Wednesday, April 8, 2009

What Character Could You Be?

As we continue the read aloud of Larger-Than-Life LARA, written by Dandi Daley Mackall in Reading Workshop, the characters are coming alive. This book has a wide variety of characters, each explained in enough detail so that the reader can identify with them. In fact, Dandi makes it easy for the reader to picture him/herself in the book.

Laney, the main character was described in detail in the post Laney is Larger-Than-Life.

LARA is new student at Paris Elementary School. No matter how mean someone is to her, she is nice. She responds to meanness by being kind with a friendly poem. She thinks independently, and always has a smile. She is huge, so fat that she blocks the light around her coming into the door, and needed a special chair and desk.

Joey Gilbert is a leader. Laney does not like him, but he is a hero to the other boys in the class. He is the class bully. He is mean to LARA and picks on other people. He is a good baseball player, but he won't let the girls play.

Wayne is the class clown. He laughs the loudest, and thinks everything is funny, even when he doesn't know what is going on. He is Joey's sidekick.

Maddie is the class princess. She has pretty blonde hair, and thinks she is all that. She wears all the latest styles, dressing like the high school girls. She wants to be the center of attention. She wants everyone to know who she likes and who she doesn't.

Sarah is a follower. She is insecure and usually doesn't think for herself. She wants to fit in with the popular crowd. Every decision she makes is based on what Maddie says and does.

The brothers (Laney's) are mean, skip school, don't like Laney or appreciate what she does. They argue and fight constantly.

Laney's dad has a bad temper, hates his job (and his life). He drinks way too much.

Good readers can relate to characters based on one trait, or many. To enjoy a book though, the reader must understand the characters. Frequently, one characteristic shared between the reader and someone in the story creates involvement and connects the reader to the story.

What character are you connected to? How are you connected?
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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

You Can Learn a Lot in 2nd Grade

I had to see Mrs. Sturgell, a 2nd grade teacher about the Relay for Life. When I walked into her room, she was pausing her read aloud for the day to take attendance. I picked up the book, joined her students on the carpet, and finished the read aloud. There sure was a lot of learning taking place today in 2nd grade.

In this case though, the one doing the learning was me. I was reading a book about the water cycle. Although it was a picture book, the vocabulary seemed appropriate for much older students. This was a reading/science lesson that ended with a plea for water conservation.

The first thing I learned was just how smart eight year olds are. They knew a lot of things about a lot of things. Talking about evaporation, one boy said, "you can't see water evaporate because it turns into a gas, and gasses are clear." In fact, in the twenty minutes that I was there, they could jump into every topic, usually with something relevant, and often informative.

I learned that second grade teachers are all about interdisciplinary lessons. This class, although science based, focused on several reading skills including vocabulary, and using context clues. It also had social studies ties about recycling and contributing to society through recycling.

I also learned that second grade is fun. Students wanted to contribute to the discussion. Even when they were wrong, they would jump back in with a comment, or to try to answer a question. Their enthusiasm brightened the room and my day. Today, in just a few minutes, I discovered, you sure can learn a lot in 2nd grade (and the kids can too).
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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Laney is a Larger-Than-Life Character

After reading a few chapters from Larger-Than-Life LARA, written by Dandi Daley Mackall, I am so interested in Laney.  The book is written in first person from Laney's perspective.   Dandi does an amazing job of bringing this character to life, which  we discovered as we discussed it in class, and students wrote about it in their Online Journals.
The things we know about Laney include:

1.  Tomboy
2.  Poor
3.  Not always nice
4.  Sarcastic
5.  Actress/liar to stay out of trouble
6.  Blurter
7.  Has a mom's responsibility at home (because her mom left)
8.  Runs fast (athletic)
9.  Likes plays, especially Shakespeare
10.  Loves baseball, but the boys will not let her play
11.  Lives in old rundown house with peeling paint on the outside, that is dirty and all lime green on the inside
12.  Three mean brothers that beat her up, and skip school
13.  Tough, can stand up for herself
14.  Mom left and never came back and Laney wonders about her
15.  Has a shoe glued to her bedroom wall from when she won a race and everyone cheered for her
16.  Has to deal with her dad that is a drunk, has a bad temper, steals cable TV, fights all the time
17.  Likes to write
18.  Good imagination
19.  Her bedroom is in the attic which she shares with her dad, cut in half with a blanket as a curtain, with a mattress on the floor
20.  Low self-esteem
21.  Digresses (can't stay on topic)
22.  In the back of the crowd, on the edge, wants to fit in with only one "sort of" friend
23.  No real role model
24.  Collects books, some that the library was throwing away
25.  Doesn't ride the bus because Joey and other kids are mean to her
26.  Family has a bad reputation
27.  Mature for her age, takes care of herself
28.  Fourth grade
29.  Lives in Paris, Missouri
 
So far in the book (after only five chapters), I think Laney has become Larger-Than-Life.  We know so much about her that it seems like we know her well--even that she lives with us.
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Monday, March 30, 2009

A Trusty Presentation

What does the teacher do when school is out? Go to school, of course. That is what I did on Friday.

SCOCA--South Central Ohio Computer Association presented a Web 2.0 workshop for teachers on Friday, March 27, 2009. This three session day focused on Blogs and Wikis, Google Sites, and RSS Feeds and Bookmarking.

Alvin Trusty, University of Findlay Director of Technology professor kicked off the day with a live Video Conference sharing his insight into Web 2.0 and its use in today's classrooms. He is a leader, and advocate for integrating technology as part of the curriculum. His presentation focused on social networking, and the need to build networks as part of the educational process.

The use of iGoogle and Google Docs was presented in one session. Google just continues to create new tools and improve the tools available. And, everything is free! Embedding a form in a blog is one tool that has been used in Reading Workshop. Two posts that are examples of that are here and here. Unfortunately, Google crashed right at the beginning of the session. Luckily, in a few minutes service was restored.

