Best Technology Tools to Support Reading and Writing

 
  By Lisa Robles
 My name is Lisa Robles and I am so thankful to guest blog for Rachel Lynette. I had the good fortune of attending her sessions at the TeacherPayTeachers conference in Vegas and she was awesome!!!!

OK so first I'm going to get on my soapbox for a second.  Technology should never be a babysitter.  It should be a tool for creation!  Especially with the new standards, it's so important that our kids are college and career ready and technology is an important part of that.  OK, ok, I'm off.  

I use technology with my students every day.  I truly believe our students need to have these skills under their belts in order to be successful in today's world. Here are the best web sites that I use with my students:


Edmodo


One of the best tools I use in Edmodo.  I've used it for a few years and every year it just gets better!  It is an extremely versatile platform.

First, the basics: create an Edmodo account for yourself.  Then you create a group.  I create a cute name like "Fabulous Fourth Graders".  Edmodo will create a group code for you.  Students can then sign up using the group code.  
It looks like this:
Students don't need an email.  I also tell kids to just use an initial for their last name for safety's sake.  Easy, Peasy!  Once the group is set up, the fun begins.

Ways to use Edmodo:

  • Book clubs- you can create sub groups to allow students to collaborate.  My kids call Edmodo their "Facebook".  I'm always a part of the group too so I can see their dialogue.  I usually ask a focus question to help guide the conversation.
  • Writing- when students finish writing a doc in Writer's Workshop, they can upload it to Edmodo.  It allows their peers to read it and provide constructive feedback.  I teach my students' two stars and a wish- two compliments that are clear and specific and one wish that would have made the work better.
  • Differentiated instruction -the small group component allows teachers to send specific content to specific groups of students.
  • Professional development -it's also great for you as a teacher and learner.  There are so many professional learning networks you can join.  My favorite was for the Global Read Aloud.  If you'd like more information about that, click here.  This year I'm reading Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt with my students for the GRA.  It happens in the fall so sign up asap!

Storybird



A great way to get kids motivated to write is Storybird. They call it "artful storytelling".  It's a platform for writers to get creative.  It's full of beautiful art that the students can use in their own stories.  Storybird curates the artwork and students use it to inspire them to write.  Here is a link to a story I created to model for the kids.  The stories are easy to share through email, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest or they can just share the link.  If the parents would like to keep a copy for themselves, they can download it for $1.99 or pay more for a bound hard copy.  You will love, love, love the art.  It's amazing.  O

One assignment we did was to create Mothers Day and Fathers stories.  Here is a link to one of their stories.  It's easy to add students with the access code they give you.  They do not require a student to have email.  


Newsela




So you know how there has been a shift to more informational text?  Well, Newsela is a great way to incorporate it into your curriculum.  It is chock full of informational articles on topics such as war, health, science, kids, law, money, arts, and sports.  Each article can have the lexile level adjusted for readability. If it's too hard, adjust it down.  If it's too easy, go harder.  The kids get the same information.   Some of the articles even have quizzes after the articles.  

My favorite ones are the articles that say 'Pro/Con'.  I divide my class into two parts and assign them a side. They read the articles and gather evidence.  They meet with their side and decide what is the best evidence for their case.  Then, they have to pair up with someone from the other side and present their case.  After discussing the best evidence, they caucus with their side again and try to rebutt the others' arguments.  Here is a link to the Argument Talk Protocol from the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project (TCRWP).



Freebie!

Here is a link to a freebie on my TPT store.  It's a bookmark that you can print and laminate for use with the Common Core.  Three come on a page and there are two styles.  Enjoy!




My name is Lisa Robles and I have been teaching 25 years and currently teach fourth grade!  I love teaching language arts and integrating technology.  You can find me at my TPT store or my blog!

Creating a Comfy Classroom

Images created by Ladybug's Teacher Files
I am so thrilled to be doing this awesome Back to School Survival Guide with some of my favorite TpT bloggers! You'll find a back to school tip from each of us plus two chances to win a $25 TpT Gift Card at each stop! That's 44 chances to win! Check out my tip first, enter the Rafflecopter, then use the link up below to hop on over to the next blog! Super fun, super easy and super helpful! 







