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Abstract

This paper examines what is meant by “building on what children bring.” While many educators maintain that teachers need to build on what children bring to classrooms, the field of education has constructed different understandings of what this entails. This paper explores two different conceptions of what children bring: those grounded in cognitive theories about reading and those grounded in sociocultural theories of reading/literacy. I suggest that despite historical splits in the reading/literacy field that educators must balance cognitive and sociocultural considerations in order to access the vast range of knowledges that children bring to literacy learning. After exploring cognitive and sociocultural models of reading/literacy through the work of Marie Clay and Kris Gutiérrez, I present two theoretical models that hold promise for helping educators to recognize cognitive and sociocultural understandings about what children bring as compatible and integral to exemplary teaching. Finally, I describe some of my own teaching experiences that demonstrate how instruction can build on the full range of knowledges that children bring. My goal is to contribute to the construction of an enhanced view of “what children bring” that balances abilities and knowledges specific to literacy with knowledges about literacy practices and the social meanings of texts.

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