October 13, 2019
August 2, 2019
July 2, 2019
June 4, 2019
April 30, 2019
Always be Ready for Anything
It was going to be an epic adventure. We were taking a small ship cruise from New Caledonia across northern Australia up to Indonesia and finally to Singapore. Another week in Singapore would top it all off before we came home. In the middle of the trip was my husband, Steve’s birthday.
That was the plan.
We sailed from New Caledonia to Cairns Australia with no issue. Two days after leaving Cairns we were told that we were headed back, the cruise was over and we needed to find our way home as we would not be allowed to stay in Australia. That was March 13.
We flew from Australia to Singapore, over-nighted in the airport and then attempted to catch our flight's home. Singapore to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to Guayaquil Ecuador. As we checked in for our flights we were told that Ecuador had closed its borders. We asked if we could make it as far as Amsterdam and then figure it out from there, especially since Singapore had made it clear we could not stay there. We arrived in Amsterdam and were welcomed. While we do live in Ecuador, we are US citizens and considered trying to get back there but that would put us at risk on yet another plane ride and when we got there we would just be in the same situation we are in here.
Amsterdam had already closed all non essential businesses until June 1, that is all museums and shopping and churches, pretty much everything except grocery stores and restaurants that are allowed to do delivery or take out. Hotel restaurants are also closed but are allowed to deliver room service to guests. It became apparent quickly that we would need a place with a kitchen. We found a vacation rental and made a reservation until April 6, when Ecuador was supposed to reopen its borders. The criteria was kitchen and washer/dryer. We were near the end of our stay in this rental and it did not look like we were going home anytime soon, so we found another more comfortable place. We moved there on April 6. There is a beautiful park nearby that I anticipate many walks in. We initially packed for a tropical vacation, not March in the Netherlands, so we picked up some warm souvenirs rather quickly.
Our days are a mixture of watching the news, I have always been a news watcher and this crisis is not something I can turn away from, and focused distraction. We started walking around to Amsterdam's attractions and taking photos outside them. It is a beautiful city and the citizens are taking social distancing very seriously, we do as well, and are doing all we can to keep ourselves and others around us safe. Facetime has been a great way to stay in touch with our loved ones during this time, technology is fantastic.
As I said, groceries are open, but they only allow a certain amount of people at a time inside. The stores have the allowed number of baskets at the front door, when you go inside you pick up a basket, if there are no baskets, you wait until there is one. Once someone pays for their purchases, the basket is cleaned and placed back at the door. If you need to wait outside you stand in a 1.5 meter apart queue.
One of the best things for me personally throughout this situation has been projects I am working on with Learning Ally. I can DO something and feel good about doing it. I feel that it is something that helps me maintain my sanity, so thank you all for that! I attended the recent webinar (It was 10:00 pm here) and that was wonderful for me to feel connected. Bonus, I now know how to green screen my Zoom background, thanks Russell.
I am currently acting as listener for a few literature books.
“The Poet X” which is being narrated by Krysta Gonzalez is a true joy! Krysta is absolutely lighting up this performance and I want every young woman in the world to hear it, especially latinas!
“Lu” is being narrated by Gregory Jacques and is the third in the track series that I have worked on. Just started, but I have high hopes!
“The Sacrifice of Sunshine Girl” narrated by Rebecca Carter is an awesome and fun YA syfy type book that is going to give a lot of readers fantastic distraction.
“The Big Game” narrated by Jacob Lindsey is a coming of age, while playing football and trying to step out of your fathers shadow story. Jacob is hitting all parts gloriously.
“Cilla Lee-Jenkins Future Author Extraordinaire” narrated by Victoria Rivera is such a fun book, it has made me laugh out loud a couple of times and I have made Steve listen to passages just because it is so cute. A lot of that is thanks to Victoria really making this character pop!