Other than their homes, your students probably spend more time in your classroom than anywhere else, so you want to make sure that your classroom also feels like their classroom. Cute decorations are great, but to make students feel at home in their classroom, you need add a few more special touches. Don't worry, it isn't hard and the benefits are huge. Both you and your students will feel more relaxed, more at home, and probably more productive, too. Here are some ideas to get you started:




It is so, so important to leave at least one bulletin board empty on that first day of school. That board is just waiting for the amazing work your kids will do during that first week. Ideally, a project with their names. You can find some great ones on this Pinterest Board. Student pictures are great too - time lines, collages, baby pictures, self-portraits etc.
Image from Runde's Room



Take lots of pictures. Not just at the start of the year, but all year long. Then display them in your classroom. One idea is to make a special bulletin board (or do something easy like put clothes pins on a string or piece of fishing net) just for student photos. Swap them out as often as you can. Send the old ones home with the students who are in the photos and put up new ones. This is a great job for a parent volunteer! I think this is especially important if you teach in a school where your kids might not have the best home life. It could be that no one takes pictures of them at home. Show that child that you care enough to take and post his picture. For older students, consider having a Photographer of the Week whose job is to take pictures. You of course, get to decide which ones get printed!




Cozy spaces and alternative seating are a great way to help kids feel at home. Consider lowering tables so kids can sit on the floor. Allow your wiggly kids to sit on fitness balls. Let them read in odd places like under desks or in your super cozy Book Nook. Check out this Pinterest Board for some cozy classroom library ideas.





Beanie Babies and other small, plush toys can be a great addition to your classroom. You can have table group mascots (or use a larger plushie for a class mascot) or let each student have his or her own small toy. Great for classroom libraries and indoor recess! Pillows are another terrific idea and they don't have to stay in the library. Kids can use them to make cozy corners anywhere. And don't forget about rugs. Big and small, fluffy rugs can make a room cozy.



Something living is a great way to add warmth to your classroom. Consider adding a few houseplants to your room. One idea is to give each table group a small plant to care for. They can even name it! Class pets are another great way to make a classroom feel like home. Try for something furry like a hamster, gerbil, or guinea pig, but other pets work well too. Hermit crabs are surprisingly interesting and easy to care for (also, if you are a horrible person and accidentally forget to give them enough water over a long weekend and they die, you can find ones with the same shells to replace them with and the kids will never know...not that any of you would ever do that...)



Florescent lights can be harsh all day long. Some teachers find small table lamps to use at certain parts of the day. You can put one at each table group or just set them strategically around the room. There are so many fun lamps. Target and Ikea have great ones and of course there are always your neighborhood garage sales. Rice paper lanterns are another fun idea. Pick them up at Ikea or possibly the Dollar Store. Also consider strings of lights and those battery-powered fake candles.



Consider all the senses when making your classroom feel warm and homey. Something that gives off a fresh scent (just make sure no student is allergic) like this essential oil defuser can be a nice touch. For relaxing sounds, I have a friend who has quiet wind chimes in her room and I had a table top fountain on the counter by the sink. You might also consider playing soft music from time to time.

Special thanks to my friends on Periscope for passing along some of these fabulous ideas! Find me on Periscope @RachelLynette.

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Read Alouds in Your Classroom


Hi, I'm Cait from Cait's Cool School. I'm exciting to be guest-posting on Minds in Bloom today! 

I don't know about you, but I love having someone read aloud to me. I will never forget when I was a senior in high school and my AP English teacher read aloud to us from Hamlet. You would think that a group of 17-18 year olds would roll their eyes, but instead, my whole class was enthralled by Mr. Schaefer's love of Shakespeare. We actually wanted to know what happened next. When I became a teacher, I vowed to bring this excitement and interest to my students.

A reality check happened when I saw how much curriculum and data-driven lesson plans were forced on me during my first year of teaching. Still, I vowed to fit in a read aloud somewhere. Once I did, I never looked back. Over the years, I found out more tips and tricks to read alouds.

