October 13, 2019
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Marc Richman started volunteering in March 2020 and has since contributed to reading textbook chapters ranging from design work to U.S. history and has even dabbled in a literature project set in the 13th century. In his professional career, Marc is a computer programmer, but he has interest in subjects such as art, science, language, literature, philosophy, singing, and now, narration.
Marc first discovered he enjoyed narration when reading stories to his children before bed. Once his children grew older, Marc began volunteering at an assisted living facility, where he read stories and articles to residents every week. Marc later heard about Learning Ally through a work colleague. With his passion and experience in narration, Marc thought recording audiobooks might be something he could do if given the opportunity. Now he says he is “tuned in to all things voice.”
When asked what motivates him to keep volunteering his time, Marc responded: “I really love the chance to create something -- using source text as the raw material. I enjoy bringing a bunch of my interests, ideas, and sensibilities to bear in transforming the written word into the spoken.” Marc said he feels encouraged by the mission of Learning Ally, as it has been heartening to see the dedication of all those who he has come in contact with, whether it is a volunteer or staff member. He added, "I am delighted to be involved with a mission that is so positive and participants that are always willing to help."
If you would like to try recording audiobooks for Learning Ally, Marc recommends gathering the equipment you need and jumping in. When he first started, Marc said he pushed himself to audition for a project in the Literature Community that needed a narrator with a British accent. Marc added: “Sure, I had Jim Dale and Eric Idle in my head, but could I really read a story -- out loud -- that anyone would want to listen to? Well I got that assignment, and I had tremendous fun with that project. It was a leap I'm glad I took.”
Three months later after taking that leap, Marc has contributed over 148 hours of service in the textbook, literature, and VHOC communities, bringing essential books to students in and outside the classroom.
Volunteers! We are grateful and overwhelmed by your tremendous support over these last few months. Through your efforts, we have been able to support more students with more audiobooks than ever before. Here are some numbers to show just how unbelievable you have all been:
As we head into the summer months, we will be focusing heavily on the most important books needed for summer reading, as well as for back to school in the fall.
Also, due to the unprecedented and appreciated influx of prospective volunteers during these last few months, we will be limiting new applications starting in July. This will allow us to catch up on communications to all of our new prospects, as well as continuing to support the onboarding of those that have progressed through training into our audiobook production communities or other new volunteer roles.
Please note, we will not always have consistent and continuous work for all volunteers. Please feel free to check in with your production staff leads when you are looking for work through your usual communication channels. We will also reach out directly when we have a specific project need that we feel is a good fit for your skills and interests.
Thank you again for your amazing work supporting our audiobook solution and for your commitment to our mission to transform the lives of struggling learners.
Yunqing Han, also known as Isabella, is an inspiring and determined high school junior from Beijing, China. She currently studies at a boarding school in Virginia, plays the piano in her free time and is a volunteer for Learning Ally! Yunqing has been reading with Learning Ally for almost 2 years now.
Yunqing’s journey with Learning Ally began after realizing she had a passion for education. Before becoming a volunteer, Yunqing’s school offered her a co-curriculum opportunity where she would spend 5 weeks in a professional setting. During this time, Yunqing was partnered with a special education school where she became a teaching assistant for students with severe physical and learning disabilities. After completing her time with the school, Yunqing became inspired to find more opportunities to help students. With a long browse on the internet and lots of determination, Yunqing found Learning Ally.
When asked how she balances schoolwork with volunteering and what incentivises her to do so, Yunqing said she found time to volunteer on the weekends when the school library was less crowded and more quiet. Yunqing said she also found added benefits to volunteering, other than being able to help students with learning differences.
Reading the textbooks and literature books has allowed Yunqing to improve her English fluency, as it is not her native tongue. When COVID-19 came about, Yunqing’s classes moved online and she had less opportunity to practice English with her classmates and teachers. Reading for Learning Ally gave her the opportunity to continue practicing her English conversation skills and improve pronunciations.
In addition to growing her speaking skills, Yunqing also did some studying while volunteering. She recalls: “I actually studied part of my AP European history exam with Learning Ally’s textbooks. I happened to be recording a chapter on the Ottoman, Safavid, and Mughal empires and by reading the material, I essentially reviewed what I needed to know about Islamic influences on Europe for the exam.”
When asked if the pandemic challenged her as a student and in volunteering, Yunqing found a silver lining. Due to the quarantine, Yunqing moved home to Beijing. Now that she is home, Yunqing records with an audience in her parents’ living room, rather than her quiet, private nook in the school library. From reading in front of her parents, Yunqing has discovered that she reads with more focus, clarity, and has a much better delivery when someone is sitting right beside her listening. Yunqing suggests that all readers/narrators pretend as if there is a person listening to them read. Not only does it improve your sound, but Yunqing says “Everytime when I feel like I do not want to continue reading after the first hour or so, I imagine someone sitting right in front of me saying ‘I want to listen to one more chapter’ and then I keep reading.” Yunqing added: “ I really enjoy reading for Learning Ally, sometimes I think it helps me more than I help it.”
Check out Yunqing Han's narration of "Yen-Shen: A Cinderella Story From China".
Yunqing, you are an inspiring, young professional. From all of us in the Volunteer Nation, we want to say thank you for all you do!
A Common New Volunteer Story
As a new volunteer excited to start helping our struggling students, you may start at our main website and fill out a registration form, but you then get sent to another site for training. You get an email response with the same links just in case you lose them, but maybe that email gets buried by others and although you logged into the training center and started a course, you're not sure how to get back to it, and what is this volunteer portal you've heard about as well and are you supposed to go there for training? And why can't you log in at LearningAlly.org to continue your training? How can you find your way?!
