#SOL17: First Day

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The bus turns the corner.

My last check to see that everything is in my car.

One picture down.  It’s kind of gloomy.  No sunshine for this auspicious day.

The brakes squeak as the bus pulls to a stop in the road.  I hear the stop sign pop as it is extended.  “Smile!  Just one more picture!”

He takes three steps, turns, and looks.  I snap the photo. He starts up the steps.

I’m sure it’s blurred.  Tears stream down my cheeks.

This would not be the day to take a lousy picture.

I watch as he walks down the aisle and chooses a seat.  Third row. Behind his friends.  He looks happy but he was so quiet this morning.  Only the top of his head is visible from outside the window.

The driver looks down.  Closes the door and the bus lumbers down the road.

  I hop in my car.  Five miles and I will be at school for my son’s second “First Day of School” picture.  It’s 1995.  The First Day of School. No digital pictures.

As a teacher, how do your own personal “First Days” impact your attention to detail in your classroom?

What are you planning for this year?  Why?

Thank you, Betsy, Beth, Deb, Kathleen, Lanny, Melanie, and Stacey for this weekly forum. Check out the writers, readers and teachers here.                                                                                                      slice of life 2016


#SOL18: March 17

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Once upon a time, we celebrated in a city where they turn the river green, have a parade that is hours long, and a college graduation with tents, champagne, and fancy, fancy parties.  It was St. Patrick’s Day. The city was Chicago.  It seemed as if the entire city was celebrating. (And here’s a link to 2018 St. Patrick’s Day celebration in Chicago.)  Literally, the Chicago River is dyed green!

We were there for a college graduation; my brother was graduating from the University of Chicago. Fast forward a couple of decades, and he’s now back in the Chicago area.  A pizza lover. A Giordano’s pizza lover. And we have made many other trips:  wedding, graduation, and football games.

How many of these Chicago attractions do you know?

Lego Store

Navy Pier

Soldier Field

American Girl Store

Giordano’s Pizza

High Tea at the Drake

Ryan Field

Lincoln Park Zoo

Grant Park

Sears Tower / Willis Tower

Lake Michigan cruise

Museum of Science and Industry

Field Museum of Natural History

Frank Lloyd Wright home

Sri Venkateswara Swami Temple

VanderCook College of Music Graduation

“L” Train

What memories do you collect on your travels? 

Is it the wonder and awe of that first visit?

Is it the joy of sharing your love of the city with others?

What else would you add to the list of “must see locations” in Chicago?

Thank you, Betsy, Beth, Deb, Kathleen, Lanny, Melanie, and Stacey for this daily forum each March. Check out the writers, readers and teachers here.                                                                                                      slice of life 2016

#SOL18: March 16

Why Do I Write?




Here,  and                                                            (probably my favorite)

Here.                                                             (the post with the most resources)

But is it really that simple?

6 Words


Breathing in,

Breathing out.

Drafting. Revising



Music roaring

Thoughts flowing

Ideas Recorded



Writing is thinking.

Sharing the page.




Clouding, and





Happiness, or an



Kowtowing to a

Lincoln or a








Thoughts –

Unveiling a





To Write or Not to Write

To write, or not to write, that is the question:
Whether ’tis important for a writing teacher
To know the pain of a lost or fading muse,
Coaxing words from a fledgling writer by example
Taking pen to scribe the truth. To write – to live.

Waiting for the
Right words,
Impatiently waiting,
Tapping fingers
Impervious to an audience.
Giving up!

What format works for you?

Which ones are favorites for your students?

Thank you, Betsy, Beth, Deb, Kathleen, Lanny, Melanie, and Stacey for this daily forum each March. Check out the writers, readers and teachers here.                                                                                                      slice of life 2016

This post I wrote to PLAY!

And then I could not decide what to keep and what to discard!

#SOL18: March 15


Not moving.


Reading is a struggle.


Beginning to avoid reading.


Now hates reading.

What do we do as reading coaches when students get stuck? 

What do we prioritize? 

What are our go to resources? 


Earlier this week, I asked . . . 

How do you make decisions about changing instruction?  Or Practice?  Or Allocation of Time? in the writing context.  Think about that post. link

I’m a process person so in reading my first step is to consult the research.  If students are stuck, I’m going back to Richard Allington’s 6 Ts of Effective Reading Instruction.

