Blogging and Why Community Matters

When I started blogging it was all about using technology in my classroom and getting my students involved outside of my classroom.  Then I got the idea that it might be cool to write about the books I’m reading so my kids can get more book recommendations.  That turned into a summer hobby which has turned Y.A. Love into a full-fledged blog.

As I’ve been navigating through the world of Y.A. blogging, I’ve asked myself tons of questions and even questioned if I’m “doing it right.”  Often these musings are on Twitter and I usually get this response: “It’s your blog, so do whatever you think is right or whatever you want.”  Not always in those words, but the general idea is there.  And I have to admit that it’s true; this is my blog so I shouldn’t worry about anyone else.  But don’t we still think about our readers and our community?  Yes, I’m writing what I want to write, but I always have my readers and students in mind.  When it gets right down to it, my community often drives my blogging.  Maybe that’s wrong, maybe it’s okay, but it’s the truth.

Before Kelly and Liz approached a group of us about this “unconventional blog tour,” I’d been thinking about this a great deal.  A couple months ago I was emailed by a college professor working on his dissertation and asked if I’d like to be interviewed and used as a source about teachers using web tools like Twitter, blogs, etc.  During our conversations after agreeing to this, how I started blogging and why I blog came up.  As I’ve grown more active on Twitter, I’ve discovered that many teachers and librarians are using my blog in a variety of ways.  I know of one teacher who shows the book trailers I feature to her classes every week.  Any time I consider skipping a Book Trailer Thursday, I think about that teacher and those students and I’m motivated to write that post.  I don’t want to let them down!  And now because I have those students in the back of my mind, I’m not only thinking about my students.  I have a wider audience influencing my blogging.  I used this exact example during that interview.

Community drives what I blog at times, but community is also important because of the  support it provides.  I don’t know if I’d still be an active blogger if it weren’t for my community and PLN on Twitter.  I can’t express how many times bloggers like Kelly @ Stacked, Jillian @ Mrs. Heise Reads and Recommends, and Crys @ Book ‘Em! The Reading Adventures of a Wannabe Librarian have helped me out.  They’ve helped me with blogging confusion, reading ruts, and just about everything else connected to blogging and reading.  It’s important to remember that the blogging community and the community of readers following your blog are often in your corner and cheering you on when you need it most.  My community provides me with amazing book recommendations and blogging topics.  Just yesterday I was talking with another blogger about sci-fi and fantasy recommendations for my Y.A. Lit II class.  I wouldn’t know her if I wasn’t blogging and interacting online.  Our community is what we make it, and I never want to take it for granted.

To prepare for this post, I put together a readership survey on my blog.  I’m honestly surprised at the number of teachers and librarians who read my blog.  I’ve always had a feeling or good idea that quite a few do, but I didn’t realize so many did!  It sure is reassuring considering how often I talk about my students when I’m posting about anything really or when I’m reviewing books.  I do that because it’s who I am as a reader and it’s why I read, but I’ve always worried that I might be alienating readers who aren’t teachers or librarians.  Anyway, I’m sharing the results of my survey 🙂  Thank you to the 57 people who responded!

1. What’s your title?

Teacher 47%
Librarian 21%
Teen 12%
Author 4%
Publisher/Publicist 2%
Blogger 42%
Other 16%

*More than one response was allowed which is why the totals don’t add up to 100.

2. How did you come across Y.A. Love today?

Search engine website 7%
Twitter 37%
RSS feed or blog feed 12%
Email subscription 9%
Referred from another website 26%
Other  9%

*Yay! Twitter!
**I should have asked what other website referred them.

3. Which type of blog post(s) do you find the most useful?

Reviews 84%
Book Trailers 33%
Author Interviews 25%
Giveaways 18%
Top Ten Lists (Memes) 53%
Education Related 47%
Other 2%

*More than one response was allowed which is why the totals don’t add up to 100.
**I wish I would have asked what other types of memes they find useful.

4. What type of blog post(s) would you like to see more of?

Reviews 46%
Book Trailers 17%
Author Interviews 25%
Giveaways 21%
Top Ten Lists (Memes)  44%
Education Related  35%
Other 12%

*More than one response was allowed which is why the totals don’t add up to 100.
**A couple of the responses with “Other” were:

  • “Keep up the variety.”
  • “I like to hear how you use books in the classroom and which books your students respond to.”
  • “I really enjoy the ‘What my students think’ posts.

My 5th question asked bloggers to leave their website if they preferred.

