In This Issue:
1. Managing the “invisibles” – high performers who shun the spotlight
2. Why are people less ethical in the afternoon?
3. Teaching strategies that engage high-school students
4. Differentiation: does it work?
5. Skepticism about automated essay-grading software
6. Expanding young students’ vocabulary
7. A powerful question for third graders
8. Ending a class strongly
9. What’s holding back female STEM achievement?
10. The elements of a good college experience
Quotes of the Week
“The evidence against VAM is at this point overwhelming. The refusal of school reformers to acknowledge it is outrageous.”
Valerie Strauss in “Statisticians Slam Popular Teacher Evaluation Method” in The
, commenting on a recent report on value-
added measures of teacher performance by the American Statistical Association,
available at http://www.scribd.com/doc/217916454/ASA-VAM-Statement-1
“How well is differentiated instruction carried out and by how many teachers? How well does it actually work and for which kids under what circumstances? I’d really like to know, and so, I am sure, would many others.”
Chester Finn, Jr. (see item #4)
“Privateness has not been and undoubtedly never will be lauded, precarious, and decent. Humankind will always subjugate privateness.”
This sentence got a near-perfect score from a robot grading program (see item #5)
“Self-control is like a muscle – we need to restore its strength after use. Rest, relaxation, meditation, prayer, a snack – all those things can help restore us.”
Maryam Kouchaki (see item #2)
“What do you notice?”
Kristen Marchiando’s question of her third graders as they read together (see item #7)
1. Managing the “Invisibles” – High Performers Who Shun the Spotlight
In this Harvard Business Review
article, author/lecturer David Zweig says many organizations have employees who are extremely valuable but also modest and self-effacing. The Invisibles
are, paradoxically, a management challenge
, says Zweig: “Because they don’t crave recognition, they don’t spend time on self-promotion, so it’s easy to take them for granted. But fail to understand and give them what they do
crave, and you will lose them, along with the tremendous value they deliver.” In his study of a variety of organizations around the world, Zweig found that Invisibles shared three characteristics:
• Ambivalence about recognition – Most people strive for fame, but Invisibles embrace anonymity and gain gratification from doing excellent work. “For them, any time spent courting praise or fame is time taken away from the important and interesting work at hand,” says Zweig. When talking about their work, they talk more about “we” than “I” and view themselves as team players in a larger enterprise.
• Meticulousness – Perfectionistic attention to detail is a trait Zweig observed in the work ethic of all the Invisibles he interviewed and observed.
• Savoring responsibility – Invisibles are often behind the scenes, but their roles are vital to the success of their organizations. Zweig noticed that they were aware of their power and relished it, but in a low-key way. “Invisibles show us that power and visibility are not always aligned,” he says.
“There are strong correlations between their distinctive traits and exceptional levels of achievement and life satisfaction,” says Zweig. However, it’s very easy for managers to ignore their Invisibles, especially in an era in which tooting one’s horn on Facebook and Twitter is considered normal and essential to success. “For years our corporate and educational cultures have celebrated the extroverted, share-all mentality,” says Zweig. “But as countless researchers and writers… have noted, many people perform their best work alone…. The Invisibles’ quiet sense of self and overriding commitment to their work is the antithesis – and in some organizations, the antidote – to all the noise.”
Step one for managers is to know who their Invisibles are – to pick them out from the self-promoters, realize when they feel compelled to (uncomfortably) promote themselves, and, of course, not to assume that every shrinking violet is an unnoticed superstar. Step two is for managers to acknowledge the real Invisibles as models, leaders, and team players. “Rewarding Invisibles fairly is absolutely essential,” says Zweig, “despite how hard they might make that for you. Don’t mistake their lack of self-promotion for a lack of understanding of what they are worth.” Step three is to promote Invisible values and tone down the self-promotion in which everyone seems to feel obligated to indulge. Step four is getting people to regularly shout out good performance in the organization; this can reduce self-promotion and promote teamwork and productivity.