  1. Time
  2. Texts
  3. Teaching
  4. Talk
  5. Tasks
  6. Testing

When a student is struggling, what’s our first instinct?  Often it seems like we want to “double down” and do “more.”  But again, how do we prioritize and make sure that we double down and do more of the RIGHT stuff?

After participating in a brilliant #TCRWP Twitter chat last night led by Staff Developers, Shana Frazin, Marie Mounteer, and Cheney Munson, here’s what I believe.

Here’s where I will begin  . . .

  1. Know all the students and build a relationship with each and every one . . . yes, even the prickly one(s).   That means that I can answer these questions about barriers in order to operate from a “strengths-basis” as much as possible.

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2. I will self assess my balance of Allington’s 6 T’s with what I know about the student.  Everything is connected and interrelated.  What are my “absolute musts” for reading instruction every day?  Always read alouds.  Always workshop time. More time, but less texts = counterproductive.  More Talk by Teachers  = Less time for reading  which is also counterproductive.  So I might consider how some of these questions would add to my knowledge base about what I know about reading instruction, practice, and the curriculum for this particular striving student.

Screenshot 2018-03-14 at 9.41.42 PM

3. I will ask for help.  I will continue to think about the whole child but will not be so proud that I can’t ask for help or so “unaware of the urgency (“Hello, it’s February and Susie is on a E and her goal is J, but no worries.”)  I will find my tribe that I can safely ask:  “Hey, what should I do when I have a student who does this, this, and this, but struggles with __, __, and __?”

Every day that Susie feels like she is is failing is a day too many!

4. But I will ALWAYS remember that my goal is to ensure that students can read, will read, and above all else, LOVE to read!  So remembering that Susie will be a great reader is critical!  I will not advocate for a program, a basal, a Pinterest or TpT resource.  I will begin with the child, the child’s family, and the community of the classroom. (The WHY which has to be behind every decision.)

How does this match your thinking? 

Where do you start when a student is stuck? 

What are your priorities?

Thank you, Betsy, Beth, Deb, Kathleen, Lanny, Melanie, and Stacey for this daily forum each March. Check out the writers, readers and teachers here.                                                                                                      slice of life 2016

Marie Mountneer’s storify of the #TCRWP chat here

During the chat Shana Frazin posted this chart of Harvey and Ward’s from Striving to Thriving.  What a great tool to think about during text selection for our striving students!

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#SOL18: March 14

Serial Story:  Scene Five 

(Continued from Scene 1, Scene 2 & 3, and Scene 4)

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Afternoon turned to evening with steady customers.  Busy but not packed.  Folks in red and black with coats and scarves to  take off before they sat down.  Coats and scarves to put back on before they left.  And suddenly at 7:28 the diner was empty.

Maria sunk onto a stool.  Her hair no longer neat and tidy as tendrils framed her face.  She had long discarded her jacket, but she was still tugging on the sleeves, making them cover her wrists.

No dishes on the tables.  They had all been cleared, but everything needed a bit of tidying.  The fmes from hot grease and grilled hamburgers hung in the air.  No songs from the kitchen.  “I wonder if Juan is out back taking a break?” And checking the big poster in the window, Maria saw that tonight was the biggest game of the season.  Working instead of attending classes every afternoon meant that she didn’t see the pep assemblies and the hoopla at the end of the day on these game days.

Straightening slowly, she rose, and headed to the cash register.  Tickets in numbered order.  And then . . . the tip jar.  Somebody had thrown a ticket in it.  “Darn, not very helpful.”Emptying the jar, sorting, moving bills and coins just once.  

Her smile, long faded, now had dimples. “Unflipping believable,” she murmured. “Only four dollars and eighty two cents short.” 

Feet in flip flops flying across the floor, Maria cranked up the radio. Everything was soon readied for the next round.  By 9:30 Maria was tapping her feet again.  Homework was done. Back to the waiting game.  No headlights.  No people.

Ten minutes later, Maria was picking at her fingernails.  So close to her goal.  And unusually late.  Pacing back and forth, steam pouring out of her ears, and finally a noise in the distance.