This was an informative day, with a lot of good ideas for teachers to integrate technology into their classrooms. I grabbed onto a couple of ideas that I hope to incorporate into The Reading Workshop including some new uses for INFOhio.
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Thursday, March 26, 2009

OAT Survey

Students in Reading Workshop took the 2006 Reading Ohio Achievement Test as a practice run on Monday. We then scored the test, using the test rubric. This survey is a chance for me to collect students' opinions about the test, and the process.




You can see the results on the Reading Workshop Wikipage Practice Test Survey Results
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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A Gas Station Conversation

I just stopped at the market to get a newspaper and a snack. As I laid down the items to pay, the cashier looked at me and said, "what do you think about Logan Elm?"

A million thoughts ran through my head in just about two seconds. The whole time, she looked at me and waited for an answer. I had been working outside, and looked pretty scruffy. I didn't know her, and I guarantee she didn't know I was a teacher. Naturally, I expected the worse, so I fell back on the old teacher trick of answering a question with a question. I said, "what do you think about Logan Elm?"

Imagine my surprise when she started to get a little teary eyed. "I am just so proud of those boys," she said (they are going to the Ohio state semifinals in basketball). "And their football team won all of those games. And the girls, too. The volleyball and basketball teams."

So I asked, "do you think closing school on Friday (the day of the 10:45 AM game) was a good decision?"

"Of course," she replied. "Those kids need to go up to the game and support the school."

"Do you have kids in school, or grandkids?" I asked.

"No, not for a long time. But I sure am proud of those kids."

"Me too," I replied. I walked out of the market, a little stunned, and a little amazed, and a whole lot thankful for student athletes that helped one cashier and I agree, we are proud of you.
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A Bad Little Boy

He was right in front of me, so I couldn't help but watch him. I would guess he was about four years old. If I would have acted that way when I was his age, I am sure my mom would have taken me out of the gym and given me an education on proper behavior.

The Laurelville Spring Program was last night. The band played and students sang, danced, and bounced balls to the rhythm of the music. It was a good night and the students did a good job showcasing their talent. Throughout the program though, my eyes were continually drawn to this little boy.

He stood on his chair. He talked continuously. He hit his older brother. He ran up and down the aisle. At one point, he went almost the whole length of the gym and carried a chair that was bigger than him, back beside his mom. He placed it in the aisle, and sat in it, although only for about 30 seconds before he was on the move again.

His older brother, who was about 8 or 9 tried to keep him under control. This resulted in a few punches. His mom made several comments to him, which he ignored in a way that showed he was quite practiced at not listening. The best way to describe him--a bad little boy that is 47 pounds of terror.

Questions pounded through my head throughout the program. Does he always act this way? Does his mom ever discipline him? Was she embarrassed by his bad behavior? Why was his eight year old brother trying to correct him, while his mom mostly just sat there? How did his brother know right from wrong, but he didn't? Will he act like this in sixth grade?
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Monday, March 23, 2009

What Can Be Fixed

I heard the comment the other day, "if it can't be fixed in five minutes, with what's on hand, then don't mention it." I started thinking about students in Reading Workshop and how this might apply to them, and their education.

Seventy-three missed homework assignments this year really doesn't matter as much as having the right attitude and learning today. There is no way to fix all of the hours that a student didn't read at home. There is no way to change an F from the first semester. Although sometimes people expect it, teachers are not magicians.

But, just maybe with a little work, and a discussion of today's assignment, a student can figure out that character development is how a character changes from the beginning to the end of a story. There is no way to "fix" a parent that won't follow through with checking the assignment book each night, but a student can spend some free time making up missed work. It's impossible to immediately make a student read at grade level. However, with a little effort, we could fix mistakes written in response to a passage.

Things I can fix:
1. The climate of today's class
2. A student not understanding the task at hand
3. Mistakes on an assignment
4. Today's lesson and how it's being taught

Things I can't fix include:
1. Last week, last semester, and last year
2. Parents' problems
3. Intercom interruptions
4. The war in Iraq
5. The economy
6. Peas for lunch
7. Floods, blizzards, thunderstorms, and hail
8. Dog bites, cat scratches, and bee stings
9. Broken hearts and she doesn't like me anymore
10. Missed shots, interceptions, and strike outs
11. Broken arms
12. Cavaties
13. Bad hair and bad breath
14. And on, and on, and on . . .

Looking at these lists, I realized I better get busy for the next five minutes and focus on what I can control. What about you, students? What can you fix?
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Friday, March 20, 2009

A Dandi Presentation

Author Dandi Daley Mackall visited Laurelville Elementary on March 18-19. She has written over 400 published books in a variety of genres, including one of her latest, an adolescent realistic fiction, Larger-Than-Life Lara. Dandi spoke to the entire student body at an all-school assembly to kick off her visit. Over the rest of the two day period, she met with classes to discuss writing techniques and her experiences.

Dandi did a writing workshop session with the classes. She went through the process of creating a story. Her advise was to always begin with a character. According to Dandi, "If the reader identifies with and/or cares about the main character, they will care about the story and want to read it." She says you need to know the character so you know how he/she will act in story.

She also told students to be sure to begin their stories with action. Here is an example of a story starter done both the wrong way, and then the right way.

Wrong
Dasia is a sixth grade girl with blonde hair and blue eyes. She is 5' tall. She likes to read and chat with her friends on the computer. Her best friend's name is . . .

Right
The minute Dasia got out of bed this morning, she dreaded going to school.

About the writing process, Dandi said, "I write and I write, and I rewrite and I write, and I rewrite probably at least 12 times."

Amber C., a sixth grade student said, "she tells interesting stories." This makes it easy to see where she gets her ideas for books.
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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Why Testing Kills Creativity

No time for blogging. No time for reading. No time for Online Journals. Podcasts would not help test scores. Singing might help fluency, but we need to do more worksheets. If we shot any video, it would just be of students doing worksheets. Drill and practice is the order of the day.

