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“You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give.” ~Winston Churchill


One Mom's Message to You

 

 

 

Learning Ally Mom sits at her computer smiling.  Meanwhile, her teenage daughter has snuck up from behind, throws her arm over her mom's shoulder, and waves happily at the camera.  Both mother and daughter have big smiles on their faces.

 

 

It’s been a great week at Learning Ally!

 

Our readers increased to 191,499, with 37,212 at frequency* and over 111 million pages read!

 

Pages read increased by 74% over last year for school readers.

 

 

It is often said that a picture is worth a thousand words….and a video is worth even more!  Check out this video where Learning Ally Mom Karen tells us why our work is so important to her family:

https://youtu.be/7e_bWTHCPc8

 

 

*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.


Metrics Update

 

Malala Yousafzai, a young Pakistani woman, wears a colorful hijab

 

Let us remember: one book, one teacher, one child and one pen can change the world.

--Malala Yousafzai

 

We would add...and one volunteer!

 

Thanks to your hard work, our readers this week increased to 187,261 – with 35,953 at frequency* and over 108 million pages read!

 

Pages read increased by 75% over last year for school readers.


 

Thank you for all your hard work that makes our learners’ successes possible!



 

*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.

 

 

 


From the Training Center: What's VHOC?

Hello all! Our Storyteller course has taken off, and more volunteers are donating more hours to our at-home programs than ever before! If you're a Textbook volunteer wishing to show off your performer's voice, or a Storyteller volunteer looking to demonstrate your subject mastery, check out the Textbook or Literature communities on the Volunteer portal to learn more.

  

What is the VHOC?

We mention the Volunteer Hands-On Center at a few points in our training, but we still have questions about how it fits into the training program. The VHOC serves as an apprenticeship. There just isn't enough time (or patience) for us to cover all of the content you'll encounter in book projects, so you need to do some on-the-job learning and the VHOC is where you'll get that exposure but with more supervision.

 

Screen image of Volunteer Hands-On Center welcome page

 

While working in the VHOC you'll be limited to checking the reading of other volunteers. This serves several purposes:

  • More modeling of good and bad reading: The samples and examples in the training program are brief slices, and some errors can only be recognized as a part of larger projects. You'll be the first line of defense against errors in your work, so you need to recognize problems in anyone's work.
  • Broader exposure to reading conventions: Not only are there many more particular rules and standards than we can cover in the brief lessons on reading conventions, the infinite variety of books means we often need to make judgment calls in how we apply them. Seeing more examples of the conventions in the application helps you internalize the lessons. 
  • Building your schedule: The training lessons can be finished in a couple of hours but book production requires dedicating hours of your time on a regular schedule. While working in the VHOC you can make sure you can be available as needed for volunteering.

 

VHOC book projects are the same book projects you'll find in the catalog of the Textbook community. The difference is that you'll use a request form, so the staff knows what work you'll be doing and you'll end each of your volunteer sessions by filling out a form to notify them of your progress. They'll have another volunteer take a QA pass through your work and offer feedback. (Once you graduate from the VHOC and join the Textbook community you'll be allowed to sign up for your own projects and there's no immediate follow-up checking on your checking work.)

 

As you demonstrate your abilities and knowledge, the staff of the VHOC will need to give you less advice and you'll gain more independence. Soon after that, you'll be allowed to train for reading, and maybe even become a peer mentor to other trainees new to volunteering with Learning Ally.

 

Congratulations Training Grads

Textbook Course: Thomas S., John G., Jane S., John K., Jaime H., Nicole M., Clara H., Suchetas B., Donna L-J., Qamara B., T.A. N., Leslie G., Cindy S., Christina J., Lorraine L.
Storyteller Course: Sayafiq B., Demetrius M., Alice C., Terri B., Angela J., Suzanna L., Lakshmi B., Natalia E., Erica H., Kenye A., Debbie R., Christine D., Carman W., Mary B., Elizabeth B., John T. T., Victoria S., Rowena P., Grace I., Nichalia S., Mak S., Nicole C., Stephanie S., Maria D., Elizabeth VK., Heidi B., Janet S., Sarah F., Brendan S., Ryan K., Jonathan M., Marion H., Mike Patrick M., Doug B., Christina J., J.K. M., Wallis T., Maggie, Sarah L., Rebecca U.
 


Great Reading Games: The Olympians of Nola Dunn

Tim Wilson, Learning Ally's Chief Financial Officer, sent out this message over the weekend:  

 

Forget March Madness, we’re celebrating Olympians today! Terrie Noland spent the day at Nola Dunn videoing their Great Reading Games awards ceremony. Terrie’s video is attached, along with her comments below about the ceremony.

