Category Archives: Shana Karnes

Quickwrite Mentor Texts for Writer’s Notebooks

img_6062I love going back to school for so many reasons, but one of the frontrunners is definitely that “second chance new year” feeling it provides. Teachers and students have the unique opportunity to have not just one fresh start at the beginning of a calendar year, but a second shot at goal-setting, changes, and achievements that the fall offers.

We all have our back-to-school rituals, and they are sacred: fresh notebooks, pens in all the colors of the rainbow (because we haven’t lost any yet), a well-organized classroom library that will be pilfered and picked through soon enough. One of the most important parts of establishing a workshop community is the routine that comes with setting up a writer’s notebook each fall: personalizing notebooks to make them our own, modeling a notebook’s possibilities, the establishment of quickwrite practices.

But now that the year has begun, and your notebooks are ready to go…what should you begin to fill them with? The writing in the beginning of my notebook always guides and inspires me as I continue to fill it, so I never want it to be uninspired, dull, or colorless. I crave fresh, exciting, dynamic things to fill up the first several pages of my notebook every time I start a new one, which is usually in the fall.

Here are my five favorite mentor texts that give me ideas and inspiration galore for those important start-of-the-year quickwrites–the first in a routine of creativity, agency, freedom, vulnerability, and engagement as a writer.

The Artist’s Way Workbook by Julia Cameron

This workbook is full of writing prompts for real writers: short exercises that encourage reflection, fluency, and the habit of writing vulnerably often.

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I love this workbook and its series of prompts, and use them often when I start my day with the #5amwritersclub each morning. They would be wonderful prompts for students to ease into vulnerable, personal writing in September.

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I’d Rather Be Reading by Anne Bogel

I first discovered Anne Bogel thanks to her “What Should I Read Next?” podcast, but she is also a writer and blogger, and just released a beautiful book yesterday. It’s a book about our reading lives, and provides a wonderful mentor text for writing about our reading without writing about a specific text.

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In addition to the lovely writing, I am obsessed with the illustrations: they would be wonderful to recreate in students’ notebooks with scraps of old magazines or dusty dictionaries.

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I visualize this mentor text as a wonderful one for helping students find a voice for writing about their reading lives during quarterly reflections, reading ladders, and self-assessments.

The Book of Qualities by J. Ruth Gendler

Writing about our own emotions is hard for all of us, but it’s especially hard for teens. I’ve found that writing about emotions in general, rather than our own, is a wonderful gateway for personal writing.

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In addition to being an amazing lesson in personification, this book provides gorgeous mentors for doodling, metaphors, and multigenre possibilities.

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Write the Poem

Poetry can be intimidating, but a little guidance goes a long way, and this book provides just that.

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The combination of a prompt and keywords to incorporate takes some of the guesswork out of choosing a structure, a rhyme scheme, a title, and the myriad other decisions that go into crafting poetry.

Am I There Yet? by Mari Andrew

Sometimes words are hard. They just are. Those days call for doodles, and this book is full of plenty of them–in addition to pages of plain old writing. I love this text because it tells stories beyond what we see on Mari’s Instagram and Twitter feeds, giving students a mentor text not just for writing but for the thinking and living behind it.

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Mari Andrew has long been a favorite of mine, but this book shows me how to play with writing and thinking in genres I wouldn’t have considered, and is super teen-friendly.

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I hope you’ll utilize one or more of these beautiful texts–many excerpts of which you can view on the Amazon preview pages linked above–with your students this fall. Their possibilities as entry points for writing topics and genres are powerful, and will lead to composition possibilities for the duration of your school year.

Happy writing! We’d love to know how you and your students utilize these ideas, or what others help you kick off your writer’s notebooks. Please share other quickwrite possibilities and ideas in the comments, on Twitter, or on Facebook!

Shana Karnes is a mom to two daughters, a daily reader and writer, and a forever educator. Her work with teachers in West Virginia is through the National Writing Project, West Virginia University, and the West Virginia Council of Teachers of English. Connect with Shana on Twitter at @litreader. 