Louder and louder, siren roaring and lights flashing, the ambulance raced past.

“What do you think, Juan?”

He just shrugged his shoulders.  Maria went back to the window, staring down the street.

“Only 40 minutes left.” Face wrinkled.  Can smell her fear . . . Staring at the clock again. 9:40 pm.

What do you now know that you didn’t before this scene? 

Did your thinking change?

Thank you, Betsy, Beth, Deb, Kathleen, Lanny, Melanie, and Stacey for this daily forum each March. Check out the writers, readers and teachers here.                                                                                                      slice of life 2016

New learnings/ wonderings:

  • What is the sporting event?
  • What night of the week is this?
  • What do you know about folks in this town?
  • What do you know for sure?
  • What do you think you know?
  • What questions do you have?


#SOL18: March 13

Serial Story  

(Scene 1, Scenes 2 and 3, and then Scene 3 ended with:

“She walks over to the blue Pontiac Bonneville and trades the bag for a $5.00 bill, a muttered “Keep the change” and follows customers into the diner.”

Scene 4

At the cash register, she makes change and throws a single dime and three pennies into the tip jar. “Thanks so much for the no luck,” she mutters under her breath.

Maria fills two water glasses and  hands them across the counter for the new customers at the counter, while simultaneously pulling out the menus and setting silverware wrapped in napkins for two of the three places.  “Do you need that sippy cup filled up?” she asks.

One head nods no and while the other one doesn’t look up from the menu. Maria grabs a place mat and two crayons from under the counter and puts it in the middle and says, “I’ll be back in one minute.”

She fills four more water glasses, puts them on a tray and walks across to the table under the window.  Everyone’s favorite table.  Same routine:  water, menus, silverware, and a promise to be back.

“What’ll you have today?” she asks as she returns to the counter.  They choose sandwiches in a basket, a kid’s meal of chicken nuggets and fries, and one piece of lemon meringue pie.

Maria mentally calculates the total. . . about $14.00. “Maybe” she thinks hopefully. She hands the order through the window to the cook and hears two patties hit the grill and the sizzle of the fryer as the basket of fries drop into the boiling oil.

“What will you have this afternoon?” and she scribbles soup, salads, sandwiches, and shakes in diner shorthand before turning the order into the kitchen.

The smile on Maria’s face is real.  Anticipation. It’s the middle of the afternoon. One hour into her shift and over $30.00 of orders.  Her fingers quickly makes a cross from her head to her chest as she prays for decent tips.  Rent is due tomorrow.  Maybe. . . just maybe . . . this will be her lucky day.  The $3.50 an hour wages won’t come close . . . but ever hopeful . . .

Refills water.  Makes sure ketchup and barbecue sauce are full.  Double checks about dressing on the side for the salad.  That earns a quiet “thank you” from the customer.  Extra napkins at the ready. Finally fills the sippy cup. Quietly. Quickly.  Always on the move. Those feet in the flip flops glide across the floor.

“Order up,” sings out the cook and Maria delivers the first round of food.  The singing gets louder as Maria gets the salad from the cooler just as she hears, “Order up.”

Two trips later, everyone is eating.  Visual check. All the food is served.  “What else?”

“The best thing about afternoon customers,” thinks Maria, “is that the afternoon goes fast.  Better to be busy than to sit here and try to just look busy. Like Grandma says, ‘idle hands are the devil’s workshop’.” 

The pace of eating slows.  Removing empty dishes. “Anything else? Pie? Cake?” Every smidgeon of lemon meringue pie looked like it had been licked off. No dessert for the table.  Checks presented.  Paid.

Maria waits until the customers leave to cash out the bills.

Into the tip jar . . .

a dollar bill,

a dollar bill,

a dollar bill,

a dollar bill,

and two quarters.

Change from the second bill:

a five dollar bill,

a dollar bill,

a quarter,

and two dimes.

The bell over the door rings, rings, and rings.  New chattering customers . . .

What do you now know that you didn’t before this scene? 

How much do you remember from one week to the next? 

When do you need to verify your text evidence? 

How did you manage to figure this out with annotating? ( I believe that annotation has become the new “bore the kids stiff and make them hate reading” routine.)

