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    Teaching and Testing the Alphabetic Principle in Kindergarten

    By Arlene C. Schulze
     | Nov 20, 2020

    Arlene teachingIn these stressful times, focusing on our main literacy goal for kindergartners—learning the alphabetic principle, which is the foundational skill of all writing and reading—is essential.

    ILA’s Literacy Glossary defines alphabetic principle as the concept that letters or groups of letters in alphabetic orthographies (i.e., written systems) represent the phonemes (sounds) of spoken language.

    Four decades ago, Carol Chomsky encouraged preschool, kindergarten, and first graders to try to write before they read because of the valuable practice they received from translating sound to print. Around that time, Charles Read demonstrated that some young children made up the spellings of the words they speak by listening to the individual sounds (phonemes) in words and then attempting to find written letters (graphemes) to represent those phonemes. Connecting sounds to letters in this manner is called invented spelling. Invented spelling not only helps develop the alphabetic principle but also is the best predictor of reading according to Charles Temple and colleagues, Donald Bear and colleagues, and Marie Clay.

    LG_Invented spelling definition

    Promoting invented spelling

    As a literacy consultant who has worked in more than 100 kindergarten classrooms over the past 34 years, I have found that teachers understand students actively construct their own literacy learning about phoneme–grapheme correspondences when they engage in the process of meaningful writing of their own choosing. However, this leads educators to seek out ways to help their students write with inventing spelling.

    Invented spelling can be challenging when students write random strings of symbols or mix numbers and shapes with mock letters. To help this issue, I devised Getting Ready, a daily learning structure that should precede writers’ workshop. Getting Ready uses two song strategies and three sound–letter connecting strategies.

    Getting Ready: Two song strategies

    The first song strategy, ABC Song Strategy, helps students find—and, when ready, write—letters of their choosing. It is sung to the tune of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and requires both an ABC chart for class use and individual ABC strips for each student to use as they write independently.

    The second song strategy, The Name Song, helps students hear beginning individual sounds in spoken words (phonemic awareness). It is sung to the tune of “Skip to My Lou.” I begin teaching this strategy with sound matching by having students try to match the sound I say with the beginning sound in one of their classmate’s names.

    When most of the class can successfully sound match, I proceed to sound isolation, which is basically a reverse of sound matching: I say a student’s name and the student’s classmates must isolate the first sound in the name. Students love playing with their classmates’ names like this.

    Getting Ready: Three sound–letter connecting strategies

    After kindergartners can isolate individual beginning sounds in classmate’s names, I proceed to teach three sound­­–letter connecting strategies.

    The first strategy shown in the video clip is Connecting Sound to Picture. Students isolate the beginning sound in a classmate's name and then look for a picture on the class ABC chart that begins with the same matching sound. 

    The second strategy shown is Connecting Sound to Letter Name. Students isolate the beginning sound in a classmate's name and then look at the class ABC chart and try to find a letter name that has the same sound.

    The third strategy shown is Connecting Sound to Classmate's Name. Students isolate the beginning sound in a classmate's name and then connect the sound to the first letter of that classmate's name. 

    I have observed kindergartners using these strategies on their own as they attempt to write in writers’ workshop. Continuing to guide students as they practice these strategies though the use of daily writing workshop conferences is most helpful.

    Verify the value

    To prove these strategies improve kindergartners’ understanding of the alphabetic principle, I use Clay’s Dictation Test as found in Clay’s An Observation Survey of Early Literacy Achievement. This test is designed to check a student’s ability to hear individual sounds in words. However, it also checks the student’s understanding of the alphabetic principle.

    When Clay’s Dictation Test is administered individually to kindergartners, they attempt to write what they hear in the following sentence as it is read aloud very slowly:

    I can see the red boat that we are going to have a ride in.

    One point is scored for each sound heard and recorded appropriately as a letter. A perfect score is 37. 

    The following images, which are copies of tests I administered to students myself, show results from the student who scored the highest of the class (19/37) at the beginning of the year (image A) and who had a perfect score (37/37) at the end of the year (image B).

    Sample of student's test

    Compare this with the progress of the student who scored the lowest in the class (0/37) at the beginning of the year (test not shown). This student improved significantly (28/37) by the end of the year (see below).

