I am delighted to review some refreshing new publications for adults who are beginning to take pleasure in reading but who find longer books rather daunting. They are produced by New Leaf Publishing and follow a noble tradition in adult literacy and language (notably that of Gatehouse Publishing) of learners' publishing their own writing. New Leaf describes itself as '...the only British publisher dedicated to publishing books written by and for adult learners.' It aims 'to make reading and writing accessible to adults who lack confidence and who do not necessarily see themselves as readers and writers.' Some of the most vibrant publications of the past 30 years have come from similar sources but have been notable by their absence in recent years. New Leaf begins to fill that gap and to provide learners and their tutors with new resources.
The books are small (A5), feel good to handle, and are crisply and clearly presented with plenty of 'air' and space on the page. Black and white illustrations are of different styles, some reflecting pencil drawings and others being bold and impressionistic. Sentences and page lengths are short, encouraging the reader to move through the book to completion; the language is neither over-simplified nor patronising. The stories are based on the real life experiences of the authors, embracing the funny, the sad and the sentimental events of ordinary lives. This reality makes the stories powerful and authentic. Stories about the prankish antics of bin men, disastrous high-heeled shoes, or of biting other people's buns, engage the reader with their emotional involvement.
There is an audio CD to accompany each book; samples of these readings are available on the website www.newleafbooks.org.uk . At the back of each book is an autobiographical note about the author, which adds to the sense of authenticity and reality. The authors' testimonies to the effectiveness of their learning have the potential to inspire other learners to become writers and publishers.
These books not only provide welcome reading material but can be used in reading groups or as stimulus for speaking and listening or writing, using learners' memories and experiences.
Let's have more of this kind of publishing!
Reviewed by Jan Eldred
Dr Jan Eldred is Associate Director for Literacy, Language and Numeracy, National Institute of Adult Continuing Education
Brickwork NVQ and Technical Certificate Level 2 Student Book
Carpentry and Joinery NVQ and Technical Certificate Level 2 Student Book
Painting and Decorating NVQ and Technical Certificate Level 2 Student Book
all from Heinemann (2006)
These three books have been published in a joint project between Heinemann and the national construction company, Carillion. The books are designed specifically for use in the apprenticeship training framework that lies at the heart of the programme undertaken by Carillion Training, an organisation that now operates from 15 centres nationwide. The introductory chapter about 'The Construction Industry' and the second chapter dealing with 'Health and Safety' issues are the same in all three books.
The content of the books has come from the personal teaching and training materials developed by Carillion's own instructors, workbased assessors and verifiers, each of whom comes from a professional craft background and has had recent and current experience of working with apprentices. The books are packed with examples of on-the-job scenarios that reflect the on-site experiences of trainees. Many existing books come from college-based practice and, although they may have strengths, they lack the recognition factor of workbooks produced by a real construction company. Despite the explicit Carillion imprimatur, the books are likely to appeal to a wider market in both work and collegebased courses.
The content and layout of all three books are influenced by the fact that Carillion does not screen for ability on interview, often accepting into training apprentices who have few formal qualifications. There is an emphasis throughout each book on simple page layouts and large font sizes, supported by generous use of white space and limited blocks of text. This allows the colour diagrams to be the central focus of a page, making the content appear less challenging to less confident readers. New technical terms are highlighted in the text and reinforced with 'Definition' tags set in the margins. All photographs used are from recent Carillion training bases or from sites that are currently in partnership with them.
There are concise 'Did-You-Know?' insets on many pages that highlight interesting facts about each topic, and end-of-chapter checks.
Embedded key skills
Another prominent feature of the three books is the way in which they systematically embed the key skills elements of the courses. For example, integrated information about scales, symbols and abbreviations combine elements of numeracy and literacy in a chapter on 'Drawings'. The key skills are never mentioned as such but underpin the construction content in virtually every double-page spread.
An apprentice's delight
The first batches of the books were delivered while I was interviewing three Carillion brickwork apprentices in Southampton. The apprentices responded with unabashed glee as they were told that they would own a copy. One, a female apprentice who had left school with no formal English qualifications, was particularly enthusiastic. Within seconds of flicking through the Brickwork volume she had identified familiar faces and wanted to begin reading.
Heinemann also publish a CD-ROM of Tutor Materials to accompany each book. The series includes titles for Brickwork and for Carpentry & Joinery at Level 3, and for Plastering at Level 2.
Reviewed by Steven Cowan
Steven Cowan has worked on three reports relating to key skills and apprenticeship training for the NRDC. He is based at the Institute of Education, University of London, where he is researching the history of popular literacy in 18th-century England