Choosing the Right Scaffolds for Individual Students

As an English teacher, I am always thinking strategically to sequence reading and writing assignments. As I plan these assignments I also must consider what scaffolding I will provide for students to build skills, while at the same time, make writing instruction manageable.

My students are reading books with social justice themes and to show their thinking about their reading, I had students to trace the protagonist’s actions and beliefs throughout the book against Gandhi’s principals.  Additionally, students were to show how these principals contribute to overall theme or central idea of the book. 

The on demand, short response writing assignment was: Choose a quote from Gandhi that you feel best exemplifies the protagonist and their experiences in the book.  Be sure to include two or more textual details to support your claim. Follow the ACE Strategy (Answer – Cite – Elaborate & Explain):

For some of my students, this is a complex task and I provide scaffolding in the form of a graphic organizer to better help them articulate their thinking. Scaffolding is an instructional technique where the teacher models the desired learning strategy or task. Graphic organizers help to break down a task into small parts to support student thinking. Note the graphic organizer created for the Gandhi short response:

Additionally, depending on the needs of your students, revision options or requirements can be a great way to incorporate more writing and support.  The need to implement a scaffold occurs when you realize a student is not progressing or unable to understand a particular concept. Examples are another scaffolding strategy to show models and mentor writing for students struggling to meet the learning targets. I often showcase student models to teach back to the whole class in a mini-lesson and provide an example of writing that meets the learning standard like the student example below. 

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When more scaffolding is necessary, advanced organizers and sentence frames that are partially completed can guide students with the necessary format or academic vocabulary to improve their writing. In the revision document I created below, I provide students sentence stems and specific vocabulary to show the relationship between the protagonist and Gandhi. Hints are also included on the revision document to offer suggested vocabulary and clues to make visible student thinking about the text.

Scaffolding comes in many forms. The idea is to provide the right scaffold at the right time to help students become independent learners. Eventually, students should be able to create their own scaffolding tools to help them meet the learning goals.

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What would you do if you had the chance to help a person find freedom?

In Henry Cole’s wordless picture book, Unspoken (Scholastic, 2013), a young farm girl leading a cow down a country lane turns her head to stare at a string of Confederate soldiers passing by on horseback. Later, gathering potatoes in the shed, she is startled to see a single eye peering out from between stalks of corn piled in a dim corner. At dinner that night, she eyes her own meal, quietly wraps a biscuit in a checked napkin, and delivers it to the shed. She barely sees the runaway; the pictures show just an eye. She never speaks with the hidden figure, but she leaves food, wrapped in cloth, even as terrifying, armed slave hunters on horseback show her family a poster: “Wanted. Escaped. Reward.”Then the fugitive disappears in the night, but the girl finds a doll made from the star-patterned cloth that covered the food she had brought. At the story’s end, the girl lies in bed watching the stars in the night sky.

On the back cover of the book the Cole writes, “What would you do if you had the chance to help a person find freedom?”

This weekend, the movie Harriet (Focus Feature Films, 2019) was released and it is an outstanding film showcasing the extraordinary feats of Harriet Tubman. Tubman “gained international acclaim during her lifetime as an Underground Railroad agent, abolitionist, Civil War spy and nurse, suffragist, and humanitarian” (US National Park Service). The movie presents Tubman rise above horrific childhood adversity and emerge with a will of steel. Tubman transcends victimization to achieve personal and physical freedom from her oppressors.

In fact, Tubman emancipated herself from slavery in 1849 at age 27. She earned the nickname “Moses” for risking her own life about 13 times to guide more than 70 people—many of them family and friends she had left behind—from lives in slavery to new lives in freedom. She never backed down from the chance to help others find freedom.

One of the lesson plans on the US National Park’s Service websites has students examine What led Tubman to escape slavery and to return to rescue her family and friends? What factors led other enslaved people to remain in their conditions? Was Harriet Tubman’s decision a product of personal courage, her situation as an enslaved woman facing sale, or a grave risk?

