Mrs. McGriff's Reading Blog

Happy reading!

February 5, 2011
by Mrs. McGriff
16 Comments

Dear Reader

For the longest time I wondered about you.  Were you out there?  Then I added a Clustermap and saw your dots appear all over the world.  I didn’t hear very much from you, but I was reassured that you were there, and I was not alone. 

This year I realized that I needed to do more to let you know I was here on my blog with the latest news from my classroom and young adult literature.  I started with the audience close to home–students, parents and staff at our school.  Instead of keeping  up two websites, I started putting assignments on the blog and posted a link to the blog on our school website.  I put my blog address on our team newsletters and even printed business cards to hand out to parents at open houses and conferences.  I printed postcards to mail with news of great student posts.  I have also flooded the school email with great news that shows up on my blog.  Some fellow teachers have told me that they now spend Friday evenings reading student blogs.  You know who you are.

Now that I have joined the Edublogs Teacher Challenge for the last Kick Start Your Blog Activity # 8, I know there is even more I can do to promote my blog.  I’ve connected with teachers from around the world through this challenge.  I’ll keep checking in with them through Google Reader and hope they will keep dropping by here as well.  I will continue to reach out by leaving comments on the blogs I read and not be shy about leaving my blog address with them. 

One thing I’d love to do with my blog is open more conversation between my students and their favorite writers.  Could their be guest blog posts or question/answer interviews in my blog’s future?  The possibilities are exciting! 

I keep hearing that Twitter is a valuable resource for teachers.  I just may have to check it out and make more connections that way, too.   In the meantime, I have connected my blog with my Facebook account so that posts automatically show up in my notes. 

So, thank you, dear reader, for visiting my blog.  I hope you come back soon.

February 2, 2011
by Mrs. McGriff
15 Comments

What’s a widget?

When I first started blogging, I was clueless.  What were these widgets people kept talking about?  Now I know.  Widgets are all those nifty things you see in the sidebars.  Widgets can include pictures, text, graphics, counters, badges…the choices are nearly endless. 

Just because the choices are endless doesn’t mean readers want my page to go on forever, so it’s time to take another look at just what’s on my sidebar as part of Kickstart Activity #7 in the Edublogs Teacher Challenge.   I first looked at my side bar when I chose my current theme.  I liked the flexibility using both a wide sidebar paired with two narrow sidebars.  All of the fit quite nicely on left side, but I did do some rearranging. 

I kept the two options for subcribing to my blog on the top.  Readers can follow with either an RSS feed or an email subscription.  Since many of my students (and their parents) are new to blogging I wanted to make sure they all had an option they were comfortable with.  Next comes the cluster map showing visitors to my site.  I love seeing new red dots show up and old ones grow bigger.  I feel much less lonely now.  I think the tag could and search box are some of the most useful widgets over there.  I don’t know how often my readers use them, but I use both to search for previous posts I want to refer to later.  I recently added a “What I’m Reading” box.  I tell my students how important it is to read, and I wanted to give them a glimpse into what I read.  I’ve considered upgrading to a bookshelf from Shelfari, but am passing at this point.  I have enough trouble updating just the text.  I can’t imagine how far behind I’d fall if I tried to link to another site and include graphics, too. 

I like the two narrow side bars that hang out next to each other.  Together they can present more information without someone having to scroll so far down the screen.  The one on the left holds my avatar, recent comments, and the meta links for getting into the controls of my blog.  I also have room over here to include different badges I pick up.  Right now my only badge is for Tera Lynn Child’s Splash Team, when I blogged about her new book coming out last summer.  In the future I may include other badges promoting more YA books and reading. 

The far side is a collection of links I want to share with my students.  I moved the Blogroll to the top of this stack because that’s where students and parents go to find the lastest posts written by students.  They are organized by class period to make individual students easier to find.  I also have a link to the blog written by our fabulous choral director.  The remaining links are grouped into different categories:  editorials, fun stuff, poetry, blogs by writers and blogs about books. 

