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Every year we take some time in April to recognize the great work our volunteers have done, and will do!
You have been instrumental to the work we do to provide access to educational material for students with learning differences. When you dedicate your time and energy to volunteering with Learning Ally, you are improving the lives of thousands of students who struggle to read. Words cannot adequately express the gratitude that we wish to express. Please know that your service is recognized, appreciated, valued and cherished.
To celebrate your service, we are hosting a Volunteer Appreciation Celebration on April 20th, 3:00 PM - 4:00 PM EST. Join us in recognizing the contributions of volunteers and community partners like you! We’ll be joined by parents, students, and educators to help us celebrate your hard work and dedication. Click here to register for the event!
If you're a volunteer already working on book projects you've probably used Google Hangouts to stay it touch with your teams as you work on narration, proofing, and so on. Google however, has decided to sunset Google Hangouts. Rather than change over to their professional product, we will take this opportunity to move to using Twist for these communications. We first introduced Twist as a platform for our online chat and conversations over a year ago, and you'll find several articles and posts about it in the archives of the volunteer portal.
Twist is already in common use for Literature titles, but is still not commonly used on Textbook projects. Audrey Santos and Christine Hoffman are leading efforts to help all volunteers transition to Twist. In addition to their email messages, you'll also find that an online meeting has been set up for Friday, April 9th at 2 PM Eastern, 11 AM Pacific. If you want to get started with Twist on your own and need help, please refer to our Twist Reference Guide.
We reached 50% of our goal in the first month of our annual donation drive! So with two more months to go, it stands to reason that we can hit 150% by the end of May. If you haven't gotten involved yet, either through making donations yourself, or by creating a campaign page to invite others to donate, then check out this article on the volunteer front page and learn what you can do to help. You'll find more links there to other ways that you can contribute. Raise awareness and share the message of Learning Ally to more schools and students. (And don't forget to find out if your employer has a matching donations program.)
Refining our production process means finding better tools and improving on those we already have. Be on the lookout for some changes this summer! We'll be updating our Textbook assignment process, making it more like the ways we already assign Literature titles. That includes a better home site with quick access to book summaries all on one page. Pozotron is a new tool that will make proofing our VOICEtext titles easier and more accurate. With these innovations and some hard work we'll deliver better audiobooks to more students faster than we have before.
Webb S., Jelen DC., Rachel Y., Denise G., Carol W., Claudia W., Stacy D-W., Yinka., Katherine S., Lara R., Adrian T., Jakara S-D., Amy S., Monique O-G., Anne H., Stella O., Kate T., Richard W., Hollie T.
As March begins we kick off a major fundraising drive with Building Books for Student Success. BBSS runs from now until the end of May, so get involved ASAP! You can do a lot to help us help more students.
BBSS is our annual fundraising campaign when we ask our volunteers to join us in reaching our goals to support more schools and students. While you are welcome to make donations yourself, it's more important to Learning Ally that you join us in creating your own campaign page. Fundraising to help our students can go much further than our volunteers, and by inviting someone to make a donation through your page, you can offer them an opportunity to help if they can't volunteer. You can also find out more about how to have your employer make donations in recognition of your donated hours, as well as some tips on creating special events to help engage and motivate your friends, family, and peers to get involved. You can find more information about BBSS on the front page of the volunteer portal.
If you're looking for more ways to be involved as a book-production volunteer, then check out the Quality Assurance programs. We've mentioned them before, but as we continue to work to match projects up with teams of narrators and listeners, there may be gaps in your schedule. Don't let that time be lost! It's always better to stay engaged with volunteering however you can. Our Quality Assurance programs will allow you to use your time to experience Learning Ally audiobooks just like our students do. The feedback you share on those titles will guide us to repairing or even replacing older books in our catalogs, raising the bar on quality. To find out more and to get involved, check out the QA program pages on the volunteer portal site.