Finally, Zweig recommends that managers focus on how to make the work more intrinsically rewarding for everyone and the workplace optimally conducive to doing high-quality work. This may involve calling in the best employees and asking them works for them. “Invisibles care more than many about developing their craft, working in conditions that allow them to focus on what they do well, and seeing that the work itself matters,” he says. The 3M/Google idea of giving employees 20 percent of their workweek to work on projects of their own devising is one way to do this.
“Managing the ‘Invisibles’” by David Zweig in Harvard Business Review, May 2014 (Vol. 92, #5, p. 96-103), no e-link available
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2. Why Are People Less Ethical in the Afternoon?
In this Harvard Business Review
interview, Harvard professor Maryam Kouchaki discusses her research findings (with Isaac Smith of the University of Utah) that people are 20-50 percent more likely to be dishonest in mid- to late-afternoon than in the morning. Some examples: leaving a mess for someone else to clean up; writing a report in a way that makes a coworker appear less competent than he or she really is; concealing mistakes one has made. In addition, say Kouchaki and Smith, in the afternoon people are less likely to recognize the moral implications of an action or inaction.
They attribute this after-lunch moral slump to the “psychological depletion” of the resources we need for self-control as the day wears on. “Gradually increasing fatigue from unremarkable activities can lead to systemic moral failure,” says Kouchaki in the interview. “Even ethical people can’t avoid it.”
Does this moral decay happen every day? No, she says – a good day in which we get important work done and are appreciated by others is energizing and results in less cognitive depletion. But on average, the stresses and strains of the day result in poorer moral choices as the day wears on.
Does this mean that people are naturally unethical and it comes out when their defenses are down? Kouchaki says all people are naturally self-interested but also have generous, ethical instincts. “What matters is that when self-interest conflicts with the motivation to be ethical, a person usually requires self-control in order to stick with the moral behavior,” she says. And when we’re worn down by fatigue and discouraging events, we may not have the mental resources to maintain self-control.
Would taking a mid-day nap or working less intensely be helpful? “In some cultures, afternoon breaks or siestas are an accepted part of the business day,” says Kouchaki. “In the West, people tend to take a dim view of them, but breaks can serve the valuable purpose of restoring our depleted energy, positioning us to make better choices. Self-control is like a muscle – we need to restore its strength after use. Rest, relaxation, meditation, prayer, a snack – all those things can help restore us.”
“In the Afternoon, the Moral Slope Gets Slipperier” by Maryam Kouchaki in Harvard Business Review, May 2014 (Vol. 92, #5, p. 34-35), no e-link available
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3. Teaching Strategies that Engage High-School Students
In this American Educational Research Journal
article, Kristy Cooper (Michigan State University) says that student engagement (versus boredom) is a key correlate of success in high school, and some teachers are much more successful at engaging their students than others. However, the research so far haven’t given us a clear idea of how to increase engagement across a school. Cooper believes there are three types of student engagement, each ranging from high to low:
Behavioral – the extent to which a student listens, does assignments, follows directions, participates;
Cognitive – the extent to which a student applies mental energy, thinks about the content, tries to figure out new material, and grapples with mental challenges;
Emotional – the extent to which a student enjoys a class, feels comfortable and interested, and wants to do well.
These three dimensions interact in a synergistic way, but the emotional dimension may be the most important, driving the other two. This is because it’s all tied up with adolescents’ identity development – “the process of integrating successes, failures, routines, habits, rituals, novelties, thrills, threats, violations, gratifications, frustrations into a coherent and evolving interpretation of who we are” (Nakkula, 2003). Identity development, says Cooper, “could be an underlying mechanism by which adolescents subconsciously make meaning of classroom experiences and then engage or disengage accordingly.”
Drawing on extensive surveys and interviews in a diverse high school, Cooper examined three classroom approaches to getting students engaged, to see which worked best:
• Connective instruction – Making personal connections to the subject matter through six teaching practices: helping students see the relevance of academic content to their lives, cultures, and futures; conveying caring for students at an academic, social, and personal level; demonstrating understanding of students; providing affirmation through praise, written feedback, and opportunities for success; using humor; and enabling self-expression by having students share ideas, opinions, and values with others.
• Academic rigor – Emphasizing the academics of a class via three teaching practices: providing challenging work; “academic press” (emphasis on hard work and academic success); and conveying passion for the content.