Why should I bother trying to fit this in? Because students love it! They are engaged, they ask questions, and they start looking at new books. Reading is actually teaching kids how to think. During direct instruction, we're giving them a lot of guided practice and strategies for how to be a good reader. A read aloud takes the pressure off, but students will still be using those reading strategies. I love to throw out quick questions to them for discussion- why did that character act like that? What will happen next? Would you be friends with that character? Do you like this book so far? And follow up those questions with a why or why not? I like to use discussion task cards like this free set, which works well with small groups. Using easy journal entries can allow students to write about the novel as well. Plus, read alouds can act as mentor texts when you're providing direct instruction also, because students love to talk about them. Fit in a read aloud because students love it and because you can.
Discussion task cards, journals, and a Venn-diagram- easy ways to reinforce read alouds. This set is from my Matilda Read Aloud Activities.


What should I pick for a read aloud? Well, what was your favorite book as a kid? Chances are your students will love it too. I have always started out my year with Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar. The hilarious characters and situations are engaging for students. This book will end being perfect as a mentor text for character traits. This upcoming year, I'm switching it up and starting with The Fabled Fourth Graders of Aesop Elementary School by Candace Fleming. I used a portion of it last year for teaching theme. Using it as a read aloud, I can start to introduce the idea of theme without my students even realizing it! I've also used The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (great adventure story!), simply because that's what MY fourth grade teacher read to me. We used it for character traits, theme, and text connections. Choose something you like, and if you're not sure where to start, try this great list of 215 Read Aloud Books for Elementary School Students.

When am I supposed to fit this in? Whenever you can. Write it into your schedule if you need to! Take 5-10 minutes after morning announcements. Use it as a transition between recess and afternoon classes. How about that day when you finish up your lesson earlier than you thought (it's a miracle!) and you have five minutes to spare? Or that time when you come back early from an assembly and now you have five minutes before lunch? At my school, we are departmentalized, so if there was five minutes left until we switched classes (and my students know), at least one student will say, "Can we read Narnia?" So happy to oblige. I try to schedule a little extra time on Friday at the end of the day, just to read aloud. Our brains are fried a little, but when we're reading aloud for fun, it's amazing what they can focus on. Fit in a read aloud whenever you're able to.

Any more wisdom to impart? Of course- one last tip! This year, I started my amazing-five-years-in-the-works Roald Dahl author study. I was so excited for this, because I planned to read aloud Matilda to both sections of fourth grade while my different reading levels read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or James and the Giant Peach. One book to read aloud and compare to their individual books- great idea, right? I read a lot out loud, and then I started to realize we were falling behind due to snow days. The only way this plan could work would be if I read aloud for the 45+ minutes while my students did independent work. That's a lot of reading. To read all of that- with expression and excitement- good bye voice. Then it hit me- audio books. Kate Winslet does an AMAZING reading aloud version of Matilda. I was afraid my students wouldn't be able to follow along, but they did! They asked for me to play it whenever they were working and they were able to recall what they heard. So if you can, get audio versions of books, and play them aloud. (Kate Winslet had a great Miss Trunchbull voice...way better than mine!)

A little bit about me- I've taught 3rd-5th grade, and have been in fourth grade for the past four years. I also teach college English in the evenings, besides working on Cait's Cool School, which includes my blog (check it out!) and my Teachers Pay Teachers store (click here!). When I'm not busy working too much, I love hanging out with my husband and our fur babies- a playful yellow lab named MacGyver and a cute gray skinny kitten named Skitten (my blog just might feature at least one or two more photos of those cuties!).






How Shared Research Can Inspire Your Students



Organizing shared research projects can be a daunting endeavor for teachers. The purpose of shared research is to engage students in rigorous, complex text while  promoting discussion and collaboration. Presenting informational text within a unit of  study helps students explore topics in depth as well as strengthens understanding. I found that students enjoyed become “experts” on topics and were much more motivated to conduct research in a group vs. individually.
My second grade students absolutely loved our penguin shared research project!  It was created to complement the HMH Journeys basal text, Penguin Chick by Betty Tatham.  I was amazed to see how interested and engaged my students were throughout the entire unit. Their curiosity and collaboration was priceless! I used the following 6 tried-and-true tips to make this a successful shared research study:

1. Find engaging, yet challenging resources: I provided a variety of penguin informational text sources including books, printouts, poems, and magazine articles. The sources provided were at a variety of levels–most were at students’ instructional level, but I also included more challenging text to increase stamina and push students to read complex text. I’ve found that when students read high-interest text, they are motivated to tackle difficult text, even if it is slightly above their level.  This National Geographic Kids: Penguins book by Anne Schreiber and Penguins! by Gail Gibbons are a few of the high-quality, authentic text sources we used during the study.


