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Volunteer Nation Blog

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


We love BUGS!

 

Ad for Brooklyn Urban Garden Charter School, including images of happy children involved in a variety of science-based activities


 

This past year Learning Ally Education Solutions GM Tim Wilson approved a special project where we provided a license to the Brooklyn Urban Garden Charter School (affectionately known as BUGS) in return for the opportunity to study their experience with Learning Ally solutions.  It was a truly fruitful year for the students and teachers, and yielded results even we did not expect.


 

During their introduction to Learning Ally in November, teachers were thrilled by the variety and quality of our solutions, with teacher Betsy McGowan, the school’s reading specialist, exclaiming, “It looks like Christmas came early this year!”  By January all of Betsy’s students with reading deficits were registered with our program.

 

Betsy McGowan has shoulder-length light brown hair, brown eyes, and a big smile.


 

BUG’s eighth-graders were all assigned a dystopian novel, one which was available through our audiobook solution.  More than a few students told Betsy that this was the first time they had read an entire book--Learning Ally made it possible for them.


 

Cover of Born a Crime by Trevor Noah, including image of young biracial Trevor with his Xhosa mother in the foreground.

 

The next assigned book, Born a Crime by Trevor Noah, was in our queue but unavailable when assigned.  Encouraged by their success with their first book, many of the students were inspired to work really hard and read the print version!  It took longer and they had to work much, much harder to keep up, but they liked the feeling of understanding and participating in the class discussions.


 

Cover art for George Orwell's Animal Farm: white cover with stylized pink pig


 

The final book for the school year was George Orwell’s classic, Animal Farm, already available through Learning Ally.  One student told Betsy she had been able to learn so much more vocabulary using Learning Ally’s audiobook solution.


 

A few weeks ago we received a surprise at our Princeton office:  a huge card thanking the Learning Ally team (that includes YOU, volunteers!).  Each student signed their name and gave us the number of pages they read, all of them (and their teachers) so proud of their progress.


 

Large black card (science fair display size) with colorful message thanking Learning Ally and smaller messages from students



 

This kind of success is possible because of all the great people we have working on our solutions.  This is just one example of how our volunteers make a difference in people’s lives every day--a difference that supports them through a lifetime of learning.  Thank you all for the gifts of your time, talent, and treasure. Our friends at BUGS are just one small group that is grateful every day for your presence in their lives.



 

Colorful graphic of celebratory confetti and streamers rising up from festive party hat-like cones


 

Metrics Update for this week:

 

  • Our readers increased to 211,197

 

  • We had 46,753 reading at frequency*



 

Happy Summer, and 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.


Staff Spotlight: Abigail Shaw

Abigail Shaw

What do you do at Learning Ally?

My name is Abigail, and I’m part of the production staff (specifically literature) at LA. My job responsibilities include a mix of things: I oversee the QA process of our already existing titles--looking for ways to make the books we already have recorded even better, or if they need to be re-recorded--, interfacing with volunteers in the process of narrating and listening to literature titles, and creating conventions and processes surrounding graphic novel image descriptions for blind/visually impaired students.

How long have you worked at Learning Ally?

It's been just over three years that I’ve worked with the organization, splitting my time between production of our audiobooks, as well as coordinating our virtual mentoring program for visually impaired/blind college students in our College Success Program. Actually, if you include the fall semester I worked part-time as a mentor, October will be four years with the organization.

Why did you choose to work at Learning Ally?

Initially, I was just interested in giving back as a mentor for the College Success Program. Opportunities eventually opened up for me to coordinate the mentoring program, as well as to lend my skills with audio production. My bachelors is in music and audio recording, and because of a lot of experience with our College Success Program students, I am now pursuing my masters in social work.

What's something most people at Learning Ally don't know about you?

In March of 2012, I hiked part of the Appalachian Trail with a group of friends and my former guide dog, Alexa. If given the time and money, I would consider doing a through hike.

Any Hobbies?

In my free time, I occasionally pick out popular songs or practice classical music on my upright piano, affectionately dubbed Barb, and I’m a long-distance runner. Currently, I am training for a half marathon in September. 

What do you like most about working at Learning Ally?

Our mission, the volunteers, and my colleagues. Getting to see how all of our work impacts students is incredibly rewarding.

What is your favorite audiobook/book, if you have any?

It's always hard to pick just one! For reading, via braille or synthetic speech, “The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake,” by Aimee Bender, “Jane Eyre,” by Charlotte Bronte, and a commercially produced audiobook I really enjoy is the “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” by Jonathan Safran Foer.

