Dyslexia Research & Overcoming Reading Problems With Strategies



Recognizing Reading Problems

  • A basic reading achievement level for 4th grade would be understanding the overall meaning of a text, making obvious connections and simple inferences (p. 118).
  • A proficient 4th grader can also provide inferential as well as literal information.  They can make inferences, draw conclusions, and make connections to own experiences (p. 118).
  • An advanced 4th grader can generalize about topics and demonstrate an awareness of how authors compose and use literary devices.  They can judge critically and give answers that indicate careful thought (p. 119).
  • Although females scored slightly higher than males on reading achievement testing, the difference was not significant (NAEP 2011) (p. 119).
  • Educators must reexamine how and when they are identifying students with reading problems and what steps they are taking to help these at risk students (p. 119).
  • The reason for lower scores among certain cultural groups are related to inadequate reading instruction in the lower SES schools, social and cultural conditions, and physical causes (p. 121).
  • Many children have reading problems only because they did not get adequate instruction in decoding.  Children need opportunities for systematic focused practice in decoding real words (p. 121).
  • Children who do not get the above fail to develop a rich mental lexicon essential for promoting fluency and comprehension (p. 121).
  • To successfully understand a language children need:  rich vocabulary, appreciation of semantics, what they know about real world, and understanding of the syntax of language, and be attuned to phonology of language, not to confuse words like chair and cheer (p. 121).
  • High poverty areas are often competing for limited resources and outdated programs and methodologies.  These children may not be reading disabled, just never adequately taught (p. 121).
  • Social conditions that impact inner city schools include:  limited teacher training, large class sizes, absence of literature in the home, poor parental support (p. 121).
  • Schools need to focus more on the direct connections between what we are learning about how the brain learns to read and the linguistic barriers interfering with that learning (p. 122).
  • Home language being different than the school’s language can cause poor reading achievement ~ hip hop and rap music has increased the impact of African American Vernacular English (p. 122).
  • Native dialect or language is different in significant ways than what is being learned at school (p. 122).
  • Teachers need to use some of the linguistic attributes of AAVE and Spanish to help children pronounce, decode, and understand standard English (p. 122).
  • Physical causes of reading problems include environmental factors of limited exposure to language in the preschool years resulting in little phoneme sensitivity, letter knowledge, print awareness, vocabulary, and reading comprehension.  Physical factors include speech, hearing, and visual impairments and substandard intellectual capabilities.  Any combination of environmental or physical factors makes the diagnosis of a reading disability difficult (p. 122).
  • Some children’s problems occur in early brain development and affects their ability to process their sounds of language and eventually decode written text.  This developmental deficit appears to be the most common cause of reading difficulties and results in a lifelong struggle with reading (p. 123).
  • Developmental dyslexia is when the child experiences unexpected difficulty in learning to read despite adequate intelligence, environment, and normal senses.  It is a spectrum disorder that has a genetic component.  5-15% of US school children have it (p. 123).
  • Neuroimaging studies have established that there are significant differences in the way the normal and dyslexic brains respond to specific spoken and written language and this difference may lessen with appropriate instructional interventions (p. 124). 
  • Scientists have been searching for what causes reading problems but this is difficult due to the large number of sensory, motor, and cognitive systems involved in reading. Struggling readers can have impairments in any of those areas, but not all struggling readers are dyslexic.  Auditory processing, low IQ, the complexity of English orthography or a poor educational environment can explain reading problems in some children (p. 124).
  • Linguistic causes of reading problems:  phonological deficits, differences in auditory and visual processing speeds, varying sizes of brain structures, memory deficits, genetics, brain lesions (p. 124).
  • Phonological deficits:  phonological information is used by working memory to integrate and comprehend words in phrases and sentences.  Studies show phonological operations are impaired in dyslexics (p. 124).
  • Temporal processing impairment ~ differences in processing auditory and visual speeds ~ could explain symptoms common in dyslexia (p. 124).
  • If the auditory processing system is impaired and lags behind the visual processing system, the child’s eye is scanning g in dog while d is still being process in the auditory system (p. 125).
  • There’s a computer program called Fast ForWord designed to help poor readers slow down visual processing to allow the auditory processing sufficient time to recognize the initial phoneme.  This programs gives great results.  (p. 126).