Harriet, the movie comes at a time when a nation is faced with helping others looking for freedom. From Syrian Refugees to Central and South Americans looking to escape the violence in their home countries, individuals make choices whether to help others find freedom. Harriet and the young protagonist in Unspoken model actions both big and small to help others to be free. Are you an upstander too?

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Edchat Interactive: Diverse Tools for Diverse Readers

For more information about Edchat Interactive check out their website for archived webinars and upcoming web events.

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Empathy Mapping as a Classroom Protocol

Empathy is defined as ‘the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.’ This is something that’s becoming increasingly necessary in a world that seems polarised by intolerance and a lack of cultural understanding and sympathy. Having a greater sense of empathy with an understanding of the people around us can also help us to develop more productive and positive relationships and help reduce personal conflicts. (Peachey Publications, 2018)

My students are currently in the throws of creating a short film (Public Service Announcement, Documentary, or Short Feature) about a problem in the world they want to bring attention to. Students first had to pick the problem, then research more about the problem they selected, finding credible and reliable data about their topic. Then students completed a film proposal on Google Forms before they started their storyboards outlining their vision for the film.

Before we started filming, students create an empathy map to help consider their audience’s perspective.  Businesses often use the process of empathy mapping to understand and serve their customers better. By completing the empathy map students have a better understanding on their viewers or direct users of their film. 

An empathy map has four quadrants:

The Says quadrant contains what the user will say.

The Thinks quadrant captures what the user is thinking. 

The Does quadrant focuses on the actions the user takes.

The Feels quadrant is the user’s emotional response.

I created more specific questions to lead my students through the different quadrants and help them articulate their expectations for their film and the purpose of the film.

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The goals section on the bottom of the map helps students with the next steps and create a checklist of things to do to in order to create the film. At the same time, this map reveals any holes in the students design process as well as guide them towards a meaningful film.

Outside of this film project, I think about using empathy maps as a learning tool in English where students create empathy maps about the characters in the stories or literature they are reading. In longer texts, they can gradually build the empathy maps for each of the characters in the story as they gather more information.

 

 

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#EdTechTeam Google Summit 2019

EdTechTeam hosts Google Summits around the world and this past weekend one was held in Manchester, CT. On their website, EdTechTeam boasts their summits are, “High-intensity, conference-style events focus on the latest in educational technology and emerging pedagogy.”

The morning began with a key note from Rushton Hurley, educator, founder and executive director of the educational nonprofit Next Vista for Learning, which houses a free library of hundreds of short videos by and for teachers and students. Hurley spoke about the fun and cool of getting better.

“The only person to who you every need compare yourself is the you who you were yesterday.” — Rushton Hurley

Hurley highlighted three elements of becoming better educators:

  1. Rapport: Creating a rapport with means standing outside your classroom door before class and telling students, “I’m glad you’re here.” Additionally, there is power in a positive phone call home. He asked all participants to make a positive phone call home. The key is that it is the little things that matter.
  2. DeliveryRather than raise your voice have a sound making tool like a cow bell — okay, he is from Texas, think of other sound making tools that you might use for your students, chimes or even a theme song. To captivate your audience you need to get every student feeling confident to where they can contribute to meaningful discussions. Check out this weather man’s delivery:  

Think about your delivery to create engaging activities especially for students who need something a little different. Hurley states, “The good minutes we craft, that is what matters.”

3. Find the fun in teaching and learning. Create a classroom environment where dynamic learning and exploring are the norm. Find the cool in what you do and build off of it. Little things can allow for big improvement.  Fun is about being excited about learning

I later attended a session with Hurley titled 4 Fun and powerful activities for starting the class strong. These four activities included:

1.Share without having someone get up and share using technology tools like Padlet. Flipgrid, or Polleverywere allow all students to contribute in some way, even the introverts. 

2. Use an image to start active engagement. Show an image that might not directly connect to the discussion but students can begin to surmise a connection or theme. 