    Second student test

    Notice the progress both students have made. That the rest of the kindergarten class was equally successful and scored somewhere between a 28 and 37 on Clay’s Dictation Test is worth noting.

    The results of Clay’s Dictation Test verify that all 20 students in this kindergarten class could write with invented spelling, which demonstrates an understanding of sound­–letter relationships, the alphabetic principle. All these students became writer–readers.

    I have seen similar results across the many kindergarten classes where writers’ workshop and the Getting Ready strategy were used as I have described. Knowledge of the alphabetical principle allows every student to be a writer–reader, and the strategies I have described are a highly effective way to teach it.

    Arlene C. Schulze is a longtime reading teacher and specialist. She holds a degree in elementary education from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and a master's degree in reading from the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point (UWSP).

    She has been a K­–2 literacy consultant to three school systems in North Central Wisconsin and a literacy instructor in reading and language arts at UWSP for many years.  She is the author of the book Helping Children Become Readers Through Writing: A Guide to Writing Workshop in Kindergarten. She is currently coaching kindergarten teachers and tutoring struggling readers in northern Wisconsin.

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    Reading Black Beauty, Excellence, and Joy

    By Marcelle M. Haddix
     | Nov 09, 2020

    ReadingBlackBeautyExcellenceAndJoy_680The year is 1984. June 19. My family lived on 3rd Street, also known as Martin Luther King Jr. Drive (or simply King Drive), in the inner city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. This was no ordinary day—this was Juneteenth Day. And, as long as I can remember, Milwaukee has been home to one of the largest Juneteenth Day celebrations in the United States.

    Beginning in 1971, the Juneteenth Day celebration is the longest continuously running cultural festival in Milwaukee. It honors the day in June 1865 when the Union Army brought word of the Emancipation Proclamation to Texas, freeing the last of the country’s enslaved people. Each year, thousands of mostly Black Americans would emerge on King Drive to watch the parade, eat barbecued smoked pulled meats and roasted corn, dance with local musicians and artists, and shop with Black vendors. Juneteenth Day was a holiday—Black people’s Independence Day. On that morning in 1984, beaming with excitement and anticipation, I was a 10-year-old Black girl stepping out of my home into a sea of Black beauty, excellence, and joy. 

    ReadingBlackBeautyExcellenceAndJoy_PQ1Fast forward to the year 2020. June 19. Even in a time of a global pandemic, our country’s allegiance to its deep history of enslaving and killing Black, Brown, and Indigenous people resurges. Racial violence never left. Millions around the world are protesting for systemic and material changes that underscore the belief that Black Lives Matter.

    Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor. Tony McDade. George Floyd.

    The murders of innocent Black people are on full display for a society on pause because of COVID-19. Sadly, this anti-Black violence and racism is not new to me or new within communities of color. But this moment in 2020 feels different—at least, I want to hope that this time is different and that the outpouring of anger against racial violence does not simply fade away.

    All of a sudden, there are countless virtual offerings—webinars and panel discussions—on how to be anti-racist. Businesses, organizations, and universities release statements pledging anti-racist values and solidarity with Black Lives Matter movements. Now, “taking a knee” as an individual protest against police brutality and anti-Black violence is honorable. Juneteenth Day, a day that conjures up my childhood memories of Black beauty, excellence, and joy, receives national attention. Political leaders call for our nation to formally observe June 19 as a day of reflection and service—with many businesses giving employees the day off to observe this holiday—my Independence Day.

    Growing up in Milwaukee, one of the most racially segregated cities in the U.S., my life centered Blackness. Juneteenth Day celebrations where more than 100,000 Black people came together in the name of freedom and liberation is just one example of the lived experiences that informed my sense of self as a Black woman. Suddenly, with calls for national holidays to painting of murals and even the wearing of Kente cloth by public officials, these symbolic acts of allyship serve only to minimize the significance of this history for Black Americans and potentially turn attention away from the very real and necessary calls for change in the way this country deals with its racist past and present.

    In 2020, we are living during a time of two pandemics: a major health and economic crisis and a racial crisis. Both pandemics call for a kind of reckoning: How do we respond to these crises? The pandemics offer a chance for new opportunities and new ways of being that reckon with the past while restoring the present and creating the future. How do we move beyond these temporary, and in some instances inauthentic, displays of allyship toward doing the work that will enact systemic change?