“Five Feet Apart” narrated by Holly Russo and William Wright is a love story between two teens with cystic fibrosis. I don’t think I will make it through this one dry eyed, especially because Holly and William are really bringing it with their performances.
I don’t know how much longer we will be here, but I do know that I am so fortunate to have my Learning Ally projects to keep my mind active and give me a sense of contribution.
Did I mention we wanted an epic adventure?
Jerry started volunteering with Learning Ally 18 years ago back in 2002, but has been reading audiobooks for the blind since the mid 1960s. Jerry got his start in recording audiobooks when he joined the St. Louis public library’s recording studio. For his first project, Jerry was given a book, a stack of cassettes, and off he went! He continued his narration when working as a professor at California State University in Long Beach, the Monterey Society for the Blind, and later Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, now known as Learning Ally.
One of Jerry’s favorite memories from working in the Learning Ally studio was meeting the students who stopped in to share their stories. He recalls one student saying: “I was nine in the third grade. I couldn’t read. The teacher thought I had problems; the kids thought I was dumb; I thought I was dumb. Now I am a doctoral student in anthropology.” Jerry said that inspiring stories like these were accomplishments he wanted to share in.
When Learning Ally made its shift to recording online, Jerry went with them. When asked what motivates him to continue to volunteer with Learning Ally, Jerry recalled a lesson he learned from his mother. “My mother always inculcated in me the idea that you don’t do everything for yourself. People do things for you; your dentist, your car mechanic. So you do something for somebody else. I feel privileged that I have the education and the voice to be able to do this for somebody else.” Since narrating audiobooks, Jerry says he has become more aware of the blind and dyslexic community and the people who depend on audiobooks for their education, livelihood and quality of life.
Jerry offered a piece of advice and encouragement for Learning Ally volunteers. He said: “Stop and think about this whole idea that we exchange gifts in life. I can’t fix my car, I can’t fix my teeth, but I can read for people who cannot read and they will do something for me in the long run. They will be that doctor of anthropology or historian for me. We are all in this together. We are dependent on each other. We don’t go this alone. It’s a gift that we shouldn’t turn away. We should use the gifts we have.”
Thank you Jerry for 300 books, 6,000+ hours, and 100,000+ pages. You are inspiring!
On April 21st we had a very special Volunteer Nation Live event in celebration of Volunteer Appreciation Week. We were able to feature several students and teachers who use Learning Ally books in their schools who shared their stories of learning and growth with audiobooks, as well as answering questions from our volunteers in attendance. If you missed the event we strongly urge you take the time to watch the recording on our Resources Page.
We drive ourselves by asking Why: Why do we make the time and the effort to provide our services and resources? And we get our answer every time we see the people who benefit from our work. It's a beautiful reminder that we're doing more than making books - we're improving lives; offering success to people who would otherwise be forced to struggle. We bring out our best and afford others the chance to do the same.
One of the results of having so many new volunteers (over 100 training graduates this month) as well as volunteers with extra time to donate, is that we are actually experiencing a shortage of work in some places. While it's exciting to see that we are not falling behind on deadlines, we are also fielding many requests for book project assignments, particularly in QA and in Storyteller narration. If you are looking for a project in those areas, we suggest you use the contact forms for Learning Ally staff assistance, such as the Assignment Request form for Storytellers. We can earmark an appropriate book or project for you before we even list it in the catalog.
Please note however, we are still limited by staff hours and book acquisition budgets. We have had to establish a "waiting list" of sorts for high-demand subjects or large casting pools. We thank you for your patience as we try to keep up with demand. Remember that we are always working to meet the needs of our students, as well as those of our volunteers.
One way to help our Storyteller volunteers find more projects to record is to diversify your Learning Ally narrator skills. If you are a Storyteller narrator interested in helping us record textbooks, we've prepared a special course designed to fast-track experienced narrators with lessons on the specialized reading conventions and best practices for textbook narration. If you are interested in participating in this program please contact the volunteer training and support team by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are uncertain or curious about textbook projects, why not take a look through the catalog of books in production. You'll see that a wide range of subjects and grade levels are available.