Last week we had our first online Learning Ally volunteer trivia event! Doing something a little different for our monthly webinar, we took the time to turn on microphones and cameras, greet each other face-to-face, and learn a little something about Learning Ally and our peers. We hope to have more events like this in the future so that we all keep each other in mind as we work together. Thanks to everyone who joined us, and we look forward to doing it again!
Kat M., Madrie T., Lisa Marie V., Richard S., Derria M., Hannah H., Jacob S., Monica M., Sulema M., Robyn F., Cheryl K., Jannine H., Regan S., Firas A. O., Julia B., Meredith P., Meredith P., Jason O.
Quite literally. The groundhog saw his shadow, so we're in for six more weeks of winter. As much of the northern US deals with the snow, Learning Ally is looking at what our spring and summer will bring. If you missed the webinar about our direction for the organization in 2021 and beyond, you can find the recording on our Resources page. If you haven't checked in lately, I also recommend perusing the Learning Ally main webpage. We've redesigned our message for students, parents and teachers, so they can see our focus on helping students at the start of their educational journeys.
Whoa, that's this month! A revised and updated version of our textbook training program is now in testing on the training site. At first, we will be testing with current volunteers, but by mid-February we expect that these new lessons will replace the current ones for all incoming textbook volunteers, and current volunteers are welcome to try it out or cross-train. If you would like to get involved as a tester for the revamped lessons, please reach out to the training center staff: Russell Collins or Eleanor Cotton.
Let this also serve as a subtle reminder for any current trainees: If you are part-way through the current textbook training program, you might want to hurry up and complete your work. Alternatively, you could wait a couple of weeks and start over with the new lessons. We leave that choice to you, but make sure it's your choice, and not an accident!
Last year we expanded our Training Center Office Hours program to two meetings per week to better manage the large influx of new volunteers. When the pandemic first drove volunteering indoors and online we were scrambling to keep up. Now we've reached an equilibrium with the new arrivals to book production teams, so we now have fewer attendees at each meeting and they are not providing the value they once did. As a result, this Thursday will be the last Thursday Office Hours meeting and we will move exclusively to having these meetings on Mondays at 1:00 PM Eastern. If it proves necessary to expand the program again we may add other times, but we also urge you to reach out to us through other means as well. Remember to email email@example.com with your questions about the training program, firstname.lastname@example.org for general help requests, and to join our Twist teams and channels for more help.
Becky C., Rick R., Lisa V., Hannah H., Derria M., Elaine C., Tiffany A., Tameka B., Nick V., David L., Jaymes P., Joshua H., Byron R., Jennifer A., Aditi V., Anjum M., Dana F., Victoria K., Sharon B-S., Joyce C., Angela H., Rizwana S., Victoria G., Maria M., Ava M., Jason O., Meredith P., Julia B.
January begins with New Years Resolutions and that means folks looking for ways that they can make the world a better place. At Learning Ally, we always see an increase of interest in volunteering and an uptick in new people joining our programs. You'll likely see some new names and faces in group chats, at Office Hours meetings, and on the Facebook group. Be sure to say hello and welcome them to the Learning Ally family.
Do note however, that we are still working to balance our intake of volunteers with the projects that we need to produce. On the updated volunteer interest page you'll find a concise breakdown of current needs and volunteer roles. If you've got a friend or family member interested in volunteering and you think they'd be a good match, send them a link and let them know how they can help students in need.
Would you like to help us to manage our new arrivals? If you're an experienced volunteer looking for more ways to use your skills then why not become a peer mentor? You remember the volunteers who helped you through your own training, providing feedback and guidance for your test projects and coaching you through your first live books. You can do the same for others and help our staff to be in more places at once.
People with a background in teaching and instruction are especially valuable for these programs, but we encourage anyone from subject matter experts to voiceover training tutors to reach out. Contact the staff leaders of your book production teams if you're interested in learning more.