Image of the front of Academy at Nola Dunn; traditional brick building with flags of USA and Texas flying in front a clear blue sky

 

 

Terrie, Learning Ally's Vice-President for Educator Initiatives, says: 

 

The students refer to themselves as “Olympians” at Nola Dunn Academy in Burleson, Texas.  They placed #1 in the GRG in the Orange Bracket.  When you are in 2nd grade, are diagnosed with dyslexia, have struggled to read, and accomplish amazing things in the GRG with Learning Ally, you give the District Superintendent a BIG high five in front of an entire audience of students and family.

 

 

To watch video of some of the award winners receiving their prizes, click here: 

 https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B3Svvfqr67MaY3I0VVdVXzVnSTBwT0lqcnJLRnhtSDBjbFRr/view?usp=sharing

 

 

Congratulations to ALL the students who participated in the Great Reading Games, and our deepest thanks to the parents, teachers, and administrators who supported them throughout this event!  Together it's possible...to transform the lives of struggling learners!

 


Tech Talk - How Do We Read Computer and Programming Books?

Learning Ally provides audio for a wide range of textbooks - from Music History to Economics to French Grammar to Geometry to Biochemistry! We have several specialized sub-fields within our Instructional Textbooks. Today, we’ll be taking an inside look at our Science & Technology Community, with our small but powerful Computer and Programming group.

 

What are these computer books all about?
Our Computer Science projects can be broken down into three main categories. The most common books are those that teach students how to use computer programs like Microsoft Word, Excel, AutoCAD, and more. Every now and then, we’ll get one or two books dealing with IT or computer service and repair. Finally, some of our more challenging projects are books on programming and markup languages like HTML, Java, and C++.

 

Help! How do I read  “⌘”?*

Sarah is confused by something on her Macbook. What is a Windows Key anyway?These Computer Skills and Programming books come with their own special challenges. How do we read a page full of program code? When do we use “hashtag” versus “pound”? You might be surprised to learn that there is actually a lot we don’t read in these projects. Most of our members are fully sighted, and many more have some usable vision. We don’t describe computer screenshots or read all of the punctuation in code. Our job is to focus on the textual detail, so that the students can focus on what they’re good at - thinking through code structure and building their tech skills.With our updated Computer and Code Guidelines, this Programming text isn't quite as difficult as it looks.

 

Our staff members can answer many questions, but we often rely on our expert volunteers as much as our own specialized knowledge and research skills. I’m Sarah Klipper, our Computer and Programming Text Lead. I work with our Science & Technology  Lead, Christine Hoffman, on everyday problems and tricky questions in our Science & Tech projects. To better deal with quirky computer lingo, I developed our Computer and Code Guidelines following Christine’s and the Science volunteers’ work on the Science Terms and Conventions as a guide. I’m grateful to have plenty of help with these Guidelines from our programmer volunteers, who know how some of these arcane terms are used in the classroom and in professional circles.

 

Google Hangouts are a big help with this kind of group collaboration; our Computer/Code Chat Group has been absolutely invaluable as we help each other figure out pronunciations and usage of coding syntax. Many thanks go to Ev Tate, Joseph “Old Joe” Clark, Ann Bouchard, and Kim Dauber for their contributions in this chat and various project Hangouts. Many thanks also to volunteer alumnus (and Staff husband) Michael Klipper for his help with Computer Science concepts.

 

A stick figure hero swoops in over a computer. Stand back, he knows regular expressions!Want to learn more about computers but too scared to try? We’re here to help…  and if we don’t have the answer, we can help you find one. ;-) 

 

*That ⌘ symbol is the Command key on a Macintosh computer.


Team Project Site

As our Instructional Production team begins to position ourselves for growth, we are piloting some new opportunities for increased involvement with our volunteers.  One of these new pilots includes our Project Guidelines Pilot, known also as “Team Project Site”.

 

Staff has been working to create our structure and processes to include:

  • Step by step procedures for creating project guidelines.

  • Creating a library of Project Guideline templates; organized by publisher.

  • Training and working closely with volunteers on the creation of our project guidelines.

  • New structure to our current Project Guidelines.  

 

Thank you to Team Project Site member Susan Wilson, who has been the first brave soul to start this pilot and has been doing great!  With Susan’s help, we have already added over twenty new projects to our Upper Instructional Community.

 

We’d like to welcome new member Kathy Cummings to Team Project Site. She is currently working with Upper Instructional, but will soon be joining the Lower Instructional group.

 

Here are some great new features in our Project Guidelines to keep an eye out for:

 


 

If you are interested in joining our Project Guidelines please reach out to Audrey in your Staff Hangout.  Once again, thanks for all you do!!!


Volunteer Spotlight: J.B. Kump Loves Travel!

