Nelson Literacy 7
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Underlying Principles
 

Nelson Literacy is a fully integrated, comprehensive resource designed to support literacy learning. The principles underlying the development of Nelson Literacy are borne out in decades of extensive research. To ensure student success as literacy learners, a literacy program must be:

Foundations and Goals of Comprehensive Literacy
 

Introduction

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Why comprehensive and coordinated?

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For students, literacy learning involves making meaning and communicating as they think, read, write, speak, listen, view, and represent, not only during Language Arts, but also across the school day and beyond the school walls. A comprehensive literacy program involves a school-wide literacy plan aimed at scaffolding student learning using multiliteracies.

Multiliteracies include print literacy (such as books, magazines, and other print materials), visual literacy (such as art, sculpture, artifacts, and film), and digital/electronic literacy (such as computer texts, the Internet, and CD-ROMs). In addition, a comprehensive literacy program involves a wide variety of activities and approaches provided consistently during the Language Arts block and across the day. For example:

  • reading and writing modelled for students
  • reading and writing done with students
  • reading and writing done by students
  • word work
  • oral language
  • numerous forms of representing knowledge and understandings


Finally, a comprehensive literacy program involves a balance of direct versus indirect instruction; whole-class, small-group, and individual activities; and intervention for students who need it.

Students at this stage are using reading, writing, and oral language to learn content while still learning how to read, write, and converse more effectively. Furthermore, as they progress, students face an increase in content area reading and text complexity, and a greater emphasis on developing their critical thinking and critical literacy skills, all of which pose new challenges.


It is important for students to see reading and writing as purposeful and reciprocal processes, and to see themselves as successful literacy learners across all subject areas. One way that students develop these skills, strategies, and dispositions to literacy learning is through a coordinated literacy program.


All teachers are teachers of literacy. Not only do they teach content knowledge, but they also teach ways of reading and writing specific to the subject area. Effective literacy programs, therefore, see all teachers across all subjects and grade levels coordinating their instruction to reinforce important strategies and concepts. This is achieved in part through the implementation of professional learning communities.


Nelson Literacy supports a comprehensive and coordinated literacy program by facilitating the integration of all the literacy strands as well as literacy instruction in other areas of the curriculum. Nelson Literacy is based on a systematic, research-based instructional framework that assists in long-range planning over the grade and over other grades. Units of study are organized to support a gradual release of responsibility. To help foster literacy in other subject areas, unit topics are directly connected to content curricula.

 

Why professional learning communities?

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Consistency in instruction is the cornerstone of a coordinated literacy program. During their junior years in school, students encounter a variety of teachers teaching in different content areas. When these teachers meet regularly as part of a professional learning community, they are able to develop instructional consistency across all subjects (Biancarosa and Snow 2004).

The key elements of an effective professional learning community are

  • ongoing reflection and dialogue on practice
  • implementation of new teaching strategies
  • use of relevant data to inform deliberations
  • sustained focus on a topic of study
  • participant control over group procedures and content, ensuring that all viewpoints are valued
  • time for teachers to study together
    (Taylor and Richardson 2001)

Nelson Literacy supports professional learning communities by encouraging teachers to be reflective practitioners. References to the research base for instructional practices are offered throughout the instructional resources.

 

Why strong student engagement?

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Students’ engagement in learning and their level of achievement are directly correlated. Factors influencing the degree of student engagement include:

  • the positive sense of community within the classroom
  • the approach to classroom management (e.g., routines and organization)
  • the appeal of tasks and experiences
  • the difficulty of tasks and experiences
  • the amount of supportive, respectful, and productive talk in the classroom
  • the involvement in setting learning goals and determining how to achieve them

Students become and remain more engaged when they are provided with meaningful and relevant, while challenging but achievable, literacy experiences. Equally important is providing time “for active, creative responses to texts using discussion and multiple modes of response (writing, sketching, dramatizing, singing, projects, and so on) to promote critical analysis and creation of a range of new literacies” (McLaughlin 2004, 37). For example, using the project approach allows students to undertake in-depth studies of real-world topics, such as pollution or cultural identity.

