It is never too early to start comprehension instruction. In fact, reading begins with meaning making. Andie Cunningham and Ruth Shagoury designed a reading program for five- and six-year-olds based on this premise.
Most of the students in Andie's Portland, Oregon, kindergarten class have little or no alphabet knowledge when they enter the classroom in the fall. English is a second—or third—language for many of the children in this low-income neighborhood. Through research-based principles, carefully structured routines, and innovative activities, even the youngest learners can develop comprehension skills from their first days in school.
The children in Starting with Comprehension are grappling with school culture for the first time and learning to work with classmates who speak a variety of different languages. These emergent readers learn to present their understanding of what they read through writing, talk, movement, and art.
Kindergartners and preschoolers are different from readers who know how to decode texts. Andie and Ruth show how comprehension skills can be nurtured and strengthened even before decoding begins. In this classroom, meaning making becomes part of community building as children link reading, thinking, and communicating.
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About the Author
Andie is currently teaching at Lewis & Clark College's Graduate School of Education in Portland, Oregon. She teaches graduate students who are working to become teachers and current teachers who are working to become reading specialists.
"With every opportunity, whether I am teaching a course or teaching my daughter, serving as a committee member or exploring a new physical activity, I frame my approach through the lens of a learner," Andie says. "I believe I am constantly developing as a professional."
Andie has a bachelor's degree from Colorado State University and a master's degree from Lewis & Clark College. She can't quite recall why she wanted to be a teacher. "My reasons for teaching now are dramatically different and far richer than they were twenty years ago when I started teaching," she explains. "I love how building communities in classrooms affects learning."
Andie has written only one book, but she treasures the writing process. "Ruth (Shagoury) and I wrote our book at one computer, side by side, finishing each other's sentences. We had such a good time writing together, during both the times when the words simply flowed out of our mouths and the times when we struggled to get a paragraph down that we both liked. I loved writing the way we did."
Ruth Shagoury (formerly Ruth Shagoury Hubbard) can't imagine anything more fascinating than exploring the minds of children and adolescents as they grow as readers, writers, and language users. Though she teaches new and veteran teachers at Lewis & Clark College (Portland, Oregon), her passion for working with children keeps her connected to classrooms.
As part of her ongoing research, she works as a coresearcher with classroom teachers, spending time each week in public school classrooms. Ruth is committed to helping teachers share their teacher-research with wider audiences to help change the field. She is coauthor with Brenda Power of several books on the topic, including Living the Questions.
She has worked in Andie Cunningham's diverse kindergarten class, investigating English language acquisition, both oral and written. She is coauthor with Andie of the book Starting with Comprehension: Reading Strategies with the Youngest Learners.
For the past 2 years, she has worked in Katie Doherty's middle school classroom in an immigrant community in Portland, Oregon exploring reading and writing workshops with diverse learners. At Lewis & Clark College, Ruth coordinates the Language and Literacy program (with co-director Andie Cunningham), working with preservice elementary and secondary teachers as well as experienced teachers who are working to become reading specialists.
She has published numerous books as well as articles in journals such as Language Arts, Reading Teacher, Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, Voices from the Middle, Young Children and Anthropology and Education Quarterly. She is a regular contributor to the website Choice Literacy. Besides her work in classrooms and on campus, Ruth is currently committed to helping keep new teachers teaching.
With colleagues at Lewis & Clark College, she initiated a program for beginning teachers based on conversations and support. Her other local work includes serving on the steering committee for Portland Area Rethinking Schools, and collaborating with Headstart teachers as they investigate student-based approaches to early literacy. She is also a Courage to Teach facilitator, leading workshops and retreats based on teacher renewal.
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