What is your favorite movie or TV series?

Gilmore Girls. The dialogue and cultural references are priceless.

Kit: my preferred method of transportation in NYC


Literature Books Completed in May, 2019

The Literature team completed 74 Books in May!  Thank you for the hours of narrating, listening, teamwork and talent that makes this possible!


Staff Spotlight: Kevin Ziegler

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 Introduction

My name is Kevin Ziegler. I am the Digital Audio Coordinator with Learning Ally. In other words, I’ m the “audio guy”. I am in charge of QA (Quality Control). Basically, I handle all the audio as it is completed. In other terms, I strive to clean up and enhance all the audio. Lastly, through this blog, I was hoping to let everyone into my world and explain a bit about what happens in “post.”

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What is “Post- Production”? 

My primary focus is to level all the files across the entire book- which allows them to play smoothly without noticeable volume fluctuations. I also need to remove all the extra noise that can sometimes be introduced from different recording environments. After all of that, I “EQ” each title to best enhance the audio that is there--balancing the sonic frequencies to make it sound “good” to the ear.

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What do I utilize?

I use a program called Izotope RX7, which is an industry-standard audio editing and mastering tool. This program allows me to batch process (work with many titles all at once to save time) and customizes different options for dealing with common recurring audio issues.

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Is every title treated the same way?

Easiest answer is no. Most "classic audio" titles (textbooks and vocational-type books) are handled in the same fashion. As for the Voicetext, I listen to a sample from each book when it’s completed, and make a decision then about how to treat it, pulling from my different “recipes” as needed.

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What are the most common issues we encounter?

Mouse clicks, background noise, plosives (popping sounds on certain letters, esp. P’s and B’s), sibilance (harsh S sounds), electrical noise, & poor recording environments.

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 Setting a Proper Level:

I generally recommend that the light gray area of the Easybooks window be filled up with the level being set.

 

That being said, there isn't a precise min and max level. My suggestion is to always avoid any red in the recording level. Digital audio has a tendency to distort at those high levels. The other side if a level is so low it appears as only a blip in the window, it is more than likely much too low. I sincerely hope all this information makes sense. Also, if something looks or sounds wrong to you, point it out to the project lead.

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Important takeaway: While the tools I use are indeed very powerful and beneficial, I’m sorry to say, it cannot fix everything. This is especially true when we factor in time limitations and volume of titles we produce--all with our efficient-but-small production staff. That is why it is important to have the best possible audio signal at its source. I hope these answers help deepen your understanding of our process. If you have any questions, please email me at: kziegler@learningally.org and I will get back to you. Thanks again, for all your commitment and dedication towards Learning Ally.

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Summer Reading Together Explosion

 

Summer Reading Together logo: stylized sun wearing dark sunglasses in blue circle with words Summer Reading Together, Learning Ally


 

Learning Ally’s Summer Reading Together program is already helping thousands of students avoid summer slide!  Just since June 1st:

 

  • More than 3,000 students reading

  • More than 500,000 pages read

  • More than 500,000 minutes read



 

Students are having a great time exploring fun lit and even LEARNING over the summer.  Click here to watch the video recommendation posted by one of our enthusiastic participants:

https://www.instagram.com/p/By7-zyYhSdQ/


 

Young boy with crewcut and dark-framed glasses smiles as he holds up his tablet with the book Private Pilot Maneuvers displayed



 

Look for more exciting news from our students as the summer goes on!  To learn more about the program (and share the information with teachers and families who may want to join in the fun), click on this link:

https://learningally.org/Summer-Reading-Together


 

Colorful graphic of celebratory confetti and streamers rising up from festive party hat-like cones


 

Metrics Update for this week:

 

  • Our readers increased to 209,389

 

  • We’ve had over 141 million pages read--an increase of 65% over last year for school readers!

 

  • We had 46,058 reading at frequency*



 

Happy Summer, and 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.

 


Literature Books Completed in April, 2019

The Literature Community completed 56 Books in April! Thank you all for helping us record these books.


Summer Fun for Students with Learning Ally

 

Summer Reading Together logo: stylized sun wearing dark sunglasses in blue circle with words Summer Reading Together, Learning Ally


 

It’s summer time, and that means...Learning Ally’s Summer Reading Together!

