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Hello Learning Ally volunteers...we're glad to be back after our holiday break, and we have lots to plan for in the coming year!
We're continuing our Office Hours program, with a weekly free-form web meeting so that volunteers can ask Learning Ally staff about the training programs, EasyBooks, or other subjects of Learning Ally book production. In the new year, these meetings will be on Thursdays at 3:30 PM Eastern, 12:30 PM Pacific. Update your calendars.
The Literature Listener Training course is now ready. This course is intended for volunteers who want to get involved with our Literature community, but as reviewers and checkers rather than narrators. Because many of our Literature community narrators are voice-over industry professionals, we need extra help to ensure we make the best use their talents and the work meets our standards for high quality. You can do your part and enjoy the work of these narrators by becoming a Listener volunteer!
If you want to get involved, head right over to the volunteer training website and sign in to the Listener Course. You'll find a familiar but streamlined learning experience. It will help you get started listening, reviewing, and improving the "lighter fare" that keep our students engaged and builds their love of reading.
One of the challenges of software development is making software work on as many computers and devices as possible. To maximize the number of volunteers who can use our EasyBooks application we're developing it as a web app. Our web version of EasyBooks is an online interactive website, requiring only that the user has a browser that can open the page. This means it is "platform agnostic" and should eventually run on PC, Mac, iPad, and nearly any other computer or smart device.
We're starting with the basics, so this version does not have the ability to record yet and can only be used to listen to files and check them. There are plenty of features that need to be added and bugs that need to be chased down, but if you have the knack for some technical thinking, then you can get involved in this testing program and offer the feedback we need to move forward with this innovation.
To get involved in testing this next generation of our production technology, you can email Eleanor Cotton (firstname.lastname@example.org) and join the group of volunteer testers.
Henry M., Jim P., Michelle B., Mike P., Shawn V., Barbar H-W., Joan L., Kelley H., Kimberly S., Jason O., Cynthia M., Aaryan B., Samir K., Alison T., Bonnie H., Jamie L., Glenn K., Garry Z., Judi S., Sanjeev J., Chris J., DaKaylah J., Nick G.
No matter our background, most of us will very soon be celebrating New Year’s Day, even if it’s just the day we stop writing “2019” on checks (checks? how old-fashioned!). Have you ever wondered how January 1st became recognized as New Year’s Day throughout most of the modern world?
Image: Babylonian New Year’s festival of Akitu
According to multiple sources, the earliest recorded New Year’s celebration was a long time ago in Mesopotamia (c. 2000 BC). Then, the new year was recognized as beginning with the vernal equinox (mid-March for us today). Other cultures, such as the Egyptians, Phoenicians, and Persians, celebrated the new year at the autumnal equinox (our mid-September).
Image: Roman Colosseum
The Romans originally celebrated New Year's on March 1st of their ten-month, 304-day calendar (side note: the reason our last four months are named “SEPTember”, “OCTober”, “NOVember”, and “DECember” is because they were the seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth months of the year). Somewhere around 700 BCE two new months, January and February, were added, but New Year’s was still celebrated on March 1st.
Around 153 BCE the Roman civil year began on January 1st, so many people started celebrating New Year’s on January 1st at that point. However, it was not an official change and many people continued celebrating New Year’s in March.
Image: Julius Caesar Image: Janus, God of Gates
The Julian Calendar was introduced by Julius Caesar in 46 BCE, along with a decree that New Year’s would be celebrated on January 1st, to coincide with the civil year and the celebration of Janus, the god of gates. So, January 1st was THE date...for a while, anyway…
In 567 CE the Council of Tours abolished January 1st as the date for New Year’s. Until the institution of the Gregorian Calendar by the Council of Nicaea in 1582, New Year’s was celebrated on a number of days throughout medieval Europe, often coinciding with major Christian feasts, ranging from December 25th (Birth of Christ) to March 25th (Feast of the Annunciation).
Images: front page of Gregorian Calendar; Pope Gregory XIII
HOWEVER...Pope Gregory’s calendar still didn’t unify Europe under one New Year’s celebration. For example, the British (and their colonies) did not switch to the Gregorian calendar until 1752. Today, most of the world uses the Gregorian calendar, and observes January 1st as the beginning of the New Year.