• Lively teaching – Replacing tedious lectures and low-involvement videos with three perkier teaching practices: using games and fun activities (such as academic Jeopardy and Family Feud); having students work in cooperative groups; and assigning hands-on projects.
What were Cooper’s findings? All twelve teaching practices were significantly correlated with student engagement and with one another, but some were much more effective than others. Connective instruction practices were seven times more effective at fostering student engagement than academic rigor and lively teaching, with lively teaching by itself coming in last. The key, Cooper believes, is tapping into students’ identity development: “Through emphasizing relational connections between students and their teachers, content, and learning experiences,” she says, “connective instruction practices appear to draw on students’ sense of self as a mechanism for engagement.”
Here are some of the details: Students’ perception that a teacher cared for them was the highest of all the teaching practices (r = .59); challenging work was the lowest (r = .19). The strongest correlation among teaching practices was for care and understanding (r = .76), while the lowest correlations were between challenging work and games and fun activities (r = .05) and group work (r = .11).
Connective teaching practices scored highest overall, but they don’t necessarily lead to high levels of engagement – and academic rigor and lively teaching don’t necessarily produce low engagement, as illustrated by five case studies of teachers in this high school:
Mr. Knowles’s physics class – High connection, high academic rigor, high lively teaching practices – his engagement score was 1.16.
Mr. Lifsky’s history class – High connections and academic rigor, low liveliness – his engagement score was 0.57.
Ms. Warner’s physics class – High liveliness and lower connections and rigor – her engagement score was 0.56.
Ms. Ingels’s biology class – High liveliness and academic rigor, low connections – her engagement score was 0.31.
Coach Connor’s English class – High connections, low rigor and liveliness – his engagement score was 0.57.
Here are details from Mr. Knowles’s physics class, showing how the three dimensions interact. “In their surveys, students said Knowles was a personable, entertaining, and knowledgeable teacher who integrated frequent labs and group tasks into an easy-going class atmosphere in which students participated regularly and saw physics as being highly relevant to their lives,” says Cooper. “Although students reported high levels of all three types of practices, they spoke most enthusiastically about connective instruction and suggested an additive effect of having all three types of practices.”
Mr. Lifsky was not a lively teacher but compensated for it by through connections and academic rigor. A former high-school dropout who enlisted in the military, was injured, and got into teaching to provide a role model for students, he frequently shared his life story, and students believed he was there for them. He worked students very hard, lectured in traditional fashion, and assigned copious written work. Most students responded positively to his caring boot camp, buying into his pedagogy and giving him moderately high marks for engagement.
Coach Connors was a young, charismatic teacher/coach whom students loved, but one commented that they were doing “the same English stuff we’ve been learning since our freshman year.”
What are the implications of this study for high schools? Cooper believes principals, instructional coaches, and teachers should administer student perception surveys, focus on what students say is and isn’t engaging, and systematically develop the teaching practices that produce the most student engagement. “For example,” she says, “knowing that demonstrating care can help students to feel valued in ways that might foster emotional connection could motivate teachers to more conscientiously make gestures of care to students who appear alienated or uninvested.”
“Eliciting Engagement in the High School Classroom: A Mixed-Methods Examination of Teaching Practices” by Kristy Cooper in American Educational Research Journal
, April 2014 (Vol. 51, #2, p. 363-402); I highly recommend getting the full article, which can be purchased at: http://aer.sagepub.com/content/early/2013/10/23/0002831213507973.abstract
; Cooper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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4. Differentiation: Does It Work?
In this Education Gadfly
article, Chester Finn says that differentiation, widely touted as a key element to successful teaching, “is one of the least examined in terms of actual implementation and effectiveness. How often and how well do instructors… actually carry it out? How well does it work and for which kids under what circumstances? So far as I can tell, nobody really knows… The research literature appears distressingly thin.”
The recent push for differentiating instruction at the classroom level, says Finn, comes from five sources:
“Brain research” asserting that there are various learning styles and forms of intelligence that should be catered to by teachers;
The desire of many parents of children with special needs, supported by experts, to have their children educated in the mainstream;
The push to have all children master common college-and-career-ready standards;
Ideological and practical opposition to tracking, ability grouping, grade retention, acceleration, and pullout programs;
Growing interest in “blended learning” and other classroom uses of technology to customize and individualize learning so students can move at their own pace.
