October 13, 2019
August 2, 2019
July 2, 2019
June 4, 2019
April 30, 2019
Chrome RSS Extension
This month, we are recognizing our staff member Gigi Franklin who is celebrating 20 years with Learning Ally!
Franklin got her start with Learning Ally in 1995 as a volunteer and has since held many different roles. Five short years later, Franklin became a part-time Volunteer Coordinator at Learning Ally’s Austin Studio. In 2004, she became a full-time staff member in the role of Book Ordering Guru for the Texas TEA contracts. She then moved on to becoming a Studio Producer and then Studio Director by 2010. Franklin had hands in the Literature Community and is now working with the Textbook Community, holding the role of Virtual Production Administrator. When reflecting on her time with Learning Ally, Franklin said: “Through it all, the best part for me is working with our fantastic volunteers! They amaze and inspire me every day.”
When asked what made Franklin want to work with Learning Ally, she mentioned it was a personal connection that originally brought her to volunteer. Her grandmother, mother, two of her uncles, and an aunt have all experienced visual impairments. Franklin explained her motivation was to bring the printed word to the blind and now it has become her passion.
Outside of Learning Ally, Franklin said she likes to read, cook and spend time watching shows and movies with her husband, especially the renowned musical Hamilton. With stay at home orders, Franklin said she found herself with an excuse to stay home and indulge in these favorite activities and even slow down and reflect, which is something she had been needing recently. The past three years had been challenging for Franklin and her husband as Franklin’s mother and father-in-law passed, and shortly after her mother-in-law became ill. When reflecting on these unprecedented challenges, Franklin said they taught her to find joy in every day and to take life a bit slower whenever you get a chance because time flies.
We asked Franklin what is something most people at Learning Ally do not know about her and she said: “I'm pretty quiet, so people are surprised that I won the Texas State Informative Extemporaneous Speaking contest as a Junior in High School. I also worked the first 8 years of my career out of college at the NBC Television affiliate in Dallas/Fort Worth on their 5, 6 & 10 pm newscasts as a graphics producer and computer operator.” In addition to her extensive work experience, Franklin and her husband owned a Welsh Terrier show dog. Franklin and her husband competed against professionals and led the dog to his championship. She said, “If you have ever seen Best in Show the movie, that is not too far from the truth!”
We also learned that Franklin is an avid reader, which seems fitting for a Learning Ally employee! From her childhood, Franklin recalls her favorite books to be the Little Women, the whole Louisa May Alcott series, the Anne of Green Gables series, the Little House books, and the Tales of the City book series. Franklin shared that her favorite book to read now is any book she is reading at the moment and the book she reads the following week usually becomes her new favorite.
We have welcomed a nice influx of new volunteers over the last few months, allowing us to move more quickly through projects. This has allowed us to get more books out of production and onto the bookshelves of the schools and students that need these titles. Teachers and students appreciate having these titles available and our ability to turn them around more quickly.
Unfortunately, this also means you may find it more difficult at times to find projects to work on. Your time is valuable, so the last thing we want to do is select more books just to keep you busy. We remain focused on selecting the books that schools and students are requesting and need most.
As a reminder, when looking for a project, please be mindful of your selection. Be sure you are choosing subject areas you are comfortable reading. Also, be aware of the grade level of the students that will be using the textbook you are reading or checking. Please narrate with an appropriate style and pace that will best engage a student at that age. How we read to elementary school students should be different from how we read high school or college level textbooks. Visualize the student that will be using that textbook sitting across from you, and read to that person.
We will have several TEA and Florida contract projects available soon for recording, so please watch for them. These projects have a very short turn around time so we can use everyone’s support in getting these out for students heading back to school. Thank you for your patience.
If you cannot find anything in our project menu that is a good match for you, please reach out to staff about other volunteer opportunities at email@example.com.
Thank you for volunteering with Learning Ally and providing a solution to students who struggle to read. We appreciate your patience and dedication to service.
Thank you to all the dedicated volunteers who helped produce 39 new textbooks in July! As always, we are grateful for your hard work and will to improve the lives of struggling readers. Click here for plain text.
