By Madeline Bailey / Texas A&M University
In the world of present day education, incorporating reading and writing into classrooms of every grade level and discipline has become the norm, often to the chagrin of upper level STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) teachers who do not see these concepts as particularly relevant to their subject. However, despite the initial mixed sentiments, it has become clear that not only does the integration of reading and writing, specifically in the form of children’s literature, positively impact students’ comprehension, but also their retention and overall attitudes towards the subject.
Benefits of Incorporation
Over the course of several years of study, the incorporation of children’s literature into the math classroom has been found to markedly improve student performance in several areas, the most important of which being comprehension and retention (Mink &Fraser, 2005). By offering mathematical vocabulary and ideas in an understandable and developmentally appropriate format, children’s books allow students the opportunity to better understand and retain abstract mathematical concepts without being overwhelmed (Padula, 2004).
Comprehension of Mathematical Content
For generations, “traditional” mathematics instruction was the norm in classrooms across the United States (Mattone, 2007). Students were shown a series of steps that they were to use to solve a given problem, and they were expected to repeat these steps until the problem could be solved almost mechanically. This method in no way presented mathematical ideas as particularly relevant or understandable to students. However, in modern mathematics classrooms, the integration of children’s literature is revitalizing math education.
In order to use children’s books to their fullest mathematical potential, teachers must make their content relevant and meaningful to their students. For example, using a math fiction book as an introduction to a specific concept, paired with a classroom discussion to explain the concept and a follow-up activity emphasizing the mathematical content, students are exposed to the same idea several times in a variety of ways.
Retention of Mathematical Content
Not only are children’s books familiar to students, they are also much more appealing than say, a math textbook. Using children’s literature in math classrooms has been found to not only improve student performance, but attitudes towards math as well (Mink & Fraser, 2005). This integration encourages the students to be interested and excited about learning math, which makes them far more likely to understand, apply, and retain the information (Mink & Fraser, 2005)
The most damaging mindset when teaching mathematics revolves around students asking when they will ever use math in their daily lives. The only way to overcome this increasingly prevalent idea is to consistently demonstrate how math is a relevant and important part of life for everyone everywhere.
Encouraging students to read self-selected texts and find embedded math ideas is another way to enhance math instruction. When students see the use of math in situations that they can relate to, they are better able to understand not only the usefulness, but necessity of math in everyday life.
Recommendations for Teachers
- Choose books that are appropriate and relevant to students.
- Encourage math-based conversations and the use of mathematics as a means of communication.
- Encourage discussion of mathematical concepts and allow students to find the explanations that make the most sense to them.
- Integrate self-selected literature to show that math is universal as well as useful.
- Design appropriate extension activities that compliment both the included texts and core math concepts.
Overall, the effective incorporation of children’s literature into the mathematics classroom has been proven to aid in students’ comprehension and retention of math concepts, regardless of whether or not the text is mathematically focused. Children’s books provide a familiar, unintimidating format for students to be exposed to both concrete and abstract ideas, thinking, and patterns. The context of a story also encourages connections between the underlying mathematical ideas and the real world, emphasizing the fact that math is a fundamental component of everyday life. Finally, no literature-based math lesson is complete without an appropriate extension or follow-up activity. These activities serve to further explain and repeat the concepts introduced in the text, while giving students the opportunity to apply them and demonstrate mastery.