Thursday, September 5, 2019

many tools are greater than two

I just finished listening to Emily Hanford's podcast entitled, "At a loss for words, what's wrong with how schools teach reading.

I feel agitated. 

First, at the heart of reading is meaning. If you read an article or a book, and then someone asks you what it was about, and you have no idea, did you really read it? I teach my students that this is an example of fake reading. If I pulled one of these kids to confer with me, I may listen and hear them read all the words accurately. If they cannot talk about what the author said, I do not believe they read the text.

This point - the comprehension of a text - was not discussed in the podcast. How can we leave that out?

Second, reading is a problem-solving endeavor, and sounding out a word and memorizing sight words should not be the only two strategies a child uses to solve a word. I'm so irritated as to why the teachers in this article call everything that is not sounding out or sight words "guessing." What about using phonology, morphology, and etymology (which, if your curriculum uses a phonics program under a balanced literacy framework students have this knowledge) to solve words? What about prompting a child, "Check the end letter in that word. You said /k/ but there's a 'ch' in there. Try it again." What about asking a child, "Does that make sense?"

I think the using the three cueing systems (Meaning: Does that make sense?, Syntax: Does that sound right?, Visual: Does that look right?) as cues to make meaning are just a few of the ways good readers approach text. Teachers who use the cueing systems are prompting students to get metacognitive about their reading. Ultimate goal? A child is reaidng on their own, and then thinks, "Huh, that sounds wrong," and then backs up to reread. That's a win in my book.

As I mentioned above, primary readers need phonemic awareness and phonics instruction. They also need to build their vocabularies. They need a schema bursting with experiences. They need to have positive feelings about reading, be able to name favorite books, and will be thoroughly invested if their teacher sets up partnerships or book clubs where children read the same books as their friends.
Which leads us to balanced literacy, which I believe is a model great reading teachers follow. Keep that going, sis.

Here's a bigger problem I see: our universities are not teaching reading as thoroughly as they should in undergraduate programs.

When I graduated in 2003, I began teaching sixth graders in central Phoenix. I would have some kids come up to my classroom, and they wouldn't know what to read, and I had no idea what to do, except follow the curriculum I was given.

The day the textbook told me, "Make XXX inference," and I didn't make that inference was the day I started to question things. Shortly thereafter, I began my graduate studies at Arizona State in Language and Literacy. Without that work, I would have continued to not be prepared for my students and their needs.

But the biggest takeaway? Teachers MUST trust their professional judgment, and seek out peers and mentors when they are stuck and unsure what to do. Since graduate school, teaching for me has always been kidwatching (Yetta Goodman). I watch my students and respond to what I notice. I build my instruction with my resources and my knowledge of what kids demonstrate to me. I do not blindly follow some curriculum or some resource or some report from some form of assessment as my only way to make decisions about kids. I am the trained practitioner. I kidwatch, use the resources available to me, and I make decisions as to what is next for my students.

I think I'm just a little put off as to why the attack of the three cueing systems. They are just ONE TOOL our readers can use. They can also use their knowledge in phonics, and the picture clues, and the schema they bring to the text to form their specific transaction to the work they are reading.

Reading is not black and white, and it instead lives in this really large grey area. As long as we are working together with our colleagues and continue learning, I don't think we need to throw out a bunch of tools (like LLI, which I have personally seen do amazing things for readers!) because they don't fit into some new idea about how reading instruction should be thoroughly changed.

Let's trust ourselves as professionals instead, and lean on our colleagues, coaches, and instructional leaders when we need another opinion.

Let's send some feedback to our undergrad education programs and get some advisory boards going so we can have teachers stepping into their first year much more confident and knowledgeable than I was.

Rant over :-) hahahhah

But seriously though, drop a comment, I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Monday, August 12, 2019

back to school vibes

Another school year is upon us! I'm not going to lie, last night I was feeling the Sunday Scaries pretty bigtime. Coming back after a two-month hiatus isn't easy, especially when you've been on beaches with friends and family, at day games at Wrigley, staying up all hours of the night (when I say this, I mean 11pm, ha!) and redecorating your apartment. Even for those of us who have been doing this a long time, that transition can be difficult.