Kourtney I., Trudi D., Luke B., Rohan B., BASIL G. S., Esme S., John B., Liza C., Rene R-R., Kylah F., Edita K., Sarah C., Julie M., Divyanshi S., Hermione P., neha K., Becky R., Colleen A-F., Ben H., Meredith S., Tim S., Chris G., Justin S., Hisham G., Arthur Q., Andy G-R., Latifah M., Carol B., Allison H., Shelby S., Laureanne P., David T S., Shaila M., Beverley H., Meghan L, Christopher C., Amy Z., Jaren J., Jennifer C., Ankitha S., Doris L-T., Oyindamola O., True T., Maureen D., Leslie E., JM J., Theo S., Estelle T., Lisa W., Heather S., Izzy L., April F., Richard K., Kai W., Jessica H., Kelly D., Ivy R., Swethaa R., Jenny S., Kathy O., Bo K., Belinda L., Mark C., Althea B., Priya K., Shyamala C., Anna C., AHUVA S., Haley K., Christina L., Richelle F., Janice O., Shayla B., Narineh S., Yvo S., khardema, Siya B., Smriti D., Jessica H., Michelle G., Edward B., F R., JM J., Erin C., Lisa W., Robyn W., Gustavo F., Mary A., Seattle S., Janet B., tolulope A., Neya G., Katie M., Abbie G., Sthiti P., Robert W., Mark C., Jennifer C., Belinda S L., Gary M., Maria F., Freya S., Rosalyn G., Becky C B., Lisa W., Dan E., Naomi P., Barbara F., Robert W., Shyamala B C., Alexis M., Melanie W., Heidi F., Wendy T., Sandra R., Zachary K-S.,
With National Volunteer Week (April 19-25, 2020) right around the corner, we want to thank and recognize you all for the tremendous impact you’ve had on students who struggle to read. Since the start of the school year, 231,067 students have listened to over 118 million pages of Learning Ally audiobooks.
What’s even more amazing is the impact our audiobooks solution has had in just the last month as schools across the country have closed and moved to remote learning due to COVID-19. Of the 231,067 students reading, over 23,000 (10%) read their first pages since March 6th. And of the 118 million pages read, over 19 million (16%) were read since March 6th.
This would all not be possible without the effort you have all put in. Since July 1, 2019, we’ve had 624 volunteers donate a total of 47,000 hours -- an average of 75 hours per volunteer! Over 6,700 (14%) of these hours were donated in March. We appreciate how you all have stepped up during this time of need.
Thanks again to all of you! Our students need you.
You’re reading along, either as a Narrator/Reader or a Listener/Checker, and suddenly you run into something you’re not sure about, something that doesn’t seem to be covered in your Project Guidelines. It’s 10:00 Saturday night and you’re pretty sure all the staff are off-duty. What should you do?
Write a long rant in the Hangout or Google Group, complaining about the ridiculous state of education in our country.
Just make a guess; you’re pretty smart, anyway.
Check out the Resources Tab at the Volunteer Portal.
Quit and never respond to any communications from staff ever again.
Well, you probably ARE pretty smart...but if you are, you will choose C. The Resources Tab at the Volunteer Portal can be your best friend in tricky situations. So, let’s take a look at it together; we’ll give a brief overview of each section. NOTE: you do not need to be a member of any specific community to explore that community’s links. You never know what useful information you’ll find!
The Textbook Community section includes a variety of very useful documents, ranging from conventions and helpful guides to forms:
Computer and Code Guidelines: directions for computer-related items like reading code, how to announce various symbols within code, etc.
Conventions Wiki: the general guidelines for Textbook Community projects
Famous Names and Places: great tips on how to research the pronunciations of famous names and places; this document includes all kinds of helpful links to sites specific to occupations and locations around the world.