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We Can All Be Writers

Penny Kittle absolutely ruined reading for me five years ago.

You heard me. Destroyed it.

In the summer of 2013, at the University of New Hampshire Literacy Institutes, Penny taught me how to read like a writer. Our class studied short poems and discussed the deliberation of the author’s diction with a sense of wonder rather than through the lens of “what does this symbol mean?”. We read whole books in book clubs and gave a presentation about our texts on simply its craft. We wrote process papers at the end of the class that told the story of how we’d written our final essays.

Something about this made me absolutely unable to mindlessly read anythinganymore. Online articles, advertisements, tweets, and even beach-appropriate fiction just screamed CRAFT ANALYSIS!!!! at me. I couldn’t really relax and let go while reading anymore–instead, I was hypersensitive to the words I read, thinking constantly about what the author had lived, and done, to write such a work.

The total immersion in craft study of those two weeks has stayed with me, five years later. In every book I read, I have a new appreciation for the work of the writer–the work of writing.

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The craft of language, the power of literacy, is everywhere.

And seeing writing everywhere helped transform me from a lifelong reader into something more: a writer.

I start my day with the awesome Twitter crew at #5amwritersclub. Many participants are teachers, writing before they begin the day with their students, and many others are parents, writing before they begin the day with their children. I identify with both groups and love the sense of identity that comes from writing beside my tribe.

I feel the same way about writing in online communities like this blog. Every time a Three Teachers Talk post appears in my inbox, I think about not just what the post says, but also what my fellow teachers were thinking and doing as they wrote. I have watched Amy’s and Lisa’s thinking grow over time, since I’ve had the privilege of reading their writing. When Amy wrote about beating the dread, and when Lisa wrote about settling into summer, I read beyond the “I agree” part of my teacher brain. I thought about those women, both moms, cramming in some writing after their (grand)kids’ bedtimes, or in the early morning hours before school, or on their too-packed planning periods.

This is, in part, what helped me shape my identity as a writer. I saw my peers, my friends, my teaching neighbors writing. I saw their process, their thinking, their methods translate into writing. It showed me what was possible: that I, too, was a writer.

Our students need to see this.

As we kick off this school year, we need to make not only our own writing processes visible–from initial thinking, to drafting, to tinkering, to publishing–but our students’ processes visible, too. Students who see one another write understand that it’s not a one-track process; writing can look different from one kid to the next, and from one school year to the next. The possibilities are endless.

We can all be writers. We should all be writers. Viewing the world so differently has no doubt made my brain more tired, but it has made my life so much more rich.

Believing that I could become a writer took time, a shift in my mindset, and lots of work…but it transformed my identity and introduced me to a whole community of writers I wouldn’t have met otherwise, and for that, I am forever grateful. I can only hope that my students someday can feel this sense of gratitude to the writers–both the teachers and students whose words they read, and the published poets and authors whose craft we study to get better–that I feel for every writer, every human, that I know.

Please leave a comment and let us know how you plan to make the writing process more visible for your students this year, so you might all become writers!

Shana Karnes is a mom of two, an avid reader and writer, and someone whose life has been immeasurably bettered by literacy and all it entails. She is grateful to be part of the Three Teachers Talk community, and loves equally her NWP@WVU and WVCTE (where a version of this post appeared earlier) peers and pals. Connect with Shana on Twitter at @litreader. 

Let’s Talk Summer Reading–Without the Pressure

Summer is one of my favorite times of year for reading. I love lying out in the sun with a light paperback, curling up in the corner of the couch with a classic, or falling asleep with my e-reader in my hand under a whirring fan.

Summer reading should be fun for everyone, but especially for teachers and students.

Instead, it’s become such a controversial topic–a buzzword laden with hidden meanings and tensions and polarizing sides. Much of the discourse around reading, and education in general, feels exhausting to me lately. Banned books, mandated books, and everything in between can spark vitriol in teachers who profess to love our students, profession, work.

summer-reading_xs.jpgBut, as ever, reading is the great escape.