But then I came into Heritage for a team leader meeting this Monday morning, and was flooded with hugs, and catching up, and the excitement amongst the new teachers and I was reminded again WHY i've been doing this for 17 years... and still feeling happy about it.

First: Relationships. You guys, it's all about the people. Some of my VERY BEST FRIENDS I've found because of teaching. 17 years worth of students that have crossed my path have made it so much fun to learn as I go. I've had excellent admistrators and our coaching staff is on point. I could never do a job that didn't involve other people, it's all of them that bring so much joy to my day-to-day work.

Second: Balance. This one was a little harder to come by; I don't feel like I really started to master this until like year 6, and then in the past few years I think I've gotten really good at it. Teaching can feel kinda hobby-ish for some, myself included. That coupled with the fact that I get OBSESSED with things (reading and writing workshop) can make a teacher live teaching only. It's so importnat to find hobbies and interests outside of education that are really fun, because just like any great relationship, you have to get away from it a bit in order for it to really flourish. Want to chat more about this? Come to the Self-Care Roundtable at iEngage with Gorz and I!

Third: Creativity. It's so cool to start fresh every year. You get to try new things out and set new goals. You can modify really great lessons from years prior and create totally new ones. You can work with new people and read new books. This year I have a few goals: to amp up the anecdotal notes on my coaching log, do a little hand-written journaling in my agenda each day, and to coteach with a bunch of teachers in my building. I'm also toying with the idea of a Young Authors club - I am not teaching a section of ELA this year, so I feel like I have to get some kid time that is JUST MINE in some way. If you've ever done this, please let me know!

There's obviously so much more to a year of teaching, but we'll just keep it short and simple, which is what I recommend to all the new teachers starting their very first year! As I saw on Twitter the other day, YOU are your classrooms greatest resource, so don't go hard all day every day in your classroom in the week(s) leading up to the kids return. They need you fully rested and refreshed when they get there, so go to the beach instead!

What makes back to school best for you? Leave a comment and let's keep the conversation going!

Happy Monday!

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

original gangsta

This isn't even my slice to tell, but it was so funny, I had to post it.

My ELA class is a combination of 7th and 8th grade students. They stay for two years, so our current eighth graders are on year two with us. It's cool, because they become the mentors to the seventh graders.

Yesterday, when I was home sick, I guess one of the seventh graders told one of the eighth graders that he needed to rename the turtle (the stuffed animal turtle that sits in the window and is used as a talking piece sometimes during discussions).

She replied, "You aren't even an OG in this class, you can't name the turtle!"

My coteacher told me she overheard this conversation yesterday and meant to text it to me last night. Kids are so funny, especially when they use language like this in the perfect context!

Sunday, March 10, 2019

good news

This is a model from writing I picked up watching Rachel Hollis on Amazon Prime in Made for More. Before they start their training, they ask the crowd to share good news. This news could be simple things like "I found my fave new shoes ON SALE" or bigger things like, "My cousin beat cancer." All news is good news, so here is some from me today.

Good news:

I got a huge chunk of my To Do list completed on Thursday.

Good news:
The weather in Chicago is creeping up into the 40s. It's a heat wave!

Good news:
My class's behavior was ON POINT Thursday. Like, so much that I offered 15 minutes of free time tomorrow (first time all year) if they could do that again. It was BLISSSSSSS.

Good news:
I saw Aziz Ansari the other night. SOOO GOOD.

Good news:
The last of four book club books came in and our new 7th grade book clubs are all set in poetry: The Crossover, Brown Girl Dreaming, Bronx Masquerade, and Home of the Brave. Can't wait to get started with these after spring break!

Good news:
After days of indulging on not-so-healthy food choices, it's always great to return to routines and add health back in via densely nutritious protein shakes and detox teas.

Good news:
We rolled the clocks back so the daylight will stay with us even longer now. Summer is on the horizon!

Saturday, March 9, 2019


Every year my friend, she's so kind, takes me to the Avani Spa in Fontana, Wisconsin. We get a massage and hang out in the pool area all day. It's lovely.

My fave location in the whole place? The steam room. I had never been in one before coming here, but I love sitting in there.

Just Thursday I finally caught a cold, so to sit in a room that's like a giant netty pot is THE BEST. (Minus the gross part of the netty pot.) I swear, my skin is so conditioned every time I get to spend some time in this little, it's-a-good-sweat room! Wanna go sit in a giant humidifier? Yes, please!