The Reading Workshop is no different than any other class in the United States. As outlined in the previous post, Getting Ready for the Test, daily activities have drastically changed. Other than daily online lessons on Study Island, the computers have been put to rest. Writing activities are limited to responses to passages. The entire focus is on the test. To do otherwise would not be fair to the students, the school, and the district.

Teachers don't have any choice. With the pressure on schools to meet state standards and be rated an "effective" school, the focus is driven to help students score well on the test. Professional development and district meetings all center around testing data, and improving student achievement on tests. This results in drill and practice for students using worksheet after worksheet.

Schools don't have any choice. Beginning with Proficiency Test, and heightened by NCLB, testing is the controlling force in education. A Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll in Ohio reported that 57% of those polled believe tests are not accurate indicators of students' progress and 55% think there is too much emphasis on testing. However, with the School Report Card being used as the main evaluation of a school's success, schools have no choice but to make testing a priority.

An Ohio survey, by the KnowledgeWords Foundation, found that 89% of respondents believe it should be a high priority for Ohio schools to teach "critical thinking and problem solving skills." A one-time, one-shot test does little to foster critical thinking and problem solving, and it stymies creativity. All it does is give a snapshot of students' ability read a passage and correctly answer questions. It also can reflect hour after hour spent on worksheets. Unfortunately this is the only assessment model our government uses to decide if students are getting a good education.

What can you do?
Contact Governor Strickland at the Office of the Governor Contact Page.
Contact members of the Ohio House of Representatives.
Contact members of U.S. House of Representatives.
Contact U.S. Senators.

Students in Reading Workshop have been working hard. They will score well on the Sixth Grade Ohio Achievement Test. Whether or not, teachers agree with the method of assessing students and schools, there is a responsibility for all of us to do our best. Doing so enabled Laurelville to be rated an Excellent School last year. Hopefully students can continue the tradition of excellence and before they know it, they can return to their online journals and blogs, and other engaging reading and writing tasks.
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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Getting Ready for "The Test"

Test TakerCopiers are firing off worksheets and pencil sharpers are grinding away. This time of year, The Reading Workshop, like almost every other classroom in the United States is focusing on preparing for the Achievement Test. Last year, Laurelville students received an excellent rating. This sets a high standard for this year, and students are working hard to prepare for testing beginning the week of April 20.


Some of the activities include:

1. Before school intervention classes with small groups of students are held each morning to assist fifth and sixth grade students with specific skill needs.
2. Peer tutoring on Study Island in areas of specific weaknesses help students address each content area.
3. The sixth grade will have a practice run-through of the Achievement test on Monday, March 23 for reading, and Wednesday, March 25 for math.
4. Students will review scored practice tests and rewrite incomplete or wrong short answer and extended response questions.
5. Students are taking past OAT written response questions and learning the proper format to most-likely answer correctly.
6. The 2006 Seventh Grade Reading Achievement Test is being used to practice on typical, although somewhat harder passages.
7. Group work and cooperative learning activities help students share techniques for comprehension and finding information with peers.
8. Daily class discussions focus on addressing students' needs and sharing ideas that make success more likely.

Students are working hard and learning many skills that will make them better test takers. When the time comes, I am sure their results will reflect the effort they are putting forth each day in class.

Image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/mimiw/302995395
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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Where Does Hard Work Come From?

Some students work sooooooo hard. No matter what the task is in Reading Workshop, they give it their best. Where does the motivation come from?

At eleven years old, a sixth grade student doesn't consciously decide to be motivated and work hard. There must be some inner drive that pushes them to succeed. Even when the task is daunting, some students persevere.

In some cases I am sure students see it modeled at home. Parents that work hard are bound to influence their children. Many parents push their child to succeed in school. However, not all hard working students have this type of support at home.

Some sixth graders may be beginning to think about their future. Ideas of a college education and a successful career may start at this age. Also, watching someone else who is successful, might cause students to emulate behaviors.

Really though, it seems like in most hard working students, the effort they put forth is just part of their being. Something in their make-up pushes them when others would quit. In fact, I wonder if the hard workers even recognize how they are different.

What do you think? Can you explain the motivation to succeed? Is it something a person is born with? Can someone learn to work hard?
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Monday, March 9, 2009

Google Docs Gift to Bloggers

Want an easy way to survey your readers? Thanks to Google Docs, that is an easy task. Embedding a question into a blog post is a simple process, and results will be compiled in a Google Docs spreadsheet that will allow sorting of the data.

The first step is to create a Google Docs account. Once that is completed, and you have signed in, just follow these steps:
1. Click on New
2. Click on Form
3. Choose the type of questions. The types include text, multiple choice, check boxes, choose from a list, and scale 1-n.
4. Edit the form with questions.
5. Embed the form into the html of a blog post.

For an example of how this will look on a blog post, you can check out Where Am ?. This is a sampling of students used in The Reading Workshop.

Thank you to Mr. Todd Tomlinson, Logan Elm technology teacher for the tip!
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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Community Service, One Student's View

Recently in the Reading Workshop, students have been writing persuasive essays. This is a guest post by student author Rachael J.

Kids should be really encouraged to be a part of community service. The reason I believe this is because the University of Michigan says that “it is common knowledge that volunteers get much more out of their service experience than they expect.” Sometimes kids really need to get their hands dirty to see how rewarding community service can be! Community service can really be a better teaching tool than sitting in a classroom. Kids learn more if they actually do something.

Community service has made huge differences in student's motivation and in communities. Researcher Diane Hedin indicates, “the biggest problem students must overcome in school is a lack of motivation” (Hedin 1989) If a student is dreading school because “it's boring”, that can be changed! Get the students involved! Kids like to feel needed! They like to know that they did something that someone would appreciate. “One of the most effective ways is by strengthening students’ relationships with their community and helping them become more personally engaged in their education through national service ( http://sitemaker.umich.edu/356.black/homes).

