The Positive Effect of Using Literacy Books to teach Mathematical Concepts

Shauna R. Scudero

University of Alaska Southeast

Abstract

This study sought to determine the effectiveness of teaching mathematics concepts through the use of literature books to introduce and reinforce the mathematics concept being worked on. Data was collected over a three-week period in the form of narrative journal responses, observations, interviews, and surveys to determine whether or not the use of literature books in mathematics had a positive impact on students learning mathematical concepts. After analyzing the data I collected, it is my understanding that literature books played a small role in encouraging and helping students to better understand mathematics concepts. It also seemed to hook those students who were apprehensive about mathematics but loved literacy.

The positive effect of using literacy books to teach mathematical concepts

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**Rational for the Research**

I am currently a regular education teacher at a Title 1 school in a small rural Alaska community. My current caseload consists of 18 students, mostly non-transient, in the 4^{th} grade, 5 boys and 13 girls. At the beginning of the year, the majority of my students did not respond well to the learning of new mathematics concepts and stated their disliking towards mathematics. As a teacher I am always trying to find new ways to engage my students and after careful thought and consideration I decided to incorporate the use of literacy books at the start of a lesson to introduce, reinforce, and or hook the students’ attention on mathematics. Although using literacy books to start out the lesson does take more time than skipping to explicit instruction, the engaging effects of literacy books might be worth the efforts. Will the implementation of literacy books change my students’ attitudes about mathematics and their performance in mathematics?

**Literature Review**

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 to make real world connections, hook and engage the students, boost students’ confidence through a familiar avenue, and many ideas and book titles to teach mathematics lessons. Many of the studies conducted suggest the positive effect that literature books have on the teaching of mathematical ideas. For example Robin A. Ward (2005) in her article Using children’s literature to inspire K-8 pre-service teachers’ future mathematics pedagogy gives a qualitative description of incorporating literature books that suggests positive outcomes.

Many students struggle with mathematics because they have a hard time making mathematical connections to their everyday lives. Literacy books in the mathematics curriculum provide an avenue in which students can make meaningful connections. Literature books serve as a real world connection to mathematics because 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).” Therefore, literature books serve as a real world connection that 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).”

It is essential for students to make these real world connections by providing a context through which mathematical concepts, arise naturally from children’s books.

Currently there are numerous studies indicating that 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 and found an increase in students’ interest and confidence in mathematics (Ruiz, Thornton, & Cuero, 2010, p.235). To further support this idea Robin A. Ward (2005) explained that, “literature can be used to engage students in meaningful conversations and investigations in mathematics, which serves as bridges for students to connect the abstract, symbolic language of mathematics to their own personal world (p.133).” 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.

For many students mathematics is an intimidating language to learn, however, literacy books can help ease the transition of the difficult task of learning mathematics language. Ward (2005) explains, “Mathematics can be an intimidating language to learn, given that the user of this language needs to understand its symbols and their meaning and its obscure, abstract, and very formal terminology (p.133).” He further explains how literacy books help ease the transition of mathematical language because, “these ideas and concepts can be presented within the context of a story, using pictures and a more informal approach, with familiar language (p.134).” 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 learn mathematics concepts through an avenue that is more familiar to them.

The NCTM documents states: “When mathematics evolves naturally from problem situations that have meaning to children and are regularly related to their environment, it becomes relevant and helps children link their knowledge to many kinds of situations (Moyers, 2000, p.249).”

Literacy books serve as a platform that students are familiar and eases the learning of mathematical language. 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).

Literature books naturally connect mathematics through a medium students are comfortable with thus boosting their confidence with mathematics. 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). Literature books serve as the bridge for those students who love literacy but have been afraid or uncomfortable to attack mathematics.

There are plenty of examples modeling how to incorporate literature books into mathematics lessons and research supporting the usage of literacy books in the mathematics curriculum. 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.

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**Method**

**Participants **

The participants for this action research study were 5 male students and 13 female students from the 4^{th} grade classroom. Almost all students, of Tsimshian decent, expressed their dislike towards mathematics and struggled to engage in mathematics. In this project the participants were asked to demonstrate their understanding and attitudes of certain mathematics concepts first without the use of literature books and then after with the use of literacy books. The data collected in this project did not contain any information that would identify the student. The qualitative study was conducted during their regular mathematics-learning period.

**Materials**

In order to complete this project various materials were used to collect and analyze data. Students were asked to complete narrative journal responses (Appendix A) that indicated their attitudes before and after using literature books to teach mathematics concepts. The Narrative Journal responses were coded by students’ responses. All data was coded by using the codes: positive, negative, and neutral. If students indicated a positive change from before to after they would be coded with positive, a negative change would be coded as a negative, and no change would be coded as a neutral.

Students were given a structured survey that required them to think about what math was like before using literacy books and after. A happy and sad face survey (Appendix B) was used assess how students were viewing the use of literature books and determining whether they felt it had positive impacts on their mathematics learning. The survey included qualitative questions such as: was the use of literature books helpful in learning mathematics concepts, did you like using literature books to learn math concepts, did you learn the intended mathematics concept being taught, would you prefer to learn more mathematics concepts with literature books?

Structured interviews (Appendix C) of teachers were conducted, as they were available via in-person. The questions aimed to see if this strategy was previously used and what they noticed. The interview questions included: have you used literacy books to teach mathematics concepts, if so how is this done; Is it an instructional strategy you prefer to use; Were you able to notice if it had a positive impact on students’ learning, if so how; Did the use of literacy books make it easier for you to teach mathematics; Do you enjoy teaching mathematics with literature books; Is it worth the time to read a literature book to teach a mathematics concepts; and would you suggest this strategy to other teachers?