Figure Description Crib Sheets: instructions for reading all those pesky non-text items like tables, vo-tech figures, and the dreaded infographic.
Foreign Language Wiki: TWO SECTIONS: (1) conventions for the Foreign Language Community; and (2) resources for pronunciations of words in many different foreign languages, ranging from Amharic and Punjabi to Lithuanian and Lang Belta, as well as a section on science terminology (because science is a language of its own).
Law Links: hints for learning how to say all those convoluted abbreviations used in legalese.
Math Reading Guidelines: does your history book suddenly, bizarrely, have a math equation in it? Try this document to learn how to read that unholy aberration.
Science Terms and Conventions: Did the authors of the writing style guide you’re reading use examples from a science text? Go to this document for help with that situation.
Writing/Style Guide Conventions: all we have on reading those crazy writing and style guides.
Checking Instructions: examples of good versus bad wave forms and instructions for leaving kind yet informative notes to Narrators/Readers.
Project Guidelines Help Sheet: help for learning what is meant by the various terminology used in your Project Guidelines.
Recommended Equipment list: equipment recommendations from Textbook Community staff
Upcoming Absence form: form to let staff know when you’ll be absent for more than a day or two.
The Literature Community also has some useful links:
Audition Reminders: directions for submitting an audition for a Lit project
Book Trailer Request form: application to have staff create a trailer from your completed Lit project
Literature Conventions: general reading conventions for Lit projects
Literature Fast-track Summary & FAQ: information for Narrators working outside of EasyBooks
Narrators: instructions for Narrators
Listeners: instructions for Listeners
Recommended Equipment list: equipment recommendations from the Lit Community staff
Software & Apps: just what you think it would be
Welcome to webEB!: gives EasyBook users a look at the differences between the two
webEB Reference Guide: place to go to access directions and links for using our new web-based software: no more worry about what type of computer you use, or all the files building up on your device!
EasyBooks for PC Reference Guide: guide to all things EasyBooks
EasyBooks (PC): instructions for EasyBooks for PC; includes link to latest version
Google Hangouts Extension install link: link to install Google Hangouts
Adobe Reader install link: link to install Adobe Reader
Chrome install link: link to install Chrome
General: a catch-all for some items that didn’t fit in the other categories:
Common Abbreviations: directions for reading a variety of abbreviations
Reference Links: links to online dictionaries, etc.
Try out LAABS!: directions for using the Learning Ally Audio Book Solution--check out the user experience on the books you’ve worked on
Volunteer Submitted photo album: a place for volunteers to share photos
Meet the Team: image and brief audio for each staff member
Hangouts: document with links to various Hangouts for meeting other volunteers and staff
Volunteer Nation Live! Events: links to the all the VNL webinars
Training Resources: Links to a variety of Mini-Lesson, Videos, and Documents; in the top paragraph there is a link to the Virtual Training Center
So, as you can see: even when staff are off-duty, you’re never far from a source of help! Dive into this tab full of great resources, and see what you find.
Cynthia Hamburger, COO and CIO of Learning Ally led a webinar to explain, in detail, what actions we are taking, and have already taken, to provide for our students and balance our business model. With school closures and more students learning at home, the usage of our Learning Ally Audiobook Solution has surged over ten times the numbers we saw last year. As schools recognize the importance and value of our learning tools, we are extending trial periods and contracts with those schools so that they can continue to offer our valuable solutions to students whose semesters have been disrupted.
For more information, as well as an explanation of how we are revising fundraising needs and our "sales" plan to reach new students, you can watch a recording of the full webinar presentation on the Resources page of the Learning Ally Volunteer site.
In times of difficulty we are always happy to see people rise to the challenge and give what help they can. And with the present conditions keeping many people at home, volunteer opportunities like our online book production have become an excellent way to help struggling learners. Not only are our volunteers continuing the educations of our students, they are providing more books to keep them engaged with reading and entertained in the hours when they most need the comfort of a good book and a friendly voice.