Community service makes students feel good. I know this because I got involved. It was on Make a Difference day and Mrs. Woods asked for volunteers. I did not know what I was going to be doing that day, but I then found out that it was raking leaves for people that could not do it themselves. Now, I have plenty of leaves to rake at home, so I have raked leaves before. Our neighbors get mad if we don’t rake them up because they would blow into their yard. Anyway, it felt really good to do something for others and they really appreciate it. Plus, it cleaned up our community, right here in Laurelville, the town that is not even found on a map.

Little things can make a huge difference. Cleaning up your community might even improve your community's ways of life. If you have a clean and environmentally-friendly community, then the people inside the community can go outside without finding a hobo in their dumpster. What does this have to do with community service and students? Well, as the saying goes, you get back what you give, but you get back even more with volunteering for community service. With just a few hours of your time, you help your community, and in the long run, your community helps you.

A clean community can give back in many ways. Students can help their community in so many ways. They can supply fresh air for us to breath, clean water for us to drink, healthy crops for us to eat, and an awesome community to live in. Seriously, if you want to keep Hocking County beautiful then make a difference and get out there and help your community.

You can read more of Rachael's work on her blog, Notes From Rachael.
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Traits of a Successful Team of Teachers


Students in Reading Workshop recently took a survey, questioning their knowledge of the personality traits of their teachers on the post Who Am I? There were several surprises in the survey and some fairly predictable results.

According to the Laurelville students:

Mrs. Cartee is down to Earth, easy going and builds relationships. She is supportive, soft-hearted and caring, but can be tough when needed.

Mrs. Griffey is full of energy, enthusiasm and drama, while being honest and driven for success.
Mrs. Bower is full of ideas with a never-ending passion for seeing students succeed.

Mrs. Caudill helps students when they don't understand. She has high expectations.

Mrs. Blubaugh is there when students don't get it. They know they can count on her to help them out.

Mrs. Stevenson is a good listener that is honest and practical. Her easy going way helps build trust.

Mrs. Little is trustworthy and doesn't judge people. You can count on her when the going gets tough because she cares.

Mrs. Scott is soft-hearted and supportive, but can be tough when needed. She is a good listener.

Ms. Bowlby has a lot of ideas and a passion for success. She supports her students and believes in them.

Mr. McGuire pushes students to be successful. He has high expectation and says so in an honest, straightforward manner.

I found it interesting that different students had different perceptions of the teachers. Also, what I thought was the correct answer--or description of some of the teachers, was not the opinion of the majority. The descriptions above were based on what the majority of responders answered.
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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Get the Picture? Freak the Mighty Does

When you are reading, do you get the picture? If not, why are you reading, or as Chris Tovani says, fake reading? A conversation with a student yesterday in Reading Workshop caused me to think about the point of reading.

Then, as I watched Kevin tutor Max while reading King Arthur in Freak the Mighty a connection shouted out.


As Kevin says, "every word is part of a picture. Every sentence is a picture. All you do is let your imagination connect them together." These interconnected pictures then become the movie that plays in your mind as you read a book. This is the basis of comprehension.




The student I talked to yesterday has spent her whole life fake reading. She chooses books she can't read, or that are so difficult for her that there are no pictures when she reads.

Why? She can read any book she wants. All last year she could choose her own SSR book. Yet she continues to choose books that she doesn't "get." Hopefully someday she will realize that she has a movie ticket, and just needs to turn on the show.
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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The 2nd Click is Worse Than the First

What happens when a student in Reading Workshop misses a question on Study Island?  They click on the next choice, of course.



This is how it works:

1.  A student logs on to Study Island and chooses the topic.
2.  He looks at the question and then skims the essay.
3.  He rereads the question and answer choices.
4.  He clicks on the one that sounds right.
5.  He says, "shoot, I missed it."
6.  Then he goes mouse crazy--Click, Click, Click

Somewhere along the way, he gets the right answer.  After all, there are only four choices, so he has to get it right sooner or later.  For some reason, after students miss a question, the rate of answering speeds up. 

WHY???????????

When a student misses an answer, they need to

S    L    O    W        D    O    W    N!

The key to good scores is to missing as few as possible.  When a student misses with their first choice, the odds increase from a 25% chance to a 33% chance of getting the question right.  If a student uses the skill of eliminating nonsensical answers, at the worst he would have a 50/50 shot at answering the question correctly. 

I am not sure why missing an answer causes students to go click crazy and start guessing, but I have seen it happen over and over.   For students that want to be successful on Study Island, missing an answer means it is time for super slow motion.  Reread the essay. Reread the question.  Find the place in the passage the question is focusing.  Eliminate bad answers.  Then you will be ready to get the answer right!
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Who Am I?

Monday, February 23, 2009

You Need to Start Acting Like a First Grader

I just happened to be walking down the first grade hallway when I overheard one of the first grade teachers talking to a little boy. Although the teacher said it in a nice way, the implications were clear. It was time to straighten up. This little boy had better correct his actions or bad time were ahead (see the title).

This caused me to start to think about expectations in Reading Workshop. I had to be out one day last week. The students had an assignment to write a comment to a blog post. Although I usually don't assign commenting to a post, I decided this would be a great opportunity for a writing assignment.

When I started to read the comments, they were horrible. There were mistakes everywhere. Words were misspelled. Capitals were missing on proper nouns and to start sentences. The grammar was like something from a language arts horror film.

Needless to say, when I got back the next day, I was irked. Although I am usually a poster child for happiness and joy, I put on the ugly face. I screamed and shouted, grunted and groaned, and made all kind of mean remarks. I showed examples and made examples of poor work.

Amazingly, that day, I got the best work I have had all year. Words were spelled correctly, Sentences had correct punctuation and capitalization. Students' writing made sense and made the reader think and wonder. The overall quality was excellent.