Thoughtful literacy, according to Allington, “is more than remembering what the text said. It is engaging the ideas in texts, challenging those ideas, reflecting on them and so on. It is responding to a story with giggles, goosebumps, anger and revulsion” (2006, 135). Creating a conversational community in the classroom, one in which the teacher uses less of an interrogational approach and models the type of talk that is expected, is essential to fostering and maintaining student engagement.


Nelson Literacy supports student engagement by providing purposeful and interesting, while challenging but achievable, literacy experiences that support thoughtful literacy. Students experience a wide variety of texts—including graphic and visual texts, nonfiction texts with content-area connections, and quality literature—and are given constant opportunities to bring their own prior knowledge and interests to their reading.

 

Why ongoing assessments?

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Ongoing assessment—assessment for learning—drives instruction and supports learning. In classrooms where assessment is used to support learning, the divide between instruction and assessment blurs (Leahy et al. 2005).

Daily formative assessments, which are often conducted informally, are used to:

  • identify student progress
  • determine the next goal for student learning
  • plan interventions
  • identify the need for alternative resources or techniques
  • encourage students to reflect on their learning

The more authentic the performance task, the more readily students see a reason for their learning (McTighe and O’Connor 2005).

The type of feedback students receive, whether from teachers or peers, is also important. Feedback improves learning when it gives each student specific guidance on both strengths and weaknesses. In addition, students should be encouraged to use metacognition to support self-assessment.

Summative assessments measure students’ overall progress against benchmarks or other students’ scores and provide class profiles.

Nelson Literacy provides a variety of authentic and manageable formative assessment tools in all the strands of literacy to guide instruction and support learning. Tools such as key assessment questions, demonstration tasks, and opportunities for metacognitive reflection are provided. End-of-unit performance tasks provide for summative assessments in all strands to assist in developing profiles for each student. These assessment opportunities provide students with a variety of avenues to demonstrate and reflect on their learning.

 

Why focused teaching?

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Teaching that has a clear focus, is matched to the learning needs of each student, and moves the student toward more independence is essential to individual success. Following the Gradual Release of Responsibility model (Pearson and Gallagher 1983), students move from a high level of support with the teacher explaining, modelling, and demonstrating strategies, to guided student practice, and then to independent practice as students apply the strategies across the curriculum.

Students who require substantial amounts of one-to-one instruction and frequent demonstrations of how to go about reading and writing (Allington 1994) benefit when the teaching approach involves more structured coaching and less assigning (Allington and Cunningham 1996). This developmentally appropriate teaching involves much work with small, flexible groups that have been organized based on student needs and interests.

Gradual Release of Responsibility


Explicit instruction
Teacher explains the strategy and
when it should be used

Modelling
Teacher demonstrates
the strategy in action

Collaborative practice
Teacher and students use
the strategy together

Guided practice
Student(s) apply the strategy with some
teacher/peer support and feedback

Independent practice
Students apply the strategy on their
own, learning metacognitively



Reading comprehension and writing development benefit from focused teaching. Only 10 percent of struggling readers have difficulty with decoding. Many more of these readers struggle with comprehension, but improve through direct, explicit instruction (Biancarosa and Snow 2004).

Similarly, “[a]ttention should be given not only to increasing the amount of writing instruction students receive and the amount of writing they do, but also to increasing the quality of the writing instruction and assignments” (19). Through writing mini-lessons, students learn the craft of writing as they read, listen, discuss, and write, often in response to good literature. Effective teachers then provide their students with many differentiated opportunities to construct knowledge with the scaffolding provided.

Nelson Literacy supports focused teaching using scaffolding that moves from high levels of student support (teacher modelling, demonstrating, and explaining) to low levels of support, with student application through independent practice across the day.

 

Why differentiated instruction?