Differentiation in heterogeneous classes sounds good in theory, says Finn, but it’s very difficult to implement. Some schools are trying hard, but attempts are “rickety, held together with lots of duct tape and chewing gum, and subject to collapse without just the right staff and parent support,” reports a colleague of Finn’s after a visit to an exemplary Maryland elementary school.
Some teachers try to meet the challenge by (a) using some form of “ability grouping” within their classrooms, or (b) pitching all-class instruction at the middle 60 percent and necessarily doing less for students who are lagging behind or ready for more. There’s lots of pressure from principals and district officials to deliver extra help to struggling students, whereas pressure to pay more attention to high-achieving students comes almost entirely from parents – “and the pressure-exerting parents are almost always ensconced securely in the middle class,” says Finn, which means that high-achieving students in high-poverty schools often get short shrift.
Finn closes by challenging those who support differentiation to provide evidence that it works. “How well is differentiated instruction carried out and by how many teachers?” he asks. “How well does it actually work and for which kids under what circumstances? I’d really like to know, and so, I am sure, would many others.”
“Is Differentiated Instruction a Hollow Promise?” by Chester Finn, Jr. in The Education Gadfly, May 1, 2014 (Vol. 14, #18), http://bit.ly/1kyx4Jt
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5. Skepticism About Automated Essay-Grading Software
In this Chronicle of Higher Education
article, Steve Kolowich reports on the campaign being waged by Les Perelman, formerly MIT’s undergraduate writing director, against computerized essay grading. Perelman has developed BABEL
, a software product that can generate gibberish sentences (the initials stand for Basic Automatic B.S. Essay Language Generator). Here’s a sample: “Privateness has not been and undoubtedly never will be lauded, precarious, and decent. Humankind will always subjugate privateness.” Note that the sentence is grammatically correct and structurally sound but is also incoherent and meaningless.
Perelman submitted this passage to My Access!, an online writing-instruction product using the same essay-scoring technology as the Graduate Management Admission Test, and it received a score of 5.4 out of 6, with Advanced ratings for “focus and meaning” and “language use and style.” The problem, says Perelman, is that automatic graders “are not measuring any of the real constructs that have to do with writing.” They can measure grammar and structural elements quite well, but they can’t measure clarity and meaning.
On another part of the MIT campus, researchers at edX, a nonprofit online-course provider, are working on EASE (Enhanced AI Scoring Engine), a software product that tries to improve automated grading by customizing for individual professors. The instructor scores a series of essays according to a set of criteria, and the software scans the marked-up essays and assimilates key patterns. The idea, says Piotr Mitros of edX, is to create a tireless, automated version of the professor that can give feedback on “a much broader amount of work, dramatically improving the amount and speed of formative assessment.” Mitros says the EASE software isn’t perfect, but neither are professors (they get tired and make mistakes) or peer readers (they’re not as experienced or well-trained). The ideal solution might be to use all three, zero in on any discrepancies, and bring in the A team to re-score those essays.
University of Texas/Austin philosophy professor Daniel Bonevac experimented with EASE last fall in his course on Ideas of the Twentieth Century. Students in the MOOC and traditional configurations of the course wrote three papers, and Bonevac calibrated the software by grading 100 essays by MOOC students. He then used EASE to grade the papers of the students in the traditional-format course, graded them himself, and had his teaching assistants do the same. How did the grades compare? The EASE software did pretty well, but there were some discrepancies – some C papers were given A’s while some A papers got lower grades. In particular, students who were not native English speakers tended to get lower grades from EASE than they deserved.
Perelman is skeptical – indeed, a gibberish essay generated by BABEL fooled EASE – but he’s working with his former MIT colleagues at edX to see if the software can be improved. “I am not an absolutist, and I want to be clear about that,” he says. “I’m the kid saying, ‘The emperor has no clothes.’ OK, maybe in 200 years the emperor will get clothes. When the emperor gets clothes, I’ll have closure. But right now, the emperor doesn’t.” And he believes this is particularly important because the automated grading programs tend to underestimate the writing of English language learners, enabling the “further bifurcation of society.”