Last month I whined about not getting to go on all my planned trips this year (the Pollyanna in me thinks: HEY! When this is all over, I have MONDO e-credits with Delta and AirBnB! YIPPEE!)
I also asked YOU: while you’ve been semi- or fully-quarantined, what have you been reading? Where have you been going in your “book time”?
I invited you to submit your own mini-reviews of books you’ve read (for Learning Ally OR for pleasure)...and here are some that I’ve received since then.
If you’d like your book recommendations/reviews/pans to be posted next month, please include the following and email to me (Stacie) at sCourt@LearningAlly.org:
Redhead by the Side of the Road
submitted by volunteer Caren Snook
I enjoyed Anne Tyler’s latest, Redhead by the Side of the Road. If you're thinkin' that's a person, you'll be surprised! The story revolves around the adult life of the youngest child, and only son, of a haphazard family. For some reason, he just doesn't quite fit in.
Bellevue, Three Centuries of Medicine and Mayhem at America’s Most Storied Hospital
Submitted by volunteer Beira Winter
I had already started Bellevue before the COVID-19 pandemic started. I chose it because Bellevue Hospital’s roots pre-date the American Revolution. The story of this public hospital presents US history through the lens of public health, sanitation, and medicine. As the extended title hints, there are plenty of personalities, politics, and prejudice; not just the challenges like distinguishing medical care from butchery and quackery, treating mental illness, training women as nurses, and that all people, not just the wealthy, should have access to good medical care.
Since Bellevue is a public hospital, it has been on the frontline of battles against everything from gruesome Civil War injuries, to addressing public health issues of Cholera and Typhoid, to the full spectrum of care for minorities and poor New Yorkers, as well as national epidemics including Spanish Flu, Polio, AIDS and SARS. The chapters addressing AIDS and SARS were haunting, as I adjusted to COVID 19 quarantine.
It’s a big book, but the pages fly by as the stories unfold. I found it very engaging and thought provoking.
Walk the Wire
I made myself plod through Walk the Wire, by David Baldacci, because the library had made it possible for me to put it on hold, download it, and read it on my tablet. Otherwise, I wouldn't have bothered. Baldacci was at his best when he wrote the Camel Club series, but his new characters are not very interesting.
submitted by volunteer Brian Hill
I'm not ALL the way through it yet, but I can report that I'm enjoying it greatly. I became interested in translations a couple of years ago (never really thought of it before) when I happened upon Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. To be honest I think I find translations easier to read (mostly) than earlier time period British writers, probably mostly because they have been often translated by modern scholars.
What I find enjoyable about the Russian writers is their almost microscopic look at ordinary interactions and relationships. We're all aware of all of the detailed nuances of interpersonal relationships, but having them described in such original and really, eye opening ways has been a real joy for me.
I AM going to have to double back though, and I know I'll enjoy it even more the second time (get all the multiple names and perhaps backgrounds of peripheral characters straight). I was so friggin animated last night just reading a seemingly simple description of our hero being walked to the front door by one of the hosts (albeit a somewhat special one) and the conversation they had.along the way. I was laughing, whooping, re-reading and eventually read the whole few pages over again, to my great delight. The guy will bring to the top of your mind things you probably are subconsciously aware of, but haven't put into words. He puts it into words and so makes you more aware of...the human condition I guess.
Nothing 'Idiotic' about this book, and better than hearing 'social distance' (isn't that an oxymoron) fifty thousand times!
John Sandford's latest, Masked Prey, is a page turner, of course. Lucas Davenport is in Washington, DC this time. Unfortunately, the plot is entirely believable, which makes it worrisome.
Book Woman of Troublesome Creek
Kim Michele Richardson
I knew nothing about the depression-era Kentucky Pack Horse Library Project. It was a depression-era program that paid people, mostly women, to be traveling librarians, delivering free books and magazines to people in the isolated areas of the Appalachian Mountains.