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Many readers comprehend at a minimal or low level even though they have no difficulty decoding. A much smaller number of students struggle with decoding, which ultimately affects their reading comprehension. Still others can read very well but choose not to read (they are described as aliterate).

Unfortunately, research indicates that there is no quick-fix. “Key elements of research-based interventions include improving classroom instruction, enhancing access to intensive, expert instruction, expanding available instructional time and availability of support for older struggling readers” (Allington 2006, 141). Successful intervention complements high-quality classroom instruction; it does not replace it.


Differentiated instruction to address the needs of a variety of students can be achieved by:

  • using different instructional practices
  • varying the amount of teacher support
  • providing levelled texts matched to students' abilities
  • providing resources and literacy activities that are appropriate for students' interests and learning styles


Nelson Literacy supports differentiated instruction through its Gradual Release of Responsibility approach, as reflected in the resource components. Detailed guided reading lessons are provided for students who may benefit from them. Suggestions are provided throughout for struggling or reluctant students, ELL/ESL students, and students ready for extension and additional challenge. Literacy activities that address a variety of students’ interests and needs are included.

 

Why a resource-rich environment?

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A resource-rich environment is integral to maintaining student engagement and developing lifelong literacy learners. The printed materials that are made available to students in the classroom are, therefore, crucial. Books, magazines, and newspapers should be abundant.

All students at all reading levels should have access to exemplary works of many different genres that tie in with their cross-curricular studies and personal interests. Students should also be provided with a variety of texts that they not only can read, but also want to read.

According to research statistics, students who have library centres in their classrooms read about 50 percent more than students whose classrooms do not have such centres (Allington and Cunningham 1996). Although the ideal is to have about 1500 books in the classroom, a minimum of 500 different books that are split evenly between narratives and informational titles and that range in difficulty from on or near grade level to below grade level is recommended (Allington 2006).

Information technology and multimedia resources provide new ways of accessing information and new forms of learning. Using multiple resources enables teachers to personalize instruction and provides students with materials of appropriate complexity. Not only does this foster a high level of student engagement, but also enhances a sense of individual ownership over learning (Close 2001).

Nelson Literacy supports a resource-rich environment by providing a variety of texts—print, non-print, fiction, nonfiction, and poetry—at various levels of difficulty and complexity, to support and engage all learners. Students are exposed to a wide range of text structures, patterns, and forms, many of which are linked to content areas of the curriculum. Nelson Literacy also makes connections to resources often already in the classroom.

 
 

Literacy is the ability to understand and to use language and images in rich and varied forms to read, write, listen, speak, view, represent, and think critically about ideas. The goal of any comprehensive literacy program is to enable students to become successful, independent, lifelong learners. Research shows that the most effective way to achieve this goal is to:

  • engage students in many and varied learning opportunities that use and develop their oral language, reading, writing, and media literacy knowledge and skills
  • integrate the expectations in a variety of subjects and content areas, such as Science, Social Studies, Math, and Language Arts
  • differentiate and scaffold instruction to address the needs and learning styles of all students
  • provide consistent, ongoing, and relevant intervention and support

Language is the basis for all thinking, communicating, and learning. When children enter school, they must learn to use language in new ways. The focus shifts from language as a tool for personal communication to language as a tool for comprehending ideas and information, interacting socially, conducting inquiries into areas of interest and study, and demonstrating learning.

Students become effective literacy learners when they:

  • understand that reading, writing, speaking, listening, viewing, and representing are active, thinking, reciprocal, and recursive processes
  • use a well-developed vocabulary, prior knowledge, and personal experiences to comprehend text and as a springboard for writing, speaking, and representing
  • know their purpose for reading, writing, speaking, listening, viewing, and representing, and know their audience for writing, speaking, and representing
  • read, write, speak, listen, view, and represent for a variety of purposes and on a wide range of topics
  • monitor and adjust their reading, listening, and viewing to facilitate comprehension and apply a variety of strategies to help them make meaning of texts
  • think critically before, during, and after reading, writing, speaking, listening, viewing, and representing

Nelson Literacy supports the interrelatedness of the Language Arts curriculum strands, the interconnectedness of literacy strategies, and the integration of content/subject area outcomes.