    One example of efforts toward change is evidenced in the growing attention toward reading books on anti-racism and white fragility. For the first time in publishing history, books on the subject matter of anti-racism, White privilege, and White fragility dominate New York Times best-seller lists. Even within our literacy community, there is a surge in reading groups and book talks in direct response to racial violence. Books by Ibram X. Kendi and Robin DiAngelo are suddenly on everybody’s summer reading list. I was struck by the opinion essay in The Washington Post titled “When black people are in pain, white people just join book clubs” because although reading is certainly important for any process of consciousness raising and knowledge building, in this moment, it is not enough.

    Further, the elevation of a book by a White author as number #1 when there are plentiful examples of texts by Black writers such as Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, Jesmyn Ward, Colson Whitehead, Jason Reynolds, Nikole Hannah-Jones, and Ibram X. Kendi that deal squarely with anti-Black racism and White fragility seems counter at best to any calls for racial justice and equity. 

    As a literacy scholar, I wholeheartedly advocate the significance of reading in any activist and justice movements. Literacy and the act of reading the world is critical in understanding history and, in particular, in disrupting normalized beliefs about race and racism in this country. But as I reflect on my own developed understandings of being a Black girl growing up in a segregated America, my mirror of this identity did not rest on stories of racial violence, oppression, and hatred—though certainly these narratives were a part of my literacy journey.ReadingBlackBeautyExcellenceAndJoy_PQ4 In fact, I yearned for the stories that celebrated Black beauty, excellence, and joy. In this moment, as we work together to reckon with the revelations afforded by the pandemics, let’s center the books and stories that acknowledge the humanity of Black people and respect the voices of Black truth tellers. To me, that is an important and necessary start toward freedom and liberation.

    Marcelle M. Haddix is the department chair for the Reading and Language Arts Center at Syracuse University.


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    How You Can Help #EndBookDeserts

    By Molly Ness
     | Nov 04, 2020

    Young children readingWith the start of the academic year well under way in the United States, schools and classrooms look very different from how they looked and operated before COVID-19. Rather than wait at school bus stops, many students begin their day by logging into their virtual classrooms. The students who are in schools—socially distanced, masked, and seated behind plexiglass shields—no longer peruse the shelves of their school and classroom libraries. In many cases, classroom libraries have been temporarily removed, and public libraries are either shuttered or available by appointment only. For nearly all of our students in today’s COVID-19 pandemic, book access remains severely restricted or largely digital. (Ed: For more information, watch ILA’s free digital event Book Access in the Post-COVID Era featuring Molly Ness, Susan B. Neuman, Allister Chang, and Karlos Marshall.)

    Though today’s challenges are new and unique, book access has been an ongoing issue for too many children for too long. The central tenet in the ILA’s Children’s Rights to Read declares both that children have the basic human right to read and that children have the right to access texts in print and digital formats. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, these rights were jeopardized by the presence of book deserts, defined in ILA’s Literacy Glossary as “underresourced or underserved areas and homes with little access to written materials.”ILA_LiteracyGlossaryBookDeserts_Twitter_1024x512

    In fact, 32 million children lack book access in their homes, schools, and communities. Forty-five percent of children in the U.S. live in neighborhoods that lack public libraries and stores that sell books or in homes where books are not present. This absence of books makes reading an unlikely habit.

    Championing book accessibility

    Across the United States, teachers, librarians, school leaders, and nonprofits have gone to great lengths to get books into the hands of young readers particularly during this pandemic. Organizations such as Chicago-based Bernie’s Book Bank and the Maryland Book Bank have included book donations for families who visit food banks. BookHarvest in North Carolina has established “Grab and Go” book pickups at a rapid response center. Using direct mailing, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library and Texas-based BookSpring have expanded their geographic outreach in gifting books to children from birth to age 5.