Modern countries that do not use the Gregorian calendar include Afghanistan, Iran, Ethiopia, and Nepal. Countries that use their own plus the Gregorian calendar include Bangladesh, India, and Israel. Countries that use modified versions of the Gregorian calendar include Taiwan, Thailand, North Korea, and Japan. China uses the Gregorian calendar for civil record-keeping but use the traditional Chinese calendar for the dates of festivals.
Image: polar bear plunge
All cultures that observe New Year’s have developed traditions around the celebrations. Some of these traditions include making resolutions for the New Year; dressing up for parties on New Year’s Eve, with a special toast and noisemakers at midnight; polar bear plunges into frigid water; eating special foods for luck such as black-eyed peas, lentils, soba noodles, or grapes; and singing “Auld Lang Syne” around a bonfire. Here in the U.S., it’s often a time to gather with friends and family to watch a bowl game on tv (or, if you plan ahead, attend one live).
Image: volunteer recording an audiobook for Learning Ally
Anyway you celebrate it, the New Year is always felt to be a time for new beginnings and fresh starts, a time for casting off the old and ringing in the new. What new and exciting things will you do this year? Maybe...help with more books for Learning Ally? Go through Reader Training and become a Reader/Narrator? Become a mentor to new volunteers? Maybe you’ll get some of your friends involved, and start your own local Learning Ally group? The sky’s the limit!
It’s going to be a wonderful year! Happy 2020, everyone!
Image: Eleanor Roosevelt with quotation, "The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams."
After winning one of two nominations at the Voice Arts Awards Gala last month, we are thrilled that Learning Ally has been invited to the VO Atlanta Voiceover Conference this year. Michael Kinsey and Paula Restrepo will be presenting at #VOAtlanta for the #AudiobookAcademy on March 27 and 28. This is a spectacular achievement!
Check out the link below for more information:
Metrics Update for this week:
Our readers last week increased to 156,262, with over 51 million pages read and 16,916 at frequency – a 24% increase over last year for schools!
(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.)
Happy reading, recording and listening!
Thanks to all our volunteers in the Instructional Textbook Community for their dedication.
Information by Lori Leland.
We hope you had a pleasant Thanksgiving holiday. We know that many Learning Ally students are thankful for the work that you've done, making their reading experiences engaging and valuable and expanding their opportunities. Your support and dedication makes our work more rewarding and even the challenges you bring us are more chances to excel. Thank you!
Our third training program launches in January: Literature Listener Training. In this program we'll train volunteers to be the quality checking team in support of our Storybook narration program. Though it is similar to the training for Textbook checking in some ways, there are other factors that need to be considered when evaluating dramatic works of fiction.
We're looking for some "beta testers" to get involved and help us look for flaws in the new lessons before they are released. Please contact email@example.com if you are interested.
The Listener Training program will be available to all volunteers on January 1st, 2020.
Please be aware that all Learning Ally offices are closed for the week between December 24th and January 1st. During that time there may be significant delays in email correspondence and the availability of chat support. Regular online meetings are also suspended that week. We hope you have a happy and safe holiday!
Learning Ally staff are online to answer your questions live on Wednesdays at 2 PM EST. You'll find links, and more information on the training site.
Wendy S., Tony J., Steven S., Stephen I., Shannon B., Michael L., Marti C., Lori B., Lisa B., Lisa B., Kayla H., Judi S., Joseph E., Joel S., Joanna S., Jack D., Christine L., Cassie M., Avery R., Anna L., Garry Z., Buddy S., Julie W., Mark M., and Nick G.
This season while shopping online for gifts, please consider using our Learning Ally Amazon Smile account. When you do, 5% of your purchases are donated to Learning Ally. All you have to do is shop for gifts and other items as you normally would on Amazon. Just make sure you bookmark and shop from our Learning Ally Amazon Smile URL.