 

Explicit Instruction

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Instructional practices affect student success, so it is important to incorporate varying approaches to scaffold new learning. Although students construct knowledge socially, they also need direct teaching involving models, demonstrations, and explanations. Effective teachers consciously use a variety of strategies to explain information or guide students through a new process. They ask various questions on several levels, taking care to provide “think” or “wait” time for students to process their thoughts and formulate a well-constructed response. After direct teaching, they provide students with multiple opportunities for practice, coupled with regular ongoing feedback and, if necessary, more instruction. By slowly moving from a high degree of support to independence, effective teachers gradually release the learning responsibility to their students. This process often involves teacher modelling, think-alouds, read-alouds, mini-lessons, shared practice, guided practice, and finally, independent practice and application.

Nelson Literacy incorporates explicit teaching through an instructional model based on the gradual release of responsibility for learning. The teacher models a specific strategy through read-alouds and shared experiences. Students practise the strategy with supports such as “sticky notes,” highlighted text, and prompts. Students then have an opportunity to apply the strategy independently. Further opportunities to practise the strategy are provided by guided and independent reading selections at various levels on related themes and topics.

 

Oral Communication

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Speaking and listening are the foundation of literacy. Oral language and literacy development are linked as students connect what they know about the purpose, meaning, structure, and sound of language to what they see or create in print. Effective teachers support students’ oral language development in the classroom by:


  • encouraging meaningful talk (i.e., talk that has a purpose, is focused and collaborative, and is supported by evidence) within the context of a comprehensive literacy framework
  • structuring specific opportunities to foster oral language development
  • providing models of language use (for example, by demonstrating how to reflect on learning and how to communicate knowledge and understanding)
  • explicitly teaching the strategies students need to build their oral language skills, and providing opportunities for guided practice


Oral language is integral not only to learning and understanding, but to communicating and being understood as well. Talk is also the cornerstone for reading comprehension, especially in the junior years when students are spending more time reading for information and for learning. Talk with adults and other students plays a critical role in helping students clarify meaning and extend their understanding of texts that contain new concepts, ideas, and information. It is important that students access prior knowledge and make personal connections to texts—not simply recall or summarize them—and group discussions and conversations help students to do this. Students must explain how they know and make sense of the passages being discussed. Sharing their understanding through talk enables students to learn thinking strategies.

Nelson Literacy provides a wealth of opportunities for students to engage in focused and meaningful talk to orally communicate thoughts, ideas, understandings, and prior knowledge; to reflect on comprehension and critical thinking; and to communicate effectively for a variety of purposes and audiences. Diverse activities such as group discussions, “think, pair, share,” role-playing, interviewing, and oral presentations allow students to engage in cross-curricular learning as they hone their communication skills, making use of explicit instruction in a variety of oral language strategies.

 

Reading

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In the junior years, students are still learning to read while simultaneously reading to learn. With much more content-area reading and more complex texts, they face new challenges. They do not automatically know how to effectively manage the variety of genres and text forms they are exposed to, such as poetry, content-area textbooks, magazines, posters, billboards, product packaging, and information from the Internet. Technical and abstract vocabulary, as well as various text features (such as different levels of headings, words in bold or italicized print, diagrams, graphics, and so on), pose additional comprehension challenges.

Students need to learn the strategies that effective readers use to develop proficiency in multiliteracies. They also need to become more thoughtful; learn how to summarize, synthesize, and infer; and learn to think more critically. The goal is for students to see reading as purposeful and reciprocal.

Explicit instruction of research-based strategies is the foundation of Nelson Literacy. Comprehensive coverage of effective reading strategies is demonstrated in the Instructional Framework for each grade, found at the beginning of every unit in the Teacher’s Resource. Students benefit from repeated exposure to these strategies across the junior grades, and gain mastery of the strategies as they apply them, with different levels of support as required, to literature and content-area selections of various genres, forms, and patterns.

