October 13, 2019
August 2, 2019
July 2, 2019
June 4, 2019
April 30, 2019
WOW! Learning Ally staff members are so great! What is it that makes us so terrific?
Maybe it’s our WOWs: Ways of Working. A set of guidelines for positive action, we refer to them and incorporate them into all our personal and organizational goals. By following the WOWs, we all work together to make Learning Ally a great place to work and volunteer.
Maybe you’d like to consider adding some or all of our WOWs to your own toolbox? Here they are for you to ponder:
a. Focus on customer needs as we embrace continuous change.
b. Project ahead to find and deliver on the changes that need to be made.
c. Find the meaning in the data.
d. Make fact-based decisions and remain aligned with those decisions until a new case is made and a new decision is reached.
e. Ask how we can do it better, consistently and often.
f. Display bravery and be comfortable standing up and taking an unpopular view on issues.
g. Assume positive intent.
h. Communicate truthfully, candidly, and constructively.
i. Demonstrate concern for all functions and see the organization as one.
j. Acknowledge and celebrate team efforts and wins.
k. Address issues with each other directly before taking them up with others.
l. Set clear expectations and define everyone’s role (ownership) for achievement.
m. Ensure the right people are in the room when making decisions.
n. Regularly ask for and give feedback.
o. Openly acknowledge mistakes, seek solutions, and not blame.
Some of these WOWs seem so obvious, but others maybe not so much depending on your personal background and the experiences you’ve had. Confession time: I grew up in a very negative household. A few years ago, when a member of our Senior Leadership Team told me, “Assume positive intent”, it hit me like a thunderbolt. I was stunned. At that moment, I realized all my life I had assumed negative intent, and it had colored so many of my experiences as an adult. I have been grateful to that person ever since then for taking the time to tell me that, and am pleased to see it as a part of our WOWs. Just that one WOW has had such an impact on me personally; imagine how incorporating ALL of them can create positive, dynamic change in all of us?
Pick a WOW and try it on for size. I bet you’ll like it.
You may have noticed that we use a lot of Google products: Google login, Hangouts chat, Google Groups, Google Drive cloud storage of audio files, Chrome browser (recommended), etc. It is a ubiquitous platform that offers a lot of flexibility and is very low-cost for nonprofits. We understand that others have a preference for other browsers or email clients for whatever reason, but using Google makes it much easier for us to develop and maintain our production systems. Almost everyone has a Google account these days and you can create one or easily tie a different email account to a Google account as well.
We use Google login for the Training Site, EasyBooks, and the Literature Portal. However, we see some common issues with login in the Literature Portal that we'd like to cover today. Here are the troubleshooting steps we recommend if you're not seeing what you expect in the portal, i.e., missing PDF Download button or Google Group, or nothing in the My Projects tab when you have assigned projects:
Have you ever fallen in love? As staff member Terrie Noland says, “So many feelings pop up when you fall in love! You want to spend time together...you get those butterflies in your stomach.”
Bilingual Literacy and Dyslexia Interventionist Maria Luna (above, with fellow staff members at Central Elementary in Lewisville, Texas) writes to us:
I have fallen in love with Learning Ally!! I have seen it change my students’ reading lives! They love being able to choose their own books (with a few suggestions from me ), and they also love being able to have book discussion with their peers! I just have so many good things to say about it!
Terrie adds, “As school is kicking off around the country, we have teachers and students that can relate to those feelings of falling in love to their experience with Learning Ally. They don’t want to be without us, they want to spend time with us and they quite possibly get butterflies in their stomach when reading so many great...titles.”
Metrics Update for this week:
Our readers increased (from zero last week) to 16,545!
Pages read by school readers has climbed to 3,719,966!
Happy Reading, everyone!
*at frequency = students are reading books multiple times during the school year, with a general target of thirty times (more for lower grades, less for upper grades). Our data shows that most of these students read for at least 20 minutes each time.