This month we resume our Volunteer Nation Live events with our 21st webinar. We'll take this beginning of a new year as a "reset" of sorts, as we review the ongoing mission of Learning Ally. In our December blog post we teased how Learning Ally is looking at new strategies and tools to help with early literacy. In this webinar you'll get a first look at some of the concrete plans we have to help these young learners. You'll find more information, including registration links in follow-up messages in our newsletters, on the Facebook group, and through Twist channels.
Speaking of Twist, we want to make sure more of you are using Twist, and using it well. If you haven't already signed up for Twist, be sure to join the conversation.
Remember these basics to make the most of Twist: Use @ mentions to contact staff. If you want to call attention to a message then type "@" and begin typing the name of the staff member then select their name in the popup. Now your message will be at the top in the staff member's Inbox with a notification to check it out. You can also click the Star icon in the top right of a thread if you find it interesting or if it relates to one of your book projects. Whenever that thread gets updated you'll see it in Starred section. No need to go hunting through threads for those updates!. Update your notification settings as well. Though you could have Twist send an email or phone message every time a post comes in, you're more likely to find notifications useful if they only come in from @mentions and 1:1 messages only.
Check out this Learning Ally Twist reference guide for instructions on how to set your preferences and for more user tips for Twist.
Laura F., Galit W. B., June W., Davida B., Paula H., Serina D., Elizabeth C., Shreya V., Aquapella M., Wayne M., Alonzo L., Revanth T., Mijo F., Kristina R., Aara C., Afridi M.
This has been an… unusual year in many ways. We've all faced some new challenges and, for the most part, we've found ways to overcome them and continue our mission of helping students to reach their potential. The end of a year is always a reflective time, but we can also look forward to our plans for 2021, and beyond.
Learning Ally offices are officially closed from December 25th through January 1st in observance of winter holidays. Though you are welcome to keep working on your projects, contact from staff and other volunteers may be interrupted or infrequent. Check in with staff and other volunteers before the holiday break begins if you need to confirm schedules ahead of time.
We pride ourselves on the fact that we are always changing, and for the better. When Learning Ally began, we served a very specific need for a very specific audience - a niche of sorts. As we learned more about the need for accessible books, we expanded the content we offered and communities we serve. Today doctors and educators are learning more and more about how early literacy develops. They are doing more to recognize needs and provide accommodation long before the student becomes frustrated by classroom learning. At Learning Ally, we are looking for ways that our tools and our volunteers can help children as young as pre-school age.
We've used the phrase "lifelong learners" to mean those who are still learning from our books even after they have earned their degrees. I think we should reconsider that phrase. We need to recognize that a student's learning from pre-school on; through elementary, high school, college, and beyond is the real lifelong learning. When we can provide for all those stages of growth we are fulfilling our mission to provide true access to those who need it.
Next year you'll be hearing more about "Learning Ally Audiobook Solution 2.0," as we revise our apps and form new partnerships with organizations like Square Panda to find better ways to help. There will be new opportunities for volunteering as well. We'll still be recording our audiobooks, but as we expand programs to work with more teachers and parents we want to find volunteers who can help us with these efforts. More updates will be shared as they become available!
We hope you can enjoy the winter holidays while staying safe during these challenging times. Please join us on our volunteer Facebook page to share your plans for this year, or your memories of holidays past. Photos of cookies, gingerbread houses and outrageous sweaters are always encouraged.
Melissa K., Colin S., Elli S., Socorro G., Barbara M., Dianne F., Janeanne R-K., Patricia M-V., Noemi A., Debra F., Sean O., Sue B., Gouri G., Katsy J., Jaclyn D., Patrick K., Julia S., Lena H., Neha N., Yannie W., Aditya U., Rhonda G., Kathleen E., Emma B., Kendra Y., Lamar J., Andrea K.