 

Each year, students all over the country compete for monthly and grand prizes while completing summer reading assignments and fighting summer slide.  It’s a great program and motivates students to continue building their reading and comprehension skills. The students can read anything available on Learning Ally, including material assigned as summer reading and books that are just for fun.  To help them get started, the Family part of our website includes a link to Learning Ally Featured Books, grouped by themes such as Summer Reading Together: Space Exploration and Learning Ally Featured Books from Best-Selling Series, and includes books ranging from items based on movies to classic literature.  To explore our current list, click here:

https://learningally.org/Portals/6/Docs/SummerReading/SummerReadingLists.pdf



 

Screenshot of Learning Ally parent Amy Goetsch's post, featuring a photo of son Alex mowing the lawn and a shot of his Word of the Day: Arduous.

 

In addition, we have a Vocabulary Challenge for them on social media, where they can upload video recommendations of summer reading books, or post three to six vocabulary words that they learned during their summer reading experience.  Participants will be entered into a raffle, and one lucky winner will be the proud owner of a new Chromebook at the end of the summer!



 

Colorful graphic of celebratory confetti and streamers rising up from festive party hat-like cones


 

Metrics Update for this week:

 

  • Our readers increased to 208,500

 

  • We’ve had over 137 million pages read--an increase of 66% over last year for school readers!

 

  • We had 45,743 reading at frequency*



 

Keep up the great work, everyone!  We're looking forward to a terrific summer!





 

*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.


Textbooks Completed in April, 2019!