 

Fluency

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One of the foundational components of any comprehensive literacy program is the development of fluency. Fluency in the context of oral language is the ability to speak with expression and ease, and to understand the meaning of language in spoken form.

Reading fluency is not only the ability to decode words and sentences quickly and accurately; it is also the ability to read smoothly and without hesitation (for example, by accurately interpreting punctuation marks) and to understand the meaning of language in written form. A lack of fluency impedes comprehension, which negatively affects the motivation to read and write. Students who struggle with fluency need explicit strategies and scaffolded support.

Nelson Literacy provides teachers with the tools they need for effective fluency instruction and assessment. Engaging reading selections, with a wide range of levels, topics, and forms, are appropriate for a variety of instructional approaches to developing fluency, such as repeated reading, assisted reading, and choral reading. Explicit instruction using modelling and think-alouds is supported by read-alouds, shared reading selections, and audio CDs. A Reading Record Form blackline master is provided for assessing and tracking students’ reading fluency. In oral language, students develop fluency through the explicit teaching of speaking/listening strategies in the Student Instruction Books, as well as through a variety of oral language activities offered throughout the Teacher’s Resource.

 

Text Patterns and Features

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To become successful, proficient readers, students need to be exposed to, and learn about, a variety of text patterns and features. Students encounter an increasingly wide range of nonfiction texts, such as content-area textbooks, magazine articles, and Internet information, as they spend more time reading to learn. Understanding and learning to identify various text patterns and features enable students not only to become more effective readers, but also to become more effective writers who know how to use text patterns and features to help communicate information.

Nelson Literacy provides reading selections in a variety of nonfiction forms, such as informational report, factual recount, personal recount, interview, and procedural text, as well as various literary forms, including biography, legend, science fiction, fable, and poem. Through these forms, students encounter a wide range of text patterns, such as description, cause and effect, sequence, problem and solution, and compare and contrast, as well as a variety of common text features, including titles and headings, charts, graphs, labelled diagrams, and captions.

 

Word Study

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Words are the fundamental building blocks of language. Children are surrounded by words in their oral environment, but as they develop into readers and writers, words become a crucial component of how children learn about the world and communicate their thoughts. Word study must, therefore, form an integral part of any effective literacy program.

Nelson Literacy takes a comprehensive approach to word study, addressing word choice, sentence fluency, reading and spelling high-frequency and unfamiliar words, vocabulary development, punctuation, and grammar. The Teacher’s Resource offers frequent feature boxes on word study topics and strategies, including a regular feature on vocabulary found in reading selections. Reproducible Word Study Masters in each unit provide activities that help students develop word study skills they can use in a variety of contexts.

 

Writing

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Although reading and writing are connected, simply enjoying good literature will not enable most students to become effective writers. It is through mini-lessons (craft lessons) that focus on the writing process and writing traits, reading and re-reading, talk, and spending time engaged in writing that students learn what effective authors do when they compose. Through talk, students become attuned to the techniques used by authors whose work they appreciate. The authors then become their mentors as students learn to “read like a writer.” By reading, re-reading, and critiquing their own writing and that of their peers, students develop the skill and the confidence of effective writers.

Nelson Literacy provides explicit instruction in all of the “6 + 1” writing traits and all stages of the writing process. By showing students how to “read like a writer,” and presenting frequent opportunities for modelled and shared writing, the resources provide students with the support they need to become independent in their use of writing strategies. Independent and shared writing tasks, on a wide variety of topics that will motivate and engage students, provide them with opportunities to integrate content-area learning as they write for a variety of purposes and audiences.

 

Media Literacy

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Media literacy (oral, print, visual, multimedia, and mass media) is the ability to understand, assess, and evaluate the overt and implicit messages and the intentions of a media text, and to identify its targeted audience. It encompasses the ability to use oral, print, visual, multimedia, and mass media to communicate messages effectively. Students must be supported in developing both expressive and receptive language skills using all media, including film, television, and the Internet.

