Tip #5: Do Not Be Afraid of Failure

As a teacher you hear many ideas. You travel to conferences and listen to speakers, engage in professional reading and workshops, and attend faculty meetings. Some of those new ideas are things you know won’t work in your situation or don’t apply to you, others are things you are already doing, and then there are those that sound wonderful and you’d love to try but doubt will work. I’d like to encourage you to try. Do not be afraid of failure.

Tip # 5:  Do not be afraid of failure     

When visiting schools and talking to students, this is a tip that I always share. It’s an attitude that is essential for writers. I do not know of an author who wasn’t rejected before being published.

Failure is part of the journey leading to success. There are countless examples of this in life. It is important that we help our students understand this and encourage them to set high goals and work hard to attain their dreams. It is also important that we model this by trying new ideas, even if we’re afraid it might not work.

Believe me, I’ve had my fair share of failures. But I’ve always learned from them. I remember laminating large-size construction paper in an attempt to create homemade white boards for my students to use during math class. I distributed cups of water and paper towels to use as erasers and had high hopes for a class where my students would be standing and sharing a variety of strategies when solving different problems. It was a disaster—and it was during one of my formal observations! I was distraught, but I was fortunate to have a principal who helped me recognize what was most important—I was trying, and because of that she knew I’d eventually make it work. Indeed my early failures ultimately helped me to create the math classroom I envisioned—just not with homemade white boards.

You never know where a new idea will take you. I remember reading Carl Anderson’s book, How’s It Going? (a book I highly recommend). Essentially, Anderson shows us that the goal of the writing conference should be to help the writer, not the writing. And you help the writer by teaching him or her to think like a writer and use strategies that real writers use that will help the student forevermore, long after your conference. I bought into Anderson’s idea wholeheartedly, but how do you teach these strategies if you don’t know them? I didn’t know if I could do it, but I started writing more and paying attention to my writing so I could try to better help my students (my writers) during our conferences.  And guess what?  Not only was I able to help my students, but that writing was the early inspiration that started me on the path leading to my first Mr. Terupt novel.

So be brave. Take one—just one—of those ideas you’ve heard about that you liked the sounds of but haven’t yet tried, and do it. Maybe you want to incorporate a rubric for the writing process (Teaching Tip #1 can help with that), or maybe you have a project you want to implement (Teaching Tip #3 can help with that), or maybe there is a new book you want to use with your students. Whatever it is, go for it. And do not be afraid of failure.

To be fair, I’ve challenged myself to do the same. Though it scared me, I recently joined Twitter. And I’m happy to report, it has been going well.


I’d love to hear from you if you find Mr. Terupt’s tips helpful or if you have additional thoughts or questions.  You can email me at rbuyea@robbuyea.com.

You can visit me at www.robbuyea.com.  Look for tip #6 to be posted on Monday, December 7th.

Tip # 4: Send Writing Home

From the time a child first enters school until they complete middle school—maybe longer—it seems homework often consists of some combination of math, spelling, maybe a grammar exercise, social studies, science, and reading.  What about writing?

Tip # 4:  Send Writing Home

Given that there seems to be less and less time for creative writing, why not consider making it a part of homework?  Provide a prompt, if needed, and give your students a week to write a story.  (I’m not suggesting you pile on writing homework every night.  That would only create kids who hate the subject and make homework a nightmare.)  You can collect all the stories and grade them as a simple homework assignment, or you can collect a small number of them on different days of the week and give your students a formal grade and/or feedback, and then they can revise if they choose or if you want, or they can move on to a new piece.  By having a small number due on different days assessing should become more manageable, and in turn, meaningful, but these are decisions to be made based on you and your classroom.

If you are incorporating units of study in your writer’s workshop, then sending writing home on a nightly basis seems like a natural fit.  You might consider having due dates for drafts so you can give your students written feedback, thus providing them with an opportunity to engage in real revision based on your comments.  (Again, by having a small number due on different days, reading and giving feedback should be more manageable.)

Students need increased opportunities to think about and work on their writing outside of the classroom, at different times in the day and in different environments.  Those of you who like using writer’s notebooks with your students, here’s another opportunity.  The writing notebook can go home nightly so that your students begin to better understand they can use this tool when away from their desk and outside of the classroom.  (Mine travels with me everywhere.  Some of my very best sentences and ideas happen in my head when I’m far away from my writing desk.)

