There are numerous reasons for using children’ literature to teach students mathematics. The first is that using children’s literature promotes both an individual and social construction of Knowledge (Chen, J.J & Weiland, L, 2007 p.50) and addresses diverse learning abilities and styles (Chen, J.J & Weiland, L, 2007 p.50).An example of this is that children’s literature allows mathematics to be viewed and conveyed visually (Guiett, D., 1999, p.32). It is able to extend into activities that will maximise various learning modes such as visual, auditory, kinaesthetic and linguistic (Chen, J. J &Weiland, L, 2007, p.50-51).
Many students suffer from ‘maths anxiety’. When a teacher uses literature to teach maths it can help to alleviate some of the math anxiety that students’ experience (Austin, P., 1998, p.124) as it provides students’ with a non threatening view of mathematics (Guiett, D., 1999, p.32) and a non threatening leaning environment for students with low mathematical self efficacy (Jenkins, K., 2010, p,29).
Another reason why you should use children’s literature in mathematics is because when using children’s literature in mathematics you are able to link it to concepts in other curriculum areas (Strain, LB., 1969, p.451) (Shatzer, J., 2008, p.649). One such area that is logically linked to literature and mathematics is reading as ‘both literacy and literacy instruction are necessary parts of mathematics instruction’ (Ward, R. A, 2005, p.133). According to Draper (in Ward, R.A, 2005, p.133) ‘the two are not simply compatible, but inseparable in a constructivist mathematics classroom’, this is because mathematics is a way of knowing and reading is a way of learning. There are links between a students’ mathematical achievement and their ability to read mathematics, and students who have low language proficiency often have poor mathematics performance (Ward, R.A, 2005, p.133). When you make a link between mathematics and literature you are allowing the students to use skills from both areas, this means that they can build confidence in both areas simultaneously by using the strengths in one area in another (Perger, p.376). Children’s literature can also help students with language acquisition as some words can have one meaning in real life and another in mathematics language such as ‘plane’ (The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Inc, 2002, p.107). In general using children’s literature to help teach maths to students is good because ‘some people like math but don’t like reading. And some people like reading but don’t like math. If you mix them, you can make more people interested’ (Ward, R. A, 2005, p.141). One more reason for its use it that students can find abstract or symbolic mathematical ideas confusing and presenting these ideas using pictures and informal language such as in children’s literature can make ideas more accessible and easy to understand (Ward, R.A, 2005, p.134) . This is because children’s literature clarifies, strengthens and extends student’ understanding of the concepts in mathematics (Strain, L.B, 1969, p.451). Children often struggle to solve worded problems. This is because they ‘do not know how to choose the correct operation or sequence of operations to solve the problem’. To solve the problem they need to be able ‘to connect computational processes with appropriate calculations’. ‘Using books with authentic problem situations may help children see that learning computation serves a real-life purpose’ (Moyer, P.S, 2001, p. 52). There is a natural context for talking about mathematics when using children’s literature as students are already accustomed to using books in discussion in English (The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 2003, p.385). According to Whiten and Wilde (1992, 1995), ‘literature motivates students to learn, provides a meaningful context for math, demonstrates that math develops out of human experience, [and] fosters the development of number sense’ (Shatzer, J. 2008. p.649). It also provides students with the understanding that mathematics is everywhere in the world (Wards, R.A, 2005, p.133). Students once they understand this are able to build connections between the abstract, symbolic language of mathematics and their own lives (The National Council of Mathematics, 2003, p.383) (Ward, R.A, 2005, p.133).
Yet another reason for using children’s literature is that Children’s literature when used in the mathematics classroom will encourage active inquiry and develop skills in areas such as discussion and sharing information (Strain, L.B, 1969, p.453). It will also provide opportunities for students to have concrete experiences as they engage in open ended mathematical investigations and inquiries (Chen, J.J & Weiland, L, 2007, p.50) (Wards, R.A, 2005, p.134). To make sure that children’s literature is being used effectively to teach mathematics a teacher should have an established classroom culture that ‘promotes literacy and invites communication in all areas of the curriculum’ (Kilman, 1993 in Lightsey, G. E.,1996, p. 417). The activities which extend from the book should be open ended and allow the students to make their own investigations and decisions (Lightsey, G. E.,1996, p. 417). Engaging in authentic hands exploration of the connection between literacy and mathematics will make the mathematic experience both enjoyable and thought provoking (Shatzer, J. 2008. p.652).Hyde (referenced in Shatzer, J. 2008. p.652) suggests that teachers should use a variety of comprehension strategies when interacting with children’s literature and the mathematics connections that stem from them. The strategies that Hyde suggests are ‘asking questions, making connections, visualizing, inferring, predicting, determining importance, and sythesizing’.