Autumn is always a busy time, often busier than we expect it to be. Schools are all in session, October comes along with its holidays and soon we're prepping for family gatherings. 2020 and the COVID-19 outbreak have changed much of that however. Though we now need to spend those holidays on extended Zoom calls or meeting with only small groups, we should still take that time to share our appreciation for one another. Let these days be times of refreshment and renewal
It seems they come along a little earlier every year. Remember to inform Learning Ally staff when you will be unavailable to volunteer, for holidays, or any other reason. We can keep our scheduling flexible but we can only do that with notice when things change.
You might have heard me say this before, but the best volunteering is regular volunteering. Learning Ally's volunteer programs are unlike most other volunteer opportunities. They call for some very specialized skills, an investment in equipment, and adherence to some unique rules and guidelines. So how do our volunteers consistently work though these challenges? By working consistently. Repetition is the key to mastery. When you sit down at your computer or stand up at your microphone every day, you're practicing the skills of audiobook production.
When you engage with our guidelines often you internalize them, meaning less time spent looking up a half-remembered rule. Narrating every day builds up your vocal stamina and refines your technique. Likewise, steady listening trains your ears, so that you build an awareness of sound and an audio intelligence from day to day. Even if you're not "working" on a Learning Ally project, you're building those skills and adding to your knowledge whenever you engage with audiobooks.
By making volunteering a part of your routine, and sticking to that routine, your good work becomes better. That's why I'll always recommend that you make that schedule and stick by it. Sure, you'll need a break every now and again, and we know that it's demanding work. But not only does volunteering become more rewarding, it also becomes more fun.
Due to some schedule conflicts with Learning Ally all-staff meetings, there will be no Office Hours meeting on Thursday, November 12th. In addition, Office Hours will not happen on The 26th in recognition of the Thanksgiving holiday.
But it's not all bad news! We're adding another opportunity to join us for an Office Hours meeting on Mondays. Beginning on Monday the 9th, there will be an Office Hours time, earlier in the day. We hope that this additional time will allow more volunteers to join us for these informal face-to-face meetings. Bring your questions about volunteering and book production and our staff will be on hand to provide answers. You can find more information on the volunteer training website and in updates in Twist and hangouts.
Our October Volunteer Nation Live webinar is available in recorded form on the Resources page of the Volunteer Portal and on our YouTube page. We urge you to take the time to check out this excellent event. Our guest speaker Preston Radtke shared his experiences as a blind student and as an ambassador for our College Success Program. If you want to know more about what Learning Ally is doing to support the blind community in the halls of higher learning, you'll find the answers to many of your questions.
And as always, we invite further questions from you. Reach out to us through the Volunteer Nation thread on Twist and we'll bring your questions to our panelists and speakers. Be sure to share your suggestions for other subjects as well, and they may become the topic of a future Volunteer Nation Live event!
Rowel L.S.Y., Metsha R-S., Christina O., Andrew C., Jarrett W., Keila S., Gina R S., Kaneesha W., Charvella C., Letitia G., Tyedanita McL., Tony D., Earl F., Dakota H., Vania S., Jo A., Georgia D-B., Marla B., Kyle B., Ruth A., Jacob R., Iara C-C., Joey F., Patricia M., Diane F.
October is a special month for us at Learning Ally...it's blindness and dyslexia awareness month! This is a time when non-profit organizations like ours call upon the public to take time to learn more about these disabilities and what we all can do to help. Even if you're already volunteering and donating to Learning Ally, there are often resolutions or amendments regarding education and disability that appear as questions on your ballots. Educate yourselves today and you can show your support for disabled people when you submit your absentee ballot or head to the voting booths next month.
Speaking of learning more…in partnership with EdWeb, Learning Ally is hosting special webinar this week: Empowering Learners with Dyslexia to Acquire and Utilize Their Digital Voices. This webinar is a perfect way to kick off Dyslexia month, so join us on Thursday, October 8th, at 3:00 pm EDT to learn more about how using technology gives students with dyslexia greater confidence. Register today!
We all know that Learning Ally's mission is to help students overcome the academic challenges of reading disabilities, but how much do you know about those learning challenges? Our interactive online quiz is a great way to test your knowledge and learn more about these important issues.
