutors—it’s their common bond that remains at the center of our work.

Q: Describe your passion for writing for adult learners.

A: It is essential that students have access to quality, relevant materials. And, teachers and volunteer educators need support, too. Depending on student skill levels, educators may have to teach in a number of different subject areas and may not be have equal background in all of them. They need materials that will help them fully develop students’ skills and help them achieve their educational goals. 

Q: As a supporter, New Readers Press contributor, and an experienced teacher (one who has seen all sides of the spectrum), how would you describe the importance of innovative and relevant materials for new adult readers?

Referring to the importance of innovative materials, NRP utilizes multiple formats and modalities, which in-turn provides learners with a range of accommodating options for each of their different learning styles (pacing, level, etc.). By offering innovative materials, NRP enables a smooth transition from basic literacy to HSE and work readiness for adult learners. 

By providing relevant materials, NRP establishes transformation for adult learners. The skills that learners need to be successful are embedded in the materials as meaningful context, specifically for adults—it enables them to make progress toward goals as adults. 

Q: What do you think about the Dr. Robert S. Laubach Publishing & Innovation Fund making Laubach Way to Reading available digitally in Arabic?

Digital materials allow us to reach a broad range of people we couldn’t otherwise reach.  The Arabic materials are an exciting development.

While digital formats can improve learner accesses and flexibility, I believe that where possible, it’s important to have a teacher or tutor involved with adult learners to help with problems and to keep learners motivated. Also, if the technology isn’t working for the learner, then the teacher should be there to figure out what to try next. I believe that a blended learning approach—combining technology with teacher or tutor support—is the best use of digital materials with adult learners.

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