And we need that escape–I feel like I never get a break from teaching, and when I do, I don’t know how to seize it. But one thing I love doing in the summertime is reading a book without looking for craft mini-lessons, or thinking about a booktalk I’ll give, or which kid I’ll recommend that title to. That kind of reading can wait until August.

So let’s talk about summer reading, without the pressure. I don’t want to argue with anyone about whether students should be assigned books, or required to participate in book clubs, or the danger of the summer slide or the 20 minutes of reading per day.

I just want to talk books.

Here are some genres and titles I’ve loved so far this summer, and I would love desperately need your recommendations. Please leave them in the comments!

download-1.jpgMurder-Mystery

Still Life is the first in the Inspector Armand Gamache series by Louise Penny, and I’ll forever remember reading it in beautiful Canaan Valley, WV during an anniversary getaway. This beautifully written murder-mystery is set in a small town in Canada, and our hero, Gamache, is a quiet observer of human nature, which helps him solve mysteries. I adore the way Penny crafts his thoughts about what he sees, and how many lovely backstories are woven through each mystery in this series.

Page-Turners

download.jpgThe Word Exchange was completely, compulsively, un-put-down-able. Alena Graedon is a new author for me, and her tale of a world that loses its grip on language once a massive tech company monopolizes and commoditizes words was, for me, perfectly timed–I’ve been a little unsettled lately by my observations about how addicted to technology everyone is, and how afraid I am of what it’s doing to my students, and could potentially do to my children. This book spurred me to action in terms of deactivating my Facebook and Instagram accounts and making a conscious effort to leave my phone in another room–to make space to just be, and be bored, and have time to think and wonder and ponder.

download-2.jpgThe Power by Naomi Alderman was just wonderful. It had all the elements of a gripping adventure story, along with a powerful message about what corrupts us. In this novel, women develop an electrostatic power and a society shifts from patriarchal to matriarchal in the space of a few generations as a result. The effect of women suddenly becoming more physically powerful than men leads to widespread revolution in everything from interpersonal relationships to world leadership. It’s beautifully written, too.

download-3.jpgDear Martin was a book I’d been recommended a thousand times, it seemed, but after reading so many books that felt similar–The Hate U Give, Long Way Down, etc., I just couldn’t pick it up–but I’m so glad I finally did. Nic Stone crafts this novel as a series of letters from young Justyce McAllister to Martin Luther King, interspersed with transcripts of news reports and first-person narrative. It’s complex and thoughtful and plausible and readable and powerful. I loved it.

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Nonfiction

When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing is Daniel Pink’s latest offering, and as usual, he has an insightful book that has applications for me as an individual, a parent, and a teacher. Pink discusses all the elements of timing that govern our lives, from being a “morning person” to a “night owl,” to the power and importance of building in breaks, taking naps, and seeking out social and alone time. He frames this all in the usual compelling narrative style that makes his writing so readable and interesting to me.

download-4.jpgTeaching Books

180 Days is proving difficult for me to get into. I’ve had it on my desk for over a month, but every time I pick up this collaboration between Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher, I feel like I’m having an emotional battle. My former classroom teacher self wars with my preservice teacher professor self wars with my currently nonteaching summer self when I read about the decisions that go into planning for a packed, skill-building, book-loving, writing-doing, meaningful, 180-day school year. I think it just contributes to that overall feeling of exhaustion I have, so maybe I just need to pick it up when I’m a little more rested.


What are you reading this summer? What books and places help you take a break from teaching? Please share in the comments or on Twitter via @3teacherstalk.

Shana Karnes is enjoying summer reading in West Virginia with her two daughters. She spends lots of time at the public library, the university rec center, and Target–because books, running, and iced coffee while shopping are joyful things. Shana works with practicing teachers through the National Writing Project and formerly taught preservice educators and high school students. Let’s talk reading on Twitter–I’m @litreader for a reason!

Can’t Turn Off the Teacher

It’s finally summer break! That wonderful time of year when I can shut my brain off entirely–no reading, no writing, no thinking.