 

The Kump family travels in childhood were limited to infrequent summer vacations from Missouri to Colorado and weekend trips to his grandparents farm in rural Missouri. It wasn’t until Kump joined the U.S. Air Force in 1968 as a recently married college graduate that the travels really began. Included in the couples travels are multiple islands in the Philippines, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Yugoslavia, The Czech Republic, Hawaii, Mexico, Cayman Islands, Honduras and all but about 6 States in the United States.

 

“As much as I enjoy travel; on planes, autos, RVs, boats, or horseback,” says Kump, “what I really love doing is reading to others. Learning Ally has given me a wonderful outlet for that gift and it has allowed me to help others learn in the process - what could be better than that?!”

 

Kump has used his reading and speaking interest in a variety of other ways over the years. He was an official spokesman for the U.S. Government in a series of overseas postings, during such international events as President Reagan’s visit to Berlin, Germany (see the side-by-side photos of Kump and his wife, Shirley taken at the same spot in Berlin 20 years apart; the first in 1985, in uniform as an Air Force Lt. Col. and the second as a tourist in 2006). Later, Kump served as a news media liaison for two major aerospace corporations during the Space Shuttle program at Kennedy Space Center. He has also served as an emcee for a number of non-profit fund raising gala’s and community events as Chairman of the local Chamber of Commerce. 


That speaking continues to come in handy in his role as Pastor in a local, non-denominational church near the couples home on the Space Coast of Florida.

 

“I can remember during reading time in grade school raising my hand hoping to be called on to read aloud,” said Kump. “It was the first thing I can remember being able to do with any success.” His reading ability caused him to be recruited for the debate team in high school and in competitive speech contests, helping him earn a scholarship to a college.  Later, Kump would use his reading abilities on stage in Summer stock and in college theater productions. 

 

“Reading allows you to travel anywhere in your mind,” says Kump, “And I love being able to take people to far places when I read to them.” When he earned a Masters degree in Education, Kump recognized that in most systems, learning takes place by reading. But not everyone has the same ability or interest in reading. “That’s why Learning Ally is so important,” believes Kump.  “Anyone can play a role in that process too. As much as anything, donors are needed to keep the service operating. Reading the comments from students who have been helped by Learning Ally makes it so rewarding.”


Updates from the Training Center for March 2019

Hello Volunteers!

March means it’s time for our annual Building Books for Student Success fundraising events. We aim to raise $100,000 by May 31st through the efforts of our Learning Ally staff, our parent community, and volunteers like you. Visit the Building Books for Student Success Campaign Homepage to learn more about the program and all the ways that you can help. Every $1,500 we raise provides a school, and all their students, with access to our library and educator support services. 

Fundraising page preview image.

You can set up your own fundraising page in three easy steps and get started right now!

 

Evaluation Study

This spring, we are sending out surveys and some interview requests to those who registered as a new volunteer or enrolled in a course in the last 6 months. This is part of our efforts to provide an excellent training experience for all, and we hope you are able to respond and provide honest and thoughtful feedback to help us improve the training process!

 

Congratulations Training Grads

Textbook: Nicole M., Clara H., Michelle S., Thomas S., Suchetas B., Donna L-J., Qamara B.
Storyteller: Joseph H., Maryfran A., Kristine R., Rowena P., Syafiq B., Nichalia S., Carman W., Makenzie S-R., 
 


Team TOCTool, At Your Service!

 

Do you ever wonder how the textbooks make it into EasyBooks?  How does THIS:

 

Page from Spanish-language social studies book: ¿Qué es una comunidad?

 

 

 

become THIS?

 

EasyBooks screen, showing headings from previous Spanish book image



 

In the past, only staff, and maybe a very few scattered volunteers, set up books for production.  In late 2017, however, Learning Ally created a Pre-Production Community also known as Team TOCTool.  Currently, eight dedicated volunteers work on setting up books, using the TOCTool program to transform the information from pdfs into .html files for EasyBooks. TOCToolers serve the community in a very special way, making the recording process easier for the other volunteers, and lightening the load for staff members, who still set up books as well, but now have some relief so they can focus on other tasks.


 


 

The requirements of this job are an eye (and love) for detail, some computer ability, regular time to devote to the task, patience, and a PC (sorry, no Macs right now--but we’re working on a new version of the program for the future).  Going through the pdf page by page, the TOCTooler types in every heading and its placement within the book, creating files along the way. One TOCTooler says, “It’s a great way to get to know the books very intimately, and to see ahead of time which books I might like to read or QC.”  