“Writing Instructor, Skeptical of Automated Grading, Pits Machine v. Machine” by Steve Kolowich in The Chronicle of Higher Education, May 2, 2014 (Vol. LX, #33, p. A12),
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6. Expanding Young Students’ Vocabulary
In this article in The Reading Teacher
, Julie Dashiell (Old Dominion University) and Andrea DeBruin-Parecki (Educational Testing Service) suggest the F.R.I.E.N.D.S. strategy for increasing young students’ vocabulary and understanding – especially students who are most at risk:
• Fostering adult/child conversations – Adults should begin with open-ended questions, encourage lively exchanges, use complex, cognitively challenging words, and clarify their meanings as the conversation unfolds.
• Robust and motivational instruction – This includes choosing interesting target words; pronouncing the words correctly with children; giving age-appropriate explanations of the words; giving examples in a variety of contexts to help children understand, remember, and correctly apply the words; providing activities to pique children’s interest, awareness, and thinking (including on the Internet); and exploring relationships among words.
• Interactive storybook reading – This exposes children to rich and descriptive language and rare words and allows the teacher to ask open-ended questions and get into extended conversations as the story unfolds.
• Engaging and literacy-rich environment – This might include word puzzles, board games, age-appropriate books and magazines, word walls, computer word games, and other vocabulary-enhancing displays and objects.
• Numerous opportunities to practice – Teachers can take opportunities in different subjects, recess, lunch, and school assemblies to get students applying and reinforcing words.
• Direct and explicit instruction – Teachers should pick Tier 2 words that are important to classroom content, the comprehension of a story, or the news (for example, catastrophic and flood after Hurricane Katrina) and teach them directly.
• Sophisticated and rare words – Teachers should take every opportunity to stretch students’ vocabulary beyond everyday words – for example, frogs are amphibians, a hermit crab is a crustacean.
“Supporting Young Children’s Vocabulary Growth Using F.R.I.E.N.D.S. Model” by Julie Dashiell and Andrea DeBruin-Parecki in The Reading Teacher
, April 2014 (Vol. 67, #7, p. 512-516), http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/trtr.1250/abstract
; the authors can be reached at email@example.com
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7. A Powerful Question for Third Graders
In this article in The Reading Teacher
, Illinois teacher Kristen Marchiando says that when she and her third graders are looking together at a book, asking the simple question, “What do you notice?” is a wonderful way to sharpen students’ observational and reading skills, put them in the driver’s seat, and create countless teachable moments. When she first asked the question, students homed in on details of book illustrations, but soon they were noticing details in the text: “In no time, they were making observations about everything from interesting vocabulary words to fascinating figurative language,” says Marchiando, “from the description of a character to bold words and other text features.” Asking the question day after day led to conversations about authors’ choices, which naturally applied to students’ own writing as the class looked at writing samples projected with a document camera – details, tone, voice, organization, word choice, and so on. Asking the question also allows Marchiando to get a quick assessment of student understanding – “I am constantly jotting notes about how I want to extend the learning that began in their noticings or to improve their understanding of an idea,” she says. But more important, she continues, “my students are driving their own learning. They aren’t simply responding to questions or paying attention to what I have mentioned. These children are just as instrumental in directing our discussions as I am.” And of course, students also learn from each others’ comments and ideas.
“The Power of Student Noticings” by Kristen Marchiando in The Reading Teacher
, April 2014 (Vol. 67, #7, p. 560), http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/trtr.1252/abstract
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8. Ending a Class Strongly
In this Chronicle of Higher Education
article, David Gooblar (Mount Mercy University and Augustana College) bemoans the fact that he always has to spend a lot of time getting his first-year writing students to craft strong conclusions. “Students either neglect to write one entirely or repeat (sometimes word-for-word) what they’ve written in their introductions,” he says. “I try to get them to see an essay’s final paragraph as an opportunity to sum up
, to draw conclusions, and to point forward to further questions beyond the scope of the current piece.”