That’s the goal, anyway. What ends up happening is a week of mindless Netflix binges (this year it’s Suits, because I want to see Meghan Markle pre-princess), romance novel reads, a few days at the beach, a few household projects tackled.

Then it’s right back into teacher mode, even when I don’t want it to be.

Listening to a podcast? Oh, sounds like a great format for conferring. Texting with my family about a book? Oh, what a great genre for a literary autobiography. Selling a car on Craigslist? Oh, what a great authentic writing piece for my high school students. And the list goes on:

I can’t seem to turn off my teacher brain, even when I crave the break from the school year summer provides.

Image result for when daniel pinkI grapple with this every summer. As a new teacher, I tried to make myself take the whole summer off from thinking about teaching, feeling like I was doing something wrong when I started doodling writing units or reading activity ideas. Later in my career I felt satisfied if I could turn off my teacher brain for just the month of June, and get back into the swing of things starting July 1.

We all need breaks. Daniel Pink’s latest book, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, reminded me of that. He gives some background on the effectiveness and helpfulness of “vigilance breaks” and “restorative breaks,” the latter of which are taken to help sharpen our mental acuity after too much thinking and focus around one task. Without breaks, we lose motivation, make more mistakes, and work less efficiently.

Teachers, you deserve a break.

You need a break.

But if you’re like me, and you just can’t turn off the teacher–that’s okay too. It’s okay to read a book as both a reader and a writer. It’s okay to buy a frozen pizza as a mentor text for the make-your-own-pizza kit you buy to make with your two-year-old. It’s okay that when you say “I love you” to said two-year-old, and she says, “okay,” back, that you think of The Fault in Our Stars and know that she means “I love you too.”

This summer, I hope you’ll find balance as you sink into your off-duty teacher self: taking classes, scrolling Twitter, reading and writing at a pace without deadlines. I hope you’ll embrace the fact that even outside the school year, you can’t turn off the teacher.

Shana Karnes is spending her last summer in West Virginia exploring the wild and wonderful state, taking her kids to various WV landmarks, enjoying the mountains and history. She’s tackling all the projects she totally neglected during the school year–one of which is doing some writing for herself…even though that writing usually winds back around to teaching topics. Find Shana on Twitter @litreader.

3 Ways to “Wrap Up” Your School Year

I am an unabashed gift giver.

I love tangible ways to express my appreciation for friends, students, family, colleagues, and anyone else I count as important.

…I also love shopping.

But with an impending move to Wisconsin on the horizon, I don’t love clutter in my home–so I am gifting left and right. That was part of the inspiration this year for how I wanted to finish the semester with my students–students I’ve been with for multiple years, in some cases, and others who I’ve only gotten to know and learn with for one semester.

Like any ending, this one tended to color the ups and downs of our school year into a tone more rosy than reality may have painted. With two kids under two, a hectic semester of required assignments, and the ever-present student mood swings offered by snow days, spring break, and finals week, we all struggled at times to stay committed to our work. No school year is ever smooth, or perfect, or simple–but I still like to celebrate its end annually with something tangible. As such, I give each of my students a gift at the end of every year, and have every year since I began teaching.

Here are three ways I “wrapped up” the ending of this school year–literally.


The Gift of Reading

Two groups of my students and I have been together for two years now, and in those two years, I’ve gotten to know these kids (I mean, they’re adults, but I will always refer to my students as “kids” when I think of them) incredibly well. They will be teaching in all content areas, in all grade levels, but still–I can’t seem to turn off my English teacher brain long enough not to say, hmmm, I know exactly what book that forward-thinking history teacher would like.

So this year, I pulled from my own bookshelves one or two books for each of my students–for their personal reading, for their classrooms, or both. In each book, I wrote the student a note, then wrapped each book individually. This time-intensive gesture has been rewarding in spades as my students contact me to tell me they’ve read and loved their books.

The Gift of Writing

We use Google Docs quite frequently, and one of my favorite activities to have students work on is to respond to a writing prompt on a collaborative Google Doc and proceed to write, think, and argue together on one page.