  • Temporal processing impairment may lessen as children with reading problems, including dyslexia, mature into adults (p. 126).
  • Dyslexic brains are structurally different than non-dyslexic brains (p. 126).
  • Dyslexic brains of 16 men studied had less gray matter in the left temporal lobe, frontal and cerebellum than non-dyslexic subjects. Having less gray matter/fewer neurons in the left lobe (Wernicke’s area) and frontal lobe (comprehension area) could contribute to dyslexia (p. 126).
  • Hyperactivity sensed in Broca’s area may be an attempt to compensate for insufficient activation in the brain’s decoding sites (p. 126).
  • People with dyslexia have visual analysis and phonological decoding areas insufficiently active and dysfunctional (p. 126).
  • Poor readers have deficits in phonologic memory.  Memory deficits could result from difficulties with cognitive processing in the frontal lobe.  Or, this could be a system of a developmental delay (p. 127).
  • 3-4x more boys are identified with reading problems than girls.  Maybe girls aren’t being identified.  Studies show girls are affected (p. 127).
  • Studies show that boys are skilled in reading but have poorer writing skills.  By assessing reading/writing separately, fewer boys may be identified as poor readers (p. 127).
  • PET scans show lesions in left occipitotemporal area of the brain ~ the visual word form area ~ of dyslexic people.  The amount of blood flowing to this brain region predicted the severity of the dyslexia.  Lesions and reduced blood flow would hamper the ability of this patch of neurons to decode written text (p. 127).
  • Impairments in reading and oral language is NOT restricted to problems with linguistic processing (p. 128).
  • The inability to detect and discriminate sounds is related to auditory processing of sound waves and not to distinguishing phonemes as part of phonological processing (p. 128).
  • Some people with reading disorders have sound frequency impairment because reading involves sounding out words in the auditory processing system (p. 128).
  • The inability to detect tones within noise is another nonlinguistic impairment that affects learning to read.  The child can not distinguish phonemic tones with incoming auditory information (p. 128).
  • When children are having reading difficulties, their auditory processing skills should be evaluated (p. 128).
  • Studies show a strong correlation between deficits in the visual magnocellular system (visual) and dyslexia (p. 129).
  • Imaging studies show many people with dyslexia have processing deficits in the cerebellum.  75% of subjects with dyslexia had smaller lobes on the right side of the cerebellum (p. 129).
  • Deficiencies in the cerebellum could result in problems with reading, writing, and spelling (p. 129).
  • Cerebellar deficits delay could start as an infant.  Less motor skill coordination could mean less articulation and fluency in speech leading to less sensitivity to onset, rime, and phonemic language structure (p. 129).
  • Handwriting problems ~ could be do to cerebellar deficit due to lack of coordination and timing of different muscle groups (p. 129).
  • Problems with spelling ~ poor phonological awareness, trouble with word recognition, and difficulties in automating spelling rule skills (p. 129).
  • Will it help composing text on keyboards? (p. 129).
  • Deficits in visual, auditory perception, memory, motor coordination ~ accounts for wide range of reading disorders.  Analyzing these differences leads to a better understanding of the multidimensional nature of reading disorders and treatment (p. 129).
  • ADHD ~ developmental disorder characterized by difficulty focusing and sustaining attention.  A separate disorder than dyslexia, but some brain regions may be affected by both.  15-40% of children have both ADHD and dyslexia (p. 130).
  • Dyslexia is present in all languages, even with Chinese characters ~ visual confusion of more than 3000 characters and problems with working memory and recall (p. 130).
  • People who speak highly phonetic languages like Spanish or Italian are diagnosed with dyslexia later (p. 130).
  • The best way to spot potential problems in individuals is not through fMRI studies but through observation of a child’s progress in learning to speak, and then learning to read.  The earlier detecting reading problems the better (p. 131).
  • Both speaking and reading rely on the proper functioning of the phonologic areas of the brain where sounds are combined to form words and words are broken down into their basic sounds (p. 131).
  • See spoken language problems on pages 131-132.  Delays in these MAY signal dyslexia!  These include:  delay in speaking (1st words should be at 12 months, phrases between 18-24 months), difficulties with pronunciation (red flag if child has “baby talk” at 5-6 years old), difficulty learning the ABCs, recalling incorrect phonemes (child sees a donkey but says doggie ~ inability to use expressive language and to recall a word on demand), insensitivity to rhyme, genetics ~ 25-50% of children born to a dyslexic parent will also be dyslexic (p. 132).