Then Gooblar realized that for all the attention he paid to students’ essay conclusions, he gave very little thought to how he concluded his own classes. The flow of a class, he says, should mirror that of an essay: an introduction, the main body of content, and a conclusion that pulls everything together, highlights the most important ideas, and foreshadows the next class.
Pursuing this train of thought, he found other closing strategies in Robert Hempel’s book, College Teaching, and Ken Bain’s What the Best College Teachers Do: for example, ending each class by having students respond in writing to one or two pointed questions – such as, What major conclusions have you drawn from today’s class/reading/discussion? What questions remain in your mind? A brief quiz is also helpful – it solidifies the day’s content in students’ minds (the so-called “retrieval effect”). In addition, students’ responses give the instructor feedback on how well students are learning and can be used at the beginning of the next class to quickly review, spark discussion, clarify misconceptions, tie up loose ends, and segue into the day’s content. This strategy has the additional advantage of showing students that their responses are taken seriously.
“So then, to sum up,” says Gooblar: “Make the effort to consciously conclude your classes. Allow those conclusions to show how your teaching connects from one class period to the next. Make students an integral part of the course’s progress, and ensure that they will draw the conclusions you hope they’ll draw.”
“A Few Words by Way of Conclusion” by David Gooblar in The Chronicle of Higher Education
, May 2, 2014 (Vol. LX, #33, p. A34),
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9. What’s Holding Back Female STEM Achievement?
In this Psychology Today
article, Samantha Rosenblum and Amy Nordrum report on a National Science Foundation report on the persistent gender gap in science, technology, engineering, and math careers. There are two possible explanations and one false panacea:
• Anxiety distraction – “When women are anxious and worry about their performance, the monitoring of this worry takes up processing space,” says Florida State University psychologist Colleen Ganley – which degrades test performance. And when mothers and female teachers show unease with math and science, that rubs off on female students.
• Stereotype threat – If a female student fears that she risks confirming a negative stereotype about her gender by doing poorly in math and science, she performs less well on tests. Researchers have found that she doesn’t have to believe the stereotype for this process to be activated – all it takes is for her to be aware of negative attitudes about her gender’s performance in a particular area. A recent study showed that stereotype threat is also at work when female chess players compete against male players.
• Single-sex classes – A new meta-analysis of 184 studies involving 1.6 million K-12 students around the world found that all-female classrooms didn’t help. The researchers looked at academic performance, attitudes toward subjects, and self-esteem, says University of Wisconsin/Madison psychologist Janet Hyde: “We found no advantage to single-sex schooling for any of the outcomes.”
“Closing the Gender Gap: What’s Holding Girls Back in Math and Science?” by Samantha Rosenblum and Amy Nordrum in Psychology Today
, June 2014 (Vol. 47, #3, p. 12), no e-link
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10. The Elements of a Positive College Experience
In this New York Times Education Life
interview, Daniel Chambliss (Hamilton College) reports on his research (with Christopher Takacs) on what makes for a positive college experience. Some excerpts:
• “What really matters in college is who meets whom, and when. It’s the people, not the programs, that make a difference… We found that it only takes two or three close friends and one or two great professors to have a fulfilling college experience.”
• It’s best to live in an old-fashioned dorm with long hallways, multiple roommates, and communal spaces, which increases the chances of meeting a variety of people.
• Joining a large, high-contact activity – a sports team or a choir, for example, maximizes the chances of meeting kindred spirits.
• Choose classes by the teacher, not the topic, says Chambliss. “Over and over, we found that contact with one great professor sent students in a new direction.”
• Small classes aren’t necessarily better – and they’re usually hard to get into. Large lecture classes taught by engaging professors can be terrific, too.
• Students should look for opportunities to get detailed critiques of their writing by an instructor and dine at a professor’s house.
• Colleges’ mission statements are meaningless, says Chambliss. These platitudes are created because trustees want something grand and millennial, but they make no difference to what happens on the ground.
“What Makes a Positive College Experience?” An interview with Daniel Chambliss in The New York Times Education Life
, April 13, 2014, http://nyti.ms/Q7OVvB
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