Follow this link to take the quiz!
For decades (centuries?) students with disabilities struggled in programs of higher-learning. They faced challenges much greater than their peers. Even 50 years after disabled people first won their rights to equitable access and accommodation, and 30 years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, disabled students are still underserved by college programs. Learning Ally's College Success Program helps students and their schools lighten the load that our blind and visually impaired students face. CSP provides mentorship and support to keep students informed of their rights. We deliver proven strategies for these students to self-advocate and stand up for what they deserve. Even more importantly, our CSP program seeks to educate teachers and administration, so they can be prepared to meet the needs of disabled people before they attend the school. In a truly fair system of education, our students won't need to do the additional work of advocacy - the schools will know what they need and be ready for them.
Our upcoming Volunteer Nation Live! Webinar will introduce you to some of our CSP mentors, and the work they do to support these wonderful efforts. Please join us for this online event. Scheduling details and an invitation to registration will be posted soon.
Are you on Instagram? Follow the Learning Ally Instagram account to say current with Learning Ally and enjoy stories of our volunteers, programs, and audio books. Follow Learning Ally.
Ileana B., Sindhu M., Bess S., John H., Derria M., Robyn W., Amy T., Darrell J., J H., Ruth H., Cynthia J., Chyanne W., Deirdre S., Sharon P., Bjorn P., Cindy P., Don K., Monifa L., Keane D., Percy H., Sabrina M., Anna W., Terri N., Udeme A., Lynne N., Durga K., Ashisha B.
Students and teachers across the country and around the world are discovering new challenges to learning as the summer comes to an end. In some places we see new opportunities however, and as an organization dedicated to providing educational opportunities, we need to be a leader in the field of serving students.
We invite you to join us in welcoming our new and returning students. Until September 3rd, we are collecting brief messages of encouragement to our students, in writing and as recorded audio samples. Email your notes or recorded audio files to Maria Lelie. If you would prefer to submit your audio through our EasyBooks software, rather than using a smart phone or other application, you can log into EasyBooks and search for the "SchoolProject." Use the End button to skip to the end of the file and record your brief message. You can find more information on the volunteer Facebook group.
Remember, the deadline is September 3rd, so get those messages in now!
This past Monday Dawn Ulley and Michelle Lenihan shared more about how learning ally is working for students in the new school year in our Volunteer Nation Live event. If you were unable to attend the webinar, you can view a recording of it on the Resources page of the Volunteer Portal, or on our YouTube page. We urge you to find out more about what we're doing, as well as submit your ideas and questions to our team. Email email@example.com, or visit the Volunteer Nation Twist site.
Though we are still on our summer pause, and not adding new volunteers to our existing roles, we are opening up more opportunities for quality assurance work in our textbook library. Volunteers in this role will help us assess completed books from our catalog to find those that need to be re-recorded, replaced, or featured as top quality content. New training materials are being prepared and the team are ramping up to begin welcoming new volunteers. To learn more about this opportunity you can email the textbook QA lead Audrey Santos or visit the team QA channel on Twist. We are always looking for more ways to help you, help our students to succeed.
Kim A., William W., Rebekka P., Pranavi G., Ashish B., Paul B., Jordan E., Kim W., Angela R., Georgia C., AngelaM., Prajanya K., Mya F., Rebecca L., Leslie G., Nancy S., Matt P., J M L., Sabrina D., Veronica W., Lauren R., Marty J., Fely F., Jason L., Jody L., Shawn P., Fadra N., April R., Brittany A., Patricia C., Bernadette H., S.M.S., India T., Jcnv B., Thera F., Ktrktr R., Sephra S., Katlin I. S., Lisa S., Elena V., Daisy P., Carla G. V., Emily W., Gabriel S., Sandra B., Chris G., Polina K., Gillian N., Natalia R. R.