Richardson brings the program to life by creating an isolated mountain community and a “Blue” woman, Cussie May Carter, as her central character. Through Cussie and other traveling librarians, Richardson presents the dedication of the mule-riding librarians and the challenges they faced. She also introduces readers to the prejudices and real dangers faced by an overlooked minority, “Blues,” white people born with a genetic mutation that produces blue-tinged skin.
Richardson waits until the end of the book to address the realities of misguided medical attempts to “cure” Blues like Cussie of their skin color. It was easy to identify with Cussie’s passion for books and her determination to bring the world to her isolated neighbors through the books in her saddlebags.
If It Bleeds
Stephen King's latest, If It Bleeds, is a collection of short fiction. The title novella features PI Holly, who is a main character in several of King's recent books. My favorite was "The Life of Chuck", an amazing short story.
The Library Book
Submitted by staff member Stacie Court
On April 29, 1986, I was teaching French I and Introduction to Foreign Languages at two public middle schools in Newport News, Virginia. I came from a military family, I had met my husband in AFROTC, he was stationed at Langley AFB, and most of the children I taught were either Navy, Air Force, or Army dependents. Most of the stories focused on by area news stations and print outlets focused on military-related stories, so I rarely knew of much else going on across the country.
I had no idea that while I was teaching seventh and eighth graders to conjugate verbs, the Central Library in Los Angeles, California, was burning...and so many lives were changing.
Susan Orlean’s book is not only a real eye-opener about the event, but it is very interesting to read during this time rampant with so many things seemingly beyond our control. Orlean talks about everything--EVERYTHING--she can think of related to the burning and its aftermath. At one point she even describes her own experience of burning a book while researching this event: she felt compelled to experience the burning of a book, but couldn’t bring herself to burn any that she thought of--the idea was total anathema. Then, she found the perfect book, and burned it.
This is a story of many details, many books, and many people, but Orlean is able to weave it into an easy narrative, bringing us into the heartbreak and desolation experienced by the Los Angeles librarians (and the mourning of librarians the world over), as well as the hard work of the thousands of volunteers who helped bring the library back to life. She also helps us feel just a little bit of that debt we all owe to libraries and their patrons everywhere (including Athens, Georgia, where I borrowed this book from the public library).
In June, 2020, our incredible volunteers completed 44 new textbooks! Thank you to all the hardworking and dedicated volunteers who help put books in our students' libraries. Click here to view in plain text.
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.
If you’re like me, you’ve spent some of the past few months mourning the loss of various activities and freedoms thanks to the international COVID-19 emergency. It’s been a rough time for everyone, and no one has been untouched by it. We’re all feeling a little off-kilter, topsy-turvy, crowded and cramped, and even just plain crabby.
But then, here comes that Pollyanna of poetry, Emily Dickinson:
There is no frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away,
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry--
This Traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of Toll--
How frugal is the Chariot
That bears a Human soul.
So, my question: where is your reading taking you this summer? And what do you think of it? We’d like you to send us your own (BRIEF) book reviews--let us know what you’ve been reading, what you recommend, what you don’t. It’s a great way to learn about new reading opportunities and learn from each other’s experiences, too.
Please include the following and email to me (Stacie) at sCourt@LearningAlly.org:
All reviews received by July 20th will be considered for inclusion in the following week’s blog post (basically, we’ll print them all but reserve the right to edit to keep them appropriate for our audience). Any book you've read/started to read since locking down is eligible for inclusion. We will also print multiple reviews of the same book if received.
To get you started, here are a couple of sample book reviews:
Funny Girl: A Novel Nick Hornby
I love Nick Hornby’s writing! (in case you’re not familiar with him, among many others he also wrote High Fidelity and About a Boy) In this book, Barbara leaves her working-class home in Blackpool, England, to follow her dream of becoming Britain’s version of Lucille Ball. The writing is superb and the story is great, combining Hornby’s tongue-in-cheek comic sense with a nostalgic view of 1960s TV. I kept David awake with my giggling while reading this wonderful little book.