    In other efforts, school districts have compiled story kits to be mailed home, including books and read-aloud guides for parents (see MGM Reads through the Montgomery Education Foundation as an example). Celebrities, sports figures, and popular children’s book authors have used Facebook Live, Instagram Live, and YouTube to provide engaging read-alouds. And social media depicts images of masked and gloved teachers who deliver books to students’ homes—going above and beyond their classroom responsibilities. Many teachers spent the late summer months creating bitmoji classroom libraries to provide students with the power of choice. Other teachers have devised online forms to track students’ text selections and deliver them directly to students’ homes as exemplified in literacy coach Christina Nosek’s blog.

    Going above and beyond

    We all play a role in the collective work to increase book access; these trying times are bringing out creative solutions. Here are just a few ideas on how to flood students with books, as we muddle our way through a school year unlike any other:

    • Take advantage of virtual resources. In the early months of COVID-19, authors, publishers, and educational tech companies were generous in waiving copyright (this EdSurge article provides more information on fair use) and granting free access to books (Texas Woman’s University provides a comprehensive list of free children’s books); many organizations have extended these efforts through December 2020. Many of us are in need of digital texts for bilingual readers; Unite For Literacy has greatly expanded their free digital library in response to the pandemic, as have ReadConmigo and the International Children’s Digital Library.

    • Do not overlook the need for print books. As useful as digital resources are, our students need to read from actual print books. As Professor Maryanne Wolf writes, “We must ensure that there are always books next to our children’s digital devices.” At every possible opportunity, we must send books home with students—every night, on weekends, and school breaks. Let us learn from the speed of which the world shut down in March 2020; if we had known that mid-March was the last time we’d see our students, we likely would have loaded the contents of our classroom libraries into their backpacks.

      The American Library Association has provided useful recommendations for safe book handling; teachers and librarians can set up boxes to quarantine books for the recommended 24–48 hours. Empty shelves can be replenished by programs such as First Book, Book Depot, and Donors Choose. In schools that have moved to digital-only instruction, we must work with community partners to get books into the hands of readers. As we place book boxes in the hyperlocal community meeting places where our families frequent—laundromats, WIC centers, food and diaper banks, Girls and Boys clubs, YMCAs, churches, hair salons, and neighborhood Little Free Libraries—we transform book deserts into literacy oases.

    • Foster book culture in hybrid and digital learning. Providing our students with access to books is the first crucial element in creating lifelong readers. The next vital step is to foster book culture. To create book culture, teachers must showcase their reading practices, talk about their reading choices, and facilitate spaces and conversations that highlight the joy and importance of reading. We create book culture in our classrooms when we display the covers of the books we are reading, when we invite authors to discuss their craft, when we excitedly book talk new releases and important reads, and when we create welcoming spaces that invite students to read and discuss books. We foster lifelong reading when we grant students choice of what to read, build rich classroom libraries with diverse and engaging texts, and create authentic ways for students to respond to the books they’ve selected. During COVID-19, my fourth-grade daughter video chats with her cousins each day for a kid-only virtual book club. When we eventually return to our classrooms, teachers might start a chapter of ProjectLit, which provides high-quality, student-selected books worthy of discussion. To end book deserts, we must envelope our students in communities and conversations where reading is a constant presence.

    As much as we long to return to the comfort and safety of our prepandemic lives, we must be tireless and innovative in addressing book access so that we actualize the tenets in ILA’s Children’s Right to Read. When literacy advocates come together—across both book deserts and book floods—all children increase the likelihood of becoming lifelong readers.

    For more information on the people and programs who address book access, visit www.endbookdeserts.com

    Molly Ness is an associate professor at Fordham University, and the creator of the End Book Deserts podcast. More information is available at www.endbookdeserts.com; follow Molly on Twitter: @drmollyness.

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    Observing Young Readers and Writers: A Tool for Informing Instruction

    By Alessandra E. Ward, Nell K. Duke, and Rachel Klingelhofer
     | Oct 27, 2020

    Teacher and studentListening to students read aloud is an essential practice for any primary-grade teacher. It is no less essential than a swimming coach watching children swim or a piano teacher listening to a child play. Listening to students read aloud provides an important opportunity for the teacher to coach or prompt students when they are stuck on a word or when they encounter other problems when reading. (For a discussion of research-informed practices for prompting students during reading, see Nell’s piece in the upcoming November issue of ASCD’s Educational Leadership).