So this year, I printed out every collaborative Google Doc, group-written book review, team-created list of strategies, or class-crafted series of ideal classrooms, social justice non-negotiables, and pedagogically challenging teaching moves that we’d created and bound them together into a class “Anthology of Awesome,” which each student received.

On our last day of class, we shared the anthologies with donuts and coffee. I also brought thank-you notes for students to write to one another–personal messages they hand-wrote and hand-delivered to their critical friends, who had helped read and respond to their work all semester long.

With these pieces of writing in their pockets, my students left class with tangible reminders of the intellectual portion of our time together.

The Gift of Family

For better or for worse, with the end of each school year together, a class is like a family. Some members are dysfunctional, some are estranged, but in general, we’re a bunch of former strangers who now love, appreciate, and respect one another more than we did four quarters ago.

To help us remember this time together, I wrote my classes each a letter that highlighted each student by name, and comprised some of our memories together, our shared goals, and our funny moments. I added this letter to the beginning of our class anthology to serve as a reminder of our Screen Shot 2018-05-30 at 7.11.46 AM.pngstudents’ names and personalities. For my future teachers, I created our ideal school, in which we’d all teach and get to work together forever. In past years, I simply wrote a letter of well-wishes to my kids, and included each student’s name and a little compliment toward them all.


As we wrap up this school year, these simple gifts are things you might consider crafting to help end your year with students on a high note. It’s easy to get caught up in the end-of-semester hubbub of grades, exams, and packing up classrooms, but I hope you’ll pause to commemorate a year of learning as a group in some way with your students, as well.

Please share how you “wrap up” the school year meaningfully with your students! We’d love to know in the comments, on Facebook, or on Twitter!

Shana Karnes will soon be leaving the wild and wonderful mountains of West Virginia for the great lakes of Wisconsin. She is excited to continue her involvement in Appalachian education by leading institutes with the National Writing Project at West Virginia University this summer, but will otherwise be relaxing and devouring as many books as she can during her two daughters’ nap times. Connect with Shana on Twitter at @litreader.

Artifacts of Our Learning: A Classroom Museum

One of the things I love most about learning is how dynamic it is–how sometimes there is tangible evidence of growth in thinking, but how (many) other times it’s invisible to our eyes and others’ when we’ve learned a lesson well.

It’s an art, in my opinion, to try to represent our thinking to others–through talk, images, poems, music, or any genre. That’s why in the past, so many of my final projects with students have been multigenre–it’s much too hard to try to encompass learning in one simple genre.

This year, as I wondered how my students might share their learning with one another at the end of the year, I kept coming back to the concept of art. Any creative offering is an artifact of the artist’s mind in one particular time and place–what Picasso created in his early years is much different than his later works.

For a final assessment of our learning, I asked my students to think like artists whose works would be displayed in a museum, and to bring in something that represented their learning. To prepare, I asked them to look back at their early notebook writings and one-pagers to discover artifacts of their thinking about our readings, their writing, and their growth as teachers and thinkers over the semester, and to write a brief explanation of how their learning was represented.

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Our classroom was transformed into a museum that was a diverse, multigenre affair. We played music as we set up our artifacts and their explanation cards around the room.

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Once our artifacts were on display, students set out papers or their notebooks for peers to write on, and we each rotated around the displays and wrote notes to one another. There was lots of talk, writing, and laughter. It was a lovely, celebratory atmosphere.

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Students came into class with representations of their learning; they left with tangible artifacts of their peers’ feedback. Making learning visible has been a key theme of ours this semester, as a book by that same title was our central text study. In addition to a summative representation of learning, I hoped to get my students thinking about how to represent their thinking in a way that wasn’t literally getting it down on paper.

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I paired our end-of-year museum of learning with individual conferences with students about their final assignments and projects. These two activities–the visible representation of our learning, and our talk through it–were the things that helped me not only pop a grade into the gradebook for students, but end the semester on a high point, feeling connected to my students and optimistic about the future of our collective learning and growth…which, as is true for all artists, will never end.