In some regions the school year is about to begin and with much uncertainty. When we consider the new stresses and pressures that our students face from changing their learning environment we realize how much more important accessibility becomes. Not only are our books available both in school and at home, but we can remove a barrier to confidence and self-assurance, making it easier for these students to navigate other challenges.
Thank you once again for all that you do - for our students and for Learning Ally!
And speaking of thank yous…our recent Volunteer Nation Live event gave Kevin and his mother Silvia an opportunity to that you directly. If you haven't already seen the video recording of this event, we urge you to take an hour to view it. Kevin is an excellent speaker and we look forward to seeing him again some time, to learn more about his learning progress.
In that same event we also experienced the dyslexia simulation, hosted by Terrie Noland, our VP of Educator Initiatives. This special presentation has been an important part of introducing dyslexia teaching to educators, parents, and administrators. We recommend you grab a pen and paper and follow along at home with the exercise, to have a dyslexia simulation of your own.
Due to employee vacations and an overlapping staff meeting, we are canceling our Office Hours meeting on August 13th. We will resume weekly meetings on the 20th. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.
As we continue to develop our processes and training, we are also refining the language we use to define our roles and the work that we do. The terms Checker and Checking have too many similar uses and can be confusing when talking about our tools. (For example we must check the check-box on the checker's notes to confirm corrections.) To remove ambiguity, we'll begin replacing "checking" with listening, or proof-listening to establish the similarity to proofreading. You may already recognize this change as we have rolled it out through the literature evaluation courses. Soon you'll see it in wider use in other programs as well.
Check out Twist! Join the volunteer Facebook group! Stay connected to the conversation around Learning Ally and how we are helping students.
MacKenzie S., F A., Thritha A., Karen T., Prajanya K., Dashua K., Rachel P., Lizbeth R., Katelyn H., Dimitris A., Donna A., Maisha P., Michael F., Sonal G., Gina R., Barbara S., Roda A., Mary G., Madeline L., Kelsey L., Younus R., Nethuli A., Charity L., Linda L., Emily H., Sophia W., Kara P., Ansalma R., Emily C., Jessica N., Smitty B., SD W., Jonathan H., Jacob F., Kayla I., Sonia Amira B., Simran S., Heather D., Tari T., Kami N., Charity L., Alisa C-M., Deb P., Eric S., B. E., Julie B., Gillian N., Maya L., SD W., Miranda K., Teri S., Eveline T., Nick B., Robert V., Shumayal B., Lisa J., Julie B., Amanda J., Sophia C., Melissa Z., Marjan, Kesiya J., Sonia A B., Managua G., Anoushka S.
The biggest, and probably most surprising news is that we have put audiobook volunteer recruitment on pause for the rest of the summer. The tremendous influx of volunteers through the spring has overwhelmed our ability to provide enough content to supply the demand of volunteers. Already, we see large groups of volunteers waiting for books to read or to check, and eager to jump in on that work the moment it's available. Unfortunately, that means many others are kept waiting for the next project and opportunity. They always say "it's the kind of problem you want to have," but that doesn't mean it's not a problem.
In the meantime, we will be collecting information from potential volunteers so that we can reach out to them later, when the program reopens. However, there are still some areas of our audiobook production program where we are lacking in volunteers!
We are still on the lookout for bilingual volunteers, particularly Spanish speakers, to work on foreign language textbooks. Professional voiceover artists are still needed for some of our dramatic and performed literature titles. We also have a number of African-American focused stories in our literature queue and are looking for authentic voices to record this content. If you can help us meet these needs, then reach out to a Learning Ally staff member, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
If you attended our last Volunteer Nation Live event, or if you've been keeping up with the blogs, you'll know about our plans to gradually transition our chat client over from Google Hangouts to Twist. This change has been a long time coming, and is even more necessary now as the number of volunteers in our programs has surged. Check out this video for the overview, or watch the recorded Volunteer Nation Live event for more background on why we chose Twist. We look forward to seeing (and chatting with) you there!