3. Play a game – There are many online games for learning from Quizizz, Kahoot, Gimkit, and Quizlet Live. Utilize these online gaming platform for practicing learning and showing understanding.

4. Videos is a teaching tool. Rushton’s nonprofit, Next Vista for Learning, which houses a free library of hundreds of short videos by and for teachers and students is a great resource to share videos and inspire students to create videos.

On a side note, my current students in the media literacy class I teach each semester are creating videos to highlight problems in the world and they will be submitting their videos to Next Vista for feedback and distribution. 

A third workshop I attended was on differentiation with Google Classroom presented by instructional technologist, Taneesha A. Thomas. In this session teachers set up a differentiated project and learned how to manage it using Google Classroom. This hands on session we put the knowledge we had about differentiation into action and learned other ways to use Google Classroom to create a more collaborative environment.

According to Edutopia differentiation: 

Build lessons, develop teaching materials, and vary your approach so that all students, regardless of where they are starting from, can learn content effectively, according to their needs.

Here are a few Google tricks to individualize and differentiate in Google Classroom:

You can assign work to individual students  – No two students work at exactly the same pace on every lesson. The ability to choose which students receive specific assignments is the basis for differentiation. Think about providing remediation lessons for students who need more practice or providing extension activities for students who have mastered content is another method for differentiation which can be easily handled in Classroom.

With Classroom, this process is streamlined to enable teachers to create leveled work and assign it to individuals or groups of students. Teachers simply have to create assignments and choose students to receive it. Students are unable to see which other students have the same or different assignments.

Cater to Learning Styles – It’s easy to cater to multiple learning styles with Classroom. When students submit work, they are offered options for uploading their creations. Included in those options are items such as attaching files, links, Docs, Slides, Sheets, or Drawings. The possibilities are only limited by teacher and student imaginations.

Google Classroom is designed to support differentiation for your students, making it easy to adjust which students get which assignments, provide a variety of learning resources with the assignment, and support student choice in the product they create to demonstrate what they have learned.

 

 

 

 

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Field Trip: WW2 Museum in New Orleans

My grandfather was a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne Division Parachute Infantry. The airborne divisions – two American and one British – dropped behind the landing beaches in the hours before dawn of D-Day. Over 20,000 men – the largest airborne force ever assembled – entered Normandy by glider and parachute. The 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions landed behind Utah Beach. The overall mission of the airborne divisions was to disrupt and and confuse the Germans so as to prevent a concentrated counterattack against the seaborne troops coming in at dawn, and to protect the flanks of the invasion force at Sword and Utah beaches.

Crashing into farm fields in fragile gliders, or descending in parachutes amid antiaircraft fire, the airborne troops suffered heavy casualties. My grandfather was shot in the hip on decent by parachute. In the darkness and confusion of the pre-dawn hours, many units became scattered and disorganized. Some men who landed in flooded areas drowned. Despite these difficulties, groups of soldiers managed to form up and attack the enemy.

Visiting the WW2 Museum in New Orleans I learned more about my grandfather’s role during the War. He never spoke to his children or grandchildren about his experiences during the war. I have pictures from his travels in Europe during the war and from his basic training but I only have bits and pieces of his story.

The WW2 museum is a campus with five buildings – an additional building currently under construction – filled with artifacts and oral histories about this war. Every room is filled with multimedia (print text, visual text, and video) “taking visitors inside the story of the war that changed the world.” The mission of the museum is to”tell the story of the American experience in the war that changed the world—why it was fought, how it was won, and what it means today—so that all generations will understand the price of freedom and be inspired by what they learn.”

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The museum boasts collections that  include more than 250,000 artifacts and over 9,000 personal accounts supporting major exhibits and research. When you enter the museum you receive a dog tag with one individual’s story that you follow along throughout the museum at interactive stations. This personalized experiences allows users to collect artifacts, look at photographs, and read or hear the oral history of this person. I am able to log into Dogtagexperience.org after my visit to read more and study artifacts connected with his story.