2. Create shared research groups: Shared research is an ideal time for heterogeneous grouping because students are combining their background knowledge and skill sets and learning from each other to build a shared understanding of the material. I organized students into groups of 4-5 and allowed them to choice their specific research topic (i.e., diet, anatomy, etc.). I wrote students’ research roles on the board and gave them each a research role headband for easy organization. In order to promote productive collaboration, we created a list of behavioral expectations so that everyone knew the expected requirements of shared research.


3. Activate background knowledge: I used Really Good Stuff’s O.W.L. (Observe, Wonder, Link) graphic organizer to activate students’ background knowledge.  In groups, students brainstormed what they’ve observed about penguins, using knowledge gained from reading the basal text, Penguin Chick. They recorded this information on the O (Observe) column of the O.W.L. graphic organizer.
 Next, we discussed the importance of asking questions prior to reading to guide research. Students then wrote questions on Post-It notes and sorted them into the following categories: anatomy, diet, habitat, locomotion, life cycle, and predators. After sorting, they stuck their Post-Its onto the W (Wonder) column of the O.W.L graphic organizer.

4. Read, write, discuss:  Reading, writing, and discussion are the heart of shared research projects.  Students should read to find answers, share these answers in a written format, and discuss new learning.  In our penguin study, students read to find answers to their questions, summarized their answers and cited textual evidence on the L (Link) column of the O.W.L graphic organizer.  Students worked collaboratively to turn their new learning into complete paragraphs about each research sub-topic. They wrote them on lined paper, edited and then published using Sharpie markers.

5. Incorporate art: Shared research is the perfect opportunity to incorporate art into the classroom. Written responses don’t have to be limited to reports, they can include murals, posters, poems, or dioramas. My students chose to make murals of their assigned penguin. They used photographs to draw the penguins’ anatomy, diet, habitat, predators, and babies and then used chalk and paint to bring the penguins to life. As a finishing touch, students placed their published paragraphs on the murals.


6. Share success: As a culmination, invite parents or other classes to come listen to students share their research projects. My class loved sharing and listening to each penguin report as they truly were penguin experts. Many asked questions and provided feedback. Some even took notes! After students shared, we discussed and charted the similarities and differences of the penguins on a Venn diagram, synthesizing our learning.  I was impressed with the depth of knowledge each group gained from this project. They were highly engaged and learned excellent research skills. Many said this was their favorite project (even topping our themed cooking projects--that says a lot!). 

I’d like to thank Rachel Lynette for the opportunity to present my shared research tips on her blog!

Do you have a shared research tip? I’d love to hear it!

About the Author:
Jessica Murphy is a second-grade teacher, reading interventionist, and co-founder of Astute Hoot: Tools for the Wise Teacher.  Along with Jennifer Zoglman, a special educator, and Tina Rataj-Berard, a graphic designer, she has created a dynamic cast of reading and math strategy animals. The strategy animals made their way into a group of targeted multi-sensory educational tools that have contributed to the creation of proficient readers and mathematicians in classrooms across the country! Check out their Teachers Pay Teachers store and follow their blog: www.astutehoot.com to see how they awaken the joy of learning in all students. 
If you are interested in purchasing some products that help students learn critical reading and math strategies, consider downloading SeeWhat The Hoot’s About, a FREE sample file of tools and resources guaranteed to spark enthusiasm in your classroom.

What is the Big Deal with Periscope?


Just a quick post to let you all know that I am on Periscope! You can find me on Periscope @ RachelLynette. I will try to do 4-6 broadcasts a week, roughly around 4:00 Pacific/7:00  Eastern. Most of my scopes will be teaching related: tips, strategies, freebies, and fun giveaways too! On Friday nights, I will do something fun and not teacher related because you  know...it's the weekend!

New to Periscope? 
It's super easy to log on and join the fun. Just grab the App for your Smartphone or tablet. You can use your twitter log-in or start a brand new account. As far as I know, Periscope is all about mobile devices. There may be a way to log in from a computer, but I don't know it (if you do, please share in the comments).  Once you have an account, come find me. Soon, you'll find other teachers to follow too! 

