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Archive for the ‘reflective practise’ Category

​Eds,

We are excited to host a “gathering” of educators on Monday morning. We will come together in the Eagle’s Nest in the morning for some breakfast snacks. All staff are welcome to come and mingle with our visitors. Please sign in at the office and get a visitor lanyard. Our guests are invited to investigate student learning in the grade 2/3 area and the 5/6 area and are invited to explore the rest of the school if they wish. They will be with us until 11:00 or so. School officially begins at 8:30 am. I will speak briefly with all visitors after morning announcements and then you are free to move to observations. Nutrition break lasts from 10:10-10:50.

We welcome staff from Queen Victoria Public School and staff from Indian Creek Public School in Chatham. Together we endeavour to work so that learning is deeper for our students. I wish to thank the partnerships of Principal Moore and Principal Callow and the innovative educators who take the risk to engage with fellow eds. in school observation visits.

The purpose of our gathering is to again recognize that schools are learning laboratories. Having visiting teachers helps us immensely in ensuring that what we say and believe we are doing for students is evident by their metacognitive understanding. We start with the question: Are the students able to articulate their learning in meaningful ways. We ask visitors to help us with this work. We also recognize that visitors take with them learning that will undoubtedly impact work in thier respective buildings. Questions you may want to ask our students are:

What are you learning?
Why are you learning this?
What are your next steps?
How are you going to move forward?

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We have embraced student metacognition (thinking about thinking) as our methodology to learn deeper.

As I personally prepare for a school visit I really only do one thing. I take a mindful stance. Mindfulness is defined as paying attention, on purpose, non-judgementally. Of course this sounds easy. As you all may have experienced, as teachers, the non-judgementally part is the hardest. We as educators (especially at report card time) have been trained to believe that judging is our job. I ask you to take a mindful stance. Join us here at Eastwood to observe students, to dialogue and to learn together.

If you would like to take a look at our learning journey for the last couple years you may investigate our School Improvement Plan for Student Achievement and Well Being.​

We will use the attached observation sheets for your visit. We request that you give these observation sheets back to the host school prior to your departure as will will use these observations to grow and learn. We believe that transparency builds trust. If you wish to make a copy before leaving so you can take your notes with you the office secretary Kim or James will be happy to help you.

Looking forward to meeting all of you. Thanks for your patience and mindfulness with our students and our learning environment.

James

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10 Lessons from The Lego Movie for Principals Looking to Inquiry to Solve Learning Needs.

Lego Gavin
Buried in Lego with a smile on his face!

Two things were informative to me last week. The first was watching the Lego Movie with Zoe, Gavin, McKenna and Tricia. The second was my dialogue with 8 teachers around the use of inquiry based learning as a primary pedagogical method in the classroom. These two experiences happened over two days and the parallels were more than evident.

First, The Lego Movie. I loved it. The movie was excellent. 5 stars. The kids didn’t stop laughing and neither did I. Gavin has been saying everything is awesome. The whole time I watched I could not help but draw on the metaphors in the movie for inspired teaching and learning in an inquiry based classroom. I know I was supposed to be entertained not thinking about work. The fact of the matter is I am always thinking about work. Work for me is learning and learning is the work so it is pretty inherent that as I experience life I think deeply about how learning has shaped who I’ve become.

The dialogue I had with three separate teachers around the concept of an inquiry based classroom brought forward three common themes: 1. Trust is Key 2. Learning is Messy and 3. Let’s Dialogue About This Together. I captured some audio of three of the 8 teachers below. As I listened to each of them and physically witnessed inquiry (at different stages) happening in the classrooms the connections to The Lego Movie continued to deepen for me. After a conversation with fellow educator Mrs. Wideen (@mrswideen) we agreed that the classroom parallels to the central theme of the movie could not be ignored. We agreed to do our best to somehow draw on these parallels in a blog post. Let me introduce Kali to offer some background information about the pedagogy of inquiry that these teachers have been experimenting with.

Listen to Ms. Sak discuss the process.