What does this tell me? Students will work to the level of expectations. If I expect the impossible, and won't accept any less, they will raise the quality of their work all the way to the stars. Get ready kiddos--you proved to me that I need to expect the impossible, and you will come through!
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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Study Island and Who Wants to Be A Millionaire

There were two boys in a sixth grade classroom and they never watched the show, Who Wants to Be a Millionare. Every day in Reading Workshop, they got on a computer and did a session on Study Island. This is an online learning program that their school used to help them learn indicators that the state of Ohio's Department of Education deemed important.

Now both boys were hard workers, who did all of their assignments and got pretty good grades. They didn't cause problems in the classroom, treated their classmates with kindness, and seemed to be pretty good students. All of their teachers liked them, and saw them as role models to their peers.

One day, an intervention teacher pulled them out because their reading teacher noticed a weakness in a particular area. These boys obviously were not Millionaire fans, because they hadn't used their lifelines. As the teacher worked with them, she noticed that they kept missing the same types of questions, over and over and over and they never asked for help.

Now, being the smart person that she was, she asked them about it. Neither had ever asked anyone for help. In about 30 seconds, she explained how to correctly answer these types of questions.

If these two boys had watched Millionaire, they would have used their lifelines. They could have started with 50:50 and eliminated half of the answers that didn't make sense. Although the couldn't phone a friend, they could have asked a classmate for help. They also couldn't ask the audience, but they could have asked the teacher.

This story could be a fictitious account of what might happen in a classroom somewhere, sometime. There is a chance that it might have actually happened to students in a school somewhere. The point--if you don't get it, get some help. Ask the teacher, ask a friend, stop and think. Whatever you do, do something. Don't keep missing questions.

If you want to be successful at Study Island, and in life, when things are going wrong, figure out why, get help when you need it, and fix the problem!
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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Relay for Life BBall Kickoff

Last year the Circleville Relay for Life raised $39,444.10 for the American Cancer Society. Of that Laurelville Elementary raised $2855.35, McDowell raised $2148.02, and Logan Elm High School's student union raised $524.00. That totals $5527.37, which means that Logan Elm schools were responsible for raising 14% of all of the money collected in 2008. We should all be really proud of that.

To jump start this Mrs. Amy Colburn, McDowell guidance counselor is organizing a collection this Friday at the boys' basketball game. We will have separate containers for each of the six Logan Elm schools, along with one for Bloom Carroll. Help us get a great start to this year's Relay.

You can read about last year's Relay here.

Students and parents, let's see who can collect the most money Friday night. Jump in and support the Relay and show your school support, too.
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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Searching Successfully

As we return to persuasive essay projects this week, some students are still attempting to find more information to support their position. All good opinion papers have specific details, fact, and statistics to support their point of view. Finding and organizing the data is often the most challenging part of this writing project. This takes hard work, and some Internet savvy.

At some point during the school year, almost every student has jumped on Google to find information. Because each student has their own PC, they quickly become use to using them as a tool, whether they need to find information, as a dictionary, or thesaurus. However, when searching for specific information, it takes slightly different skills.

One area of focus is the use of key words. Students must try a variety of search terms, and skim through the results to find the most relevant information. Also, when searching for facts about a topic, using words that relate to for or against an issue is imperative.

Examples of words that show support of an issue include:
for, pro, benefit, agree, positive effect, good points, reasons for

Examples of words that demonstrate disagreement with an issue include:
against, con, no, disagree, bad, problems with, negative effects

Just including one of these words usually narrows search results, helping find usable facts and statistics to support an opinion.

In addition, students watched this video on Google basics.




A persuasive essay will only be as good as the research that supports it. To convince the reader that you are right, you have to have the facts to make your point.
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Monday, February 16, 2009

What Makes a Good Teacher #2

In a previous post, I discussed What Makes a Good Teacher. There was an overwhelming response with many interesting comments, and opinions on this blog, and several others. With this in mind, and help from well-thought out suggestions, here is another look at what makes a good teacher.

1. Knowledge of Content
Effective teaching demands that the teacher be knowledgeable in the subject area. The teacher must have a detailed understanding of what it being taught. This includes an understanding of the entire course of study and how concepts should build upon each other throughout the students' education.


2. Mastery of a Variety of Instructional Techniques
No two classes, or two indicators are identical. An effective teacher understands this and differs instruction based on what will assist the most students be the most successful. Key concepts are presented in ways to enable visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners grasp it.

3. Dedicated to the Craft
The best teachers spend their entire career improving their ability to teach. They read and explore the techniques used by others in a never-ending effort to better themselves and their skill. The see teaching as a lifelong journey of continual drive to improve instruction.

4. Effective Classroom Manager
Discipline is not an issue. Students understand class rules and expectations, and adhere to them. When discipline is necessary, it is not vindictive, but just a consequence when a student does not do what is required.

5. Individualized Instruction and Approaches to Students
Every student is different, and at times their needs reflect this. To effectively teach all students, the teacher must understand this. The teaching and interactions with students must reflect the needs of each, with the understanding of each as an individuals.

6. Highest Expectation For the School, Teachers and Students
Only the best is good enough. Quality is expected, and nothing less is acceptable. Passion for excellence is a driving force each and every day. A good teacher makes the school better by being a part of it. He pushes himself to be the best. Failure is not an option for the teacher or the students.

As I stated in the previous post, I would never claim to do all of the things in this list. All I can hope is that I spend each day trying to live up to these ideas. Writing a post like this is the easy part, living up to it is every teacher's challenge.

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Where am I #8?


Ready for another challenge? The winner, if it's a student will get 7 million stones of extra credit. If the winner is not a student, the prize is in the quarry.




Each day I will add another clue or two. Post your answers in the comments.


Vacation spots
aren't always at the beach.
This one is
within one day's reach.


Where am I?
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A Don't Care T-shirt

I didn't notice the shirt when he walked in the room. In fact, I probably wouldn't have ever noticed it if it hadn't been pointed out to me. When I first looked at it, I didn't even know what to say. It was probably bought as a joke, by a parent or family member just trying to be funny. Or maybe they thought it was cute.