Thank you, Betsy, Beth, Deb, Kathleen, Lanny, Melanie, and Stacey for this daily forum each March. Check out the writers, readers and teachers here.                                                                                                      slice of life 2016

New learnings/ wonderings:

Some “cheap skates” who think they are “generous”

Name of the main character

How many customers at the counter?

How many people are in the diner?

What did you have to infer?

What is the problem?

What’s your prediction for the evening?

What questions do you have?


#SOL18: March 12

How much do typos bother you?

In Blogs?

On Facebook?

On Twitter?

I hate spelling errors in any form of social media.  Some formats are particularly difficult because revision provisions do not exist.  So careful review is necessary before hitting the button that sends the message out into the world.

This tweet . . .

Screenshot 2018-03-11 at 10.54.26 PM.png

is proof that money obviously cannot buy you an education.

Not even billions of dollars.

If this was your mentor text . . .

How many errors can you find?  What needs to be fixed?

Let’s parse it by sentences.

  1. “Great public schools will always work well for many kids, but if it’s not working for an individual child, they should have access to options.”

2. “No one should ever feel trapped or stuck.”

3. “No parent should have to feel like they are settling when it comes to their       child’s education.”

And in case you missed it, here was her interview on CBS 60 minutes last night.

What a train wreck!

And that’s probably the kindest way that I can phrase my complete and utter disbelief!

There are several ways you could “fix” this tweet.  Here’s just one view.

  1. “Great public schools will always work well for many kids, but if it’s the schools are not working for an individual child, they he/she should have access to options.”

2. “No one should ever feel trapped or stuck.”

3. “No parent should have to feel like they he/she are settling when it comes to their               his/her    child’s education.”

3:45 pm correction.  Courtesy of Donalyn Miller: “they is singular nonbinary.”


  1. “Great public schools will always work well for many kids, but if it’s the schools are not working for an individual child, they  should have access to options.            (error – contraction/possessive/or pronoun) and then 2 and 3 are correct! So there is a reason not to overreact toooooooooo quickly!

And in all fairness to Ms. Betsy, here is her response to 60 Minutes.

:“She asked me one thing about schools, and then another, and another,” she said. “If I had to answer every question she had about schools, I would have had to bone up on education for a month.” (Betsy DeVos, NewYorker)

Well, Duh!  You should have known the answers to those questions before you took the job.  Then you wouldn’t have had to “bone up on education for a month.”  THAT’S YOUR JOB!

This is called pronoun – antecedent agreement.  Khan Academy has a video here.

Practice with the Online Writing Academy can be found here.

Here’s a quiz from Oxford in case one would like to consider a proficiency level.  Link


Total Words:

  • 50 words
  • 4 errors 1 error
  • 92%   98 % correct grammatically


  • 4 words
  • 4 errors   1 error
  • 75 % correct grammatically

And what about the message in her tweet?

She was not talking about “failing schools.”  She was talking about “Great public schools” that might not work for an individual child . . .

Thank you, Betsy, Beth, Deb, Kathleen, Lanny, Melanie, and Stacey for this daily forum each March. Check out the writers, readers and teachers here.                                                                                                      slice of life 2016


This week:  I was going to comment about this . . . but the Washington Post beat me to it.

I had already passed on this . . .


#SOL18: March 11

Last week I introduced you to N on March 8 and March 9. We’re hyper focused on helping this 5th grader (recent move in) literally get moving in writing.  He wants to write. He listens. He participates. He talks. He uses all the language. His first on demand was rated at a kindergarten level in November and our goal is a third grade level by the end of May.  But he writes so little each day that it is hard to verify real writing growth.

Approximately 50 days to make that growth . . . we have ambitious goals!

How do you make decisions about changing instruction?  Or Practice?  Or Allocation of Time?

I like to think organically.  I use my friend Lynn’s quote often.

“I’m old.  I forget because my brain leaks.” (Lynn Selking, personal conversations)

So I like to start simply.  I’m not adding anything new until I know enough that I’m pretty sure my suggestion(s) will be productive.

So what does that really mean? 

First Step:  Current State of Instruction

I consider the balance of writing work in the classroom.  Is everything in sync? 

Mini lessons – 10 minutes or less?

Writing Time – at least 40 minutes during writing workshop?