The vast amount of oral histories throughout the museum “not only highlight the role of world leaders, but also the everyday men and women who found the strength and courage to accomplish the extraordinary.” The museum covers Japanese Internment, Racism in the military, the road to Tokyo, the road to Berlin, the D-Day invasion of Normandy, and more. There were rooms that showcased the arsenal of the military used to fight and win the war. The Manhattan Project was presented as part of the “The Arsenal of Democracy” exhibit.

The resources the museum provides for educators includes distance learning, school visits, and educator resources. Two opportunities are worth exploring if you cover WW2 in your classroom.

Operation Footlocker allows teachers to rent a locker of WW2 artifacts. This unique hands-on opportunity allows teachers and students to explore the history and lessons of World War II by analyzing WWII artifacts. These traveling trunks are designed to supplement WWII education in the classroom.

Each footlocker comes loaded with about 15 actual artifacts from World War II (not reproductions!). Of course, no weapons or ammunition are included. But there are ration books, V-mail letters, dog tags, sand from the beaches of Normandy and Iwo Jima, wartime magazines, a high school yearbook from the early 1940s, and many other artifacts, both commonplace and surprising. Footlockers come complete with white cotton gloves for handling the artifacts and a teacher’s manual that describes each object and contains directions for conducting artifact “reading” sessions. The cost of the locker rental is $75 for a weekly rental.

The Summer Teacher Institute offers an intensive weeklong seminar at The National WWII Museum in New Orleans and a weeklong excursion to a World War II-related destination. Each year’s institute focuses on a different aspect of the war, employing a rich array of curriculum tools and primary sources to help bring the war to life in the classroom. The 2019 Summer Teacher Institute focuses on liberation and the legacy of the war, connecting events like the Holocaust, the Nuremberg trials, the Marshall Plan, and the founding of the United Nations to the world of today and in the summer of 2020 these teachers are going to Munich to continue their studies. Note, there is no cost for the Summer Institutes. Participants will receive free lodging, a travel stipend, seminar materials, and most meals free of charge.

Additionally, there are lesson plans and artifacts that teachers can utilize for their classroom. This museum is a treasure trove for all in person and online. It has helped me to reflect on what I have covered in my WW2 unit of study and additional materials I want to bring to the forefront. I am also thinking about ways to bring the Dog Tag Experience into the classroom to connect students to the personalized stories of the war and deepen their understanding of this period in history.

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Silly Rabbit, Dice are for Kids (To Promote Learning & Understanding)

Last week during the #games4ed Twitter chat participants were discussing the use of dice in the classroom for learning activities. The creative ideas were flowing throughout the chat. When the dry erase dice were brought up during the chat, I thought of turning them into hieroglyphic dice for a history class to create stories of ancient Egypt and other ancient civilizations. But, there are so many more ways to utilize dice in the classroom as shared throughout the conversation.

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In the ELA classroom I use dice in many different ways from Roll the Dice or Think Dot activities to having students roll dice and complete a writing prompt based on the number rolled. One might have students roll dice to determine the number of words to be written in a summary. Dice are also effective for Cubing, an instructional strategy that asks students to consider a concept from a variety of different perspectives. On the cube or dice are different activities on each side. A student rolls the cube and does the activity that comes up.  You can differentiate dice/cubes according to readiness, learning profile, or interest.

My students are currently writing investigative journalism feature articles and it dawned on me to create a Roll the Dice Revision Activity.  Working independently or in small groups, each student is given a revision activity sheet and a die. Each student rolls the die and completes the revision activity that corresponds to the dots thrown on the die (that is, if a student rolls a “three,” she then completes the revision activity with three dots on it.) 

In addition to building my own dice activities, there are story cubes and metaphor dice that one can purchase online. Rory’s Story Cubes is a pocket-sized creative story generator with pictures on the dice for users to create their own stories based on the images rolled. Metaphor Dice, conceived by award-winning poet and educator Taylor Mali, make the formation of metaphors as easy as rolling a handful of dice. These color coded dice require a user to combine one concept (RED), one object (BLUE), and adjective (WHITE), to build a metaphor.