Students wear shirts all of the time with sayings on them. Sometimes almost every shirt in the room has something on it--at the least a company logo. Shirts with sayings are so common that no one really pays that much attention to them any more. But what if the saying is a badge that a student wears bragging about failure? What if the motto is one that the student lives?

I don't think I like this T-shirt. I don't like it when a student slacks, and bragging about it irks me. Hard work and a positive attitude mean a lot in this life. Living with passion means even more. You might say I am being irritable and grouchy. You might say I need to lighten up and have a sense of humor.

Well, I say, you should have cared yesterday. You should care today. And I sure hope you care tomorrow. Live life to the fullest. Work hard and play hard. Live with life with a gusto. No matter what you do, go for it.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Blog Comment Rubric


More and more teachers are using blogs in the classroom. Writing a blog gives students the opportunity to write to an audience. Commenting provides the chance to evaluate the writing and ideas of someone, and then respond. Both types of writing on a blog require stating a thought, idea, or opinion, and then supporting it in a way that will cause the reader to agree or respond.

Blog posts are an abridged version of several types of writing. Some are persuasive essays. Others are informational reports. Many of my favorites are memoirs that share a meaningful event from the writer's day in the classroom. Occasionally a blog post is a letter or note. Often times, blog posts are a combination of several types of writing.

Likewise, comments are condensed versions of all types of writing. This makes them a valuable task for students. If students are going to comment, then their work deserves to be scored. Although commenting is not used frequently as an assignment in Reading Workshop, students will at times respond to a specific post as part of their classwork.

If it is important enough to take time in class, and if a certain standard is expected, students should have something to measure their work. As with most assignments in Reading Workshop, a rubric is used to score comments.

You can see the entire Blog Comment Rubric on the wiki. Here is the standard for an A.



Blog Comment Rubric

Score
Basis for Scoring

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4 or A

  • Concise (3 -4 paragraphs) with a specific focus
  • Shares thoughts, ideas, or opinions
  • Opening grabs the reader's attention while introducing the point of the comment.
  • Specific details support information in the comment
  • Has a "So What?", theme, lesson, or specific point that attracts the readers' attention
  • Demonstrates detailed understanding of the blog topic
  • Positive tone engages the reader
  • Spelling, punctuation, and capitalization is correct

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Comments That Count

Commenting is a competition. You are vying for the reader's attention. Plus, you want the reader to listen to you over other commenters, and you want to sound better than others. If you care enough to write, then you care enough to want to sound intelligent. You are trying to make others agree with you, and know when you disagree with them. And, you want your writing to make sense, and to share your thoughts and feelings in a way that wins over the reader.

So how do you win this competition and get the readers to read your comment? How do you get your point to be the one that sways the readers?

Here are some tips for being a top commenter:

1. The first sentence MUST grab the reader.
2. The first sentence should give the reader an idea what the comment discusses.
2. Less is more. Comments longer than three paragraphs lose the reader.
3. A positive tone wins over the reader, a negative tone drives readers away.
4. W's (Who, What, When, Where, Why, & How) mean everything. Throwing out a statement without telling why it matters, or how it impacts others, or what significance it has to the reader is worthless.
5. Specific details and examples give your writing credibility.
6. Mistakes, especially in grammar and spelling cause the reader to move on to the next comment. Readers assume if you can't write correctly you are not intelligent enough to be worth reading.

Occasionally someone will say that they only comment because they want to share their point. I DON"T BELIEVE THAT FOR A SECOND. Anyone who takes the time to comment wants their comments to be valued and appreciated. They want readers to be awed or inspired. They want to be seen as smart, with-it and creative.

If you are going to take the time to comment, take the time to do it right. Win the comment contest by writing a fabulous comment that makes readers think, or wonder, or smile, or cry, or agree, or disagree. Write a comment with meaning.

Bloggers love comments. All comments are appreciated. However, nothing beats a comment from someone that is intelligent and makes a great point.
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Sunday, February 8, 2009

Education Like Burger King



Have it your way,
have it your way,
have it you way,
at Burger King.



If you ever heard the jingle, once you heard it, then it bounced around in your head all day, driving you crazy. Well, what if education was like Burger King? What if you could decide how you wanted it? So much of school is based on tradition, but what if it didn't have to be? What if you could design education and your school to suit you?

How would students be assessed? Would there be grades? Would there be the same classes/subjects? Would students switch classes? Would students have one teacher or several? What would the schedule look like? What would be the school hours? Would everyone attend at the same time and the same number of hours? What role would technology play? Would any learning be online? Would there even be a Reading Workshop?

For those who have never seen the Burger King commercial, here it is.



If education was like Burger King, what would your order be?

Image from http://flickr.com/photos/ambrosianapictures/3142319248/
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Friday, February 6, 2009

Is Handwriting Yesterday's Skill?

Handwriting is still alive, but should it be? With all of the emphasis on curriculum, the need to cover the course of study, and prepare for the OAT, one must consider if handwriting is just a distraction. Although this is still a skill taught in school, one could question if keyboarding is a more relevant skill.

My handwriting is terrible, at best, even though my elementary teachers did their best to teach me penmanship. If I take my time, it is legible, but never without a struggle. When I write, it is almost always on the computer. When I read something, it is almost always digital. Anything that has been hand-written is usually brief, and most likely informal.

Recently, a post on the Core Knowledge blog explored this issue. Much of the argument stressed the need to continue teaching and using cursive writing. By the time I finished reading it though, I had this "do as I say, not as I do" kind of feeling. Even those that advocated the need for handwriting seemed to admit that they seldom used it themselves.

When I think about the careers that students in the sixth grade are most likely to have as adults, I am not sure that I can picture anywhere handwriting plays a vital role. However, technology will most-likely be an integral part of most jobs, if not when they graduate, surely throughout their lifetime.