Mid-Workshop Interruption – daily for 2-3 minutes?

Sharing – daily for 5-6 minutes?

Partnerships – daily talk and working together?

Small groups – planful and executed efficiently?

Conferences – Teach the writer and not the piece of writing?

Other writing opportunities across the day?

What is the role of TALK across the day?

What are students REALLY doing?

All of this is internal data.

No program.

No pinterest.

No TpT.

First round thinking as we consider current classroom work.

Everything is fairly solid.

Second Step: 

Name the current student behaviors with a focus on strengths.

Begin to brainstorm strategic actions to increase intensity of instruction.

With N, our draft looked like this:

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  • What has a history of working?
  • What will maximize N’s writing time?
  • What is feasible?
  • What is efficient?
  • Are there charts/tools that we could pull from previous grades?

At this time, we know that lack of writing instruction in these grades (K, 1, 2, 3, 4, part of 5) may be part of the problem.  How can we compress time and increase productivity?


Dependent on what actually works, we have time for three or four focused two-three week cycles of instruction.  Beginning with our end goal, we are planning backwards.  Planning for lean instruction, lean conferencing, lean teacher work and ways to increase N’s independence in writing.  Is it confidence-building that he needs?  How can we  recircuit his thinking so N has a growth mindset?

What process do you use for problem solving? 

How do you use the resources that you have BEFORE looking for outside solutions? 

What would you add to this list?

Thank you, Betsy, Beth, Deb, Kathleen, Lanny, Melanie, and Stacey for this daily forum each March. Check out the writers, readers and teachers here.                                                                                                      slice of life 2016

#SOL18: March 10

Some days

Are like


Unraveling thoughts


Down a hill


YET . . . just the beginning of the day.

Have you written an acrostic poem yet this month?

What is an acrostic poem? Traditionally using the first letter, but also the ending of a line or even the middle of a line as shown here.

More examples here.

Where I totally borrowed this one:

  “Pick uP a pen

Think of a tOpic

         Be crEative

 Use your iMagination”

12 Acrostic Poems for Children here

Which type of acrostic poetry will your try?

Thank you, Betsy, Beth, Deb, Kathleen, Lanny, Melanie, and Stacey for this daily forum each March. Check out the writers, readers and teachers here.                                                                                                      slice of life 2016

#SOL18: March 9

Day 1 

N wrote 2 paragraphs. (Approximately 11 lines)

I was there.

Day 2

N wrote 6 paragraphs. (Included dialogue and was 15 lines)

I was there.

Day 3

N wrote 4 paragraphs. (Approximately 10 lines)

I was not there but had left a video and a page of my writing.

So what’s my plan?

I’m a goal setter and a “UbD’er” (Understanding by Design – backwards planning).

Here’s my goal for next week. Use this paper and see if N can write at least one complete story of 3-4 pages with some conferencing each day.

Thank you, Melanie Meehan, for sharing your opinion and information scaffolded paper. The items in the box are from the third grade checklist.  (link)



If he writes approximately 50 lines, that will be 333% increase over previous writing.

Success Goal: 

Two of these stories in a week.  Then remove the checklists from the paper and see if the writing volume remains high and constant.(Previously his writing work ranged from 2-4 lines in a day.)

To recap our work (or you can read here)

Week 1


Shared Writing

Shared Writing

Pseudo-Shared Writing via video

???  Student Choice

Week 2

Scaffolded Checklist Paper – Narrative Story Writing  – Repeat 5 days

Week 3

Write Using “Regular” Writing Paper

What would you add to this plan? 

What would your measure of success be?

How have you increased volume of writing for students?

Thank you, Betsy, Beth, Deb, Kathleen, Lanny, Melanie, and Stacey for this daily forum each March. Check out the writers, readers and teachers here.                                                                                                      slice of life 2016

#SOL18: March 8

The Reason Why

N sits quietly, picks up his pen, starts to write, stares at his paper, and sets his pen back down.  He doesn’t disturb anyone else, but at the end of writing time, even with partner and / or teacher conferring, his production is minimal.

“What else can I try? Here’s an example after he recorded his story on the iPad.  Here’s an example after he acted out his story. What can I do to help him?” queries his teacher.