Friday, March 8, 2019

when lunch stinks

I am a meal planning person. Every weekend I make a bunch of lunches and some dinners and portion them up so I'm good to go daily with healthy food to keep me feeling well throughout the week. This week I made a Portillo's Chopped salad (it's delicious) and homemade dressing.

The dressing consists of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, garlic, and a bunch of spices.

Fast forward to yesterday, I ate in my classroom alone. Was much in need of some quiet time. Salad was delicious, I ate at my conferring table. And as the kids came in for block 4, I haphazardly threw all the dishes into my lunch bag, but didn't close up the containers. I didn't realize how strong of a scent that particular dressing had.

Block 4 began, I was working on some other things outside of my room, but ran back to my space about 45 minutes later to grab something. I come in to Israel shaking his head. "Ms. Brezek. Why?" He, along with a few others, were working together with their teacher at my conferring table. Israel continues, "That smell, it's terrible. What was that?"

I had no context for what he was talking about. I must have looked confused, because his teacher chimed in. "I moved your lunch bag over there and also dropped a few drops of lavender essential oil. The kids were really distracted by your lunch."

Israel continued, "Yeah, it smells so bad. What *was that?"

Feeling a little embarrassed, I realized I didn't wash the dishes or or even close the lids. "Oh yeah, sorry guys, it was salad dressing..."

Israel interrupts again, "It's like, I just can't focus. It's so strong." He's shaking his head, clearly distraught.

At the time, I didn't realize how strong it was. But that night after school, I didn't go home, I had another commitment. And on my way there, I slammed on my brakes, my lunch bag flew to the floor, and the scents got all wound up again. I picked it all up, but when I got into my car that evening after about 3 hours of time, it did smell. It totally stunk, and I could feel Israel's pain.

How is it that I can have a delicious lunch and the remnants are just miserable?!

Thursday, March 7, 2019

on being a mom (kinda)

So did you read my post about Annie a few days ago? If not, start there.

Today I saw her during block 4 and I don't even remember what she was talking my ear off about but then I interrupted, "I wrote about you and Adam on my blog."

"AHHHHH, MS. BREZEK! WHYYYYY?" She paused, then continued, "I gotta read it."

Lauren was overhearing this and says, "Oh, on bigtimeliteracy? Let me pull that up." (Lauren did her first slice of life challenge in 4th grade with me, FOUR years ago, nbd.) :-)

She does and reads it. She tells me, "You write so descriptively."

My heart swells. Because (1) she compliments my writing, but more so (2) she can appreciate descriptive writing.

Annie walks back over to me, all smiles. Kinda embarrassed, but also kinda appreciating the attention. "You're like my mom, Ms. Brezek." She's smiling, kinda laughing. "Like, she does stuff like this. I don't know, you're just kinda like her."

(I honestly don't remember anything she said after the comparison.)

Mostly I was just feeling like I got the best compliment ever.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

multitasking is cr*p

I bought this book awhile ago:

I tried it out and it was difficult, so I set it aside. Then I noticed Oprah was doing a book study with the author, Eckhart Tolle, on her podcast. This week she released the conversation about chapter 9, next week it will all conclude.

In chapter 9 book, Eckhart states:

I used to think multitasking was the thing. Like look at me, I'm getting all these things done all at once, woweeeee!

But in the past few years, I've reconsidered. You can't be doing all the things at once. Well, to rephrase, you can be, but you won't be doing them well.

I find myself sitting at my desk at work, focused on one task. Then my email will ping, and I USED to just stop my work flow and go over to my email. At times now, I still do that, but now I catch myself. And I stop myself. And I go back to the first thing I was doing until it's complete. Then I will probably check my to do list before I go to the email, because people do not need a reply within 1 or 10 or even 60 minutes. Things can wait.

Our phones cause the same problem. We are doing something - making lunch or washing dishes, or folding laundry, or even at dinner with a friend or family member. The phone pings, and you interrupt what you're doing and give your attention that that.

Now that I've been more reflective of this fact, I've gotten so much more mindful of my phone. If I'm out with a friend, the phone is out of sight. I want the people I'm with to know that they are what's most important. I want my full attention to be on them.