We're in the season we call "peak" around here, but the end is in sight as the new school year begins. Peak is the time of year that we see the greatest demand from our students. New and school accounts are being set up, reading lists finalized, and book requests fulfilled. It's an especially busy time for Education Solutions.
Learning Ally is a full-service learner support system, and that means training for teachers and software solutions for them as well. You may be acquainted with how students use our software - logging in, picking books, and downloading them - but it's our Educator Portal that lets us reach whole classrooms and schools. Teachers add books to students accounts and use that system to check up on their students' reading progress.
As you can imagine, using that system requires support and that's one of the duties of our Customer Success teams. They build relationships with teachers. They coordinate to help them set up these systems, show them how to use the systems and best practices for them and answer questions to keep things running smoothly. Right now they are hard at work with 17,000 schools across the country, changing the educational journey for our students.
If you want to know more about our solutions and support there's an entire section of the Learning Ally website devoted to the subject.
We've instituted a series of Office Hours Webinars. These relaxed and casual meetings are meant to give you more opportunities for facetime with Learning Ally trainers and staff, without the structure of our Volunteer Nation events. During Office Hours, you set the agenda. Bring your questions and comments to us, and we'll even let you use your microphones to ask them! You'll find the Office Hours meetings announced in the Communication section of your course on the Voltraining Website. When it's meeting time you'll find a link there to join in.
Crawford A., Nancy C-J., Etienne D., Mary D., Terry F M., Ariana G., Joseph G., Justin G., Lorraine G., Jan H., Marcia H., Scott H., Jaimi J., John J., Nick J., Janette K., Jordan K., Laura M., Sean O., Sandy P., Stephanie P., Kathy R., Richard R., Alison S., Bob S., Elizabeth S., Gary S., Jackie S., Rachel W., and Tom W.
Remember that old Staple’s commercial, with the father gleefully purchasing back-to-school supplies to the soundtrack of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”? In the commercial, the children appear quite despondent, dismayed by the imminent arrival of the impending school year.
We adults all laughed at this commercial (for a bit of nostalgia, click here to view it again: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CD1PffNbZls), but for many families back-to-school really is a terribly stressful time. For about 20% of students, school is pure torture, and it makes family life difficult as well. For those students who use Learning Ally, however, school can be more like it was for me: an exciting day filled with learning and fun. Thanks to the work of our many volunteers, these children’s sadness can be turned to joyful expectation! Instead of automatically expecting humiliation and failure, they can anticipate another year of personal growth and success in school.
As we move into the new school year (yes, schools in the South have started already!), here at Learning Ally we reset all our counters that measure the schools’ and students’ activity over the year. So, here’s where we are:
2,965,350 books on student bookshelves were set back to zero
697,280 students had their reading data set back to zero
17,583 schools had their reading data set back to zero
41,129 new school year emails sent out on August 1st, with an additional 82,258 going out in the days to come
How do you want students to feel on the first day of school? Here are some of the answers staff came up with at a Back-to-School Pep Rally last week:
And it’s all possible--VERY possible--because of all the hard work staff and volunteers (YOU!) put into helping these families. Thank you!
The Textbook Community’s Reading Conventions are an essential starting point for the ways we lay out and navigate through all of the elements on a page in a book. It’s not possible to remember all these guidelines, so it's important that we have these "living" documents to reference while we record. We utilize volunteer feedback, observations of common errors, and member feedback to craft all of our guidelines documents.
All Textbook Community Staff from every recording community gather together at least quarterly and if not more to review new suggestions for guidelines improvements and to discuss the common errors or areas in recordings that need better instruction. The main two documents every Textbook Community volunteer should consider are our Conventions WIKI, and the Figure Description Crib Sheets (FDCS). These main documents will not be updated more than once per year, and when they are, we like to follow a release either during the months of June, or January.This time, we released the updated Conventions WIKI and FDCS on July 31st.