There is a problem though. As long as students are in school, they will need to write legibly. Tests and journals will be written for grades. If teachers cannot read the writing, or have to struggle to understand it, students' grades will suffer. Even though handwriting is not graded, it could affect many scores.

What do you think? Should schools still focus on handwriting? Or should more emphasis be placed by schools on catching up with the rest of the world?

http://flickr.com/photos/bg/1532769756/
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Thursday, February 5, 2009

A Newspaper's Role in Education


Recently I posted about the poor grammar used by a worker at a local restaurant. A teacher today brought in a newspaper from the town where the Wendy's is located.



Here is a headline from the paper.

Utilities work to restore power
Some have went without electricity for five days

As the voice of the area, and the written daily record of history from the county, a certain level of responsibility might be expected with the proper use of the English language. However, the dialect from an area is bound to creep in, especially if writers for the paper grew up locally.

For the most part, lack of proper grammar is not a hindrance here. "Me and" and "we was" are not even noticed in most casual conversations. In fact, overcoming common usage is one of the biggest problems students face in language arts classes.

So this brings us to the question. What is a newspaper's role in education? Should a local paper's language reflect the area, or should they serve as an example to all readers.

Image from http://flickr.com/photos/drb62/2054107736/
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Carnival of Education

Steve Spangler is hosting the Carnival of Education this week. You can see all the latest here. This week's Carnival includes the post from The Reading Workshop, You Don't Want No . . .

Day in the Life of a Technology Coordinator

John Rundage, the Technology Coordinator for Logan Elm Schools described his routine and responsibilities at a presentation at the Ohio eTech Conference. In his informative session he discussed how he keeps the district running, maintaining the hardware and software while also planning, budgeting, and training teachers.

As he states on the Logan Elm Technology Blog I have a daily routine that starts before I walk in my office. I get up at 4:30am and get ready for work. By 5:15, I start the coffeemaker and pickup my Blackberry to look at the messages that came in overnight.

From this early morning start, until the end of the day, Mr. Rundag attempts to keep the districts computers running. The fact that he is, for the most part, responsible for 800 computers and 10 servers, in six buildings running Windows, Linux (Ubuntu), and Mac operating systems is an unbelievable task. At the same time, that he is maintaining the system's security, he is also installing software and building a library of video tutorials for teachers.

As Rundag continued his presentation describing the progression of his day, Tech. Coordinators from around the state of Ohio listened in, grabbing ideas to use in their own districts. Many seemed amazed that one person could do all that John is doing, while still finding time to explore new ideas.

The fact that Laurelville has such a strong technology-centered approach to education is only possible because of the support we receive. Very few schools have a computer for every student in their language arts classes. Without Mr. Rundag's never-ending help it would never happen. The details from A Day in the Life of a Tech Coord show how much hard work goes into making technology work at Logan Elm Schools.

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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Blending Learning and Technology

Wesley Fryer, an educator and agent for the combination of learning and technology in schools spoke at the Ohio eTech Educational Technology Conference. As the author of the blog, Moving at the Speed of Creativity, Fryer frequently posts about applying innovative techniques in the classroom. His presentation is available here.

Attending a conference, most people hope to bring home one or two ideas that will help improve on what they are doing. Listening to Mr. Fryer, it quickly became obvious that his message during the keynote address to open the conference had numerous thoughts and ideas for educators.

The need for integrating Web 2.0 into the daily lives of students was mentioned throughout the speech. Collaboration and connectivity were main themes. Fryer modeled this using videos, personal stories, and time for sharing with peers.

As we move through the second half of the school year, following his lead and thinking, students will have numerous opportunities for exploration and growth. Currently students are working on writing posts for the blog, and commenting on online journals. This is a great start, but only the beginning.

As we follow the ideas set forth by Wesley Fryer, students will have numerous opportunities to use technology to increase their learning. He commented frequently about blending technology and learning. This is what makes Reading Workshop engaging for the students and the teacher.

Before the end of the year, students will have chances to incorporate research, with music and videos while building a digital portfolio, including guest posts on this blog, of their writing that will travel with them as they move on towards Jr. and Sr. High School.

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Monday, February 2, 2009

When the Cat's Away, Web 2.0 Saves the Day

I am attending the eTech Ohio Educational Technology Conference on February 2-4. As anyone who has ever been a classroom teacher can attest, one of the biggest problems of being out for professional development is school still goes on. The teacher must write plans for the substitute teacher, explaining the daily routine in detail, and plan lessons so that the sub can understand them (lucky for me that I have a great sub. Thanks Mr. Fraley), and in such a way that learning will still take place.

This is a tremendous challenge for all teachers, to the extent that many just choose not to be out of the class. However, many of the best ideas I use in my class every day originated at the eTech conference. In fact, I wrote a post previously, discussing many of the contributions the conference has made to my school and my classroom. Consequently, I find myself traveling to the 2009 conference.

So when the cat's away, the mice will play. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately for the mice er students, in Reading Workshop, everything they are doing while I am gone can be tracked. Thanks to the Internet, and using Web 2.0 in the classroom, all of their work is "out there."

Students took a Study Island Benchmark Test today. Great job to Lily, Bree, Austin, Makayla, Christian W., Desire', Heather, Rachael, Ryan, Jessika, and Kayla. As I sat at home and looked at your test results, I can tell that you worked hard. In fact, GREAT JOB! If you are one of the students I just named, you will be successful. You obviously do not need a teacher breathing down your neck to make you work. You are succeeding for all of the right reasons.

Students had the option of commenting on the blog when they finished with their benchmark test. Some students had insightful comments that were worth reading and thinking about. Thanks to Heather, Desire', Christian W., Bree, and Sam. However, there were a few comments that students would never have attempted to post, if I had been there. That tells me that these students need to raise their standards, for their own sake, instead of just doing a good job when the teacher is watching.