We have seen a massive increase in volunteer activity, with new volunteer applications at 250% what they were this same time last year. Our training programs and meetings are full of new names, new faces, and new voices.
All Learning Ally staff are now working from home. Fortunately, the online nature of our volunteering opportunity means our Production department has needed minimal adaptation to make this transition. Still, we are adjusting hours, availability, and workflow to support a large number of people with training and support needs in a very short time. We thank you for your patience and understanding as our efficient little team works to keep us all online and active.
If you have questions or concerns, be sure to reach out through the Volunteer Portal, Volunteer Training Site, Google Hangouts and Groups, and other channels.
Despite social distancing being extended through April, we are happy to report that our readers are not slowing down…
Our readers this week increased to 226,913 with over 114 million pages read and 43,037 at frequency – a 21% increase for schools over last year!
As we're all getting used to Zoom conference calls and everyone working from home, I wanted to share this video (linked below) from the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra based in the Netherlands. They’ve continued performing, despite COVID-19, by transitioning to playing virtually. They remind us that together anything is possible… even when we’re remote! Enjoy Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”!
And also, a quote from Edinburgh-based journalist, Hope Whitmore that seems particularly relevant to recent events:
In hard times, reading fiction reminds us we are human in a way Twitter never can. Reading teaches us not only about our common humanity – it is wonderful to see something expressed in words and think, ‘Yes! That’s exactly how I feel’ – but also about the world. Reading gives me hope because the chroniclers of dark times tell us that they pass.
Have a great weekend, keep reading, and stay safe!
The 2020 Great Reading Games have come to a close, and we've sparked joy of reading in even more students than before! Check out our data and some twitter highlights from the last few weeks below:
Schools opted in: 2909
Students Reading: 46,366
Pages Read: 13,967,038
Number of students reading in the GRG for 2020 was 46,740, up 25% from last year’s 37,500
The number of schools that had at least one reader in 2020 broke 2,000 (2,033) up 30% from 2019 (1,571) and up 67% from 2018.
In the coming months, the Reading Programs team will track the FOPI C schools that had readers in GRG. Last year 27% of C schools that had a reader in GRG became an A school. In 2020, we had 552 C schools participate in GRG, up in the range of 25% from last year. If the conversion rate of +27% holds for two years, we have a reading program proven to move C schools to A. Did you catch that? Did you see how we are using the data to provide PROVEN programs for schools?
(FOPI= Fidelity of Program Implementation – FOPI A are our highest performing schools and FOPI C are the lowest performing)
Here are the top 5 books that were added to bookshelves and kept our students reading for the final week of our 2020 Great Reading Games. We see that a title from Dan Gutman's My Weird School Daze series jumped into the top spot in anticipation of Dan's webinar! Do some of those other titles look familiar? The Dog Man books were the top titles for last year's games! We love seeing all the titles that have moved in and out of the top 5 list this year.
Along with Dan's book in the top 5 list this week the kids are also reading:
- the first book in a series about Humphrey the classroom hamster
- the first book in the Rowley Jefferson series from Diary Of A Wimpy Kid author Jeff Kinney
- 2 books in the ever popular Dog Man series by Dav Pilkey
While we are sad to see the Games end we want to continue seeing the increased engagement and usage continue throughout the rest of the school year and over the summer!
Something to Tweet About
We LOVE these posts from Kimberly Sanders, sharing the fun and joy her students get with reading:
#CCEcougars get into some funny positions once they settle into a good 📖!😂😄😅#GRG20 @Learning_Ally @SuessShannon #Risdsaysomething
(Image is a screenshot of a young girl wearing a bright pink coat with fur around the hood. She’s sitting backwards in the chair. She isn’t wearing any shoes and you can see her panda socks sticking out from underneath the back support. She’s holding her phone and she has a slight smile while listening to her book with her headphones)
(Image is of Kimberly Sanders's tweet that reads “Their future is bright because they read!” Below the tweet is a picture of two boys standing back to back with their arms folded and wearing sunglasses. They are looking very James Bond-like!)