1. The Man Up Above.

Are you the one in charge? The one that gives permission, allows, shoulds, tells, supposed tos? Yes you are. Regardless of your approach the initial understanding is that you are the boss. The one in the big chair, the Principal. Have you heard-“That’s why you get the big bucks.” often? You have positional authority. The question you must ask yourself and further reflect on is how much you engage your positional authority over those that report to you. The 1:99 rule applies here. If you are engaging your positional authority as a Principal more than 1% of the time you are stifling the environment with your Omnipresence. Give yourself a rest. Repeat after me, “I am not the smartest person in the school, I just happen to be the leader.” (John Maxwell)

2. The Piece of Resistance-Put a Lid On It!

Now that we have clarified your possible reliance on positional authority in leadership I would like you to consider putting a lid on your opinions. I, for one, know that my opinion is offered far too much. I have learned to ask many clarifying questions before asking a probing question. I attempt not answer questions from teachers, especially ones that start with “What should…” or simply “Should I…” I have learned that the word should places the onus of responsibility on the person answering the question. True it is just a word. True it is a word that people use without thinking. True it might not mean what the user intends it to mean. I ask us all to be more cognizant of the words we use and the meanings they may have. I function with this in mind: The words we use are representative of the thoughts we have. The thoughts we have are representative of who we are. If I use the word should all the time I am behaving from an area of myself that functions on guilt and “arms-length responsibility”. Put a lid on the “shoulds” and the “buts” for that matter. Inquiry is about letting go of the rules a bit. It is about not relying so much on what traditional school is “supposed to” look like. Certainly it will not sound like a traditional classroom setting. During the initial stages of inquiry processes there will be judgement. People will have an opinion about the noise, the play, the fun. Listen carefully Principals: “Let this not be you!” Instead ask questions and learn alongside the teachers and students.

3. Now that you are allowed to play down here, We have to invite your sister!

Let the good news and fun be shared. Find innovative ways of sharing learning stories with the world. Blogs, Twitter, Youtube and Sharepoint newsfeeds are all good options. Resist the temptation to offer space at your next staff meeting to have the superstar inquiry teachers present all the good stuff they are doing. Find ways to make organic connections between your teachers that are taking risks and seeing successes and those that still may be nervous or petrified of these new innovations. Teams of teachers (not individuals) at Eastwood and Dr. Suzuki are engaging in these processes. As a Principal investigate how you have determined teams of teachers. How do you develop succession planning for students coming from an inquiry based setting to one where these processes are still only ideas. Getting teams working dynamically is no small task. Trust is the key to these relationships. Getting along is is easy. Truly dynamic teams can function even better off dissonance.

4. Everything is Awesome.

A positive attitude is contagious. Overpriced coffee is delicious. Smile. Buy some coffee for staff. Stop worrying. Follow the Blunt Educator on Twitter for a couple laughs. Staying positive and having an optimistic attitude is the reason you are in the position you are in. I am not telling you to ignore reality instead create an alternate one. Find a way to learn with and from your teachers and students. Make a way to experience awesome.

5. I’m a normal Principal.

Emmit was a “normal construction worker.” You are a normal Principal. What does this mean? Explore what normal is for you by challenging those beliefs with some new behaviours and modes. Park in a different spot. Have coffee and do some paperwork in the Learning Commons. Start an audioboo account and share short conversations with teachers and students for others to hear. Basically stop being so normal. You really aren’t normal anyway. None of us are. Miss Martin made a statement that I consider to be on of the most profound I have heard when discussing her practise. She stated simply, after describing that her methods were not achieving the learning results she had planned for, “I reflected and realized that I was the problem.” Reflection, for a Principal, at this level is not entirely normal. I dare you to be more abnormal. When Principals take learning risks teachers do to. Like Miss Martin did, take responsibility for your reality.

6. Where are my Pants?

Inquiry based teaching is not about product. It is about process. While collection and curation of learning products may be an end process the inquiry itself will certainly catapult further learning. Have you ever had one of those dreams where you were at work and then realized you weren’t wearing any pants? Embracing inquiry based learning pedagogy in your school can be quite similar. You freak out a bit, hide in your office for a bit. You peak around corners and then finally wake up to realize everything is okay. You have pants on, the kids are learning and the teachers are energized by the engagement that their students are exhibiting.

7. “Numbers, Numbers, Numbers, Business, Business…” A Lesson from UniKitty.