Communicating with parents

Take the opportunity to help parents understand the goals and their role in this process. Start by explaining to parents what the expectations are when you meet them early in the year at your Open House or Back To School Night.  Follow that up with newsletters on how to help with writing at home.  With a team approach, you can capitalize on parent support.

What if your student forgets his draft at home?  Doesn’t class time become wasted the next day? Having parents on the same page will help to prevent this, and by taking advantage of google docs, thumb drives, and email, connecting home and school is easier than ever.  If there isn’t a computer at home, you can make a photocopy of the draft before it leaves the classroom.  Yes, this might be a hurdle, but it is one you can overcome.

I do not know anyone who will argue with the old adage, more reading makes better readers.  The same is true for writing.  Get your students writing.  And talking about writing.  Send writing home.  Celebrate writing!

I’d love to hear from you if you find Mr. Terupt’s tip helpful or if you have additional thoughts or questions.  You can email me at rbuyea@robbuyea.com.

Happy Writing!

You can visit Rob at www.robbuyea.com.  Look for tip #5 to be posted on Monday, November 2nd.

Designing and Implementing Projects

There are many areas of teaching that truly excite me.  So far I have discussed writing, with an emphasis on revision, and reading—both obvious talking points for an author. This month I’d like to highlight another one of my favorites, and one of Mr. Terupt’s–and Luke’s!—specialties: Projects!

Tip # 3:  Designing and Implementing Projects

Why turn a lesson into a project? It’s a great way to help get your students enthusiastic about a subject and shows everyone that learning can be fun. Not everything you teach needs to become a project-based activity, but most anything you teach can become one.

Let’s consider one of my favorite math challenges—Dollar Words—as an example. (See p. 8 in Because of Mr. Terupt for an explanation of dollar words.) Rather than giving students only a few minutes to tackle this addicting problem, why not make it a project?  Jazz things up by asking for a poster that not only displays dollar words but also includes a written explanation detailing all the strategies used and patterns discovered along the way that helped the student. These strategies might include data tables or scrambling letters in a word to find new words and patterns with certain prefixes and/or suffixes, etc.

That’s great, but how can you possibly fit projects into your already over-packed curriculum? The biggest obstacle for every teacher always seems to be time. Here’s one approach that shouldn’t make projects a burden.

  1.  Before doing anything with students, I like to tackle the selected problem myself first.  While working on it I pay close attention to my thinking so I can do a better job of facilitating when my students engage in the work.  This also gives me a chance to decide what I want to ask for in the project and to create a rubric for assessment purposes.
  2. When ready, dedicate one class period to introducing the problem and project to the whole group.  (Note:  This is the only class time that needs to be impacted.)  Go over your guidelines and expectations and share an example of the final product. Another reason you should do the project beforehand is so that you can have an example to share, but after your first project, you can hang on to student work to share in the future.  
  3. After introducing everything, get your students working so that you can make sure everyone understands the problem and is able to get started.  At this point you will become a facilitator, moving about the room and checking in with different students and/or groups, asking thoughtful questions and responding to student questions, giving advice but not necessarily giving answers.
  4. Following this introduction and start period, your students can continue working at home or you can have project time for your class when time allows.  You can also begin to let your students return to their project whenever they complete their regular class work.  Often, we have our students who finish early turn to silent reading.  While that’s always a good option, now you can also have them turn to their project work—another good choice.

Don’t be surprised if allowing your students to work on projects builds excitement and motivates slower workers to get more done so they can join the fun!

I’d love to hear from you if you find Mr. Terupt’s tip helpful or if you have additional thoughts or questions.  You can email me at rbuyea@robbuyea.com.

Happy Reading!

You can visit Rob at robbuyea.com.  Look for tip #4 to be posted on Monday, October 5th

Share Your Love of Reading

Reading is an important part of what I do.  I love books! I love to talk about books.  I love it so much that I have two of my characters (Mr. Terupt and Jessica) sharing books throughout my Mr. Terupt novels.  Mr. Terupt is not only a passionate teacher; he is a passionate reader, which brings me to his second tip.