Please note that for this to work, you need to make all of your purchases through the AmazonSmile site. Purchases through the regular Amazon site and their mobile app will not give a donation. Here are some tips to make it easy:
Please share with family and friends and continue to use the Learning Ally Amazon Smile URL when you shop on Amazon even after the holidays. It is at no cost to you! Thank you for your multiple efforts in supporting our struggling learners!
Watch the video below to understand why we are excited about Learning Ally's Great Reading Games event!
Learning Ally's Great Reading Games is a 7-week event proven to help educators engage students and increase reading stamina. Struggling readers return to class each day excited to see how many pages they read and if their school has moved up on one of the 12 school leaderboards. Dyslexic and struggling readers have the motivation they need and the recognition they deserve for their reading achievements! The 2020 Great Reading Games will run from 1/13/20- 2/29/20!
Here are some highlights from last year’s Reading Games:
• 2,086 schools participated in the 2019 Great Reading Games.
• 37,500 participating students read close to 12 million pages throughout the 2019 Great Reading Games.
• 12 schools earned the coveted title of “1st Place in their Bracket”. 120 total schools were awarded prizes.
• Schools participated in social media challenges, which allowed them to celebrate their success and accomplishments.
• 2020 will be the biggest Great Reading Games yet!
How can you help?
“I am a 6th grade Sped Teacher and the fact that my students can read books that their peers are reading does wonder for their confidence. Most of my students LOVE reading on LA. The Reading Games were FANTASTIC!! They begged to go on, we came in 4th place for our division. They have never experienced such success with reading and it was amazing. Thank you so much for that. Thank you for the shirts and the earbuds and the certificates, they walked around proudly that day! I love Learning Ally."
“I LOVE LEARNING ALLY!!! I could be your spokesperson!!! It is difficult to find quality reading resources to help high school-aged students but this is perfect!!! We subscribed for the 2018-19 school year. We promoted it during the first semester, but no one used it. At the start of the new year, I started going into classrooms, signing up students, and modeling how to use it for teachers and students together. About 30 kiddos began to use it, some more than others. There are about 16 who use it regularly. These students have been changed by this gift of reading! They show a new sense of pride where before they were embarrassed about their reading abilities. Several of them have even stopped into my library office to share with me about how much THEY love it and how it is helping them! One of them even placed 6th in our division for the Learning Ally Great Reading Challenge that ended in February! We are ending the year with these students reading over 18,000 pages and having spent over 300 hours reading! I am so proud of them and so happy to have found Learning Ally! In my 30 years of teaching, I have not found anything that has helped high school readers like Learning Ally. Thank you!”
Once again, the Production and Volunteer Nation teams are thrilled to share that after two of our books being nominated for the Voice Arts Awards by the Society of Voice Arts and Sciences, the leading industry organization for professional voiceover work, we have won in one of the two nominations. These nominations are for the best of the best in the Voiceover world! Award winners were announced on Sunday, November 17th during the Voice Arts® Awards Gala at Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, CA
Learning Ally’s book was the winner for Audiobook Narration – History, Best Voiceover category, going to Learning Ally volunteer Dave Fennoy for his work on March Book Three by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell. Dave is a well-known industry powerhouse, with extensive experience in commercials, documentaries, and especially video games. His vast talent is put to work on this amazing project, as he brings Lewis's searing memoir of the fight for Civil Rights to life in an extraordinarily vivid way. See a picture of Dave with the award!
Take a listen to the "book trailer" below to hear this great voice, and then add to your bookshelf to listen to the whole thing!
March Book Three: Learning Ally Audiobook Trailer
Catalog link for March, Book 3: NA898
The second nomination we had was for Audiobook Narration – Teens, Best Voiceover, going to Learning Ally volunteer and intern Clyla Destiny for her work on Unbound by Ann E. Burg. Although this her very first audiobook, Clyla turned in a fantastic performance and is competing with narrators with hundreds of books of experience! Her background in spoken-word poetry proved a good match for this unforgettable story of escaped slaves fighting for survival.
Unbound: Learning Ally Audiobook Trailer
Catalog link for Unbound: A Novel in Verse: NA591
Like all of our books, these nominees were part of a real team effort! Additional production credits and congratulations on these nominations go to volunteers Susan Smith and John Arnott, as well as staff members Dave Kozemchak, Michael Kinsey, Alexis Bourbeau, and Kevin Ziegler.