I laughed outloud when Unikitty was doing her impression of Mr. Business trying to confuse and hold up the robots and micromanagers. Mr. Business exclaimed: “All I demand is complete perfection, now. . . send in the Micromanagers!” There is a chance that if data is all you use when helping get to the Why then all they are hearing is UniKitty blah. Find a way to draw on the why of our needed and intentional actions. If you are interested in how “Why” motivates folks watch Simon Sinek explain his thinking. The curriculum is the starting point for learning objectives. Much like Lego we can use these as building blocks, we can interchange and mingle pieces from other sets. We can group, ungroup, map and link new pieces to create something that was better than the illustrations on the front cover. Teachers are master builders and facilitators of learning. If you are Mr. Business gluing stuff down, locking it in place, boxing it up and putting it on a shelf you are Kragleing the Curriculum. Give your teachers freedom and they in turn will give children more freedom.

8. Bandaids, Batteries, Boogers and Legos. Learning in here is a mess!

You can find everything in a tub of Lego. I have found the garage door opener, my watch, money, jewellery, dead insects and everything else that could somehow come into play when creating with Lego. Miss Martin describes that for her students learning is messy.

Listen to S.Martin on her Inquiry Journey.

9. Cloud Cuckoo Land is not to be Feared.

Inquiry based classrooms are not to be confused with chaos, disorder, recklessness or my fav. “A Free For All.” On the contrary teacher facilitators dialogue, plan, revision lead and teach through the entire process. We are not talking about abandoning curriculum, throwing expectations out the window and allowing the children to rule the room. Teachers at Eastwood and Dr. Suzuki school have used open, mini and curriculum based inquiries in order to engage the children in the complexities of the learning process. At Eastwood teachers use the mentor text Comprehension and Collaboration by Harvey and Daniels. Find more resources and starters at Inquiry Based Learning.

Listen to S. Watson-Jones discuss Inquiry at Eastwood

10. You are the Special.

My good friend Dr. Jeff Hillman (@learningstance) used to tell me, “You make the weather James.” Others have said, “When the Principal sneezes everyone gets a cold.” I understand both of these analogies first as a teacher myself and now more deeply and fully as a Principal. I really like the Lego metaphor best though. As the Principal you are the special. Just like every teacher and more pointedly every student in the school is the special.

and then build another one!

If it breaks I can rebuild it.

To Read Mrs. Wideen’s blog post on the parallels to The Lego Movie please visit: mrswideen.com!

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Friday’s I have decided to encourage others to engage in the reflective practise of blogging followed by my sharing of their work here at The Principaled Life.  Today I am honoured to include teacher voice on my blog.  That of Jodie Nardone.  Mrs. Nardone teaches and learns at Eastwood Public School.  She works with ELL students and students that access the Special Education Resource Room.  Mrs. Nardone has used class blogs for some time.  She is an active Ontario Educator on Twitter.  Most recently I challenged her to use her blog as a reflective practise tool.  The result of our Skype calls is the rejuvenation of her professional blog.  She shared this initial story with me as she most recently chaperoned her students, along with her teaching partner Mrs. Silvestri, to the Windsor Mission.  This trip was the result of her students digging deep to truly understand the need and process that our most vulnerable citizens go through for the basic necessities of life.  Enjoy.

Mission Inquiry by:  Jodie Nardone

I am pretty confident with the why and the what about Inquiry. I’ve been struggling a bit with the how, particularly how it looks in my SERR (Special Education Resource Room) classroom. Until recently, and quite by accident.

In keeping with the spirit of the season and at the same time respecting the many cultures in our building, my teaching partner @SilvestriESL and I decided to decorate our school Christmas tree.  It sat bare, save for a few strings of lights, at the main entrance of the school.  We would decorate it with mittens and scarves to donate to people in need in our inner-city.  We would call it the “Tree of Warmth”.  It became a provocation for inquiry.  Each day more items were added to the tree by the kind staff and students of our school.  My students began to ask questions.  Questions about why we are collecting these items.  Questions about what we were going to do with all of the items the students and staff had collected. This prompted us to do some research and watch some videos. Together we decided it would be a good idea to deliver the donations as a class to the local Downtown Mission and get a first hand look at the impact their kindness has on our own community.

Tree of Warmth

We packed up all the items that had been collected, hopped in the cars and headed to the Downtown Mission where they welcomed us with warmth (despite the fact that their furnace had broken that morning).