When you follow someone, you will get alerted every time that person makes a broadcast (if you don't like the sound alert, you can easily turn that off in your settings). You can watch the broadcast live or watch it on replay for 24 hours. After 24 hours, it disappears. The cool thing about Periscope is that broadcasts are interactive. You can write in questions and comments and the person doing the broadcasting can respond! You can also tap the screen to send hearts, which is just a way to say you like what you are seeing. 

Here is what I will be doing later today. Actually, this will probably happen about ten minutes early today, but if you miss the beginning, you can catch it on replay. 


You can also make broadcasts yourself (but you don't have to, it's fine just to watch other people's). It is super easy and super fun! Hope to see you soon! 

Let's Chat! Getting to Know Your Students' Families

Let's Chat! Getting to Know Your Students' Families
Hello teacher friends!  I am SO excited and honored to be serving as a guest blogger for Minds in Bloom!  Thank you, Rachel, for allowing me to contribute to one of my all time favorite educational blogs!  My name is Brooke Brown from Teaching Outside the Box.
   
Today, I'd like to share one of my FAVORITE ways to connect with your students' families at the beginning of the school year..."Chats!"  Essentially, a "Chat" is an informal, 10 minute scheduled meeting with your new parents that establishes a positive first impression while helping YOU to get to know your students' interests, strengths, needs, goals, and backgrounds from each family's perspective. 

I recommend that "Chats" be scheduled either before school, after school, or during your planning period and spread across several days during the second and third weeks of school.  "Chats" are most beneficial when held in person, but can also be held over the phone to accommodate busy schedules. Now, I know what many of you must be thinking...A VOLUNTARY Parent Teacher Conference?!  During the CRAZY first weeks of school!  Possibly outside of contractual hours?!  NOOOOO WAY!  When I first transferred to my school district many years ago and learned that my teammates would be holding "Chats," I thought the same thing.

UNTIL I realized the long term benefits of establishing that positive first impression and open line of communication with parents right off the bat.   “Chats” are the optimal time to build the foundation and mutual trust for a partnership with your students and families, connecting with them on a PERSONAL level as opposed to an ACADEMIC level.  The social/emotional needs of your students are just as important as their academic needs, and their family background is a huge piece of that!  Perhaps they have a unique learning style or disability that you hadn’t noticed yet.  Perhaps they have a complicated home life or social difficulties.   Perhaps they have a hearing or visual impairment that requires accommodations in their learning environment.  All of these factors critically influence students’ overall success in the classroom and allow YOU to set them up for that success.  And what better time than the most crucial and influential time of the school year…The FIRST few weeks of school!  At this point in the year, you will not feel obligated to discuss and share academic records with parents and instead will focus on building powerful relationships.

So here’s how “Chats” are set up!  Place a table tent with instructions out at your Back to School or Meet the Teacher Night.  You’ll also need to put out sign-up sheets, filled in with dates and times that are convenient for YOU on the forms. (Do NOT feel guilty about scheduling these times according to your preference.  You have a personal life too!)
If a family is unable to attend during those designated time slots, that’s okay!  It’s your call whether to devote additional time or simply let it go.  I usually have about 50-75% of my families sign up for “Chats,” and depending on the culture of your school, it will likely vary.  Any connections you can make will serve in your favor. 

Also, make enough copies for each student of the “Getting to Know Your Child” Questionnaire.  This form is for the parents to fill out at home and bring with them to their scheduled “Chat.”  After “Chats,” I always keep this form at the front of my student files and then place in their Intervention files as necessary at the end of the school year.  These questionnaires are often very telling and significant for each student and I referred to them often, so even if you don’t schedule “Chats,” I’d recommend using them anyway.

Prior to each child’s “Chat,” send home a reminder note for their scheduled time.

During “Chats,” use these forms to take notes regarding each child…Concerns, next steps, classroom accommodations, parent requests, goals, etc.  Documentation always serves in your favor!

Interested in giving “Chats” a try this fall?  Download my FREE packet of resources that has EVERYTHING you need!

Thanks so much for stopping by and thank you again, Rachel, for allowing me to share! I’ll “Chat” with you soon!