We know our various sites and resources can seem like a maze! Navigating our volunteer system can be challenging at times and producing audiobooks is not a simple task. We started weekly Training Office Hours meetings where new volunteers and recent graduates can tune in and ask questions and get answers right away. We are also available through our Training chat for quick questions, and both communities also use their own Google chat channels for communication too (Virtual Water Cooler, Literary Salon, Textbook Staff hangouts, etc.). And there's always email as well. Paula Restrepo and Lori Leland also reach out to volunteers via email and phone to ensure they have what they need to succeed as volunteers. We wish we could be there looking over your shoulder to help when you're stuck, but our virtual volunteering system doesn't allow us to be there with you physically.
What is virtual volunteering?
We use the term "virtual volunteering" sometimes to describe what you do since your volunteer activity is done online and from your own home. However, we do NOT consider you a "virtual volunteer"! You are very real and gracious folks who give your time and talents to help others succeed and we really, really appreciate you! We are here to help you navigate and figure out how you can help our students.
Try our new Volunteer Sitemap!
To alleviate some of this confusion, we created a Volunteer Sitemap mini-lesson that explains our various sites and what they do. New volunteers get a link to this in their initial emailed registration response, and it's also in our Virtual Training site dashboard and in the Volunteer Portal's Resources section at the bottom of the page. Traditionally, a sitemap is a map of a single Internet site, but out Volunteer Sitemap is designed to help you navigate all the sites you may encounter in our volunteer community. We hope this helps and feedback is always welcome!
Please reach out to us if you have any questions...we are here to help!
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.
Do you ever wonder how the textbooks make it into EasyBooks? How does THIS:
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.”
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.
Jaci Collins, who joined the Austin (Texas) Studio in 1998 and continues to read and QC as well.
Elizabeth DeLaney Hoffman, who joined the Athens Studio in 2015 and also serves as a Volunteer Coordinator.
Pat Lim, a freelance technical writer in the bio-pharmaceutical field who joined the Menlo Park (California) Studio in 2011.
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).
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!
Hello all! We've begun the new year with many updates and changes to the volunteer training website, both large and small.
Our most noticeable change is the new Welcome page on the training website. We've made these changes so the site is easier to use for first-time visitors, so they can avoid confusion about how to get set up with a Google account. If you're a returning trainee, you'll still use the link in the top right to sign in.
Once you log in, you'll notice that the new Storyteller Course is now open. If you're interested in recording and editing juvenile fiction and literature, then you can enroll in this course with the links on screen. Not sure which course is for you? There's a link to our Volunteer Fit Quiz to help you decide.
In the Textbook Course, we've replaced the old checking audition with a new project that's a better fit for our current needs and standards. We removed the sample of a novel from the audition since we now have a Storyteller course and will soon have a course for Literature community Listeners.
We think these changes will go a long way to improve your training experience. But it doesn't end there! You can expect to see more updates, upgrades, and improvements in the coming year as we work to bring our old reading training lessons up to our new standards. Stay tuned!
Congratulations Training Graduates!
Textbook course: John K., Jason G., John G., David G., Kevin V., Crismario S., Ripley J., Lauren D., Linda T., and Natalia E.
Storyteller course: Christina F., Leah L., Karen W-G., Kayla A., Shelley C., Andrea P., Sheila N., April S., Lindsey D., David S., Hilda C-G., Nikita N., Robin B., Jeffrey H., John K., Jim C., Amita M., Josie M., and Joseph H.
Raise your hand if you remember Weekly Readers, those wonderful little newspapers we used to get years (and years!) ago in Social Studies class. I don’t know about you, but I absolutely loved them: the content was varied and interesting, presented in language I understood, with plenty of illustrations to pique my interest.
But...what if you can’t read print material? What if your first language is Spanish? Or what if you’re attending a magnet school for Spanish, with all materials in that language? What then?
da-da-da DAH! It’s David Alper to the rescue! David has been reading Spanish language materials for Learning Ally for nearly eleven years, first with the Athens (Georgia) Studio, and now with the Foreign Language Community. Over the past year, David read 192 (!) of these gems, all in Spanish, spending hours and hours (over 200!) making sure every detail was executed perfectly.
The Weekly Readers, along with many other projects Learning Ally records, are part of our contract with the Texas Education Agency (TEA), which supervises primary and secondary public education in the State of Texas. According to Ed Bray, National Director of Government Relations and State Initiatives for Learning Ally, volunteers (maybe you?) who work on these projects “help us provide a comprehensive collection of Texas-adopted educational materials, including these Weekly Readers. The collection ensures students can access this broad set of curriculum materials.”
David, who has a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology, works long hours each week, traveling across three counties to serve as a School Psychologist for multiple schools. He first heard of Learning Ally through an ad in a local paper. He found that he really enjoyed combining reading aloud with helping others improve their reading comprehension and reach their educational and life goals. Volunteering with Learning Ally gives David a great deal of satisfaction, and being able to use his Spanish skills to help others, either through reading or quality control work, gives him a sense of purpose--and, he says, helps him maintain and even improve his Spanish through consistent practice--a great bonus!
David’s message to other volunteers: Work on what gives you pleasure and is a priority in the studio. Be positive and show appreciation toward your fellow volunteers. Attend live and online volunteer events as you’re able, and participate in the Hangout chats. Spread the word far and wide about Learning Ally!