Take a listen to the "book trailers" on the links above. Enjoy!
Help! I need somebody,
Help! Not just anybody,
Help, you know I need someone,
Won’t you please, please help me, help me, help me, oh!
Hi, folks. We need your help.
Sometimes we’re looking for someone with a specific skill set (ex. Classical Latin experience; fundraising background; technical development skills; etc.). The easiest way for us to find these folks is through the entries in the Volunteer Portal. By keeping your personal information section up-to-date, you save us time and help us find you when we need you.
To update your information:
Go to the Volunteer Portal: https://volunteers.learningally.org/
Click on Log Hours and log in:
Click on the My Profile Tab:
Scroll down and check off boxes that apply to you, and update any outdated information:
Continue scrolling and checking as applicable, click SAVE in each section:
Once you’ve checked and saved everything you’re interested in, scroll to the bottom and click Exit:
It’s as easy as pumpkin pie! Thank you for keeping your information up-to-date. Correct information improves our efficiency and helps us better serve the students we’re trying to help.
Probably the most abstract concept in an audiobook, marks are what tie the audio of a book to the text. They are the time information that guides our Learning Ally solution software to the pages, headings, and sections that make up a book. When a borrower wants to skip to page 43, it's the "Page 43" mark that tells the program where to go.
How many marks are in a book? That varies from book to book but you'll always find them on headings like chapter breaks and the start of each page. In books with on-screen text, the marks may go to the paragraph level for older projects, or just pages, headings,and before and after images in more recent projects.
Narrators recording in EasyBooks are responsible for recording the mark information, usually as they record the audio although some prefer to record everything and insert marks later. Our EasyBooks software doesn't only record audio, it can record marks as well, creating a list of timings that will be used when the audio is synced to the sentence level for our VOICEtext audiobooks. Recording those marks is as easy as pressing an on-screen button (or better yet, the quieter "M" key) while recording the audio.
Notice how the mark is represented by a line that appears on the display? You can also see the mark as a length of time number in the mark list on the left. Also, note how that mark sits in a small silence. The narrator makes the mark in the pauses that naturally reflect the punctuation at the end of sentences. That means each segment of the book will have a clean start.
If the audio has been recorded with some other software, it will not have mark timings and they are added as part of the review process. The files are converted into an EasyBooks project. Then the reviewer listens to the recording, using the Mark controls to add them. If the narrator hasn't left those comfortable pauses on the ends of sentences, they need to edit in small spans of room tone from silence recorded by the narrator. This adds a lot of tedious work to reviewing, so narrators need to take care with phrasing and pace when recording.
Once the marks are in the file we can manipulate them. We can adjust the timing to perfect it, so that when the borrower skips to the second paragraph on page 43 the narrator says "I shook my head," and not "-ook my head." Making these changes is as easy as clicking and dragging the lines on the display.
One of the more complicated errors that we encounter happens when a narrator or reviewer makes a careless delete that goes over the boundaries of two marks. With no distance between them, the marks collapse to the exact same time.
The mark line in the waveform display turns into this double-arrow line, indicating two marks with no time between them. In addition, the mark index shows a zero time length:
Fortunately there is an easy fix. By clicking and dragging on the mark line, you can separate the marks. Now you just need to figure out where the marks belong and drag them into place.
Fixing a double-mark error can be especially tricky if the section has been completely recorded. After all, a stacked mark isn't gone, just hidden. It might look like the work is incomplete, but the Mark button is grayed out, meaning there are no marks left to place. In that case, the reviewer needs to look for blanks in the mark index to see where the marks have been collapsed, separate them by dragging one of the marks, and you may need to copy and paste some silence or room tone to give you the spacing you need.
For more guidance on marks and marking, including ways to move groups of marks for faster edits, refer to Storyteller Lessons 3-3, Textbook Lessons 3-1 and 3-2, and Course Resources for Checking.
Learning Ally staff are online to answer your questions live on alternating Wednesdays at 2 PM EST. You'll find links, and more information on the training site.