Ringing in the Year 2015

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If you google “Year in Review,” you can find so many social media sites have already posted videos and slide shows for the year 2014.  Google’s Year in Review 2014 can bring tears to your eyes as you remember events that have touched the world through tragedies, celebrations, and other current events:  Ebola, riots, war, Olympic triumphs, deaths of icons, etc.  However, my personal favorite “Year in Reviews” are the personal ones that pop up on our news feeds on Facebook or Twitter.  I enjoy reliving your memories through your pictures of family, children, special events, and triumphs.  The music playing in the background of the videos or slide shows make it even more emotional!

On that note, what would your “Year in Review” look like as an educator?  Do you ever look back at the pictures you took of your students, class projects, or school events for the year?  What would your movie or slide show look like?  I can imagine that all of our “Year in Reviews” would be filled with pictures of smiling students, creative and imaginative class projects, and fabulous school events.  Maybe our “Year In Reviews” would also document those late nights grading papers, frustrating parent conferences, famous last words of students, etc.  In all reflection, I imagine we have experienced ups and downs just like everyone else.

“Year in Reviews” are great, and they facilitate us to be nostalgic and bring us to emotion.  I encourage you though to go beyond nostalgia.  Use your “Year in Review’ for 2014 to be an even BETTER educator, learner, and person.  You can start by just choosing one thing in your classroom to change.  It might just be the layout of your classroom.  Can your homework policy be revised?  Is there a better way to implement your classroom management system?  Do you want more parental involvement?

Let’s not remain stagnate for the rest of the school year and be open to change this new year of 2015!  Wishing every educator, learner, and administrator a “Happy New Year.”

A, B, C, D, or Failing?

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Wow, the first quarter of school zoomed by like a hornet…nope not like a sweet butterfly, but a hornet – FAST and FURIOUS.  Being at a new school definitely has its challenges as I adapt to a new set of rules, routines, and procedures.  As a veteran teacher of almost 15 years, I still feel like a “brand new teacher.”  However, these feelings can also be beneficial as it facilitates a desire for CHANGE in me as an educator.

At this time of the year, teachers are inputting, posting, and sharing grades with students and parents at conferences.  Regardless, the goal is the same:  to convey the strengths and weaknesses of the student in academics and personal development.  Some school systems have standards-based report cards, behavior-based report cards, and letter-grade report cards.  Regardless the evaluation tool, the teachers hold parent conferences to convey these “grades” to the students and parents.  I believe most teachers are also involving the students more in the process by conducting student-led conferences or administering student-reflection grades.

BUT what about the grade of the teacher?  As educators, we know that self-reflection as a teacher is important.  So, do teachers get “grades” every quarter?  I am not talking about the evaluation process by the administrator at the beginning and end of the year.  I mean what about grades from OUR STUDENTS?  Our students are with us a majority of the day – not the parents or administrators.  So, the desire for CHANGE in me as an educator facilitated my need to give my students a report card to fill out on ME this quarter.

Ummmm…wow! The results were astounding. For example, I had no idea how MUCH my students, including my high students, dislike reading journals, because the monotony of the assignment. So, I need to spice it up! Another example is how much my students LOVE “Pampering Day,” because they get to hang out with their teacher at Chili’s after school. There were so many other golden nuggets of information, but most of all, the students made me feel good about what I am doing in the classroom. I realize I need affirmation just like them!

So, how can you make a teacher report card? Here are some easy steps!

1. Ask yourself what you what to be graded on as a teacher? What have you been dying to know? Make a list.

2. Decide what platform to use. Do you want a paper report card, or do you want to save trees and integrate technology? I used Google Forms, because my students have and utilize their Google accounts!


3. Explain the purpose of this report card to your students. Let them know it’s anonymous, and there will be no judgement. Model for them how to fill it out.

4. Collect and analyze the results. The great thing about Google Forms are that the results are organized and accessible through an Excel document.

5. Be open to CHANGE based on the results.

So, it looks like this quarter I made the Honor Roll. Now, if I can just keep it up!

Spell the word…

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How many of you are good spellers? Honestly, because according to statistics, there are a lot of people out there who are thankful for spellcheck on the computer. I occasionally use spellcheck, but I am fortunate to be a pretty good speller. How did I get this way? Should I thank my 1st grade teacher who placed a huge emphasis on spelling tests every Friday (that’s another debate for another time), or should I also thank my parents who made me write my words 10x each before I could play outside?

I really never thought about these questions in my teacher preparation courses in college. First of all, student teachers draw upon their own school experiences in the beginning. I don’t know about you, but I was used to the procedure of getting the spelling list of 20 words on Monday and then testing those words on Friday. I do remember doing spelling activities in class like writing the words 3 x each or writing definitions for every word from the dictionary. For me, I always HATED these activities, because I already knew how to spell 75% of the words. Most of the time, I would score a 100% on the test by Friday. I really never saw or worked with those words again.