There are several specific SUBJECT area guidelines to review as well. Some areas just demand a deeper dive. For example, we recently released the Writing/Style Guide Conventions, which were crafted by our wonderful staffer, Stacie Court, and volunteer, Elizabeth Hoffman. These guidelines will be essential to tackle the upcoming English Language texts that will be flooding our communities in the upcoming school year. Staff will likely enlist the help of other volunteers when needed to help with guidelines, so if you are interested, let us know and we'll be sure to reach out when we need the help.
We also currently have Computer and Code Guidelines (updates sent 6/13/19), Math Reading Guidelines (expected review and update on or before 10/1/19), Science Terms and Conventions, Foreign Language WIKI (released 7/31/19), and Common Abbreviations (updates sent 6/13/19) documents. The revised Common Abbreviations document is arranged in alphabetical order and there are two columns, with one column showing the symbol’s name and the other column highlights how these symbols should be pronounced. All are or will become available on our Volunteer Portal under the Resources Tab.
We welcome feedback and suggestions for our conventions in the Suggestions Form and as noted above, we'll add them to our annual review. It takes many minds and resources to pull together the guidelines and we hope they are helpful to all as they navigate the books that serve so many of our student learners! It’s only because of our great volunteers and staff that we are able to help students in their education.
Recently there have been some questions from volunteers about Learning Ally and why we create audiobooks that are also readily available on other platforms such as Audible.
Indeed, many of our books have existing audiobook versions. The reason for needing a new recording is related to copyright law. As an educational non-profit, Learning Ally has the right to create audio versions of copyrighted material because of the population we serve, those who struggle to read. This includes those with dyslexia, visual impairment, physical disabilities that make accessing text difficult, or other barriers to reading. We operate under the Marrakesh Treaty, which is an international copyright agreement designed to help ensure access to printed material to those that would otherwise be denied.
So we rely on talented volunteers like you to record our books even when other versions exist. One additional and unique feature that Learning Ally provides is that our final product for Literature books is an ebook with sentence-level highlighting that is synced with your voice-- what we call VOICEtext. Other text-to-speech engines can do this, but not with human-read audio.
Also, using Learning Ally's catalog means that students can access thousands of books, most often through their school, without having to purchase individual audio-only titles, the combined cost of which would render them inaccessible to most of our students. So you should all know that by volunteering, you are creating a tremendously impactful experience for students who struggle to read, potentially changing their educational outcomes (and lives) in the process!
Here's an example of the finished product from a recent popular title. It was made into a movie as well - The Hate U Give:
So.....what is this Marrakesh Treaty?
The Marrakesh Treaty is international copyright law. The treaty allows Learning Ally to produce and record copyrighted audiobooks because we serve kids with learning differences. Marrakesh Treaty, in particular, allows us to provide help to students with a reading deficit, blindness or visual impairment and other physical impairments such as cerebral palsy, etc. Once students are evaluated by qualified educators or medical professional, then they become eligible to use our services.
Marrakesh Treaty, in particular, allows us to provide help to students with a reading deficit,
blindness or visual impairment and other physical impairments.
Studies estimate that 20% of students may be eligible for our services, so the work we do every day is very important and we want to reach more students and individuals who can benefit from our services.
As always, Learning Ally is immensely grateful for the great work done by our volunteers and staff!
Abigail Shaw, staff member with Learning Ally’s College Success Program, with her guide dog, Kit
Students love Learning Ally! Here’s a message from just one member of our ever-growing fan club:
I’m looking forward to this semester because for once I was actually able to get my textbook list ahead of time and found most of the books on Learning Ally, so there’s one less thing I have to worry about...I will enjoy my classes and they seem interesting so I’m looking forward to that.