If I'm home working on something, like right now, I'm writing this blog. My phone is on silent. It's still within arm's reach, but it's turned over and on silent. I want to finish one thing at a time.

When I'm at work in planning meetings of any sort, my phone is usually right there, but it's on silent and turned over. I'm not responding to email and I even try super hard to keep head space fully engaged with what I'm working on with people. It's important to me to be fully present for the 40-45 minutes we are working together.

And when I'm alone, I am tired of being anxious about the future or stressed about something I said earlier in the day. So now I just try and catch myself when I'm in anything but the present moment. It takes time, but it's making a difference to be fully present at each moment. And it helps.

Anyways, I guess I used to think multitasking was the sh*t, but now I think it's b*llsh*t. So let's spend some time together so I can get fully present to you and I and the work or fun we will find ourselves in.

Sidenote #1: I do like taking pics, so I may grab my phone for that. But the posting of said pics, later on :-)

Sidenote #2: I highly recommend you listen to Oprah's series on this book. Chapters 1 and 2 are tough, but starting on 3, it's amazing, and I think about as life-changing as Brené Brown's work!

Who's with me on this?

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

what I'm loving

Some things I'm currently loving are...

♥ that all my friends are blogging right now.
Our district has some pretty forward-thinking teachers, so it's cool how we're all sharing small moments of our daily lives with one another in March.

♥ that spring is coming!
Pretty sure we turn the clocks ahead next weekend. St. Patty's Day is coming (one year it was like 65 in Chicago that day, hoping for that!) Baseball is coming. Spring break is coming. WHen the sun is out, my spirits have an instant lift!

♥ rituals and traditions.
Fat Tuesday is here, tomorrow Ash Wednesday, and it's the season of Lent. Easter will be here soon. I love these parts of the calendar each year to remind me of things in life, and that they signal new easons are upon us!

♥ Hobby Lobby.
I've been dreaming of the gallery wall I want to create in my living room above my desk. Hobby Lobby has the best stuff for this, can't wait to share it with you once it's complete!

♥ my yearly visit to Lake Geneva with Lizzy!
Next weekend we will go to the spa and stay at the room her parents own at the resort. There's always a lovely brunch in there, too, can't wait to go!

♥ the app called Over.
If you like Word Swag, this one takes it up like 100 levels, but you can create amazing graphics and flyers from the convenience of your iPhone!

What are you loving at the moment?

Monday, March 4, 2019

tweet, tweet

Ahhh, spring in 8th grade. (Today it's 2 degrees in Chicago, but who's counting?) But ahhhh, spring in 8th grade. The kids are finding their boyfriends and girlfriends, and what esle could be better?

Well, what could be worse is your teacher calling you out on it.

There are these two kiddos who I especially adore. Let's call them Annie and Adam. I have known Annie since she was in fifth grade, when that was our last year at the elementary school. After that year, we both looped up (me back) to the middle school.

The following year, I had Adam in homeroom. Sixth graders are kinda shy, but he was always a personable kid. Annie and I lost a bit of touch until this year, but we have since reconnected and I see her, and Adam, every day again.

As eighth graders, these two are the best. They are funny, witty, smart, people persons. They are both in ELA with Andrea during block 4, and although I do not teach that block with her, I sometimes find myself in there after my other commitments, packing up to go home. Without a doubt, these two will ALWAYS find a way to say hello. Annie sits right by where my space is, and Adam usually needs his pencil sharpened (which is right by my space) about the time I return.

For most of the year, it was just fun and pleasantries. Until Annie and Adam became an item.

Now, I can do that thing that parents and teachers do - just a look and they'll blush.

But sometimes, I'll see them in the hall together, and I'll be like, "Hey Lovebirds!" (This is so reminiscent of Julia Bray, a coteacher I had about a decade ago, that I miss dearly.)

They will see, or hear this, and immediately blush and walk away from one another.

But the best? One afternoon I did this, and a friend of Adam's, let's call him Sam, followed up my greeting with "Tweet, tweet." 

Someone who understands me!

This is the best, especially with the kindest, funniest, happiest kids who will let it go and quietly remind me later to please stop. (I will not.)

Sunday, March 3, 2019


I live in an apartment. Five units, three floors. I'm on the second floor, rear apartment. I love this home. When people visit they always tell me, "It's so cozy here." Yup.  This is part of the reason I'm cool being home by myself.