The possibilities of using dice and building dice games across content area classrooms and grade levels in infinite. Share your ideas in the comments.

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X-Ray Reading

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Roy Peter Clark’s X-Ray Reading: How the Secrets of 25 Great Works of Literature Will Improve Your Writing is a must read for teachers. Clark, a senior scholar at the Poynter Institute, has taught for more than 30 years and authored or edited 18 books. In this X-Ray Reading he encourages his readers to “put on their x-ray reading glasses” along with him and undress the text. This experience leads to deeper reading knowledge and deeper writing knowledge. Beginning with The Great Gatsby and working his way through contemporary literature, Clark spends time with the fine details and its literacy effects. He writes, “writing is a game of language connection and meaning.” Let’s play.

George Orwell said, “Good writing is like a window pane, a frame for seeing the world, a boundary that is hardly noticeable.”

What should we stop, notice, and note?  Here are some places to pay special attention:

The Opening Passage & Treasured Endings- These foreshadow the rest of the story. Great beginnings arc and hint at great endings with foreshadowing details. Clark utilizes The Great Gatsby to illustrate the strategic treasures of powerful endings and beginnings.

Lyrical sentences – “Long sentences that take us on a journey” (pg 46) whereas short sentences are the “gospel of truth.”

Intentional elaboration and Cliffhangers that propel the reader.

Symbolism –  Geography, names (“names are a tool to project and overview character”), and common objects with deeper meaning and or religious references. There is so much religious symbolism in literature and Clark tells all his readers to read the Bible to notice and note the religious symbolism.

Repetition or the “echo effect” – Not redundancy, but purposeful repetition and the variation of a word, object, and idea. Clark mentions language clubs and word associations to help be creative with repetition. Similarly, tropes and motifs that show up again and again are significant. Think of the powerful image of the green light in The Great Gatsby that emerges throughout the story with its literal meaning and connotations.

Word Choice, Punctuation, & Diction – “Structural, architectural concerns – the ways in which the patterns of language and imagery create the backbone of a narrative” (pg 22). Then look at “the feel and the effect of the writer’s vocabulary as a whole.” Clark references  American Scholar’s 10 Best Sentences in Literature as a place to begin studying the master craft of authors. The difference between “just the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.”

Nature, Setting, and Landscape – Places in the text where authors harmonize nature with narrative action and emotion and then places where nature is indifferent. Weather is part of the setting of the story and can be used symbolically. Weather is a character and metaphor that provides tension with the plot. His example of Zora Neale Hurston’s passage under the pear tree in Their Eyes Were Watching God transforms language and images of nature into symbolically rich passages.

Characterization – Clark says that it is important to torture your main character and make them suffer. He gives permission to his writing students to kill someone at the end. Details reveal the complexities of a character’s inner life. What characters are not doing is important, often more than their direction actions. Referring to Kurt Vonnegut’s advice  on the relationship between plot and character in narrative writing, “Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for, every character should want something, and be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them” (pg 126). Harry Potter is one example of this test of character.

Time – Stories are about time in motion but there are moments when time seems to stop. As a writer you can freeze time or slow down time as with To Kill a Mockingbird during the court room scene and again with Atticus shooting the rabid dog. Look for places where the readers is eased into the complex because the author’s purpose is to make us see.

Titles – Clark cites as the most important element of stories

Clark wants us to OVER READ. He writes, “literature is about movie making with your notebook and choreographing a dance.” He is all for reading like a writer. He states, “To grow as a write, you should read the words of the writers you admire and look for ways to imitate that work” (pg. 184). Plus, incorporate the “reading of poetry to examine the beautiful compression of language, meaning, and emotion.”

There are specific chapters in the book that I will be sharing with my students to help them undress and close read the text. His chapter on Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” is great to read in conjunction with the short story and when my students begin reading To Kill a Mockingbird, I will share Clark’s x-ray chapter with them. If we expect students to read like writers then we must give them models what that looks like. They need opportunities to trace symbols across a text and see how writers play with words. Starting small with sentences, poems, and then short stories can help students crack open the masterful elements writers design.