  • Letter naming fluency and nonsense word fluency can be valid indicators of early reading skills such as oral reading fluency in kindergarten (p. 132).
  • RTI avoids the misidentification and non-identification of those with reading problems (p. 133).
  • Tier 1 ~ careful monitoring and special assistance as needed.  Those not making adequate progress move to Tier 2 (p. 133).
  • Tier 2 ~ targeted evidence based intervention.  If more assistance is needed they move to Tier 3 (p. 133).
  • Tier 3 ~ more frequent and intensive interventions by a multidisciplinary team (p. 133).
  • There are 3 models that exist for RTI:  Direct Route, Progress-Monitoring, Risk Index (p. 133).
  • Direct Route ~ Tier 2 intervention groups.  Screening is done as a result of reading skills measure (ex. word identification).  This model is faulty as it may mistakenly identify students as being at risk (p. 133).
  • Progress Monitoring ~ students identified as at risk are monitored for several weeks for improvement.  The bad part of this model is that it postpones intervention during the monitoring phases (p. 134).
  • Risk Index ~ looking at all variables collected on a student, including assessments, ELL status, parents’ education level.  They look at numerous measures ~ this is more accurate than looking at a single measure (p. 134).
  • Grade 1 most effective screening tools:  word identification fluency, letter knowledge, phonological awareness, with WIF being the strongest predictor of reading ability (p. 134).
  • Grades 2-3:  oral reading fluency and word identification fluency (p. 134).
  • Studies show in grade 1 using WIF and 2nd grade using ORF ~ scores had correctly identified 89% of students with reading difficulties (p. 135).
  • Using multiple measures in early primary grades to identify reading difficulties is critical (p. 135).
  • Determining whether a child has consistent problems with reading requires careful and long term observation of the child’s fluency in speaking and reading (p. 135).
  • See pages 136-139 in text for reading problem indicators at various grade levels.
  • Most dyslexia is caused by deficits in phonological processing occurring in the visual word form area of the brain (p. 140).

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Overcoming Reading Problems

  • The NAEP reading scores have not significantly improved in the last decade in grade 4 (p. 143).
  • Early diagnosis is key to overcoming learning problems (p. 143).
  • Children with dyslexia use different neural pathways and may have to work harder (p. 143).
  • Teachers need to run organized, positive classrooms with clear expectations.  Avoid saying ‘try harder” because the brains of struggling readers are already expending extra effort.  They need slower speed and clearer comprehension  (p. 144).
  • Capitalize on strengths and use formative assessments frequently (p. 144).
  • Children learn in different ways but still can learn.  Their current performance may be well below their potential (p. 144).
  • The NRP and NELP say beginning reading programs should focus on systematic and explicit instruction in mastering alphabetic principle, phonological awareness, word identification skills that lead to accurate fluent reading and comprehension.  This is good for low SES schools and ELLs (p. 145).
  • Once a student reaches Tier 3 in RTI they are evaluated for potential special ed services (p. 146).
  • The development of phonemic awareness is important in struggling readers and it should contain 3 elements:  frequent monitoring system assessing progress and rate of progress, intense small group instruction, instruction aimed at improving phonemic awareness and alphabetic principle.  An instructional component can focus on:  phonemic awareness, decoding and fluency, guided reading (p. 147).
  • When teaching phonemic awareness teachers must remember:  continuous sounds before teaching stop sounds such as /s/, /m/, /f/ not /b/, /k/, /p/, modeling, easy to complex tasks ~ start with rhyming, later do blending, then segmenting (monitor progress), larger to smaller units ~ move from larger units of words and onset-rimes to the smaller units of individual phonemes, use concrete objects to represent sounds for struggling readers (p. 147).
  • Early awareness of phonemes is a strong indicator of later reading success (p. 147).
  • The development of phonemic awareness occurs over several years.  It is the last step in the developmental continuum that begin’s with the brain’s earliest awareness of rhyme (p. 147).
  • Children should be learning phonemic awareness in preschool years.  It follows this path:  recognize and generate rhymes, segment sentences, blend and segment syllables, blend onset-rime, blend and segment phonemes (p. 148).