The Windsor Mission

The Students were given a tour of the building by MaryJo, the Community Outreach Coordinator, with an explanation of what happens there. When asked at the start of the tour what was special about Eastwood school, in typical Eastwood fashion, students responded with answers like “because at Eastwood we are kind”, and “people there are respectful to others”.  Our visit to the Downtown Mission has since inspired our class to do more and thus began individual student inquiries.  The students learned that the food items needed most are proteins like tuna and peanut butter as well as boxes of cereal.  They brought that data back to the school and used it to create what they called a ‘7 Day Cereal Challenge’.   They were on their own ‘mission’.  With minimal direction from teachers they researched more information about the Mission on their iPads, prepared a presentation to share with all classes in the school, designed and hung posters, wrote and read announcements, and created videos using iMovie on the iPad to advertise their challenge.   Students who are not easily motivated were engaged and students who ‘don’t write’ suddenly had a purpose.   Ali was inspired. He wrote, practised and delivered morning announcements to motivate his student colleagues to take part in the challenge.  Each morning they are collecting, tallying and graphing the total donations coming in.  This is just the beginning for us.  Our intent was to collect and donate hats and mittens to the Mission.  It sparked more.  While not a traditional inquiry, it certainly lead me to understand how student ownership of the learning increases engagement and the moral purpose of education.  Where will my students go next with investigations around poverty in Canada?

Please listen to MaryJo describe the Foodbank and the personal care room.MaryJo in the Food Bank

 Please consider following Jodie this #FollowFriday at @iteachELL .  Her newest Blogging venture can be followed and read at mrsnardone.wordpress.com

@iteachELL

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Cross-Post Thursday!

Today’s Blog post is a cross-post shared by Doug Peterson of Off the Record.   The interview took me some time so cheating here and using it in my 21 day event made sense.  I’ve had the honour of knowing Doug for some time.  Since I came on to teaching  actually.  He has been influential to so many educators by turning them on to some new tool that invoked critical thought or creativity in students.  Want to know what is going on in innovative Ontario classrooms?  Follow Off the Record.  You will be in the know.

An Interview with James Cowper

Posted on October 22, 2013 by @dougpete

I’ve had the pleasure to work with James Cowper in a couple of schools where he has served the Greater Essex County District School Board as an administrator.  He’s a supporter of teachers, as you would expect from an administrator, but he also “walks the walk” when it comes to using technology in education.  Recently, we met for a coffee to chat and solve all of the world’s problems and that served as a launchpad for this interview.

Doug:  Thanks, James, for sharing your thoughts via this blog post.

James:  No problem Doug.  I am happy to talk and listen with you.  I am quite flattered that you wanted to hear my thoughts and stories of days in the schoolhouse working with learners of all ages!  I appreciate it.  Thanks.

Doug:  I recall our first encounters with technology – it seems so long ago that you were involved in a technology project when you were at Mill Street Public School in Leamington.  What did you learn from working with students at Mill Street?

James:  I learned that kids are kids everywhere you go.  I came in on the front end of an ICT project in which recycled computers along with millions of meters of RJ45 (EthernetPicture1 cable) were deployed to a 350 pupil K-8 school.  The computers had competent capabilities and the staff and students were anxious to use them.  What I learned about kids and computers was that it is the creativity that we must exercise with the tools of the trade.  Using the computers, funny I don’t even call them that anymore, to drill and kill or surf and turf is just not the ticket.  Kids need to create, collaborate and communicate with the technology.  I learned an awful lot about what not to do with technology funny enough.  Of course we were doing the best that we could do at the time.  PL around the high-end use of the devices was not structured or supported in a way that would lead to critical use of the tools.  I learned that you couldn’t fool kids.  Saying that computers engage kids and then using them as word processors, encyclopedias and digital worksheets only lasts so long.  If you do this for too long the kids will video you teaching the class, put it to music, morph Albert Einstein’s head onto your body and post the video for all their tweeps to see.  Seriously.  It is not the computers or the iPads that “engage” kids.  It is the access to the world, the creative quotient and the ease of collaboration that engages them.  Those things are not done with a device, a computer alone.  They must be married to the facilitation and supervision of a learning teacher.