Books Completed in April, 2019

No: Shelf Number Title Readers Checkers TOC Tooler Project Guidelines
1 NB749 California National Geographic Reach Grade 1, Level B, Volume 1 Maryfran Annesse Vicki Davis Jaqui Bradley
2 NB513 Be My Disciples, Grade One, School Edition Dick Piper Vicki Davis Susan Wilson
3 NB109 Essentials of Comparative Politics, Sixth Edition Betty Schreiner, Bob Ellsworth, David Schnapp, Ellen Arzt, Jane Scott, John Gass, Nila Selvaraj, Pauline Rakich, Sheila Blunt Diane Nawrocki, George Kuhlman, Harlan Hively, Jane Scott, Jeremiah Curran, John Gass, Karen Schindler, Mark Wolff, Paul Kurtz Nova Todd
4 NB594 Computer Service and Repair, Fourth Edition Dave Bebko, Don Kovar, Ev Tate, John Gass, Scott Smith, Steve Holmgren, Tom Lockhart Al Kendziora, Anna Marshall, Bayard Van Hecke, Don Kovar, Earl Goetze, Ev Tate, Joseph Smith, Richard Hunt, Rick Sayers, Susan Kropiewnicki, Paul Deleeuw Jim Siewert
5 NB357 Tourism: The Business of Hospitality and Travel, Sixth Edition Marsha Poppie, Ken Klinkner, Joseph Hurley, Cathy Kimmel, Ed Beck, Betty Schreiner, Bob Ellsworth, John Kain, and Jaime Hunt. Don Sheetz, Diane Nawrocki, Marcia McDermott, Natalia Eklund, Earl Goetz, Mary T. Schiavone, Sarah Bliesath, Staff, and Rick Sayers. Jaci Collins
6 NB011 Introductory Maternity and Pediatric Nursing, Fourth Edition Lois Hofer, Sheila Damens, Heidi Bindhammer, Gina Lento, Donna Vogel, Barbara Stoebenau, Lee Ann Remington, Bob Smyk, Joseph Nimoy, Bill Burke, Teddy Pavlin, Kevin Petty, Jane Sanford, John Gass, Stacie Court, and Marsha Poppie. Diane Nawrocki, Becky McCaskey, Linda Tejada, Mary Lou French, Nola Bragg, Mary T. Schiavone, Kathy Cummings, Barbara Stoebenau, Valerie Pettiss, George Kuhlman, Lee Ann Remington, Sue Green, Pat Beauchamp, John Gass, Earl Goetze, and Marcia McDermott. Jaqui Bradley
7 NA850 : Drugs, Society, and Criminal Justice, Fourth Edition Ashley Willard, David Kleber, David McAlary, David Schnapp, Ian Thomas, Pauline Rakich, Sheila Blunt, Stephanie McDaniel, Lisa Ferreira Amy Grimm, Anh Minh Duong, Cindy Strickland, Diane Nawrocki, Don Sheetz, Dottie Liston, Harlan Hively, Jack Jia, John Sandlin, Joyce Coleman, Leslie Gallagher, Mark Wolff, Mary Straub, Michelle Skowbo, Yvonne Murray Pat Lim Susan Wilson
8 NB125 Go! With Microsoft Office 2016, Vol. 1 Dave Bebko, Ed Beck, Pat Smith, Richard Kozelka, Sarah Klipper, Tom Hammell Al Kendziora, Barbara Kadlec, Don Sheetz, Earl Goetze, Ev Tate, George Kuhlman, Joseph Smith,Tom Hammell
9 NB748 Big Ideas Math Algebra 1 David Welp Martha Takats, Staff Jim Siewert
10 NB837 Core Connections, Integrated I, 2nd Edition David Welp Roger Majchrzak, Martha Takats, Janet Cappers, George Vella-Coleiro, Susan Kropiewnicki, Nola Bragg Jim Siewert Staff
11 NB326 American History: My World Interactive Joseph Hurley, Janet Schoor, Maryfran Annese, Marsha Poppie, Vicki Davis Kathy Cummings, Juliet Jones, Lynn Wassenaar, Michelle Skowbo, Leslie Gallagher, Vicki Davis, David Grosh, M Romma, Mara Roccaforte, Amelia Reid, Linda Tejada, Jeremiah Curran, Dottie Liston, Sarah Bliesath, Thomas Scheurich, Nidhi Mylavarapu, Susan Crawford, Joseph Hurley, Suchetas Bokil, Kevin Valliere, Lauren de Lench, Josie Moretti Pat Lim Staff
12 NB118 Introductory Biological Statistics, Third Edition Cliff d’Autremont, David Welp and Gina Lento. Diane Nawrocki, Janet Cappers, Steven Sitting, George Kuhlman, Al Kendziora, and Myra Parker.
13 NB333 Particle Physics: A Very Short Introduction Jeff Engel Joe Clark Susan Wilson
14 NB110 You May Ask Yourself, Fifth Edition Patti Acurio Marcia McDermott and Diane Nawrocki Susan Wilson Susan Wilson
15 NB589 Essentials of Human Anatomy and Physiology, Twelfth Edition John Hickam Kathy Foster Pat Lim
16 NB474 The Clinical Practice of Educational Therapy: Learning and Functioning with Diversity, Second Edition Ashley Willard, Betty Schreiner, Bonnie Marcus, Jane Scott, Jim McCullough, Margaret Hall, Sheila Blunt, Stephanie McDaniel Adele Phelan, Anna Marshall, Diane Nawrocki, Dottie Liston, Jane Seaton, John Gass, John Sandlin, Joy Posthauer, Kathi Jensen, Kathy Cummings, Linda Tejada, Michelle Skowbo, Nicole Misterly, Shirley Nute, Staff, Suchetas Bokil, T.A. Niles, Tisha Keagy Caren Snook Susan Wilson
17 NB029 The Boys from Little Mexico: A Season Chasing the American Dream Allan Rough Barbara Stoebenau Elizabeth DeLaney Hoffman Staff
18 NB512 Be My Disciples, Grade Six, School Edition Maryfran Annesse Don Sheetz Susan Wilson Staff
19 NB381 Math In Our World David Welp, Barbara Mavro, Jim Myerberg, Marilynn Steffen Susan Kropiewnicki, Roger Majchrzak, George Vella-Coleiro, Martha Takats, Janet Cappers, Myra Parker, Teresa McPeat Jim Siewert
20 NB008 Social Work Practice in Healthcare: Advanced Approaches and Emerging Trends Betty Schreiner, Bill Reda, Bonnie Patterson, Ian Thomas, Jenn Ellis, Liz Frechette, Margaret Hall, Sheila Blunt, Heidi Bindhammer Adele Phelan, Al Kendziora, DIane Nawrocki, Diane Nawrocki, Dottie Liston, Jo-Ann Driscoll, Joe Clark, John Gass, John Sandlin, Kathi Jensen, Kathy Cummings, Mark Wolff, Mary Lou McGee, Mary Straub, Pat Beauchamp, Sally Susinno, Sarah Steele, Susan Lit, Tisha Keagy, Vicki Davis Nova Todd Susan Wilson
21 NA856 Earth: An Introduction to Physical Geology, 12th Edition Bonnie Marcus, Jeff Engel, Steven Sittig, John Kain, Heidi Bindhammer, Bill Painter, Nikki DiGanci, Steven Holmgren, Paul Morgan, and Adam Spohrer Tom Lockhart, Susan Crawford, Becky McCaskey, Al Kendziora, Tom Hammell, Jim White, Steven Sittig, George Kuhlman, Steven Holmgren, Nola Bragg, Sarah Bliesath, Paul Morgan, John Kain, Tom Lockhart, Diane Nawrocki, Bill Lindstrom, and Brian Hill  

Spotlight on Dyslexia 2019

 

Logo: Spotlight on Dyslexia Virtual Conference


 

Once again, Learning Ally hosted its hit online conference Spotlight on Dyslexia this past Friday.  SPOD is a dynamic conference featuring sixteen speakers from all over the country, experts and specialists in dyslexia, literacy, and neuroscience, for in-depth discussions of the facts of dyslexia and the issues faced by dyslexic students, their families and their teachers.  This incredible event lasts all day and is attended by educators and administrators, parents, students, and teachers-in-training--anyone who wants to learn more about dyslexia and the solutions available that help people with dyslexia succeed in a print-based environment and beyond.