I kept this survey simple, but the results gave me a lot of insight.  Like I said, I didn’t realize how many teachers read my blog.  Plus, now I know that many of them are bloggers as well!  It’s also nice to know that my Twitter followers are reading my blog links (thanks!).  I’m not surprised that so many find reviews useful and want to see more, but I am surprised by how many people like and want more top ten lists or memes.  Personally, I’m a list maker and love making lists, so I’m all about writing more posts like that!  Something that strikes me as odd is that 25% want more author interviews and 17% want more book trailers.  Since posting this survey I’ve posted two author interviews and had one Book Trailer Thursday post with two trailers, but none of those posts received many views or many comments (compared to other posts, that is).  Quite a few people want more giveaways, but if my last giveaway tells me anything, it’s that I’m either not offering the “right” books, or people don’t really want a free book all that much.  I think in my last giveaway I had 8 entries.  Seriously.  Something to ponder I suppose.

I’m happy I posted this survey because I know what my community is looking for.  I love knowing that more teaching related posts are in demand because I love talking about what I’m doing in my classroom.  Even more, I love getting feedback and suggestions from other teachers!  I’m always thinking about posting more reviews, but this last half of the school year has really worn me out and it’s affected my review writing.  I know more reviews will be written this summer 🙂

I guess if anything’s taken from this post, understand that my community is incredibly important to me.  It’s not only improved my blogging, but it’s making me a better teacher.  I know the blogging community can get overwhelming sometimes, especially if you’re new to blogging, but if you manage to find a few people to connect with you’ll be happy you did.  I really hope that as I continue to blog, I continue to make new connections and provide my readers with valuable content.

NCTE/ALAN 2011 Recap

From November 18th-21st I was in Chicago for the NCTE/ALAN Annual Convention.  I ended up going by myself again this year, but unlike last year, I stayed longer and had friends to hang out with the entire time.  It was an exhausting weekend because we were constantly busy going here, there, and everywhere, but it was completely worth it.  And did you know that lugging around 20 lbs of books really wears you out? Who knew?! 🙂

Jillian (@heisereads) and I met in real life (!) for breakfast Friday morning and went to most of the same sessions.  My first session was about using graphic novels in the classroom.  It was a fantastic way to start the day because all of the presenters brought great information to the table.  One of the presenters told us about how she uses Post-it Note Diaries by Arthur Jones as an introduction to teaching the personal essay.  You can find their handouts and presentation information on the NCTE Annual Convention website.  Actually, all of the presenters were encouraged to upload their materials to the website for those who couldn’t attend certain sessions and those who couldn’t attend the conference.  Anyway, I’ve been interested in reading more graphic novels and after this session I can’t wait to find ways to use them in my classroom.

Part of my first haul of books!

Jillian and I went to the second session together, but we ended up disappointed and left.  It was about bullying but the presenter came off as arrogant and most of what she said I disagreed with.  Jillian and I decided to head down to the exhibit hall, aka the dungeon, to get in line for the John Green signing.  Unfortunately he wasn’t signing ARCs of his newest book, but we did get a chapter sample.  The exhibits were crazy when they first opened!  I have to admit that I was embarrassed for some of the teachers there.  While we waited to be let in, there was a group of teachers standing in front of us with suitcases on wheels and game planning over how to get the most books.  I completely understand being excited about free/cheaper books, but these teachers ran into the exhibit hall and bombarded the booths.  I heard teachers walking up to people working the booths and asking them what they had for free.  Really?!  Jillian and I took our time talking with the editors, publicists, marketing team, etc to find out which books were their favorites and which books they recommend for our students.  It was an excellent way to find out about new books and we formed some relationships in the process.  And you know what?  The people we spoke with were more likely to offer us books after talking with us.  So yes, some of the teachers surprised me, but most of them were doing exactly the same thing as we did.

After lunch and taking some time to rest our shoulders after lugging around 15+ books each, we went to a session on teaching grammar better.  I was exhausted by this point and couldn’t retain that much information anymore.  I was happy to attend the session, though, because they had a PowerPoint prepared that we can use with out students and they also had some good ideas on making grammar more relevant for our students.  I even sent my department head a text letting her know about the session because so many of the teachers in my department are concerned with teaching grammar.