Holly Sanford's students "continue to arrive early” for reading sessions with Learning Ally... This means that not only students, but parents and families needed to be engaged and involved in GRG. They had to be intentional about having their kids there early to read before school. Our impact goes beyond the classroom!
(Image is of Holly Sanford’s tweet that reads “Final push for @Learning_ally #grg20 These students continue to arrive early to get in an early morning Great Reading Games/Learning Ally session!”. Below the tweet is an image of a classroom with students sitting at their desks in front of computers. We are seeing their backs and the bright lights of their computers with their books. Every student is wearing headphones and look to be quite content reading!)
There’s Nothing Weird About Reading with Dan Gutman
It’s not every day that you can reach over 680 schools and 25,000 students and teachers with fun, laughter and excitement about reading. Oh wait! If you are Learning Ally, you sure can!
In last month's webinar, we learned about Dan Gutman’s journey as a writer, how he got rejected many times and continued to write because he believed in his books, how he didn’t like reading as a child, and we even got to see the inside of his mouth!
If you weren’t able to attend the webinar live, you can watch the recording. Dan’s only request is that we do not share the recording via social media or anywhere on the internet. The recording was sent to everyone that registered.
(Image is of Dan’s face, smiling widely, and holding up his unfinished manuscript of “Mr. Marty Loves A Party!”. The manuscript is regular 8.5 x 11 paper with the words “Mr. Marty Loves A Party” written in red marker and in all caps taking up most of the page.)
This year's Great Reading Games may be over, but don’t worry - Spring Into Reading and Summer Reading Together are right around the corner.
During our Spring Into Reading Program, we will be inviting everyone to participate in a couple of the fun reading days:
· D.E.A.R. Day (Drop Everything and Read) will be on April 12th
· Poem in Your Pocket will be on April 30th
Finally, our total readers this week increased to 203,005 with over 94 million pages read and 35,790 at frequency – a 23% increase over last year for schools!
Our big fundraising event begins this week and we need proud Macintosh users to lend a hand with our latest software projects.
Building Books for Student Success (BBSS) is here! This annual fundraising event is one of the best ways that you can help us continue to do our great work of helping students as well as their schools, teachers, and even parents. Our online program will guide you through putting together a page for collecting donations, sharing the story and goals of Learning Ally, and promoting your own efforts. Visit the Learning Ally Building Books Campaign page on the Learning Ally website to get involved.
If you have questions about the program, need assistance setting up a donation page, or would like to know more about Learning Ally donations, please contact email@example.com and put the phrase Donor Support in the subject line of your email.
Our EasyBooks developers are working to create a web application of the software: WebEB. This exciting development will let us keep EasyBooks entirely online, meaning no more downloads or version updates and no need for different versions of the software for Windows or Macintosh users. At present, WebEB is still in testing with a small group of users. But that's where you can help us! We need more users with Macintosh computers to join our test group and use the application.
WebEB functions just like EasyBooks with a few changes to the interface and some features still in a development state. Bugs are to be expected - this is a test after all - and you'll be asked to document those experiences and contribute to an online discussion documenting and correcting those flaws. If this project sounds interesting and you have access to the right computer equipment, please contact Eleanor Cotton for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please note, this is a test of Mac OS desktop and laptop computers, not iOS devices like iPads or iPhones. Those are not compatible with WebEB and are not part of this test.
Maria M., CJ H., Kaumeshua H., Emily C., Megan H., Audrey K., Jenna S., Kurt H., Judy S., Dawn K., Christian L., Tania P., Aaron T., Alicia H., Therese B., Kristin L., Rick S., Brian H., Derek M., Madi T., Madison S., Bob M., Shannon K., Becky C., Rebecca H-P., Lisa J.