Yes, there are a lot of widgets lined up over there, but I hope they become a resource for my students and their parents as they explore the world of reading YA literature.  I’m looking for good links to share.  I found several great posts reflecting on the use of widgets and side bars. Check them out!  What widgets do you like best? 

January 27, 2011
by Mrs. McGriff
12 Comments

I’ve got some nerve…

I love videos, and more importantly, my students love videos.  The posts where I embed videos are usually the most watched in class.  Youtube has been my go-to place for finding videos to share with my students.  I have shared everything from book trailers for YA books, interviews with authors, lessons from Barry Lane, warnings about texting while driving, and musical promos for reading

Kickstart Challenge #6 looks at embedding media in blog posts–the nerves of a blog.  There are several blogs that I think effectively use embedded media.  I look to them for examples and inspiration.

  • Laurie Halse Anderson sometimes shares book trailer videos created by the readers of her books.  These trailers show both an understanding of the book and an appreciation for the story’s impact.  One of my favorites isthe post with videos for Catalyst
  • Sarah Anderson of YA Love posts a book trailer every Thursday for a recurring feature on her blog, Book Trailer Thursday.  I would love to get to this point with my own blog.  I know trailers can get students excited about reading books.  My difficulty has been finding trailers that I actually have a copy of the book to put into students’ hands. 
  • Maggie Steifvator not only writes beautiful books, she also creates breathtaking book trailers for her own books.  Check out this one for Linger. Not only did she create the art and music, she shared how she did it in posts through the following days: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.   
  • The bloggers at the League of Extraordinary Writers (for all things dystopian) often connect the science fiction genre across mediums (books, movies, television).  Of course, they include clips from the relevant films/television shows as in this one bemoaning the fate of Caprica

I do have some goals for increasing my use of media on my blog.  Here are three to get me started.

  • Find and share book trailers with my students on a regular basis.  If I can’t manage weekly trailers, why not monthly or bi-monthly trailers? I could do that.
  • Share student work with videos.  Today I collected some good examples of my students’ last book projects.  Now I just need to scan them in and use Windows Movie Maker or Animoto to present them. 
  • Sign up for the free educator version of Animoto
  • Write up a parent permission to upload videos of students to youtube, so I can embed them on my blog.  I created video poems with each class last fall using George Ella Lyon’s “Where I’m From” as a model.  We’ve watched them in class, but my students and their parents would enjoy more access. 

Now just for fun I have a video I’ve been wanting to share.  Now seems like a great time:

January 26, 2011
by Mrs. McGriff
8 Comments

What would you do?

What would you do?

What would you do?

You’ve seen the site for No Name Calling Week.  You’ve browsed some books that deal with bullying.  Now it’s time to take a stand.  What would you do if you walked up on this group of students?  What would you say?  Would you remain a not-so-innocent bystander, or will you become an ally?

In six–and only six–words (remember the six word memoirs?) describe your response to this scene.  Enter your response in the form below.  Click here to see how others have responded.

 

Original image: They’re warm now 
(http://www.flickr.com/photos/64937321@N00/200168929)
Released under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic License.

January 25, 2011
by Mrs. McGriff
5 Comments

Here’s looking at you…

And what does my blog see? Sometimes, it sees some great images that I include in my posts. Sometimes, not so much. As part of the Edublogs Teacher Challenge, Kick Start Activity 5 challenged me to look at how I use images in blog posts.  I have always talked with my students about the need to respect copyright, but I didn’t have much practical guidance to give them.

That is changing.  I just learned how to find, download, upload, at attribute an image from FlickerCC.  (L love how a different search category shows up every time I visit.)  I even added some links (under Fun Stuff on the right side) for students to find it easily.  I also learned how to create and embed a form using Google Docs.  You can see it bright and early tomorrow morning when it publishes as the next post in my series for No Name Calling Week.  Instead of the image in five words, I asked my students to write a six word response to the image since we worked with six word memoirs last semester.   You can click here to find it once it publishes. 

I also wanted to learn how to add a photo gallery rather than just a single image.  I snapped some pictures of my classroom. Can you tell what we are all about?