Doug:  Since that time, you have been promoted to Principal at Eastwood Public School in Windsor.  During our coffee, you indicated that you’ve been there for five years now.  So, a question – if someone is making their first trip to Eastwood – what would they see that would invoke the understanding that this school really has its act together with respect to Technology?

Picture3James:  Well, we don’t have hover boards and wear silver suits yet.  Kids are not glued to screens with robotic teachers.  Books and board games is still the best part of the day at first nutrition break so I am not sure you would really be able to see a difference.  I apologize for my sarcasm.  I mean no offence.  Really.  If you had asked me what school would look like in the year 2013 when I was in grade 5 I would have said flying in cars and learning from robots!   (I think Ms. McTavish assigned that project!) You can feel a difference at Eastwood School.  At least that is what almost every visitor has said to me at one point or another.  What you can feel is a calm energy that comes when we are all functioning at very close wavelengths.  Kids are working at learning and teachers are learning while working.  It is symbiotic.  The technology that is incorporated into the day and the learning is organic.  Getting an iPad is not a monumental event.  Students do not run full tilt to the power cart.  It sits open and students get them when they need them.  There are no more labs.  We do not covet our tools in closets or the Principal’s office to gather dust.  I would say that the novelty of the device is gone.  What is left is a new type of pen and pencil.  Kids view them as tools to do the business of learning.  It is not the device that has made the difference at Eastwood it is the inherent connectivity that has.  The device without Wi-Fi access would be like having a Porsche without tires.  You can enjoy the look and the rev of that awesome engine you just couldn’t go anywhere.  Kids do walk around with devices.  We have BYOD norms.  Before you even walked in the door you would recognize we have a pretty substantial online presence.  Short of that we have a staff that continue to learn and grow in the area of tech. utilization, integration and content creation.  We are as careful as we can be with regards to where and how we spend our limited budget dollars.  We also are always looking for innovative ways to build community partnerships.  Two years ago we were awarded a reading grant, the first in the district, and we gained the opportunity to spend eighty thousand dollars on learning resources.  So as a school that has its act together I would say that we have found the reasonable and appropriate place to infuse technological tools to enhance our learning.  I would say that we have been responsible digital citizens.  I would also say we’ve lots to learn and much work to do.

Thanks Doug for allowing me to share here.  If you wish to read the interview in its entirety please follow the links to Off the Record.

Tomorrow’s post–Hey Principals!  Are Those Teachers on Twitter?

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How many times have you heard “Research shows that…”

I saw my first “Back to School” commercial yesterday (July 26) and the How Soon is Too Soon question popped in my mind. Here in SWOntario we don’t start school until September 4th. I digress.

This ad claims that “laboratory tests, over the last few years,” have shown that babies fit in better during those awkward pre-teen and teen years after drinking cola.

Hmmmm…..my math isn’t that bad.

Be careful when you quote, listen to, claim and read research that might strengthen your point. Read critically, question, seek further resources and by golly make sure the math adds up. When it does it makes a world of difference. When the math doesn’t add up we lose the trust we are building in the public education system. As Douglas Reeves says “It makes us all look bad.”

Do you still:

  • have spelling tests?
  • “do” calendar?
  • work in isolation?
  • say “they mark too easy” when referring to colleagues whose students excel?
  • give a student a grade a week later, a month later, never?
  • think a grade is feedback?
  • ban handheld devices in your classroom?
  • show movies on the SmartBoard?
  • believe social media is a fad?
  • believe the best learning environment is a quiet one?
  • demand (parents) or give worksheets (plural) for homework?
  • say “respect must be earned?”
  • use the sentence “the problem with kids these days…”
  • blame the teacher, the administrator, the parents, the students, the school district or rock and roll music…etc.

Now, do you know what the research says about these practises? Does it align with your thinking or challenge your thinking?

It is time to learn something new. Step out of the comfort zone and into the learning zone, the risk zone. Take a learning stance. Find new research. Heck, develop your own research out of an inquiry.

This school year, abandon a practise that you are hearing questioned more and more. Replace it with something new, something different, something from a colleague or even “scarier” a colleague’s blog! Something that makes the kids say…”What has gotten into Mr. Cowper?!? This guy wants us to Tweet our learning? OMG He has changed! He is CRAZEE!”