Want more? Check out this podcast with Roy Peter Clark on Book Titans

 

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Multi Genre Writing To Deepen Student Understanding – #TheEdCollabGathering 2019

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#TheEdCollabGathering is a free virtual conference hosted by the Educator Collaborative on September 28, 2019. Founded by educator and author, Christopher Lehman, The Educator Collaborative provides K-12 literacy professional development to schools across the United States and around the world. For a complete schedule of presentations, click here.

Below is my slide deck presentation on Multi Genre Writing to Deepen Student Understanding.

Multi genre projects are layered with poetry, letters, songs, lyrics, narratives, and news articles created in response to information found through research.  Utilizing higher level thinking skills, students research, summarize, analyze, and synthesize information to create scenes that illustrate a topic or time period. Working across social studies and English, my 8th grade students read and research primary and secondary sources about topics related to World War 2 and then create a multi genre text about a particular aspect of the war.

As Tom Romano writes in Blending Genre, Altering Style (2000), “In multi-genre papers writers can combine fact with imagination to invent scenes that illustrate truth . . . or to render scenes that actually happened but whose details have been lost. Imagination, after all, is a powerful way of knowing” (page 68).

 

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5 Activities for Close Reading, Collaboration, and Discussion

David McCullough, author of John Adams and 1776, said during an interview on NPR, “To teach history, use pictures to fuel students’ curiosity.”

We want students to get into a text (whether a primary source or historical fiction) and get a sense what people experienced during other time periods.  Then, students fill in the text with what isn’t being said by sketching, improvs, writing. 

Creative activities help students walk in a particular time period and ignite student interest in the past. Teachers can bring new life to a unit of study by integrating the tools of creative drama and theatre – tools like pantomime, movement, improvisation, scripted drama, oral interpretation, debating, public speaking, readers theatre, storytelling, and the many other ways we use our body or voice to creatively communicate ideas to others. 

Content is what we teach, but there is also the how, and this is where literacy instruction comes in. There are an endless number of engaging, effective strategies to get students to think about, write about, read about, and talk about the content you teach. The ultimate goal is to build a student’s comprehension, writing skills, and overall skills in communication.

Here are five activities to do with your students to promote deeper comprehension, communication, and close reading.

It Says, I Say, So What? – This  reading strategy from Harvey Daniels helps students by guiding them through the process of drawing inferences from the written text. Also, it provides an opportunity to synthesize the information with prior knowledge. I have adapted this many times to include images for students to read closely and articulate what they see and then what does it make you think.

Image Detectives

Reading Detective

10 Questions – Another reading strategy that I employ with my students was adopted by Kelly Gallagher, author of several books. Students read a chunk of text, the first chapter of a novel, or a passage from a nonfiction text and then brainstorm ten questions they have after reading the text. These questions become a frame for further reading and discussion about the text.

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Speed Networking – This activity provides an opportunity for students to make connections and exchange a variety of ideas with their peers in a productive manner. A student and a partner will discuss a given topic for three minutes, then switch to a new partner and discuss again. The number of rotations will depend upon the time available and the topic. The three rules include: 1. Stay on topic, 2. Keep talking until it is time to switch, and 3. Talk only to the person across from you.

Write Around – Students read a passage or a chapter then write a question at the top of a sheet of paper. Students pass their papers to one another or post them in a gallery for everyone to write a response to the open-ended questions.

Student to Student Dialogue Journal – Rather than creating a T-Chart where students record passages they thought compelling and writing a response, there is space for students to share their responses to the students’ double entry responses. Padlet is a great digital tool to collect student response and summaries in the write around and dialogue journals.

And one more . . .

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Mystery Envelopes – Hand small groups a mystery envelope with an index card inside that has a question for the group to answer. Working collaboratively, students formulate answers with evidence to support the text dependent question(s).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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