Mr. Terupt’s Teaching Tip # 2: Share Your Love of Reading

Do you have trouble getting those “reluctant” readers to start reading? During my years as a teacher, I know that I had many students who never considered themselves to be readers, and those were often the students who could benefit the most from a good story. Over the years, I found different ways to help these students see how exciting reading can be. First and foremost, if you want your students to become lifelong passionate readers, then you need to show them that you are a reader. Make books a prominent part of your classroom. (Summer tag sales can be a great way to add to your classroom library without wearing out your budget.) Put books on display, and start talking to students about what you’re reading. Start talking and start recommending.  When your students see how passionate you are and that reading isn’t just something kids are supposed to do in a classroom but is a lifelong source of entertainment, you might just get those “reluctant” kids excited about reading too. Another thing that you can do to motivate reading is to have informal book chats with your students as you walk to specials, or one-on-one when a student first arrives in the morning, or before he or she leaves for the day. These short, personal talks can make a huge difference in growing excited readers. These short, personal talks are more likely to happen if your students get to choose what they read, which goes back to the importance of having a beautiful classroom library with wide variety.  And just a tip for your own pleasure: I loved listening to audio books on my way to and from school. Not only did this help me get through more books so that I had more to share with my students, but it also helped me to become better at reading aloud. And yes, of course, read-aloud is always a great way to inspire new readers!

I’d love to hear from you if you find Mr. Terupt’s tip helpful or if you have additional thoughts or questions. You can comment below or email me at rbuyea@robbuyea.com.


Mr. Terupt’s Teaching Tips

Dear Educators,

I have decided to do something new this school year and share with all of you twelve teaching tips from Mr. Terupt. You can check out Mr. Terupt’s Teaching Tip #1: Getting Your Students to Revise at rhteacherslibrarians.com. Going forward, starting in August, you will find new Mr. Terupt’s Teaching Tips right here, on the first Monday of every month. Once in a while, I might be inspired by Mr. Terupt’s Teaching Tips to share with you some of my own strategies, as you will see in my next post, inspired by Mr. Terupt’s Teaching Tip #1!

I hope that you find these tips helpful, and have a fun and successful school year. In the meantime, enjoy your summer!

Rob Buyea

A Closer Look at My Revision Process

While working on Mr. Terupt’s first tip, I was prompted to think about my revision process. Below is a peek at what revising looks like for me and a few of my strategies.  Who knows? Maybe you will find a new mini-lesson or two here.

My Revision Process 

  1. Reread what I’ve written. Make changes.
  2. Reread it again. Make more changes.
  3. Reread it again! Make more changes!

Steps 1-3 happen over and over and over. But what do I focus on while I read, and what prompts me to make changes? 

A Few Revising Strategies

  •  Sometimes I read my writing aloud to myself.  Hearing it can help me with word choice, punctuation, dialogue, and more.
  • I reread with a specific focus or goal in mind. For example, I might reread to eliminate where I’ve been redundant. With a cast of characters such as the one I feature in my Mr. Terupt novels, I have to work hard to make sure two different voices aren’t using the same phrases or repeating things or describing something in the same way. I need the voices to be distinct.
  • I might highlight and/or color code specific areas. While working on my Mr. Terupt novels I made the critical details for each character a different color. I was able to read just the purple parts from beginning to end to make sure that I had developed that part of the manuscript, that I wasn’t repeating, and that there weren’t gaps. This was so helpful!
  • I use numbers to track where I want to insert changes and add sentences, with a list corresponding to those numbers on a separate sheet of paper or in the margins of my draft.
  • I jot notes in the margins to remind myself of what I want to think about when I revisit that page later.
  • I jot questions in the margins to help me focus as I move forward in the manuscript.
  • After all this, it is time to share so that I get feedback and hear questions, and this will help me do it all over again.

Check out the image below to see what my work with Jeffrey looked like in Because of Mr. Terupt.  (I made Jeffrey green.) 

Be sure to visit rhteacherslibrarians.com to find Mr. Terupt’s Teaching Tip #1, and check back here on the first Monday in August to discover what’s next.

Happy Reading (and revising)!