Nelson Literacy provides frequent opportunities for students to develop media literacy throughout each grade by developing understanding of diverse media forms, the purposes and audiences for media texts, and the conventions and techniques used to create meaning. A wide variety of media texts are provided in the Student Instruction Books, along with additional examples provided in the Audio/Video Package, with diverse forms, purposes, and audiences represented. Students are introduced to the characteristics of different media forms and learn specific strategies for analyzing and evaluating overt and implicit messages, audience and purpose, and use of conventions and techniques. Through engaging activities in which students use strategies to plan and create their own media texts, they further develop their understandings related to form, purpose, audience, and technique.

 

Critical Thinking and Critical Literacy

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Critical thinking and critical literacy are not the same, although they are related. Critical thinking involves logical and reflective thinking and reasoning, which helps one decide what to believe or do. Critical thinking skills include examining opinion (and differentiating between fact and opinion), questioning ideas, interpreting information, identifying values and issues, detecting bias, and detecting implied as well as explicit meaning. A person who thinks critically asks appropriate questions, gathers and sorts through relevant information, reasons logically, and makes decisions as to how to think and live in the world.

Critical literacy requires critical thinking with a specific focus on issues related to fairness, equity, and social justice. Critical literacy develops as students are taught to question and challenge attitudes, values, and beliefs that lie beneath the surface of the texts they read, listen to, and view. Critically literate students understand that texts are not neutral—they represent a particular view, silence other points of view, and influence people’s ideas and ways of thinking. They are able to determine what has been intentionally left out of the text and what has been implied but not stated in order to present a certain belief or perspective.

With more and more avenues available to them for accessing information (such as computers, online networks, electronic games, the media, and music), it is crucial that students learn to question information. They need to be aware that all texts are written from a perspective and that it is important to examine the texts (including words, diagrams, photographs, graphs, and charts) for issues of bias, stereotyping, and social justice.

Through Reflect On questions in the Student Instruction Books and a variety of questions and activities in the Teacher’s Resource and Selections for Shared Reading and Modelling, Nelson Literacy provides frequent opportunities for students to develop their critical literacy skills by engaging in critical thinking about texts that reflect diverse purposes, audiences, issues, values, and points of view, whether explicit or implicit. A wide variety of questions for oral discussion engage students in all levels of the thinking skills continuum. Students gain additional practice in critical thinking skills as they apply these to oral, visual, and written texts they create themselves.

 

Metacognition

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Metacognition, the process of thinking about one’s own thought processes, is an important higher-order thinking skill that students can use to:

  • reflect on what they know and need to know
  • select appropriate strategies to use with oral, print, and visual texts
  • plan and monitor their own learning

By modelling how to use metacognition to aid comprehension of texts, and by providing opportunities for students to reflect on their reading process and their learning, teachers can support the development of students’ metacognitive skills.

Nelson Literacy supports the development of students’ metacognitive skills by providing think-alouds that teachers can use for modelling, Reflect On questions to engage students in metacognition, and self-assessment blackline masters that students use to reflect on their learning and set personal goals for learning.

 

Interconnectedness

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Reading, writing, speaking, listening, thinking, viewing, and representing are reciprocal literacy processes. Successful students understand that:

  • reading will improve their writing, and writing will make them better readers
  • speaking, listening, and thinking will make them better readers and writers

Students must consciously use the knowledge, skills, and strategies from one strand to support their learning in the other strands, and they should be able to describe how skills in each strand support their learning in the other language strands.

Each unit in Nelson Literacy has a specific instructional focus that is reflected in every strand of the unit. This interconnected structure ensures that students practise and demonstrate the same skills and strategies across the strands. In addition, Nelson Literacy encourages students to make connections among the various literacy processes by providing frequent opportunities for them to reflect on these connections. For example, the Student Instruction Books provide Connections questions and selections in which students “read like a writer" to understand how reading can improve their writing.

 
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