So N and I sit down to talk.  It’s time to get ready for conferences.  “Would it be okay if you practice with me before you get ready to use Seesaw?:  He seems delighted and eagerly opens his notebook.

And then . . .

N sits quietly.

He says nothing.

I wait,

the Queen of “wait time”,

but also mentally running through some possibilities,

my own mental checklist.

I open my iPad to be ready ,

to jot notes,

to take a picture,

and N says,

“What will you write?”

I pause.

ever mindful of

“Don’t put a scaffold in place without a plan to remove it”

and the “NEED to write.”

Does N not picture himself as a writer?”

Does N not see himself in his stories?

I have no magic answer.

I just have a NEED to help.

Is that enough?

“N, I want to write a story for my grandson.  But he’s little.  He’s not yet three.  Where do you think I should start?”

“Well, you make a heart map and then your idea comes from there.”

So I follow N’s directions.   He KNOWS what to do. He has listened.  He has paid attention to the steps.  He can say them all.

When I say, “But I am stuck, N. I don’t know where to start, ” he stares at me in disbelief.  I have the Heart Map in front of me. I picked an idea.  I told him him three things about the idea.

“Is it a tricky part?’

“Ah, yes, using some of his reading talk even in writing.”

But, N still hasn’t written and it’s been 20 minutes.

Of course, I’m not in panic mode.

My goal was to listen and follow N’s lead.

You see N is a fifth grader.  He moved into this classroom and district in November.  He’s such a pleasure to have in class.  He’s a sweet student who is ever, so helpful and will drop his work to “help” anyone else.  You have to look closely to see that N is so busy looking busy that he doesn’t write or read much.  He’s often so quiet that he looks like the most industrious writer in the class.

“N, can I show you a trick that I sometimes use when I hit a tricky part in my writing?’

Of course, he says, “Yes, ” and I gulp, this is it.

“Here’s one trick I use.  My grandson doesn’t live near me and sometimes I’ve forgotten part of the story.  So today I wanted to tell about the first time he went down a slide.  I can’t find the picture from that day.  I can’t act out what he did as a two year old because I’m not a two year old.  So I google “boy on a slide’ and look for a picture that kinda matches the slide. Like this . . . The slide looked kind of like this. I use the picture to help me start thinking about that day.”

“But what if you don’t remember?  What if you didn’t pay attention to what happened?”

“Good question.  So is it an issue with ‘it must be real and accurate’?”

“So N, here’s a second trick I use.  I look back at something I have written and I take one small idea and write more about that idea. I just write everything I can think of.  I can fix the details later.  I can change the order later.  I put words and sentences on the paper so that I can read it to my friend and she can tell me what she thinks.  Here’s a section I have called ‘characters’ where I just wrote about this person I saw in a diner and I wanted to remember her in case she fit into a story.  You’ve never met this person, but what could you tell me about what might happen next?

And N was off . . . adding to my story. He calls it our shared chapter book.  We’ve each written two pages.  Today I will have to email “my part” with a quick video clip because  I can’t be there and N is writing. Instead of two or three sentences, yesterday he wrote a full page.

Thank you, Betsy, Beth, Deb, Kathleen, Lanny, Melanie, and Stacey for this daily forum each March. Check out the writers, readers and teachers here.                                                                                                      slice of life 2016

Where do stories come from? 

If a student is stuck but they know they can:

  • practice telling it and touching the pages (while recording),
  • act it out (while recording),
  • make a movie in their head and slow it down and tell it bit by bit –

but the child still is not “writing” . . .  what are some solutions?

The idea for beginning a story and then seeing if the student could continue the story as I’ve been doing this week in my slices was one option that I wondered about.  I’m not real fond of story starters and things like RAFT so I really wondered about the “what if I use as an example, one of my pages where I’ve just begun to play . . . the girl in the diner . . . . ” and that my friends is the

REST of the story!  

And yes, there will be more of N and my work to come!  Just not today!

Interactive writing partners. A form of shared pen to increase writing volume.

Is this sustainable in the classroom?  Could this have been a small group lesson?  Is there another student in the classroom that would also benefit from this work?  Is there an “expert” in the class that could share how to get “unstuck” when writing?

Always more questions!



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