What are you thinking of doing to wrap up your time with students? Please share your ideas for student reflections, self-assessments, or showcases in the comments!

Shana Karnes is wrapping up her semester with students at West Virginia University, finishing a yearlong C3WP workshop with the National Writing Project @WVU, and delightedly bidding adieu to the longest winter ever. She’s excited to start a summer of reading, reflecting, writing, and collaborating with her PLN…and spending time in the sun with her two lovely daughters! Connect with Shana on Twitter at @litreader.

My Students Teach Me 5 Strategies To Use Today…and So Much More

You know, growing up, I didn’t have very many female friends.

Teenage girls are a difficult species, and when I was one, I was sensitive, shy, and pretty happy to stay solitary. Frankly, I found my middle and high school peers a little scary, and a lot intimidating. I happily read books in lieu of having girlfriends–or boyfriends, come to think of it.

But, since teaching is a very female-dominated profession, I’ve been unable to avoid working with women on a daily basis.

And I am so thankful for that.

Becoming a teacher has taught me a great many things, but one of the most beautiful things it has brought me are so many amazing friendships with strong, intelligent, passionate, driven women. Women like my Three Teachers Talk sisters Amy and Lisa; women like my work friends Marissa and Elaine; women like my college-level colleagues Audra, Sarah, and Sharon; women like my college classmates Maggie and Caitlin.

img_0076And for the past two years, as I have worked with preservice teachers of all content areas and grade levels, my students have been almost exclusively female. These ladies embody girl power as they work through the stringent requirements of our program and navigate the emotional ups and downs of their first days of teaching.

This weekend, I was so lucky to get to chair a presentation by five of my secondary English teachers, in which they shared a successful strategy they’d used in their classrooms. As I watched them confidently lead a room full of English teachers through activities and questions, I felt both like a proud mama and their soul sister.

My kids have come of age, and have joined our teacher tribe.

img_0077At our WV ELA State Conference, Elizabeth, Brittany, Sarah, Victoria, and Rachel shared one each of their tried-and-true strategies with participants.

  • Elizabeth shared her brilliant “I Wish I Could Have Said” notecard idea, in which her students jot down ideas they never got to share in whole-group discussion, partner talk time, or in writing. Elizabeth collects their cards periodically and responds in a variety of ways. Her handouts are here.
  • Brittany shared a critical literacy activity she uses for either reading or writing in which her students read a given text through a specific lens. She scaffolds this activity to be as simple as reading for sensory details, or as complex as reading through the lens of postmodernism. You can view her handouts here.
  • Sarah shared an activity in which she staged a murder scene in her classroom, having her students evaluate the scene like detectives in order to craft claims and support them with specific details. She used this as a lead-up to her argument writing unit. Her handouts are here.
  • Victoria shared how she brings games into the classroom to help her middle school students practice democratic curricula and choice. After they work through a game, they craft a product that narrates their experience in multiple genres. You can see Victoria’s handouts here.
  • Rachel shared a post-it note strategy in which her students wrote in pairs in response to a specific question or prompt she gave. Then, she’d conference with students about the given topic, using their post-it as an artifact, providing multiple opportunities for students to think through and revise their responses. She shared how this could work as a brainstorming activity, pre- or post-assessment activity, or spin on a quickwrite.

As I reflect on all these young women have taught me over their past two years in my cohort, I am struck by how much more than just their educational wisdom they have unknowingly shared with me. They’re full of great ideas and effective strategies, but they’re also full of strength, humor, perseverance, compassion, and joy.

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Young educators can teach us so much. Let this be a lesson to listen not only to their fresh-from-college, research-based ideas, but also to be inspired by their energy, optimism, and idealism. The success of our profession depends on them, and our students will soon be in their capable hands.

And, if you’re open to learning…you never know what they might teach you.

Shana Karnes is thankful to teach at West Virginia University, where she works with preservice teachers in the College of Education. She is the mom of two-year-old and five-month-old daughters and wife of an orthopedic surgical resident. Find Shana on Twitter at @litreader.

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