Which "dollar word" do the 776 Mason Intermediate fourth graders use to describe their recent visit with Rob Buyea, author of Because of Mr. Terupt? Excellent!
Buyea, a former math teacher from Connecticut, based much of the book on his own experiences in the classroom - including the “dollar word challenge” which places a monetary value on each letter of the alphabet, with “A” as one cent, and “Z” as 26 cents. The challenge is for students to find words that equal a one-dollar value.
MI students devoured the book and its characters; seven fifth graders and their teacher who are facing issues that connected with many of the MI fourth graders. The realistic fiction author met with students in group assemblies where they asked him questions about his writing process and story ideas, and then he met in smaller groups to talk with students about their writing. The book connected with the classes' character unit, and realistic fiction unit.
“This novel may be one of the best to teach about Character than any others I've read. Each student found one (or more) characters to connect with, and made them feel as though they were part of the story,” explained fourth grade Language Arts teacher Christine Work, who helped bring Buyea to Mason. "I wanted to bring Rob to the school at a time when students were working on their own realistic fiction pieces, so that the students could make connections with the system in which he wrote his story and how they are writing theirs. Revision is the hardest part about writing, he said, but he noted, 'How do I get it done? I sit down, and I just do it!'"
Buyea had previously skyped with some of Work's former students, but this was the first year that the entire fourth grade read the same book, and had an author visit together. Students appreciated Buyea's animation and passion for learning and growing as a writer.
“Keep your writing switches on. Ideas come with you least expect. I take my writer’s notebook everywhere!” shared Buyea who told students that he didn’t particularly like reading and writing when he was in school, but was inspired to begin writing when he read his students’ stories. “While teaching elementary school I soon realized that in order to teach reading and writing, I needed to be a reader and writer first. I began reading all sorts of wonderful books. Then I began writing.”
Many of the fourth graders were motivated to improve their writing. Blane Baker said, "The novel Because of Mr. Terupt made me emotional. It has inspired me to write stories that will make my reader emotional, too." Addy Hulbert shared, "I learned that it takes a long time to write a story, not just a few days. You need to use a lot of life's moments to help make your story good."
Some students, like Grace Bryant, felt inspired to pursue a career in writing herself. And, many of the school's teachers also felt inspired.
"This book, and the character of Mr. Terupt, makes me want to be a better teacher," said MI teacher Laurie Butts.