Well, after my first year of teaching (this is when you start to feel more comfortable with teaching outside the text), I noticed I had a group of low and high spellers – extremes. The same group of students would BOMB their spelling tests, and the same group of students would ACE their spelling tests. I inferred that the group of students who BOMBED the spelling test just didn’t study, because I was doing my part as a teacher of introducing the spelling pattern and incorporating spelling centers in the classroom.

BUT sigh, my whole philosophy of “being a good speller = great study habits” was shot out the door when I became a mother! PLEASE DON’T MISUNDERSTAND ME THOUGH, I STILL BELIEVE STUDYING IS IMPORTANT. It was just frustrating to study the same words over and over, and my child still struggled. In addition, how many times had my child spelled the words 100% correct at home and then performed poorly on the classroom spelling test. I just didn’t get it!

Then, as a teacher I started to do some research on spelling…not Facebook post kind-of-research, but reading various meta-analysis on spelling. What did I discover?? The traditional way of teaching spelling WAS and IS not working. So, what – according to research and not tradition – works better?  I wanted to know for my students and for my own kids.

WORD STUDY! What is the difference? A word study program is a cohesive approach that addresses word recognition, vocabulary, and phonics as well as spelling (Zutell, 1992). Word study involves students dissecting, investigating, and UNDERSTANDING the pattern of words. A visual of what this might look like IN THE CLASSROOM is:

1. introducing the word pattern
2. providing a list of words that meet that pattern
3. color-coding the pattern
4. sorting the words into word sorts and
5. participating in activities to reinforce the pattern.

The students should become so familiar with the word patterns and exceptions to the rule (as English is famous for) that they can recognize those spelling patterns in other words; therefore, there is a meaningful connection and application to writing. As stated by Leipzigo (2000), in order to implement word study effectively, teachers and students alike must become word detectives, engaged in an ongoing attempt to make sense of word patterns and their relationships to one another. Spelling “rules” are not dictated by the teacher for students to memorize. Rather, spelling patterns and generalizations are discovered by students.

Another crucial component of word study is to recognize that spelling is developmental. This is why some students BOMB the spelling test. They are not developmentally ready or have the prior knowledge to recognize the spelling pattern. Therefore, teachers should differentiate word study in the classroom by creating word study groups. A teacher can administer a spelling inventory to determine a student’s strengths and weaknesses. I personally use “Words Their Way” as an assessment tool, and I use the books as well. There are ready-made tests and sorts…love ready-made!

Now, you are saying in your head…ummm, get real. When do I have time to meet the needs of so many word study/spelling groups in my classroom? My advice – start with baby steps. For example, I am currently at a new school still learning the ropes. Therefore, after I administered the spelling inventory, I made the decision to have a word study group for my struggling spellers/readers only. However, even though I use the curriculum spelling words for my other students, I still implement the “word study” approach to learn the words. I have made spelling word cards for each list and each student to color code, sort, and manipulate. We participate in more meaningful word study/spelling activities such as writing a spelling story, completing spelling pyramids, highlighting vowels, etc. Also, parents have a list of various researched and effective activities they can do at home with their child BEYOND the writing the word 10x each.

So, I’m not perfect (definitely not), and I’m still learning myself. After some more experience at my new school, I hope to get back to differentiating word study/spelling for my high students as well. Also, I still believe spelling tests are crucial to assess whether or not my kids are getting it, but they don’t have to be every Friday.  Students may take more than a week to study their words.  However, maybe I should change my terminology from “spelling tests” to “word study tests.”

If you would like more information on “Words Their Way,” you can visit:

1. Research at http://www.pearsonschool.com/index.cfm?locator=PS181e.

WTW Book


2. Products at http://www.amazon.com.  


WTW Orange Book

WTW Red Book          WTW Green Book          WTW Blue Book


3. Activities at http://www.pinterest.com/kimiquin/words-their-way/.


FriXion! The Good Kind

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One of my really good friends who is also a kindergarten teacher (bless ALL kindergarten teachers) and I were at a Costco on mainland Japan. We both love the office and school supply section, because well…we are teachers! While perusing the aisle, she grabbed a pack of pens for another fellow teacher friend who first introduced this miraculous invention to us. Hmmm….I was intrigued about what was so special about those pens, because the package was labeled, “FriXion.” Little did I know that package would CHANGE my shopping habit with pens, highlighters, and felt-tip markers!

Pilot Corporation, a Japanese-based company, invented FriXion pens. These pens are revolutionary, because they ERASE! Now, I know there are a lot of erasable pens out there, but the technology behind these pens are about friction heat. When you use the tip of the pen to erase, the friction causes the ink to become invisible.