College Success Program student
Sophomore from Long Island
Another big fan is Sadie Regardie. A student in the Fairfax County Public Schools, Sadie read A LOT this summer, participating in our Summer Reading Together contest. Sadie not only read at home--she even took her books on vacation! How many kids want to read on vacation? Sadie entered our social media part of the contest as well, and her entry shows how audiobooks can not only build enthusiasm for reading but also expose students to concepts and vocabulary. Sadie says about Learning Ally, “...it has helped me persevere in reading. Makes the book make sense and makes reading more fun.” Click here to watch Sadie’s video entry:
Sadie’s mother, Jenn Regardie, is a key influencer for Learning Ally in their school district, and will be a panelist for one of our upcoming edWebinars. For more information about this educational opportunity, click here:
Our readers increased to 212,034
We had 47,285 reading at frequency*
Pages read by school readers increased by 63% over this time last year!
Happy Summer, and Happy Reading, everyone!
Meet our young volunteer, Seyun, who recently went on a trip to Buryatia, Russia, where she taught English to young kids. She and other high- schoolers coordinated the events for these children and they did a wonderful job. Read on to learn about our volunteer...
What do you do at Learning Ally?
I am a reader volunteer at the Literature Community in Learning Ally. I first started out as a listener at the Textbook Community, though, after my first training as a Textbook listener. Then gradually, I became a textbook reader, and then slowly transitioned into the literature community.
How long have you volunteered at Learning Ally?
I embarked on my journey as a volunteer at Learning Ally from June 2018, so it has been a little over a year since I volunteered at Learning Ally.
What made you want to volunteer at Learning Ally?
Currently, I am a rising senior in high school. During the first three years of high school, I have been participating in an Asia Pacific Forensics Competition, competing in Oral Interpretation and Solo Acting. I have always known about Learning Ally after my research online because I knew I wanted to assist those who struggle with education and words. By experiencing the power of words through my competitions, I longed to share the burden of those who grapple with words in their daily lives. In my prospective college, I want to study cognitive-linguistic science, psychology, and possibly education, but I did not start my Learning Ally volunteering until 2018 because I did not yet feel qualified to listen and read the books. However, after receiving two champions and one silver for Oral Interpretation and one champion for Solo Acting, I finally felt ready, and thus began my volunteer work at Learning Ally. In addition, meeting Hannah, my dyslexic friend, in January of 2018 influenced me to look into Learning Ally more and start volunteering.
What's something people at LA don't know about you?
I am comparably a newcomer at Learning Ally, so there are various things I could uncover about myself. One thing most people at Learning Ally do not know about me is that I am Korean-living in China, seventeen, and am left-handed (that looks like more than one, but they are all descriptions to the "Korean," so technically, it is one!).
What do you like most about volunteering at LA?
Working at Learning Ally has taught me so much: time management, communication, passion, etc. The one thing I absolutely LOVE about Learning Ally is its volunteers. Although I have not been volunteering for a long time, every single person I communicated with throughout my one-year adventure has been helpful, encouraging, and polite. By knowing that I am volunteering with people who share the same passion of education for those who might be excluded in our everyday lives, I am able to both mature as a reader and a person. Whenever I was faced with a problem, I had people to talk to, who never failed to provide me with a solution or suggestion. Whenever I felt tired of reading the same line for the one-thousandth time, the emails from the volunteers reminded me of the smiles I will be able to bring to the students' faces, thereby, motivating me to do better. Without these volunteers, I would not have made it thus far, and I am delighted to be part of the community, and possibly that helper for other volunteers in the future.
Do you have any advice for prospective LA volunteers?
What is your favorite audiobook/ book if you have any?
This is a difficult question; I have so many favorite books! My three absolute favorites are Tuesdays With Morrie- Mitch Albom, The Neverending Story-Michael Ende, and The Shack-William P. Young.
What do you do during your free time?
Read, watch movies, go to the gym. Books and movies for the soul + mind, and gym for the body. I adore food, so I like to think that by working out, I can excuse myself for my eating.
What is your favorite movie or TV series?
My favorite movie is Inception directed by Christopher Nolan. The whole concept of the mind and dreams inside a dream completely stunned me when I first watched it in freshman year, with my sister. I have watched the movie seven times now and it infallibly shocks me every time.