Connecting mathematics through literature books is not a new idea and there is a growing body of research supporting the inclusion of literacy books to teach mathematics. There is plenty of literature on the topic of including literacy books in mathematics lessons. Literacy books have the potential to engage students and improve the learning that takes place during mathematics due to the natural flow of mathematical ideas.
Literacy books can be used as a tool to hook and engage the students by introducing the mathematical concepts through the use of a story. Project Science and Mathematics Integrated with Literacy Experiences (SMILE) studied fifth-grade students using literature books to teach mathematics found an increase in students’ interest and confidence in mathematics (Ruiz, Thornton, & Cuero, 2010, p.235). Robin A. Ward (2005) in her article Using children’s literature in inspire K-8 pre-service teachers’ future mathematics pedagogy gives a qualitative description of incorporating literature books that suggests positive outcomes. Many of the studies conducted have qualitative data that suggest the power and positive effect literature books have on the teaching of mathematical ideas.
Literature books serve as a real world connection to mathematics. Students are able to better link mathematics if they have a visual image to connect to the mathematical concept. Ruiz, E., Thornton, J., & Cuero, K. (2010) reference Rushton and Larkin (2001) statement that, “symbolic representations like letters and numbers were better learned if they could be linked or connected to vivid visual images such as pictures (p.236).” Literature books serve as the real world connection students can link the mathematical idea with.
“integrating literature into the mathematics curriculum provides a natural setting for observing mathematics in the real world, and thus conveying real meaning to students (Ward, 2005, p.134).”
Literature books naturally connect mathematics through a medium some students have confidence in thus boosting their confidence with mathematics. For many students mathematics is intimidating language to learn and literacy books can help ease the transition of a new language. According to Marilyn Burns (2005), when teaching math, “children’s books can be a great math teaching tool” and “connecting math to literature can boost the confidence of those who love books but are math-wary” (p.27). Furthermore, mathematics should not be taught in isolation, “the separation of language and mathematics instruction in the elementary grade is very unnatural for children (Moyers, 2000, p.255).
Patricia S. Moyer (2000) the author of Communicating mathematically: Children’s literature as a natural connection points out, “Children literature provides a context through which mathematical concepts, patterns, problem solving, and real-world context may be explored (p.246).” By using children’s books to teach mathematics children began to see mathematics as a part of everyday experiences.
The NCTM documents states: “When mathematics evolves naturally from problem situations that have meaning to children and are regularly related to their environment, becomes relevant and helps children link their knowledge to many kinds of situations (Moyers, 2000, p.249).”
Thus, children’s books that have pattern development also help develop mathematical thinking.
There a plenty of examples modeling how to incorporate literature books into mathematics lessons. According to Patricia S. Moyer (2000), “ there are literally hundreds books that naturally develop mathematical concepts (p.247).” Within Moyer’s article (2000) she provides an annotated list of books that teach mathematical concepts. Marilyn Burns (2005) provides 3 detailed lessons with step-by-step directions on how the lesson might look with her favorite mathematics lessons using literature books.
With the growing body of research indicating the positive impact literature books have on teaching mathematics one should expect to see mathematical improvements if they include this teaching method.