Billy Budd Herman Melville
This was the shortest book I was assigned to read in high school...and the only assigned reading I did not finish. I have since read Moby Dick and loved it, so I determined to give Billy another try this summer. Guess what? I’m still not finishing it. I find it dreary and deadly boring. I cannot stay awake. I did some research and discovered that even Melville himself got bored with it and never completed the book. If he didn’t feel the need to finish it, neither do I. Goodbye, Billy Budd.
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!
On April 21st we had a very special Volunteer Nation Live event in celebration of Volunteer Appreciation Week. We were able to feature several students and teachers who use Learning Ally books in their schools who shared their stories of learning and growth with audiobooks, as well as answering questions from our volunteers in attendance. If you missed the event we strongly urge you take the time to watch the recording on our Resources Page.
We drive ourselves by asking Why: Why do we make the time and the effort to provide our services and resources? And we get our answer every time we see the people who benefit from our work. It's a beautiful reminder that we're doing more than making books - we're improving lives; offering success to people who would otherwise be forced to struggle. We bring out our best and afford others the chance to do the same.
One of the results of having so many new volunteers (over 100 training graduates this month) as well as volunteers with extra time to donate, is that we are actually experiencing a shortage of work in some places. While it's exciting to see that we are not falling behind on deadlines, we are also fielding many requests for book project assignments, particularly in QA and in Storyteller narration. If you are looking for a project in those areas, we suggest you use the contact forms for Learning Ally staff assistance, such as the Assignment Request form for Storytellers. We can earmark an appropriate book or project for you before we even list it in the catalog.
Please note however, we are still limited by staff hours and book acquisition budgets. We have had to establish a "waiting list" of sorts for high-demand subjects or large casting pools. We thank you for your patience as we try to keep up with demand. Remember that we are always working to meet the needs of our students, as well as those of our volunteers.
One way to help our Storyteller volunteers find more projects to record is to diversify your Learning Ally narrator skills. If you are a Storyteller narrator interested in helping us record textbooks, we've prepared a special course designed to fast-track experienced narrators with lessons on the specialized reading conventions and best practices for textbook narration. If you are interested in participating in this program please contact the volunteer training and support team by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are uncertain or curious about textbook projects, why not take a look through the catalog of books in production. You'll see that a wide range of subjects and grade levels are available.
Kourtney I., Trudi D., Luke B., Rohan B., BASIL G. S., Esme S., John B., Liza C., Rene R-R., Kylah F., Edita K., Sarah C., Julie M., Divyanshi S., Hermione P., neha K., Becky R., Colleen A-F., Ben H., Meredith S., Tim S., Chris G., Justin S., Hisham G., Arthur Q., Andy G-R., Latifah M., Carol B., Allison H., Shelby S., Laureanne P., David T S., Shaila M., Beverley H., Meghan L, Christopher C., Amy Z., Jaren J., Jennifer C., Ankitha S., Doris L-T., Oyindamola O., True T., Maureen D., Leslie E., JM J., Theo S., Estelle T., Lisa W., Heather S., Izzy L., April F., Richard K., Kai W., Jessica H., Kelly D., Ivy R., Swethaa R., Jenny S., Kathy O., Bo K., Belinda L., Mark C., Althea B., Priya K., Shyamala C., Anna C., AHUVA S., Haley K., Christina L., Richelle F., Janice O., Shayla B., Narineh S., Yvo S., khardema, Siya B., Smriti D., Jessica H., Michelle G., Edward B., F R., JM J., Erin C., Lisa W., Robyn W., Gustavo F., Mary A., Seattle S., Janet B., tolulope A., Neya G., Katie M., Abbie G., Sthiti P., Robert W., Mark C., Jennifer C., Belinda S L., Gary M., Maria F., Freya S., Rosalyn G., Becky C B., Lisa W., Dan E., Naomi P., Barbara F., Robert W., Shyamala B C., Alexis M., Melanie W., Heidi F., Wendy T., Sandra R., Zachary K-S.,
You’re reading along, either as a Narrator/Reader or a Listener/Checker, and suddenly you run into something you’re not sure about, something that doesn’t seem to be covered in your Project Guidelines. It’s 10:00 Saturday night and you’re pretty sure all the staff are off-duty. What should you do?