 

I would love to include book covers in my book review posts, but I’m not sure of how copyright applies in that situation?  Does anyone know the answer:  Can you scan (or download) images of a book cover to include in a book review.  I’ve seen a lot of blogs that do.

January 20, 2011
by Mrs. McGriff
22 Comments

So you want an avatar

Avatars are cool.  They represent you to the rest of the cyberworld.  How do you want all those readers to view you?  Give them a clue by giving them a visual image of you that follows you around on the web.  I explored several avatar creators as part of Kickstart Activity 4 – Meet The Blog’s Brain.  I know many of you  have asked me how to get your own avatar, so here you go. 

First , you need to choose an image.  You can use a real photo of yourself (or you pet or a favorite landscape or just about anything or create an image using online tools.  Be creative and let YOU shine through.

I created an user avatar (that shows up with my comments) a while back.  I used photfunia to put myself in a book.  Doesn’t that sound like me?  Here’s what it looked like: 

book avatar

I love the fact I’m in a book, but you can’t really see me in this photo.  I decided to update it with a close up that shows more of my face.  Here’s the new and improved version:

kay book avatar

I even learned how to make a Gravatar so that the same image shows up when I leave comments on blogs in different blogging platforms.  Then just for fun, I created a Picassohead and saved it to my computer.  Here’s how Picasso would draw me:

picasso avatar

If you are interested in other online avatar creations, check out this list of sites that you can use to create your avatar.  It even includes directions on how to save the images from the different sites to your computer.  Here are more suggested sites by age categories (some of them are the same).  Once you create an image you like, resize it to 97 by 97 pixels and save it to your computer as a .jpg file.

Once you have created and saved an image for your avatar, it’s time to upload it to your blog.  If you are in the EASYADMIN, click over to ADVANCED ADMIN.  Then follow these steps. 

  1. Click on Users on the left hand side.
  2. Click on Your Avatar
  3. Click on the Browse button to choose your file.  Click Open when you find it in the pop-up window.
  4. Click on Upload to crop your image.  If the cropping doesn’t work, go back and choose Alternate Upload instead. 

I can’t wait to see how you represent yourselves to the on line world.  Leave me a comment with your new avatar.

January 18, 2011
by Mrs. McGriff
3 Comments

Spruce It Up!

I hadn’t looked at my About page–or the other pages–in quite some time, so this week’s Kickstart Activity 3 – Add Some Muscle to Your Blog for the Edublogs Teacher Challenge was just what I needed. 

Back at the beginning of the school year, I dumped the letter I send home to parents on my About page.  I like the content of the letter (which tells a little about me and what to expect from my class), but it was obviously just a copy of an assignment.  I also included a poem I wrote that shares my vision for myself, my students, and the class we create together.  I liked the basics, but it could definitley use some spring cleaning.

One of the best features I found while browsing through other bloggers’ About pages was pictures–especially of the teacher then and now.  I saw it on several blogs, so I’m not sure who had the original idea.  Since I teach 8th grade, I dug through old pictures until I found one of me from way back when.  I also discovered that my friends and I took really bad pictures.  I also included a recent photo from last summer’s vacation.  Check it out on my new and improved About page.  The other changes were editing the text to take out the assignment part and explaining what the poem is.  I also added links where I could.

I next spruced up the other pages.  I have one page where my students can download extra copies of handouts in for their Language Arts Binder.  I also added some links to the Publishing Opportunities page.  I am always looking for new places my students can publish their writing.  What are your favorite publishing opportunities for students?

What do you think of the spruced up pages?