Tomorrow students are writing a letter about their SSR book. This is an assignment that they have done a few times in the past. They know how to do it. The key will be, how much effort they are willing to put forth to do a good job. If they save their work on LEWriting, our Google Writer website, I can easily check their progress.

Students are also logging on their online journal on wikispaces each day. In just a few seconds, I can check and see how much they read, their response to what they read, and if they are comprehending their SSR book. Plus, if someone (like Rachael) decides to make the extra effort and log on at home, I will be able to check this, and know a student deserves credit for putting forth the work to be successful.

Thankfully, I can spend three days learning, and still know everything that takes place in the classroom. A connected classrooom leaves no doubt in my mind what students accomplish each day while I am gone. When they cat's away .... some mice keep working hard--WOW, do they deserve a good job.

Image from http://flickr.com/photos/swissbones/327559662/

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Saturday, January 31, 2009

A School Climate that Thaws Snow Storms

Over half of the teachers in the building were at school on Friday. It seemed like they had a variety of tasks. Some were getting caught up, while others were planning ahead. Two were already considering plans for IEP students taking the Achievement Tests in April. It seemed like one might have shown up just to argue politics (See the State of the State post to see the right/optimistic side of the discussion).

So, what's the big deal, you ask? It was a snow day. School was canceled. The roads were nasty, and it was cold and windy. The teachers did not have to be there. The fact that so many 4 - 6 grade teachers battled the snow and ice to come to school is reflective of the attitude at Laurelville. Teachers want to be there, and want to do well. There is an interest in seeing the students succeed.

There's more to it than that though. There is a certain hominess to the building. In a day when schools are facing so many challenges, this building is different. There is a distinct feel to the building. Teachers feel a part of the school and want to be there.

School climate was a hot topic a few years ago. School climate is the learning environment of the school and how it makes students feel. Lately that has been forgotten with NCLB and all the emphasis on testing. The focus in education is on scores and achievement, and intervention, and the School Report Card.

When you are in a building where there is a warm climate, where people feel a part of the school, you know you are part of something special. There is an attitude that you can feel. It is hard to describe, but when you are lucky enough to be a part of it, you know it's there.

The road conditions were way too bad to have school. I can't help but wonder though, if we had told students, come on in if you can, how many would have showed up. Maybe a few would want to do some research for their persuasive essay. One or two might want to work on their online journal. Some might have wanted to come in and trade books, and just read for a while.

How about it students? Would you have stopped in for a while? Would you have spent a little time just hanging around and catching up? It seems to me like some days it's sunny enough on the inside to thaw out even the worst of the snow storms.

Image from http://flickr.com/photos/28603429@N06/2667617304/

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Gov. Says Time to Change Education in Ohio

Gov. Ted Strickland proposed numerous changes in education in the state of Ohio. During his State of the State address on Tuesday, January 27, he discussed lengthening the school year, all-day kindergarten for all schools, more rigorous training for teachers, switching from the high school graduation test to the ACT, and a new method of school funding.

According to the Columbus Dispatch, this transformational plan would be phased in over eight years. The educational system would be "evidence-based" using established research to determine what constitutes an adequate education. School funding would be based on what it takes to instruct students based on the cost to provide an effective education.

This redesign of Ohio schools would be based on a goal of creating a 21st century educational system. The school year would eventually be 20 days longer. Tutoring for at-risk students would be increased. Fundamental changes in school funding were proposed including allowing districts to pass a special kind of levy that would allow revenues to reflect changes in property valuation.

Stiffer accountability for schools was a main point of Strickland's proposals. Mentoring, peer reviews, and coaching for teachers was suggested. In addition, teachers would have to spend a four year residency before receiving their teaching license. School administrators would have the ability to fire teachers for good cause.

When Strickland was elected over two years ago, many questioned his campaign promise to address the needs of Ohio's educational system. This State of the State Address clearly shows that he is ready to make good on his promises. Now the question arises, with the financial crisis facing Ohio, can he make help the schools in Ohio prepare for the 21st century.

Image from http://flickr.com/photos/studio08denver/2804043052/
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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

You Don't Want No . . .

"You don't want no cheese on that?" I just stared at the Wendy's Menu. I wasn't quite sure what the voice on the intercom said. My daughter, Emily and I were sitting in the drive through, grabbing some lunch to go.
Finally I said, "I'm sorry, what was that?"
"You don't want no cheese on that?"
I replied, "No thank you. No cheese."

Then I looked over at Emily. She was sitting in the passenger seat slightly shaking her head. A few hours later, I couldn't really remember anything about the lunch. I think maybe the fries were a little wimpy, and limp-like, but I honestly don't remember too much about the lunch. I do remember that the people were friendly at the two windows, first to pay and then to get our food. Emily didn't complain, and I soon forgot about it, so the food must have been OK.

Three days later though, that voice on the intercom has stuck with me. I tried to put a picture to that voice Somewhere along the line, she could have been in my class. She obviously spent a lot of years, sitting in language arts classes. It was a nasty, snowy day, and she was at work, so she probably was a hard worker. She was friendly, and polite, with good customer service in mind.

I have so many questions I would like to ask her.

Did your teachers ever mention double negatives?
Did you like school?
How did you do in school?
What kind of grades did you get in language arts?
Do you like to read?
How did you do on the "test?"
Did you graduate from high school?
Where did you go to school?
Does the Wendy's manager ever say anything about how you talk?
How long have you worked there?
Did your parents ever talk to you about your grammar?
Do you have kids?
Do you help them with their school work?
Did you ever think about college?
Do you think you might be a manager some day?
Did you ever consider that your dialect might limit you?
Have you traveled?
Who do you look up to?
Do you think how you speak matters?

I don't remember anything about that sandwich except I "didn't want no cheese on it." I sure have thought a lot about that voice on the intercom, though. I think there is a good chance that we will be having a few conversations about this in Reading Workshop.

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