Write a long rant in the Hangout or Google Group, complaining about the ridiculous state of education in our country.
Just make a guess; you’re pretty smart, anyway.
Check out the Resources Tab at the Volunteer Portal.
Quit and never respond to any communications from staff ever again.
Well, you probably ARE pretty smart...but if you are, you will choose C. The Resources Tab at the Volunteer Portal can be your best friend in tricky situations. So, let’s take a look at it together; we’ll give a brief overview of each section. NOTE: you do not need to be a member of any specific community to explore that community’s links. You never know what useful information you’ll find!
The Textbook Community section includes a variety of very useful documents, ranging from conventions and helpful guides to forms:
Computer and Code Guidelines: directions for computer-related items like reading code, how to announce various symbols within code, etc.
Conventions Wiki: the general guidelines for Textbook Community projects
Famous Names and Places: great tips on how to research the pronunciations of famous names and places; this document includes all kinds of helpful links to sites specific to occupations and locations around the world.
Figure Description Crib Sheets: instructions for reading all those pesky non-text items like tables, vo-tech figures, and the dreaded infographic.
Foreign Language Wiki: TWO SECTIONS: (1) conventions for the Foreign Language Community; and (2) resources for pronunciations of words in many different foreign languages, ranging from Amharic and Punjabi to Lithuanian and Lang Belta, as well as a section on science terminology (because science is a language of its own).
Law Links: hints for learning how to say all those convoluted abbreviations used in legalese.
Math Reading Guidelines: does your history book suddenly, bizarrely, have a math equation in it? Try this document to learn how to read that unholy aberration.
Science Terms and Conventions: Did the authors of the writing style guide you’re reading use examples from a science text? Go to this document for help with that situation.
Writing/Style Guide Conventions: all we have on reading those crazy writing and style guides.
Checking Instructions: examples of good versus bad wave forms and instructions for leaving kind yet informative notes to Narrators/Readers.
Project Guidelines Help Sheet: help for learning what is meant by the various terminology used in your Project Guidelines.
Recommended Equipment list: equipment recommendations from Textbook Community staff
Upcoming Absence form: form to let staff know when you’ll be absent for more than a day or two.
The Literature Community also has some useful links:
Audition Reminders: directions for submitting an audition for a Lit project
Book Trailer Request form: application to have staff create a trailer from your completed Lit project
Literature Conventions: general reading conventions for Lit projects
Literature Fast-track Summary & FAQ: information for Narrators working outside of EasyBooks
Narrators: instructions for Narrators
Listeners: instructions for Listeners
Recommended Equipment list: equipment recommendations from the Lit Community staff
Software & Apps: just what you think it would be
Welcome to webEB!: gives EasyBook users a look at the differences between the two
webEB Reference Guide: place to go to access directions and links for using our new web-based software: no more worry about what type of computer you use, or all the files building up on your device!
EasyBooks for PC Reference Guide: guide to all things EasyBooks
EasyBooks (PC): instructions for EasyBooks for PC; includes link to latest version
Google Hangouts Extension install link: link to install Google Hangouts
Adobe Reader install link: link to install Adobe Reader
Chrome install link: link to install Chrome
General: a catch-all for some items that didn’t fit in the other categories:
Common Abbreviations: directions for reading a variety of abbreviations
Reference Links: links to online dictionaries, etc.
Try out LAABS!: directions for using the Learning Ally Audio Book Solution--check out the user experience on the books you’ve worked on
Volunteer Submitted photo album: a place for volunteers to share photos
Meet the Team: image and brief audio for each staff member
Hangouts: document with links to various Hangouts for meeting other volunteers and staff
Volunteer Nation Live! Events: links to the all the VNL webinars
Training Resources: Links to a variety of Mini-Lesson, Videos, and Documents; in the top paragraph there is a link to the Virtual Training Center
So, as you can see: even when staff are off-duty, you’re never far from a source of help! Dive into this tab full of great resources, and see what you find.