  • Teachers should select words, phrases, and sentences from the curriculum to make the phonemic awareness learning meaningful, make it fun.  Avoid saying letter names ~ just say sounds.  Treat continuant and stop sounds differently.  Continuant sounds are easier to hear and manipulate.  The initial position of a sound is the easiest, final is next, middle the hardest.  Practice all 3.  Say how sounds vary based on their position in a word.  Be aware of the sequence for introducing combined sounds ~ start with consonant vowel (tie), vowel consonant (add), then CVC (bed) (p. 148).
  • Young students may be unaware that words are made of sounds.  Teachers need to have students illustrate, trace, and chant sounds so their brains can process sounds in different ways.  Students with dyslexia have difficulty recognizing and processing phonemes.  Those with phonological difficulties should learn mouth formation.  Place hand in front of mouth when making voiced sounds (p. 149).
  • Recognize isolated sounds ~ alliteration helps.  Count words, syllables, phonemes ~ it is easier for a child’s brain to perceive words and syllables rather than individual phonemes.  Don’t write a sentence from the curriculum ~ children should focus on listening.  They use tokens to indicate word number.  Synthesizing sounds ~ say onset /b/ then rime /and/.  They put the word together (p. 149).
  • Matching sounds to words ~  show pictures, like a picture of a kite, and they isolate beginning letter sound.  Identifying the position of sounds ~ teach that words have a beginning, middle, end like in a train ~ engine/passenger/caboose.  Segmenting sounds. Associating sounds with letters ~ play phoneme Bingo ~ have letters on a Bingo grid but only call out the sound (p. 150).
  • Compound Phonemic Awareness ~ do dog and deer begin the same?  This is comparing 2 words.  Students can match 1 word to another word ~ one game is to have pictures on dominoes.  Children have to match those that have the same beginning or ending sound. Another game is having pictured cards face down.  Children draw cards and try to match the beginning or ending letter sound.  Or play a Bingo game with pictures ~ chips go on if it has the same beginning or ending letter sound as the teacher says (p. 151).
  • Children have to be at least 7 to be able to delete sounds.  Segmentation and letter names must be mastered first (p. 151).
  • Deleting parts of a compound word, identifying the missing sound ~ focus on deleting the initial or ending sounds first.  Say ate/late.  What is missing?  Deleting a single sound from a word ~ separate g from glove.  Use words that result in another real word such as glove/love, snap/nap, spot/pot.  Then say a word aloud like mother, and have them say it with the initial sound missing.  Use visuals (p. 151).
  • Young brains develop an awareness of onsets, rimes, and syllables before phonemes. Onsets:  initial sounds that change the meaning of a word.  Rime:  vowel and consonant combination that stays as a constant series (p. 152).
  • To teach rhyming use rhyming literature, word family charts, direct instruction~ show 3 pictures, which 2 rhyme (p. 152).
  • Best research based programs for struggling readers do not involve technology due to lack of teacher intervention.  Computer based programs not intense enough.  Best are: Success for All, Direct Instruction/Corrective Reading, Peer Assisted Learning Strategies, Reading Recovery, Targeted Reading Intervention, Quick Reads (p. 154).
  • RTI is necessary, 1:1 teaching for the most reading disabled, continuous intervention over years, and more teacher professional development is best (p. 154).
  • Reading fluency comes from over-learning and repetition.  The NRP (2000) suggests repeated oral reading with teacher feedback and guidance ~ guided repeated oral reading (p. 156).
  • Repeated oral reading of unfamiliar vocabulary helps build accurate neural representations of the vocabulary and enhances comprehension.  When readers mispronounce, it means they don’t have an accurate mental representation of the word so they will have difficulty storing or retrieving information related to the word (p. 156).

COMPREHENSION STRATEGIES FOR OLDER READERS ~ Direct teaching and corrective feedback required at first

  • Learning to use questioning strategies is especially important because these students do not self-question or monitor their reading (p. 156).
  • Reciprocal teaching:  question, summarize, clarify, predict.  1.  The leader poses a question (How. . .?  Why. . .?)  2.  Participants share their own questions  3.  The leader summarizes the gist of the text and participants elaborate on the summary.  Confusions are clarified. 4.  The leader solicits predictions.  The next part is read and 1-4 continues (p. 157).