    Running records

    Traditionally, many educators have used running records to derive information from listening to students read aloud. An advantage of running records is that they can be taken anytime that a student is reading aloud using only a scrap of paper.

    RunningRecordsExample

    A challenge with running records is that the data they yield are so open ended that the data can lead to misinterpretation. For example, some people have interpreted the misreading of words in a running record to be positive as long as the words make sense in context (e.g., being satisfied when students read glass for cup). Although it is certainly important that readers engage in sense-making when they read, for word identification, attending to the letters and groups of letters in words is the critical skill of successful readers. In addition, running records explicitly signal only a few aspects of reading to attend to. There are many aspects of the complex act of reading that are worthy of educators’ attention when listening to a student read.

    LTR-WWWP

    To address these challenges, we have developed a tool to guide the process of listening to students read aloud and observing them write: The Listening to Reading-Watching While Writing Protocol (LTR-WWWP). Like running records, the LTR-WWWP can be applied any time a student is reading or writing anything in the classroom—a truly curriculum-based assessment—but unlike running records, the tool provides much more guidance about what to listen for in the student’s reading.

    For example, the tool lists specific word identification strategies that research suggests are good for students to use—such as chunking a word or trying an alternate vowel sound. It does not list strategies that are not desirable. In fact, everything on the LTR-WWWP is a potential instructional target: something specific that you can teach or work on. The tool doesn’t yield a “level” or a “score” but rather points to specific foci for instruction—a graphophonemic relationship to teach (e.g., sh = /sh/), a strategy to teach (e.g., rereading), a skill to teach (e.g., attending to specific punctuation marks to support fluent reading), a text feature to teach, and so on. 

    Although we provide considerable guidance in the form regarding what to look for in a student’s reading (and writing, as discussed below), it is an informal tool. You can tailor its use to what would be most helpful to inform instruction. This means you can pause at any point during the reading to ask students questions (e.g., Is that a new word for you? Do you know what it means? How did you figure that out?), encourage students to share their thinking at any time, and even provide needed instruction.

    Dr. Ashelin Currie of Oakland Schools, who was among the educators who piloted the tool, commented on “the humanity of the tool.” She wrote, “Especially during this time, we need to connect with our students as human beings. I'm doing this assessment to learn about you/the child. I'm interested in learning about you as a reader.”

    Reading and writing

    Reading and writing are deeply related. Students’ knowledge and skills in one area are typically closely related to their knowledge and skills in the other (think knowledge of informational text features and skill in decoding and spelling). Therefore, we designed the LTR-WWWP so that it could be used for writing as well as for reading.

    As with reading, there is great potential value in watching the process of students writing, even for just a short portion of the time during which they are doing so. Depending on the phase(s) of writing you observe, you can address questions such as these:

    • Did the student plan the writing?
    • Did the student stretch words to spell them?
    • Was the student gripping the writing utensil properly?
    • Did the student use any resources to support vocabulary/word choice in the writing?
    • Did the student use any strategies while editing the writing?

    Information from these observations can be complemented by analysis of the writing sample itself (e.g., the spelling, text structure, ideas, voice). As with listening to reading, the purpose of these observations and analyses is to inform next steps for instruction.
    LTR-WWWPFrontLTR-WWWPBack

    Formative assessment

    In sum, the LTR-WWWP is an informal formative assessment tool designed to help guide attention to particular aspects of the student’s reading or writing in order to inform next steps in instruction. In particular, the tool directs attention to the following:

    • Reading and spelling of single-syllable or multisyllabic words
    • Word identification or spelling strategies
    • Letter formation/handwriting
    • Comprehension monitoring
    • Vocabulary strategies or word choice
    • Fluency
    • Comprehension (including general comprehension, reactions and responses, genre, strategies, text structure/organization, and features)
    • Compreaction (i.e., processing the meaning of the text in relation to one’s purpose for reading—what one “does” with comprehension)
    • Composition (including reactions and responses, genre, strategies, text structure/organization, text features, attention to purpose and audience, voice, content/ideas, sentence construction)

    It is certainly not expected that all these aspects of literacy development would be addressed in every instance of using the LTR-WWWP. Rather, its use supports attention to these constructs over time, with the purpose of helping us make daily decisions to support the literacy growth of our students.