Yup…there it is. The magic word. Change. Do you believe they used to allow ads like the one above in magazines? They also used to smoke on airplanes, have back seats, with no seatbelts, the size of Montana, give children bottles of ink and a fountain pen? My gosh…the Principal used to use a strap to teach learnin’!

“They” is actually we. We have segregated our schools, isolated our most vulnerable students away from schools, assimilated the culture out of our students and myriads of other draconian practises that kept us from being true learning institutions. Institutions with a culture where the most important learning was about ourselves, about our interconnectedness with the earth with each other (our kids) and about learning.

This year connect. Research shows that, good or bad, the greatest and most impactful aspect of a student’s life (no matter the grade) is their teacher. Connect with them. Learn with them. Know them.

And have fun doing it. (I know Ms Rotundi, I am never supposed to start a sentence, let alone a paragraph, with a grammatical conjunction.)

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Below is an exerpt from the School Reform Initiative’s website which defines a Critical Friends Group. This is the institute I attended in Alpharetta, GA in July 2012 lead by Dr. Thomas VanSoelen (@tvansoelen). I attended with the professional learning intention of building my facilitation skills. I left understanding that I had done so through exercising and practising my participant skills.

CFG builds the learning capacity of the group by engaging members in significant work in an environment that supports risk taking. To make it more likely that learning in CFG will build the group’s capacity for transformational learning, several key elements are essential.

  • Groups are voluntary and sustained. A critical friends group is made up of a group of six to ten educators who meet regularly, perhaps every four to six weeks, over a sustained period of time. Membership is often voluntary. Voluntary participation helps to increase the likelihood that the members are committed to taking on risky and challenging work and staying engaged over time. Similarly, CFGs continue to work together beyond the completion of a particular time cycle such as a semester or school year.
  • A skilled and experienced facilitator or coach supports the group. The coach, who frequently is a member of the group who has participated in professional development to develop the skills, strategies, knowledge, and dispositions to facilitate the group’s learning.
  • Groups use protocols to build their capacity for learning. The disciplined use of protocols or agreed upon processes and structures helps the CFG build its capacity for learning. Protocols help sustain a steadfast focus on teaching and learning. And, they offer the structure that allows a group to deprivatize their practice and explore the most difficult and challenging issues of insuring that students experience educational excellence.

Since I have returned I have officially started a CFG. 11 amazing administrators volunteering their time, trust and academic energy to learning and leadership reflection.

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Presenter Check-In (Fish Bowl) following Issaquah Protocol by Dr. Thomas VanSoelen

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During my 4 day institute on Critical Friends Groups in Alpharetta, Georgia we continually referred to our “gingerbread man”.  On day one we started our “Opening Moves” with the construction of gingerbread men that carried a number of our notions, perspectives, thoughts into our intense 4 days of learning work.  Each area on the cardboard cut out represented thoughts that we had.

  1. The head was a place to write things that are annoyances to us or things that “drove us crazy.” 
  2. The chest or heart was a place to locate those things that you loved. 
  3. The stomach area was for things that gave you indigestion.
  4. The hands were a place to indicate something you endeavoured to let go of during the institute and something you brought to the table.
  5. Each leg represented a place to write a reason you came to the institute and something you hope to take away with you.

During each day of the institute participants took their “gingy” in hand and reported out about one of the items on the surface.

On day one I shared that “something I love as a father is the noises Gavin makes (all be them rude sometimes) when he is really enjoying food that I prepare for him, especially when I cook him homemade tomato sauce for his penne.

Out of that sharing came this audioboo when I returned home and made Gav a tomato sandwich:

[gigya src=”http://boos.audioboo.fm/swf/fullsize_player.swf” flashvars=”mp3=http%3A%2F%2Faudioboo.fm%2Fboos%2F884642-the-noises-gavin-makes-when-he-likes-my-food.mp3%3Fsource%3Dwordpress&mp3Author=Cowpernicus&mp3LinkURL=http%3A%2F%2Faudioboo.fm%2Fboos%2F884642-the-noises-gavin-makes-when-he-likes-my-food&mp3Time=03.46pm+14+Jul+2012&mp3Title=The+noises+Gavin+makes+when+he+likes+my+food.” width=”400″ height=”160″ allowFullScreen=”true” wmode=”transparent”]

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