Me, S.J. Kincaid & Jillian

Friday night ended on a high note when Jillian and I went out to dinner with HarperCollins editor Molly O’Neill and upcoming debut author S.J. (Shelley) Kincaid.  Shelley’s debut novel, Insignia, releases in July, but we were fortunate enough to get an ARC before the conference.  If you work with teenage boys, make sure you get this book.  I know some girls will enjoy it, but I can’t wait to hand this novel to my reluctant boys and my sci-fi fans.  It’s full of action and humor and just a fun read (my review will be posted soon).  Molly also invited Becky Anderson of Anderson’s Bookshops and Becky’s daughter.  I’ve only heard great things about Becky’s stores, so it was really cool getting to meet and connect with her.  Shelley is wonderful and really intelligent.  After spending some time with her at dinner, I’m really looking forward to reading more of her books in the future.

I attended my first ALAN breakfast on Saturday morning.  I met more of my Twitter friends like Jen (@mentortexts), Kellee (@kellemoye), Mindi (@mindi_r) and so many more.  It was really cool meeting everyone for the first time!  The breakfast itself was a cool experience and I really enjoyed listening to Sharon Draper speak.  The best part of her speech was talking about how our life is our dash and we need to fill it with great stories.  What a wonderful way of looking at life.  Jilllian and I were constant buddies during the convention, so we perused the exhibits and met some authors during signings.  I met Laurie Halse Anderson and now have a signed copy of Speak (squee!).  My favorite session of the day was on writing and revision.  Four teachers presented their teaching writing and revising strategies.  One of the teachers uses NaNoWriMo in her classroom.  The way she does this is so cool and something I’d love to try.  Another teacher is using writing mini-lessons for different paper assignments and has stopped using letter grades.  She has a rubric for her students and grades them on Exceeding Expectations, Meeting Expectations, and Needs Improvement.  The students have pieces to work on according to different rubrics and are graded on their improvement during the trimester.  This way of teaching sounds like something I could adapt in my classroom, so I’m excited to check out her resources.  For information on using NaNoWriMo in your classroom check out her website:  If you want to learn more about eliminating letter grades and refocusing on writing as a process, check out her website:

Sara Zarr!

Saturday night was tons of fun because we had a Twitter friends dinner at Carnivale.  The food and drinks were delicious and the restaurant is bright and vibrant.  I was sitting at the end of the table with Katherine (@katsok), Cindy (@CBethM), Lea (@leakelley) and Chris (@ckervina).  At the other end of the table was Jillian, Aly (@alybee930), Cathy (@Cathy_Blackler), Mindi (@mindi_r) and Jillian.  The conversations were great and so was the experience in general.  I really miss my Twitter friends.

Picture from Jen's blog--Jillian, Jen & Me

Sunday and Monday were simply awesome.  There weren’t that many sessions on Sunday, but I did go to a good one about using YA in a traditional curriculum.  Some of the titles were outdated, but the ideas on discussing themes were very cool.  One of the presenters discussed the idea of using theory and heuristics. They also said their handouts would be on the convention website.  The best part of Sunday was the ALAN cocktail party.  I geeked out over so many authors!  I met Sarah Dessen, Stephanie Perkins, M.T. Anderson (because after meeting John Green & telling him a story of how his books and M.T. Anderson’s books hooked one of my boys John took me to meet him and tell him the story), and so many others!  I had a chance to talk with A.S. King which was awesome after how she and I have connected since I read and reviewed Everybody Sees the Ants.   The Twitter group met up with Donalyn Miller (@donalynbooks) and Teresa (@rdngteach) there as well.  Donalyn has no fear and helped us get the courage to approach some of the authors.  Heidi (@hmz1505), a librarian and blogger, spent a lot of time hanging out with us as well.  All of us had fangirly moments over different authors 🙂

A.S. King!!

Unfortunately I couldn’t stay for the entire ALAN portion of the convention.  I was there most of the day on Monday, but I had to head home since we had finals going on for the end of the trimester.  Listening to Matt de la Pena, Chris Crutcher, Sarah Dessen, and so many other authors speak was inspiring.  Our entire Twitter row was tweeting what the authors said like crazy.  Matt de la Pena was probably my favorite speaker of the day.  Besides the fact that he’s eloquent and thoughtful, he represents so many of our reluctant readers.  I’m really bummed that I missed Laurie Halse Anderson’s presentation.  I will admit that I was happy to return home because I missed Keith, my small cats, and I was exhausted.

Overall, I can’t encourage teachers enough to attend this conference in the future.  Next year it’s going to be in Las Vegas, so I’ll start saving after Christmas.  It’s the perfect way to connect with authors and other teachers.  It’s also an excellent way to learn from other teachers.  What I liked most about the sessions is how excited the teachers were to share with us; so many told us to email them with any questions.  I loved meeting my Twitter friends and I can’t wait to meet up again! 😀

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