    Accessing the LTR-WWWP 

    A video presenting key points about the tool, detailed directions for using the tool, completed examples of the tool, a blank copy of the tool in printable and fillable PDF form, and videos of the use of the LTR-WWWP in action are available. Some of the videos were conducted in a remote/videoconference format.

    Of course, there is much to say about what to do instructionally with the information the LTR-WWWP provides, but that is beyond the scope of this post. Also, it is important to note that the LTR-WWWP does not obviate the need for other assessment tools, such as systematic assessments of reading comprehension and letter–sound knowledge. Still, the focus of the tool on the actual acts of reading and writing, the fact that it can be used whenever a student is reading (aloud, at least) or writing, and the added level of guidance it provides over running records, make it a potentially valuable tool in our formative assessment portfolio.

     

    ILA member Alessandra E. Ward is a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Michigan. Her work focuses on the literacy engagement of young learners. You can follow her on Twitter @wardalessandrae.

    ILA member Nell K. Duke is a professor in literacy, language, and culture and also in the combined program in education and psychology at the University of Michigan. She is the recipient of ILA’s William S. Gray Citation of Merit for outstanding contributions to literacy research, theory, policy, and practice. You can follow her on Twitter @nellkduke.

    ILA member Rachel Klingelhofer is a lecturer in the University of Michigan’s teacher education programs. Much of her teaching work is field instruction, where she helps interns apply what they are learning in real classrooms with real students.

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    The Importance of a Diverse Classroom Library

    By Jerie Blintt
     | Oct 20, 2020

    ImportanceofaDiverseClassroomLibrary_680wLiterature introduces people to worlds they have never set foot in, which is why it is so important for classroom libraries to be full of diverse stories that reflect students’ backgrounds and cultures. Students seeing themselves in the stories they read to foster a sense of belonging, recognition, and most of all, validation, is crucial—representation matters.

    Students also need to read stories that show experiences other than their own to expand their worldview. Teacher Natalya Gibbs believes that early exposure to diverse literature forms understanding students who can relate to people of all walks of life. Even as learning has shifted online, the ethos of a diverse library can be carried over and adapted to the virtual classroom.

    An introduction to different worlds

    It is in this time of disruption and uncertainty that educators should encourage independent reading, says elementary literacy specialist Marie Havran. Having students take turns sharing their favorite books and current reads not only introduces the entire class to different authors, genres, and books but also gives you insight into where students are and what they like to read. You can then craft reading plans based on what students have shared, including related readings or books that could help fill in the gaps. Considering possible issues around book access, educators can use numerous resources that allow students access to diverse books: audiobooks, the International Children’s Digital Library, or even conducting read-alouds of books.

    Proactive engagements with the text

    Learning does not stop with the act of completing a book. Lively discussions and activities around their reading can help students process and absorb the lessons taught by the books they encounter. This is especially true in the current global situation, because many students learning remotely will have less access to books. Reading should be proactive and, as such, HP’s tips for communicating in a virtual classroom includes engagement through creative classwork. This can be done by reading books to students over a video stream and asking them to discuss the books (also reducing the need for students to have physical copies of the books).

    Using literature helps to spark students’ interest when it is made personal and when it has a correlation to current events. Educators can create guiding questions that tie characters’ actions or story plots to what is happening in the world today.

    A lesson in empathy

    In addition, educators should involve students by connecting stories with their own lives. Ask students how they felt reading the stories or inquire what they would do if they were in a certain character’s shoes. An article on the BBC Future website about reading fiction describes how these questions help readers to identify with characters and evaluate their actions, desires, and goals instead of their own. This may facilitate deeper connections with the books read and train students on critical thinking and empathy early on.

    With the state of the world today, reading diverse literature can help us push for changes that go beyond the classroom. Multicultural literature and a diverse classroom library, even at an elementary level, reflects the stories and narratives of those whose voices have not traditionally been heard.

    Most of all, creating a diverse classroom library for students’ growth can make readers of today the leaders of tomorrow.

    Jerie Blintt is an avid reader who is passionate about bringing technology and literature to the forefront of every classroom. When she's not writing about the latest innovations, you'll likely find her meditating in her local park.

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