Not only is this pen A-M-A-Z-I-N-G, but also this FriXion technology comes in pens, highlighters, and felt tip markers. I now use these inventions to write in agendas, on the clipboard, grade papers, etc. I don’t have to every worry about using white out again!  For an OCD teacher, white out is not an option.


FriXion Pens – come in 0.5 or 0.7


FriXion Highlighters


My Favorite! FriXion Markers!

FriXion items can be purchased right on their site at http://pilotpen.us/brands/frixion/.  You can also find them on Amazon, of course. However, those of you who are blessed to live in Japan, like myself, can purchase them at any department or book store with a stationary section.  Try it out…FriXion, The Good Kind!

Out of my Comfort Zone

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At 4:30 am, the theme to “Star Wars” blares from my iPhone as I groggily open my tired eyes. SNOOZE – I love that button. Of course, a few seconds after I hit snooze I realize that my day must begin. What happens in the next hour and a half is like a typhoon as I scurry around making my kids’ lunches, making sure their backpacks are packed, empty the dehumidifiers – DAILY (yes, I live in one of the most humid island places), remember to turn the dryer on, empty the dishwasher, and make breakfast. Somewhere in that timeframe, I manage to take a shower and get ready for work.  Nope, I don’t lay my clothes out ahead a time for the week, because I am a “let’s pull out what’s not wrinkled” kind-of-gal.

Yes, I am a working mother of three beautiful children.  Children who I love with all my heart, mind, and soul, but as you know being a Mom is one of the hardest jobs in the world.  My fellow working moms – you also experience this whirlwind every morning.  Oh, did I also mention that I am also a teacher?  Yep, I am with children 24 hrs. a day, 7 days a week, 365 days of the year.  School holidays and vacations are not really a vacation for me.  Guess what, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.  There’s NOTHING more rewarding than being a mom and a teacher of children.  It’s a calling, and you can’t ignore God’s calling.

I have always wanted to be a teacher. Even when I was young, I would play school with the other children in my neighborhood. Of course, I would only participate in the role of the educator. There was something powerful about being a teacher. As a young child, I couldn’t explain that power in words. However, I felt it when I watched my elementary teachers in front of the chalkboard. They seemed to have power over the class. Those teachers could take us to other places through our imaginations. They could also turn on the light in our minds and make us say, “Oh, I get it!” One word of encouragement or praise could make us feel like we were on top of the world. Teaching seemed like such a glamorous job. Teachers seemed part-human and part-magical.

Well, as you know the world has changed, and it is almost magical.  Have you ever read the book, “The World is Flat,” by Thomas L. Friedman?  Due to technology, there are no more boundaries between countries, classrooms, families, etc.  As mothers and educators, we can look to our computer to share pictures of our adorable children (no matter how embarrassing to our kids); search for healthy, organic recipes; collaborate on lesson plans; find cute bday party ideas; and read endless blogs about people who share in our own experiences.  We can connect on a whole new level, and for many of us, it is out of our comfort zone to be so apparent and open with people we don’t know.  However, I believe the reasons why blogs are so popular is because there are so many of us that are really “closet teachers and learners.”  “Closet teachers” are those who have so much to share and offer, but they are afraid to speak in front of large audiences in person.  They might fear that public humiliation that happens face-to-face, but behind a computer, it’s much easier to type those words and not fear retaliation.  “Closet learners” are those who are scared to ask for help and admit they need help in being a mom, teacher, writer, etc.  Blogs are the perfect answer for these people who seek advice in a comfortable environment.

So, I admit that I am a closet learner.  I am one of those moms who wants to feed much healthier meals for my kids, organize her house much better, and do those creative Pinterest projects.  I am NOT creative, and I need help.  On the professional end, I am a closet teacher.  My desire is to present my ideas and collaborate with other educators, but I am afraid.  I fear those critics, and people who believe I think I know it all.  BUT that is further from the truth.  If you only knew the doubts that sometimes pervade my mind about whether or not teaching is really my calling.  There are so many times I want to have an office job in a cubicle with no human contact.  Seriously, I wanted to be Ralph Waldo Emerson.

However, after surrounding myself with positive mothers and educators who inspire me, I realize that I must “step out of my comfort zone.”  I can’t be an island and pretend to be this “perfect mom and teacher,” because I am NOT.  The title of my blog, “TheGuruSensei,” is actually a joke that stuck from my college days – thanks, Beth Puckett.  Everything is trial and error.  Life is really about the process.  So, I choose to share that process with you…to let you know I am not perfect.  I may be OCD and anal-retentive, but I make mistakes – it is ok.  So, may my ideas or “ramblings of a teacher” help you in your journey as a working mom, educator, closet teacher or learner, or whatever.  Please be kind, please be patient, and please enjoy!

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