According to Gailey (1993) there are four categories of mathematical books. The first category is counting books which reinforce number concepts and can be used to teach addition, subtraction and in some instances multiplication and division. The second category is number books, which reinforce a particular number. The third category is Storybooks, these are books that introduce or reinforce a mathematical concept. The last category of mathematical book is concept or informational books which are useful in exploring specific mathematical concepts (Lightsey, G. E.1996, p. 413). This leads us to the topic of selecting an appropriate book to use. When selecting a book to use in a mathematics lesson you must take into account several factors to make sure that it is suitable. The first thing that you should take into account is the ability level of your students (Strain, L.B,. 1969, p.452)(Austin, P, 1998, p. 121). The book should present concepts in a way that will appeal to a range of audiences and abilities (Price, R.R & Lennon, C, p.2). It should make use of the reader’s repertoire of knowledge (Austin, P. 1998, p.121) and use terminology that is consistent with what the students are familiar with (Strain, L.B, 1969, p.451-2). The books should have mathematically sound text and illustrations with the concepts and relationships in the book presented accurately (Price, R.R & Lennon, C, p.2)(Strain, L.B, 1969, p.451). The book should contain layers of meaning (Austin, P, 1998, p. 121) or in other words have the “wow factor” meaning that ‘it should offer a layer of richness beyond the predictable or expected’ and it should present exciting new ideas or views (Price, R.R & Lennon, C, p.2). A good piece of literature should enable a natural connection to mathematics and provide students with the opportunity to make connections between the text and their own life experiences (Austin, P., 1998, p.121) (Price, R.R & Lennon, C, p.2). Students should have the opportunity to use mathematics for authentic purposes. Worley (2002) believes that the ideal children’s literature books should unite mathematic and literacy by having authentic context that includes ‘life experiences, personal or cultural episode, and enjoyable plots’ (Price, R.R & Lennon, C).
Before using children’s literature to teach mathematics in your classroom you should be aware of the potential pitfalls that can be present. Whitin and Wilde (1992) say that "children's literature restores a meaningful context to the use of numbers, since mathematical concepts are naturally embedded in story situations" (Austin, P.,1998, p.127). However, when an author tries to explicitly insert mathematics equations or problems into a story, the result is ‘unsatisfactorily didactic and insulting to young readers’ (Austin, P.,1998, p.127) as the mathematics should flow naturally from the plot of the story. Mathematics should not be imposed on a piece of literature, instead it ‘should should flow from and be a natural part of the book’ according to Griffith and Clyne (Lightsey, G. E.1996, p. 417).
Overall using children’s literature to teach mathematics is an excellent way to extend student’s understanding of mathematical concepts. That is as long as the teacher chooses an appropriate book that is suits their purpose and the abilities of the students.
· Guiett, D. (1999). From Alphabet to Zebra's: Using Children's Literature in the Mathematics Classroom.Ohio Media Spectrum, 51(2/3)
· Strain, L. B (1969) Children's Literature: an aid in mathematics instruction
· Chen, J.J & Weiland, L. (2007). Helping Young Children Learn Mathematics: Strategies for Meeting the Needs of Diverse Learners. Exchange, The Early Learners Magazine . Redmont, WA
· Young, T.A & Roth McDuffle, A.M (2003) Promoting Mathematical Discourse through Children's Literature. Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Inc. /teaching children mathematics p. 385-389
· Ward, R. A, (2005).Using Children's Literature to inspire K-8 preservice teachers' future mathematics pedagogy. International Reading Association (pp. 132–143)
· Rubenstein, R. N & Thompson, D.R (2002). Supporting Children’ Mathematical Vocabulary Development. Teaching children mathematics. Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Inc. p.107-112 · Lightsey, G. E.(1996) Using Literature to Build First Grade Maths Concepts. Reading Horizons, 36 (5), p. 412-418 · Jenkins, K.(2010). Positioning Picture Books within the Mathematics Curriculum. APMC, 15(2) p.28-32 · Perger, P (?). Using Literature to Launch Mathematical Investigations · Moyer, P.S. (2001). Using Representations to Explore Perimeter and Area. Teaching Children Mathematics. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Inc. p.52-59 · Shatzer, J. (2008).Picture Book Power:Connecting Children' Literature and Mathematics. The Reading Teacher.,61(8) p. 649-653 · Austin, P (1998). Math Books as Literature: Which Ones Measure Up?. The New Advocate, 11(2), p.119-133 · Price, R.R & Lennon, C (unknown). Using Children’ Literature to teach mathematics.