October 13, 2019
August 2, 2019
July 2, 2019
June 4, 2019
April 30, 2019
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 (email@example.com) 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."
Thanks to all our volunteers in the Instructional Textbook Community for their dedication.
Information by Lori Leland.
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!”
We get asked often, why logging hours is important. To help answer, here are some ways the data is used in managing our volunteer program.
Some cool numbers based on logged hours that you might find interesting. From July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019, we had 604 volunteers donate a total of 57,143 hours to Learning Ally -- an average of almost 95 hours per volunteer! Many in more than one role…
Gathering volunteer service hours is not unique to Learning Ally. This is something that most volunteer programs do, especially those of our size. However, speaking for Learning Ally on the subject, without you logging hours, we would not be able to truly understand or recognize the work and effort that you all put into providing students with the tools they need to succeed. With that in mind, I will finish with text straight from our Recognition Page on our Volunteer Nation Community Portal:
You matter. You make a difference.
Your great generosity has had a profound and lasting impact on our students. Your willingness to share both your time and your talent says a lot about each of you as human beings. Your willingness to give selflessly to help others speaks to both your strength and the quality of your character.
When you volunteer, you are making a commitment to share that most precious of resources – your time – to make life better for those who are in need. The fruits of your labors make a tangible impact, of course, but perhaps it is the fact that you are willing to share your time and talent to lend a helping hand and to show kindness and caring that makes the greatest difference in the lives of the individuals who learn to love reading from listening to the audiobooks YOU help produce.
While we know that you choose to volunteer selflessly and without expectation of being recognized or rewarded, we want to take the time to let you know just how much your dedication is appreciated and to make sure you know that everyone at Learning Ally is forever grateful to each of you. Whether you are a long-time volunteer or if you got involved fairly recently, and regardless of how many hours you choose to give, it’s important for you to know that what you do makes a difference.
Words cannot adequately express the gratitude that we wish to express. Please know that your service is recognized, appreciated, valued and cherished. We thank you and look forward to continuing to work with you in the future.
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.
Abigail Shaw, staff member with Learning Ally’s College Success Program, with her guide dog, Kit
Students love Learning Ally! Here’s a message from just one member of our ever-growing fan club:
I’m looking forward to this semester because for once I was actually able to get my textbook list ahead of time and found most of the books on Learning Ally, so there’s one less thing I have to worry about...I will enjoy my classes and they seem interesting so I’m looking forward to that.
College Success Program student
Sophomore from Long Island
Another big fan is Sadie Regardie. A student in the Fairfax County Public Schools, Sadie read A LOT this summer, participating in our Summer Reading Together contest. Sadie not only read at home--she even took her books on vacation! How many kids want to read on vacation? Sadie entered our social media part of the contest as well, and her entry shows how audiobooks can not only build enthusiasm for reading but also expose students to concepts and vocabulary. Sadie says about Learning Ally, “...it has helped me persevere in reading. Makes the book make sense and makes reading more fun.” Click here to watch Sadie’s video entry:
Sadie’s mother, Jenn Regardie, is a key influencer for Learning Ally in their school district, and will be a panelist for one of our upcoming edWebinars. For more information about this educational opportunity, click here:
Metrics Update for this week:
Our readers increased to 212,034
We had 47,285 reading at frequency*
Pages read by school readers increased by 63% over this time last year!
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.
There have been some new updates to the Volunteer Portal. From this week onwards, when you visit the Log Hours page and log on to add your volunteer hours, there will some changes to the list of volunteer assignments. So when you click on [Post your hours] or go to the Time Sheet tab, the drop-down menu that gives options to the question “Which assignment did you serve in?”, will have slightly different assignment names. Please check out these changes below:
These changes should make it easier to select the correct community and assignment, and we hope this will (in a small way) improve your experience at Learning Ally. If there are any questions or concerns with these changes, please contact Volunteer@LearningAlly.org. As always, we appreciate all the effort that you put into creating Learning Ally audiobooks!