 

SPOD Theatre view with list of a few of the sessions available to attendees, as well as advertising by Learning Ally and partners including edWeb.com

 

Completely online, SPOD’s Theater offered fifteen sessions (three to choose from during each session period) ranging from “Older Struggling Readers: What Do They Need?” to “We’ve Screened for Dyslexia...Now What?” and “What a Successful Public School Dyslexia Program Looks Like”.  




 

Dr. Maryanne Wolfe outside in front of a tree and some bushes.  She has shoulder-length brown hair, a friendly smile, and wears glasses.  She's wearing a black dress with large white polka dots, and yellow sweater, and a silver chain.

 

In addition, our Keynote Speaker was Dr. Maryanne Wolf,  an educator famous for her advocacy for children and literacy around the world.  Her keynote address was “Lessons from the Reading Brain for Dyslexia, Early Diagnosis, and Intervention”.  Click here to learn more about her: https://www.maryannewolf.com/



 

SPOD Lounge, with links to the Educators chat room and the Parents chat room, as well as advertising by Learning Ally and partners including edWeb.com

 

To augment the activity of the day, we also had a Lounge with two chatrooms available all day, one specifically for educators and one specifically for parents.  These were places where people could reach out and learn from each other’s experiences. There were some great interactions going on, and it was absolutely heartwarming to see people helping each other succeed.


 

The Resource Center was a great place where participants could access and download pdfs and videos provided by Learning Ally, our partners, and the speakers:

 

SPOD Resource Center, with a list of a few of the pdfs available for download, as well as advertising by Learning Ally and partners including edWeb.com



 

Learning Ally partnered with edWeb.com so that educators attending the event could receive up to sixteen Continuing Education credits.  One great aspect: if you were tied up that day, every session is recorded, and participants can access the sessions and Keynote Address later to experience at the time that is best for them.  Another bonus: since participants could attend only one-third of the presentations live, the recordings give participants the opportunity to experience ALL the sessions. Educators who registered for the event have until September 30th to submit their quizzes and receive their CE credits.  Each session also had its own dedicated chat and Question and Answer that attendees could actively participate in during the live sessions, giving them the opportunity to ask questions directly to the speakers, as well as to chat with others interested in the specific topic being discussed.



 

We had over 1400 registered, and it was a busy day.  A few of the comments we received included:

 

From a teacher:  SPOD exceeded her expectations, it’s fabulous, easy to understand with great downloadable resources!

 

From a student: “Hi, everyone, I hope everyone’s enjoying their conference.  I’m so excited to be here to be supporting Learning Ally. Learning Ally has been such an instrumental part to my Success in school.  I’ve been using the software since 10th [grade] and it has transformed the way I learn.”

 

From another teacher:  “The students love Learning Ally!  I always do a group lesson how to utilize it correctly before sending them off to read/listen.  We focus on how listening to a book can be a tool that will help them become stronger readers...and they come in SO proud that they finished their first book.  I feel that Learning Ally levels the playing field for them. They can tackle a text that other students are reading and are able to discuss it with them because they are able to listen and comprehend instead of struggle to decode words and create meaning…”


 

In a past year an educator who attended told us, “The conference helped me grow so much as an educator and I earned CE credits.  The content and the experts were top notch!”

 

This year’s conference was no different--sought-after content, knowledgeable speakers, opportunities to share ideas and solutions!  Learning Ally has once again supported the success of teachers, administrators, students, and families, all over the country!  Start thinking now about joining us next time!

 

A classroom scene: a young teacher helping students learn how to use audiobooks in the classroom.  Everyone is smiling!





 

Colorful graphic of celebratory confetti and streamers rising up from festive party hat-like cones


 

Metrics Update for this week:

 

  • Our readers increased to 207,718

 

  • We’ve had over 135 million pages read--an increase of 66% over last year for school readers!

 

  • We had 45,403 reading at frequency*



 

Thanks for all your hard work, everyone--together we are making a tremendous difference in the lives of so many people!





 

*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.