January 13, 2011
by Mrs. McGriff
22 Comments

Better blogging

How can you write a better blog post–one that gets people commenting and clicking the “like” button to share with all their friends?  Here are eight steps I came up with from completing Kickstart Activty 2 – Posts!  The Heartbeat of the Blog to get you on your way to better blogging:

  • Write from your heart:  You will write much better if you write about what you know and love.  You are an expert on something.  Share your passion with the world whether it is music or the outdoors or books.  Bill Howard’s Outdoors shares a love of hunting and fishing of all types. 
  • Hook your reader:  Craft a title or headlline that creates curiosity in your reader.  Follow that with a lead that grabs your reader by the shoulders and drags them into your post.  Elana Johnson dares to bare all in “Tell the Truth Tuesday:  Confession.”
  • Connect with other blogs or websites:  Don’t just tell about great resources you’ve found.  Create a link that can direct your reader there, too.  Mrs. Anderson brings together students, books, GoodReads and a writer in her student interview with Julia Karr
  • Go easy on your reader:  Break up your writing into short paragraphs.  Use bullets or numbers or headings to break up big chunks and direct your reader through your post.  Check out Beth Revis’s review for the Bookinistas.
  • Be conventional:  You know how distracting it is to read something with lots of spelling, punctuation, and grammar mistakes.  Take time to get it right before you publish.  Remember you can edit later if you find a mistake. 
  • Include visuals:  Go ahead and embed that video or add a picture.  You can even add music.  Make the most of the web.  See Tessa Gratton get a tattoo in honor of Blood Magic, her first novel.  However,
  • Respect other people’s creative work:  Take advantage of Creative Commons licenses that give you rights to use images and music in your posts.  Give credit to the creator.  Stealing others words and ideas hurts, as Saundra Mitchell shares.
  • Ask a question:  What response do you want from your readers?  Ask for it!  Then respond to their comments to keep the conversation going.  The bloggers at the League of Extraordinary Writers are awesome at this. 

What tips do you have for writing a great blog post?

January 10, 2011
by Mrs. McGriff
10 Comments

Interview with a blog

I’m taking part in the teacher blogging challenge sponsored by edublogs over the next few weeks, so you may see some random posts as I try out some new things.  This week’s challenge is to interview my blog for Kickstart Activity 1 – Down Blog’s Memory Lane .  Keep reading to get to know my blog better.  Here’s a snapshot:

 Wordle: blog challenge post

ME:  What’s your name, blog? 

BLOG:  Mrs. McGriff’s Reading Blog.  I know it’s pretty bland, but it’s what I’m all about–reading, reading, and more reading with a little writing thrown in.

ME:  I guess that tells us what to expect from you.  What else can we find on you?

BLOG:  Obviously, you’ll find lots of books on my blog.  Sometimes you’ll find videos about books.  There are links to websites about books, and to people who write books.  Occasionally, you’ll find random thoughts as well about almost anything.  Oh yeah, you can always find class assignments for the week at the top of the page. 

ME:  What’s with the white dots that keep floating across the page?

BLOG:  Don’t you know–it’s snowing on me.  It is winter after all.

ME:  How long have you been around?

BLOG:  I’ve been out here for several years.  I don’t keep track of my birthdays any more, but I do keep track of where people drop in from. 

ME:  Where do people come from when the visit you?

BLOG:  Check out the dots on the map.  Most visitors are from here in the US, but there are visitors from all over the world.  There are a few more every day.

ME:  Have you had any special visitors?

BLOG:  I have lots of parents and students drop by.  I’ve even had a few writers stop by to leave comments or even write a guest post.

ME:  How did you get your start on the web?

BLOG:  I started out as a result of a workshop.  Before I knew it I was sharing class assignments.  Then the books took over.  Now you can find a little bit of everything.   

ME:  What are your favorite parts of being a blog?

BLOG:  I love it when people drop by and tell me what they are thinking.  Leave me a comment.  It’s easy.  Just click and fill out the form. 

ME:  What’s with the word picture in this post?

BLOG:  That’s from Wordle.  I pasted in the text from this blog on their website, and it created the cool word picture.  The bigger the word, the more often it appears in the post.

ME:  Pretty cool.  I see there’s a link on the side to get to Wordle.  Do you have any other surprises coming up? 

BLOG:  Oh yes.  Drop by tomorrow (1-11) at 11:11 to see what’s happening on the Godspeed and Beth Revis’s new book, Across the Universe.  I promise, you won’t regret it. 

ME:  Thanks a lot, blog.  We’ll be seeing you soon.