But there is a chirp happening. It's the smoke detector in the hallway to the units, somewhere. Throughout the day when I'm home, I hear it, but intermittently. So I hear it, think I should fix it, remind myself I don't have a ladder, and then continue with what I was doing in the first place.

But then it chirps again.

Totally reminded me of that modern family episode when Phil Dunphy (one of my fave characters of all time on TV) tries to fix his, check it out:

There mine goes again. I think I'll text my landlord and let him take care of it. After all, he's making the big bucks.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

on being seen

I had a hard week. There were a lot of meetings, a lot of things to do, I didn't even realize my to do list was so long on Monday morning when I got to work. Does that ever happen to you? You come into work all casual and calm, and then it's like a bomb went off within 20 minutes? On a work level, that was how my week started.

Additionally I've been pretty aggravated on the dating scene. Usually the problem is I meet guys, and it's not a match. The last one was a match. But now the timing is off. Uggghhh.

I hadn't really reflected much on my week aside from being annoyed at how stressed I was. But then I woke up Friday morning to a text from a friend from school. It was a gif of a hug and her message said, "Felt like you could use a hug! You seemed down today and it made me sad friend."

I didn't realize how I was coming off so.....sad? But she did.

And this text message? Instant lift.

Is the best thing to be seen, or what? To know that there are people out there who care for you so much that they stop everything they are doing to send a message and let you know that you matter?

In the big grand scheme of life, I can't think of few other acts of love, like this one, that has the power to drastically change someone's day. So to my friend, and her coteacher who is also this way with me, thank you. My week is ending way better than how it started.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Cookie Complication

Can we talk about Girl Scout cookies for a hot second? Like, how I have no self control with them?

When your friends' kids are on Facebook being little entrepreneurs and promising funny videos when they hit 50 boxes sold, you place an order. Obviously, the cookies are delicious, so you were planning on it anyways, but then the videos make it even more precious.

I ordered four boxes this year: three Thin Mint and one S'mores. $20 seemed like a good donation. Except I'm only one person. I live alone. And I didn't gift any of the boxes to anyone.

I'm pretty embarrassed to say that I got the four boxes just one week ago. Three boxes are gone completely, and I've about finished a sleeve of Thin Mints as I am typing this.

I can go for WEEKS eliminating dairy, gluten, sugar, caffeine, alcohol and soy. AND YET, when the girl scout cookies arrive, my thinking turns into, "Well, at least if I just hurry up and eat them, they will be out of the house." Like, wuuuut?

And after a sleeve of Thin Mints? I know I will feel so terrible. But. I. Just. Can't. Stop.

So my request: please tell me I'm not the only one living this insanity at cookie time. Just a quick comment, and it can be as simple as that little emoji with his/her hand in the air. That would mean so much!

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

daring greatly {chapter 2}

You guys, I LOVE BRENE BROWN. Like admire her so much. I have all her books, have been reading her for years, and I'm so excited to share from Daring Greatly. It's a book I've read over and over and have bought over and over - because I lend them out and obviously it's amazing and so I don't get them back, but whatever! Everyone should have a copy!

Chapter two is all about debunking vulnerability mythes. There are four of them:
  1. Vulnerability is a weakness.
  2. I don't do vulnerability.
  3. Vulnerability means letting it all hang out.
  4. We can go it alone.

For the sake of brevity, I'm going to focus on the first, with some implications for teaching practice/living a great life. She begins with, "Vulnerability is a weakness." I love how in her research, she asked people what vulnerability is. Here are some of their responses:

  • Asking for help
  • Saying no
  • Starting my own business
  • Saying I love you first and not knowing if it will be reciprocated
  • Hearing how much my son wants to make first chair in the orchestra and encouraging him while knowing that is's probably not going to happen
  • The first date after my divorce
  • Exercising in public, especially when I don't know what I'm doing and I'm out of shape
  • Presenting my product/art/writing to the world and getting no response
Then she goes on to ask, "Do these sound like weakness?"

Because that's the thing. It feels vulnerable to do these things. But it looks like strength from the outside. She writes, "But there's no equation where taking risks, braving uncertainty, and opening ourselves up to emotional exposure equals weakness."