 

Volunteer Caren Snook smiles as she takes a break from setting up the language arts book (computer screen with book and TOCTool images in background)

Caren Snook is one of our most prolific TOCToolers, working steadily to provide the other volunteers with books to work on. Caren first joined the Learning Ally Athens (Georgia) Studio in 1973 and has put in well over 5,000 hours (not including undocumented hours from the “old days”).  Over her 46 years with Learning Ally, Caren has served as a TOCTooler, Reader, Checker, bookmarker, local Board President, events tabler--she’s seen it all! Caren says about TOCTool, “The logic is appealing and the attention to detail that is required fits my personality...I really enjoy reading, but my house does not include a good space for that.”  TOCTooling fits her schedule, and the house doesn’t have to be quiet for her to do it.
 

A former teacher, Caren’s love of Learning Ally led her recently to audit classes at the University of Georgia, classes required for the Graduate Certificate in Dyslexia.  While attending these classes, Caren had the opportunity to learn more about the needs of our learners, and that knowledge has made her even more focused on excellence in her volunteer work, saying, “...it is incumbent on every volunteer to do his/her best every time...take time to find out the correct pronunciation...to reread the conventions...Recognize that everyone makes occasional errors, and learn from yours...If you aren’t feeling well, give yourself a break and take a day off. Our students are depending on you!”
 

As a team in the last calendar year, the group set up over 200 books for the Textbook Community!  Other current members of TeamTOCTool are:
 

 
Jaqui 
Bradley,
a former cloistered Franciscan nun and ongoing kitten rescue volunteer who started at the Upland (California) Studio in 2007 and also currently serves as a volunteer mentor in the VHOC.


TOCTooler Jaci Collins smiling at the camera, wearing a boatneck white blouse, drop earrings, and a large pendant

Jaci Collins, who joined the Austin (Texas) Studio in 1998 and continues to read and QC as well.


TOCTooler Elizabeth DeLaney Hoffman, smiling at the camera.  She has short white hair, dark-framed glasses, and a thick necklace of varying shades of green that match her green top.

Elizabeth DeLaney Hoffman, who joined the Athens Studio in 2015 and also serves as a Volunteer Coordinator.


TOCTooler Pat Lim.  Street scene, before crossing street: arms spread, sunglasses on, smiling as she points to an exceptionally large ice cream shop sign across the street

Pat Lim, a freelance technical writer in the bio-pharmaceutical field who joined the Menlo Park (California) Studio in 2011.

 

TOCtooler Jim Siewert, outside in front of a large bush, wearing a dark green cap with a Green Bay logo

Jim Siewert, a retired Honeywell engineer who started volunteering at the Philadelphia (Pennsylvania) Studio in 2004 and whose primary TOCTool focus is books for the Math Community.
 

Susan Wilson, a former corporate lawyer and current law school instructor who joined the Athens Studio in 2016; Susan not only works on TOCTool but is also helping Audrey Santos pilot a program for volunteers to create project sites  (no photo available).

TOCTooler Beira Winter standing smiling in front of the Rose Bowl Parade float she helped with this year.  The float features a funky-looking house with crooked shutters, and a large cat in front playing the fiddle

Beira Winter, who first joined the Hollywood (California) Studio in 2000, and besides all of her work for Learning Ally, also helped with her community’s float for this year’s Rose Bowl Parade.

 

Think you have what it takes to become a TOCTooler?  Team TOCTool is open to any interested volunteer with the desire to try the task.  For more information, contact Stacie Court sCourt@LearningAlly.org,  or mention joining us in your STAFF Hangout.  We’d love to have you on Team TOCTool!

 


Tech Tips: Audio & Microphone

Let’s talk about audio and selecting the correct recording device! We do have Recommended Equipment lists for each community in the Resources section of this website, but I wanted to talk about some recording and microphone tips.

 

First of all, I'd like to thank our pro and semi-pro narrators...we really appreciate you lending us your wonderful voices for some pretty awesome juvenile fiction titles that engage our students! One thing we do ask is that you not condition your audio before you send it to us...don’t adjust the volume after recording, normalize, remove noise, etc. We have our own post-production audio processing that will take care of minor audio issues, and if you do anything to it as well, it comes out sounding over-processed and artificial. Be sure to use the correct audio format and sample rate as well. Here's a recent example that sounds over-processed (great narration, but definitely some audio issues):

 

Another common issue is not realizing which recording device is selected. This is an easy mistake that can happen in any recording software. When you play back your recording, listen carefully and if it sounds “roomy” or distant, it might be using the wrong recording device. In Audacity, the microphone is selected at the top of the screen:

Audacity's mic selection is shown

 

 

The place to select the recording device differs in other audio software, of course. 

 

In EasyBooks, look at the bottom of the screen where it says Input:

EasyBooks bottom of screen where Input is shown

 

 

 

 

If it’s blank or doesn't look right, click the settings gear icon on the left and choose a different input device and click OK. 


We hope this helps but don't hesitate to ask for assistance if you're not happy with your audio quality...we are here to help!