August 2, 2019
July 2, 2019
June 4, 2019
April 30, 2019
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!
The Volunteer Nation Community Portal is so much more than a place to log our volunteer hours. It is our Volunteer Nation Home. We encourage you all to make this your home. A place to visit anytime, it’s also a great place to visit before starting your work. After exploring, there are links out to both the Textbook project sites as well as the Literature Community Portal to find your projects.
Come check out the blogs. You’ll find stories about the students and schools that we are helping. Get to know some of your volunteer peers, learn why they volunteer and what they’re up to outside of Learning Ally. Find statistics about all the students you are helping. Use this information to help spread the word. Remember to brag to your friends and families about the great things you do through volunteering.
There is a Resource link that will take you to some great training and support information, including documents and videos.
Visit the Support link to find answers to FAQs. Your question not answered? You’ll find instructions there on how to connect to our Volunteer Support team. They are available to provide one-on-one help with your questions, ideas, and problems.
You’ll also find our Recognition page. In addition to the volunteers recognized here, we want you all to know your great generosity has had a profound and lasting impact on our students. Thank you all!
Hello all! Our Storyteller course has taken off, and more volunteers are donating more hours to our at-home programs than ever before! If you're a Textbook volunteer wishing to show off your performer's voice, or a Storyteller volunteer looking to demonstrate your subject mastery, check out the Textbook or Literature communities on the Volunteer portal to learn more.
We mention the Volunteer Hands-On Center at a few points in our training, but we still have questions about how it fits into the training program. The VHOC serves as an apprenticeship. There just isn't enough time (or patience) for us to cover all of the content you'll encounter in book projects, so you need to do some on-the-job learning and the VHOC is where you'll get that exposure but with more supervision.
While working in the VHOC you'll be limited to checking the reading of other volunteers. This serves several purposes:
VHOC book projects are the same book projects you'll find in the catalog of the Textbook community. The difference is that you'll use a request form, so the staff knows what work you'll be doing and you'll end each of your volunteer sessions by filling out a form to notify them of your progress. They'll have another volunteer take a QA pass through your work and offer feedback. (Once you graduate from the VHOC and join the Textbook community you'll be allowed to sign up for your own projects and there's no immediate follow-up checking on your checking work.)
As you demonstrate your abilities and knowledge, the staff of the VHOC will need to give you less advice and you'll gain more independence. Soon after that, you'll be allowed to train for reading, and maybe even become a peer mentor to other trainees new to volunteering with Learning Ally.
Textbook Course: Thomas S., John G., Jane S., John K., Jaime H., Nicole M., Clara H., Suchetas B., Donna L-J., Qamara B., T.A. N., Leslie G., Cindy S., Christina J., Lorraine L.
Storyteller Course: Sayafiq B., Demetrius M., Alice C., Terri B., Angela J., Suzanna L., Lakshmi B., Natalia E., Erica H., Kenye A., Debbie R., Christine D., Carman W., Mary B., Elizabeth B., John T. T., Victoria S., Rowena P., Grace I., Nichalia S., Mak S., Nicole C., Stephanie S., Maria D., Elizabeth VK., Heidi B., Janet S., Sarah F., Brendan S., Ryan K., Jonathan M., Marion H., Mike Patrick M., Doug B., Christina J., J.K. M., Wallis T., Maggie, Sarah L., Rebecca U.
Learning Ally provides audio for a wide range of textbooks - from Music History to Economics to French Grammar to Geometry to Biochemistry! We have several specialized sub-fields within our Instructional Textbooks. Today, we’ll be taking an inside look at our Science & Technology Community, with our small but powerful Computer and Programming group.
What are these computer books all about?
Our Computer Science projects can be broken down into three main categories. The most common books are those that teach students how to use computer programs like Microsoft Word, Excel, AutoCAD, and more. Every now and then, we’ll get one or two books dealing with IT or computer service and repair. Finally, some of our more challenging projects are books on programming and markup languages like HTML, Java, and C++.
Help! How do I read “⌘”?*
These Computer Skills and Programming books come with their own special challenges. How do we read a page full of program code? When do we use “hashtag” versus “pound”? You might be surprised to learn that there is actually a lot we don’t read in these projects. Most of our members are fully sighted, and many more have some usable vision. We don’t describe computer screenshots or read all of the punctuation in code. Our job is to focus on the textual detail, so that the students can focus on what they’re good at - thinking through code structure and building their tech skills.
Our staff members can answer many questions, but we often rely on our expert volunteers as much as our own specialized knowledge and research skills. I’m Sarah Klipper, our Computer and Programming Text Lead. I work with our Science & Technology Lead, Christine Hoffman, on everyday problems and tricky questions in our Science & Tech projects. To better deal with quirky computer lingo, I developed our Computer and Code Guidelines following Christine’s and the Science volunteers’ work on the Science Terms and Conventions as a guide. I’m grateful to have plenty of help with these Guidelines from our programmer volunteers, who know how some of these arcane terms are used in the classroom and in professional circles.
Google Hangouts are a big help with this kind of group collaboration; our Computer/Code Chat Group has been absolutely invaluable as we help each other figure out pronunciations and usage of coding syntax. Many thanks go to Ev Tate, Joseph “Old Joe” Clark, Ann Bouchard, and Kim Dauber for their contributions in this chat and various project Hangouts. Many thanks also to volunteer alumnus (and Staff husband) Michael Klipper for his help with Computer Science concepts.
Want to learn more about computers but too scared to try? We’re here to help… and if we don’t have the answer, we can help you find one. ;-)
*That ⌘ symbol is the Command key on a Macintosh computer.
As our Instructional Production team begins to position ourselves for growth, we are piloting some new opportunities for increased involvement with our volunteers. One of these new pilots includes our Project Guidelines Pilot, known also as “Team Project Site”.
Staff has been working to create our structure and processes to include:
Step by step procedures for creating project guidelines.
Creating a library of Project Guideline templates; organized by publisher.
Training and working closely with volunteers on the creation of our project guidelines.
New structure to our current Project Guidelines.
Thank you to Team Project Site member Susan Wilson, who has been the first brave soul to start this pilot and has been doing great! With Susan’s help, we have already added over twenty new projects to our Upper Instructional Community.
We’d like to welcome new member Kathy Cummings to Team Project Site. She is currently working with Upper Instructional, but will soon be joining the Lower Instructional group.
Here are some great new features in our Project Guidelines to keep an eye out for:
If you are interested in joining our Project Guidelines please reach out to Audrey in your Staff Hangout. Once again, thanks for all you do!!!
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!
Reminder Tip:: If the text is bold, highlighted or in italics, use your voice to highlight it. Pause, say the word, slightly lesser pause, continue reading.