Then, in her research, she asked, "How does vulnerability feel?" Check out these responses:
  • Not sucking it in anymore.
  • It's where courage and fear meet.
  • It feels so awkward and scary, but it makes me feel human and alive.
  • Sweaty palms and a racing heart.
  • Freedom and liberation.
  • It feels like fear, every single time.
  • Panic, anxiety, fear, and hysteria, followed by freedom, pride, and amazement - then a little more panic.
  • Letting go of control.
And the answer that appeared over and over? Naked.
  • Vulnerability is like being naked onstage and hoping for applause rather than laughter.
  • It's being naked when everyone is fully clothed.
  • It feels like the naked dream: You're in the airport and you're stark naked.
Brene writes how we love to see vulnerability in others, but want to mask ours. About the crux of the struggle, she writes,
"I want to experience your vulnerability but I don't want to be vulnerable. Vulnerability is courage in you and inadequacy in me. I'm drawn to your vulnerability but repelled by mine."

So what, how does this all play out in life? Like, in my life?

Let's start with teaching. Vulnerability is opening my classroom door to anyone who wants to come in. Vulnerability is telling my colleague or principals that I don't know how to do something. Vulnerability is telling the kiddo I just yelled at that I was wrong, and I'm sorry. Vulnerability is running a teaching Instagram and Twitter because I want to share my teaching life and connect with others, knowing some will look at it and think I'm full of myself. Vulnerability is letting others lead the way. Vulnerability is leaving a messy classroom and saying to myself, "there will be time tomorrow to clean this up." Vulnerability is going to my social worker, in tears about a student, saying I just don't understand their behavior, and listening as they remind me of how different disabilities play out in a classroom setting. Vulnerability is taking a mental health day. Vulnerability is running a reading and writing workshop, where the teacher has less "control." Vulnerability is moving on from a school that doesn't serve you anymore.  Vulnerability is confronting a colleague about a boundary they crossed.  Vulnerability is making your eighth grade students sit in a circle and share their highs and lows, appreciations, and plans for the weekend. Vulnerability is writing this blog post.

A little more personal? I'm 38 and single. Vulnerability is writing that, right there. We live in a society that shows us what I "should" be at this age, married, with kids. Except it hasn't played out that way for me, yet. Vulnerability is me telling you that I'm okay with that, because I have amazing friends and family in my life, and that I really enjoy my time alone, and that actually, in 2018 I met a bunch of cool guys, and that it just didn't work out for a various set of reasons. Vulnerability is me telling you that I'm not going to get all bent out of shape about it because I'd rather be focused on drawing good things into my life, that if I were to obsess over this silly little fact, I would only draw negative energy. (Vulnerability is me telling you that late 20's-early 30's I WAS all bent out of shape about it.) Vulnerability is me reminding myself, "Well, it only takes one right guy," and reiterating it to my best friends who are also my age and single that same is true for them. Vulnerability is me knowing that parts of this paragraph are justifying this little detail about my life, but I acknowledge that and yet, leave those details here anyways.

From a different angle? Vulnerability is doing the thing that many don't understand and/or approve of. Like, being a consultant with a Multi-Level Marketing Company. The one I love is Arbonne. Vulnerability is asking people every day, "Hey, has a friend told you about Arbonne?" knowing that many people laugh at me behind my back (or maybe even get at me about it to my face.)  Vulnerability is consistently putting myself out there in a way that many don't understand and most judge. Vulnerability is telling myself every day that it's okay to move forward with Arbonne, because although I can only see the first step of this journey, there's a huge staircase ahead of me that have the potential to yield amazing opportunities.

So why did I tell you all that stuff? Well, because this:
Because I want to live a life on fire. I want to feel loved and love on others. I want to create amazing possibilities in my future. I want my students to know that I don't know everything about life/ELA but I do love the hell out of them. Same for my colleagues and friends and family. Life is too short to hide. I'm not about that. It's scary, but I'm just going to let is all hang out.

This is a book EVERYONE should have on their shelf, and when you do, you can go on to read about the three other vulnerability myths, too. Tomorrow, check in with Sam about Chapter 3 of this book, Understanding and Combatting Shame.

And before you go, how have you been vulnerable in the past week? Or, how might you like to try and be vulnerable this week? Leave a comment and let's share the love!

Much love,
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