Brooke is currently a Gifted Resource Coordinator for early childhood students in Norman, Oklahoma. She has been teaching for eleven years, with 10 of those years in the regular classroom with first, second, and third graders.  She lives in Norman with her husband, Andy, and two children, Ellie and Beau.  She is addicted to creating classroom resources that enrich, motivate, and simplify!

  





How to Improve Reading Comprehension in Early Readers


I hear it a lot from parents "Jane is reading chapter books." Yet I know the reality is something different. Jane reads well.  She has great fluency.  She reads with expression, pauses at each comma, and raises her voice when she sees a question mark at the end of a sentence.  However, Jane has trouble recalling with detail the sequence of the story.

I remember when I was growing up we read our Dick and Jane basal reader, answered a few questions and that was about the extent of it.  Today, kids need to be able to talk in detail about the text.  They need to make predictions, inferences, and draw conclusions. We are expecting our students to "dig deeper" and pull meaning from what they read. Students are expected to create written responses based on the content of what they read. Students are expected to comprehend a story well in order to perform these higher level thinking skills. This can be a difficult concept, especially for early readers.
I explain to my students that good readers turn the story into a "movie in their mind" as they read. In order for students to do this they need a lot of practice and modeling.

 The story Stuck by Oliver Jeffers is one of my favorite books to begin introducing visualization.  When students can visualize and "make a movie in their mind" the story takes on life. It helps students make connections, form characters in their mind, infer information, and pay closer attention to detail.
 When Floyd's kite gets stuck in a tree he throws his shoe up to the tree to try and get it down. Needless to say, he isn't very successful and by the end of the story a LOT more than a kite is stuck in the tree.
 I read the story once through and we have a "turn and talk" about the sequence of the story.  Next, I re-read the story but this time....students lay down, or put their heads down on their desks.  They get comfortable and close their eyes.  I shut the lights off and re-read the story and instruct them to "make a movie in their mind as I read."
 Next, students draw what items they remember from the story that got stuck in the tree.  They label their drawings.  Here are some of their results:

 This method can work for any story. Read some. Stop.  Draw what you heard.  Repeat. I like using clipboards and having the students sit with them on the rug while I read. They can make predictions, show the problem in the story, make an inference, etc.  Whatever skill you are working, mental imagery is a great tool. 
 I have a visualization freebie in my store that you can use to have your students follow this process. You can grab it in my store for free here.
 Poetry provides young students with excellent examples of imagery and visualization. This book is absolutely fabulous for teaching imagery:
Colors are featured throughout the book with descriptive language about what each color looks like, feels like, smells like, etc.  I read a page a day (one color) and have the students close their eyes as I read and then "tell me what they saw."  The responses are always awesome.  Some are very literal (OK. Good. Good comprehension) and some are amazing in that there are things the kiddos truly pictured in their mind that was not in the book. Their mental imagery was so effective it enabled them to make connections to previous learned knowledge and schema. Wow! Next, we make our own color poems.

For example: 
Red reminds me of fire.
Red smells like apples and a furious fire.
Red tastes like lollipops and cherries in the summer.

 Sticky notes are by far the greatest invention ever (next to ice cream).  We love them, kids love them. They rock!  When my district began a shift towards balanced literacy, I began having my students use sticky notes to annotate text. However, I have a confession. I am a major neat nick.  I couldn't stand books being plastered with sticky notes.  So I made some planning pages for my students to add sticky notes to in order for them to show their understanding of text that they are reading.  It felt like the heavens opened up.  For real!  Now my students record the title of the text they are working on, on their planning page and pass it in and their connections, predictions, inferences, etc. are all in one place.
 
We use sticky notes in my classroom during guided reading groups, as mini-lessons, and during silent reading time. I try to conference with students as they are working but if my guided reading group runs over a bit too long and I don't have time that day, the kiddos just leave their planning pages with their sticky notes intact in a basket near my desk and we either conference about it later in the day or I look it over and file it as evidence.  You can find Make it Stick! Using Sticky Notes to Make Meaningful Connections to text in my store here.
How do you review reading comprehension in your class?  I love hearing your thoughts and comments...



My name is Julie Pettersen and I am a first grade teacher in Massachusetts. I am also a mom to 3 boys and a fur baby mama to my beagle, Bentley.  I am fortunate to have married my best friend. I have been teaching for 18 years and I love it!



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