  • Paraphrasing, self-questioning, finding the main idea are well researched strategies (p. 157).
  • Reciprocal teaching requires the brain to integrate prior knowledge with new learning, to make inferences, to maintain focus, and to use auditory rehearsal to enhance the retain learning (p. 157).  Good for middle school – college.  In a study, those who participated in reciprocal teaching had better reading comp. than those who did not (p. 157).
  • Questioning to find the main idea:  students ask themselves questions about the main idea of each paragraph.  The teacher provides immediate feedback.  As student improves, the student finds main idea in longer passages.  Studies show students with learning disabilities who were trained in self-questioning had greater comprehension than those who were untrained (p. 157).
  • Story mapping:  A good strategy for those with emotional or behavior problems is story mapping.  Students read a story and generate a map of main events and then answers questions.  Students identify setting, characters, time, place, problem, goal, action, outcome.  It serves as a visual tool.  Teacher needs to give direct instruction, expect frequent and independent use of strategy (p. 158).
  • Strategies designed to improve reading comprehension also improves students’ interest in reading (p. 158).
  • PASS:  Preview, Ask, Summarize, Synthesize.  Use cooperative learning.  1.  Preview, review, predict ~ helps brain’s frontal lobe search for clues to determine main idea.  Prediction engages brain’s creative networks and raises student interest.  Preview by reading the heading or 1-2 sentences.  Review what you already know.  Predict what it will be about.  2.  Ask/Answer questions ~ these questions prompt students to search long term memory to find information to help make sense and meaning.  Content focused questions:  who, what, where, why, how does this relate to what I know?  Monitoring questions:  does this make sense, is my prediction confirmed, how is it different from what I thought  Problem solving questions:  do I need to reread it, can I visualize, do I need help  3.  Summarize ~ explain in own words  4.  Synthesize ~ in what memory network to store new information ~ how the part fits with the whole, how it fits with what I know (p. 159).
  • Collaborative Strategic Reading:  Phase 1 ~ Teacher led ~ Preview (activate prior knowledge, predict ~ talk about info. we get in movie previews).  Click and Clunk ~ these are devices to help students monitor their reading ~ clicks make sense/clunks are for confusing words/parts.  If you hit a clunk:  reread, look for key words, reread surrounding sentences for additional context clues,   Look for prefix/suffix to help with meaning, break the word apart into smaller words.  Get the Gist ~ state in own words most important, place, thing in passage and the most important idea in as few words as possible.  Student should write gists as this improves memory.  Wrap Up ~ students generate thick and thin questions, review key ideas, write to improve memory.  Phase 2 ~ Cooperative Learning Groups ~ we are much more likely to remember information when we discuss, clarify, and review it with others.  Students of mixed ability in each group.  Leader (what to read/strategy to use), Clunk Expert (strategy reminder), Announcer (only 1 person talks/time), Encourager (gives positive feedback), Reporter (takes notes, reports main idea to group, and shares a group generated question) (p. 160-161).
  • When in the cooperative learning group use cue sheets specific to each role. CSR Learning Logs ~ students keep separate logs for each subject, reading materials ~ can be used with narrative and expository text (p. 162).
  • Reading aloud ~ 4th grade slump can be attributed to large increase in vocabulary words and irregular pronunciations.  Fluency practice needed ~ repeated oral reading, readers’ theatre, partner reading, reading aloud  (p. 162).
  • Question the Author ~ raises interest level, engages in problem solving areas of brain’s frontal lobe, helps to find sense/meaning.  What is the author trying to say?  Why did the author use that phrase?  Does this make sense to you? ~ Model to students thinking aloud and forming questions (p. 163).
  • A good summarizer would be “If I were the author I. . . .”  (p. 163).  Teachers should facilitate discussion, not lead it.
  • Attention Therapy to Improve Comprehension ~ Attention therapy that improves visual attention practices leads to better reading comprehension.  Reading requires the brain to focus, shift, sustain, and encode relevant stimuli while simultaneously impeding the processing of irrelevant stimuli.  Visual attention is the catalyst.  There are computer based activities designed to improve perceptual accuracy, visual efficiency, visual search, visual scan, and visual span.  The program emphasizes improving visual memory (p. 163).
  • Studies reveal a linkage between reading comprehension and visual attention (p. 164).
  • Tutoring for Fluency ~ repeated reading with a model, oral reading with monitoring and feedback, error monitoring and reading practice (p. 164).
  • Simultaneous repeated reading with a tutor is effective for reluctant readers ~ introduce text ~ activate background knowledge, simultaneous reading ~ regulate speed allowing the reader to keep up, teacher and student both pointing to each word, as the student gains confidence, teach should soften his/her voice, simultaneous repeated reading ~ begin rereading, softening voice (p. 165).
  • Oral Reading with Monitoring and Feedback ~ pick a text that student can read at 90-95% accuracy.  Tutor provides direct feedback on difficult words ~ the aim is to avoid long pauses to build fluency and confidence.  Introduce text.  Student reads it as fluently as possible.  Use a marker.  Provide feedback immediately as the student reads correctly errors so not to slow student down.  Keep track of error patterns (p. 166).
  • Error Monitoring and Reading Practice ~ practice difficult words in isolation in flashcard practice.  15-25 cards in 3-5 minutes.  If a student is stuck, say the word after 3 seconds.  Variation #1 ~ word patterns, Variation #2 ~ word practice ~ keep track of errors in a passage and make flashcards of the incorrect words.  Only select common words that reflect useful phonemic and structural patterns. Variation #3 ~ sentence practice in context ~ keep track of errors, correct them, and have the student keep rereading until no errors are made (p. 167).
  • Oral Reading Accuracy ~ Number of word errors is subtracted from total number of words then dividing that result by the total number of words x 100 to yield a percentage (p. 167).
  • When getting the reading rate, calculate words correct first.  If a student reads 150 words with 17 errors = 133 words correctly read in x time (1.5 minutes).  Divide 1.5 minutes into 133 words = 89 words correct/minute (p. 167).
  • When a child is being tutored for comprehension, select a text that the child can read with 85-90% accuracy and have multiple practices with the same text.  (A better text is 90-95% accuracy.)  The 85-90% text is difficult but the child will be constantly monitored.  Select a text and ask 3-4 open ended questions on it that can’t be answered based on common knowledge.  Avoid asking literal, trivial questions.  Try “What did he mean when. . . ” or “Why did that happen?”  If the child can answer 2-3 correctly, it is appropriate for tutoring (p. 168).
  • Improving Understanding ~ Comprehension breakdowns most often are due to lack of fluency.  Get a 4×6 index card.  After the child reads a 4×6 area he is to summarize.  Help the summary by saying “I would add. . . .”  As the student improves, have him summarize longer sections.  Go from single sentence, multi sentence, paragraph and so on.  Regardless, the summary should just be 1-2 sentences (p. 169).
  • Reading to Find Out ~ have the student read for a purpose.  “read on to find out why. . . .” (p. 169).
  • Improving Motivation ~ teach children how to learn, not just a set of skills.  Have them track achievement (p. 169).
  • Brains can be rewired to be better readers!  Targeted and teacher-directed research-based reading programs that help students build phonemic awareness can substantially and perhaps permanently benefit struggling readers.  Dyslexic brains can be improved through programs that focus on auditory processing and oral language training, resulting in improved language and reading ability (p. 172).
  • Test Taking Accommodations:  large simple type font (Arial) with key words in boldface and provide plenty of space for answers.  Make the purpose of the test clear.  Do not count spelling, handwriting or grammatical errors.  Give clear/concise directions.  Allow additional time; speed does not count.  Provide exemplars.  In math and science, read the questions/answers as those are not reading tests.  Have a scribe so the child can focus on answers.  Maybe have child use a word processor.  Use visual aids.  Test where students can take breaks and not be self-conscious.  Consider alternate formats such as an oral exam.
  • If your child is having reading problems, multiple choice tests do not give enough context to decode unfamiliar words.  Short essays give better opportunity to show what you have learned (p. 174).
  • Struggling readers and dyslexics often have trouble hearing all the sounds in a word; they may only hear 2 sounds in a 3 syllable word (p. 175).
  • Dyslexic children often have problems with short term memory so help the child with grammar and spelling if they ask (p. 176).





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All page numbers above corresponds to:  How The Brain Learns To Read by David Sousa, 2014.

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