Both the teacher and teacher’s aides conducted observations (Appendix D) of students during the math lessons both with and without the use of literature books. The observations were taken in a journal and later organized into themes before being inputted into a visual graphic of observations (Appendix E) using Wordle.

The final piece of data collection used to complete this action research project was students’ work samples (Appendix F and G). Student work samples from before (Appendix F) and after (Appendix G) the project were included. Data was collected over a 3-week period.

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**Procedure**

In the first week of the project students were introduced to the concept of using literature books to teach mathematic concepts only after baseline data was collected. To gauge student understandings before and after the method was used it was important to get some baseline data. To get the baseline data a mini-lesson on how to find perimeter and area was given and students were asked to define area and perimeter in their math journals. They would later get to change their definitions at a later stage in the project. To gain more baseline data students were asked to show how well they knew the concepts by working on an IXL assignment on area and perimeter. This is a great activity for students to work on independently because it allows them to get immediate feedback and helps the teacher identify who needs help. It usually takes at least 1 class period per skill if students understand the concepts. Students will initially work on IXL 4^{th} grade geometry: P.17 Perimeter, P.18 Area of squares and rectangles, P.20 Compare area and perimeter of two figures, P.21 Relationship of area and perimeter. Later those s students who are advancing will work on IXL 5^{th} Grade Geometry B.15 Perimeter, B.16 Area of squares and rectangles, and B.21 area and perimeter word problems. (Subscription required or 30 Day free-trial) My class has a current subscription. During the time students were working on IXL the teacher’s aide and myself, as the teacher, collected data in the form of observations jotted down in a notebook. After baseline data was collected using IXL reports during one class period, students were introduced to the same concepts of area and perimeter through the use of the literacy book, *Spaghetti and meatballs for all: A mathematical story* by Marilyn Burns. The story is about a family who hold a get together at their house and they struggle with seating arrangements as more and more guests arrive. The edge of each table allows for one person to sit down. Mrs. Comfort the hostess is the only one who can see the solution to the seating problem. As the story progresses students will be rearranging their model tables (square tiles/cutouts) on their desk as the family did in the story. They will be discussing how many people can fit and if there is enough room. Each side of the table will represent one unit for perimeter and each table will represent one square unit for area. The lesson requires the teacher to:

- Pass out 8 Square Shapes (tiles/cutouts) to each student.
- Let students know they will be reading a literacy book for math.
- Discuss with students that each square shape represents a table from the book and that they will be using the square shapes to represent the table arrangements made throughout the book. Each table edge will hold only 1 person.
- Begin the literacy book and as you are reading pause after each new table arrangement is made and discuss with students if their will be enough seating. Keep asking what changes. Did the number of tables change? Why did the amount of seating change?

To do this it is helpful to request students quickly rearrange table arrangements and a models go up on the overhead.

At the end of the story students were asked to relate the tables to perimeter and area. Each side that a person can be seated at is like the units to add perimeter and every table represents area. During this time both the teacher’s aide and teacher collected observations. After completing this lesson students were asked to complete a happy and sad face survey about the use of literacy books in mathematics. This was done to gain an understanding whether the use of literacy books had a positive effect on students’ attitudes and understanding of mathematics concepts. To gain quantitative data from the study students were asked to continue their **IXl **learning activity. In order to identify any quantitative growth, the before and after results were compared. The next step was to have students change/edit their definitions of perimeter and area in their math journals. Students were asked to cross out any changes they made in their definitions and not to erase so that changes were evident. It is important to note that some students might have increased because it had been their second time focusing on the two mathematical concepts.

Starting at the beginning of the second week they were asked to complete a narrative journal response indicating the mathematical concepts they learned during the first week and whether or not the use of literacy books helped to better learn the mathematical concept being taught. Qualitative data was collected using narrative statements from students. These responses identified the mathematical concepts being taught and were grouped into categories: neutral, positive, and negative. Too add to the data about the use of literature to teach mathematics concept another literature book was used to teach the concepts of perimeter and area before another happy and sad face survey was given to determine if there were any positive effects of using the tested strategy.

Throughout the 3-week data collection period, structured interviews of local teachers were given via in person. The time period was chosen like such so that it allowed for more opportunities for other teachers to make time in their schedules to take part in the interview. The purpose of interviewing these teachers was to determine if they had used these strategies before and what results they noticed.

During the 3^{rd }week of data collection both the teacher and teacher’s aide took observation notes of how students responded to the lessons when a literature book was being used to teach mathematics. The teacher’s aides that were chosen to take observations had the opportunity to watch the initial mini-lesson given at the beginning of this study that did not use literacy books. Therefore, the teachers’ aides were able to recognize a difference in students’ behaviors. Once data was collected it was organized into a theme. The theme was put into a visual representation to tell a story using Wordle. It was evident that the use of literacy books in mathematics had a positive impact on students’ learning mathematics concepts.

Lastly, student work samples were collected and organized so that they showed a difference based on the instructional strategy being used. The aim of this research project was to measure the difference in student’s attitude and performance in regards to mathematics after the instructional strategy of using literacy books in mathematics was implemented.

**Results**

During the course of the research project, the following data was collected to determine students’ behavior and mathematics skills in area and perimeter before the implementation of literacy books were used to teach mathematics concepts. The results of this study were very consistent with what the literature is saying.

In this study there were three positive themes that were evident: students engaged with real world examples, the literature books provided a connection students were familiar with, and students conceptual understanding of mathematics improved.

The first thing students were asked to do was to complete a journal response by defining** **perimeter and area in their own words in their math journals and draw pictures to accompany the definitions. Students were reminded they could refer back to their journals at anytime while working on area and perimeter. At the end of the project students were allowed to modify their definitions. This was used to show a comparison in their conceptual understandings of perimeter and area. IXL was also assigned twice. Initially, before the teaching strategy was administered and once after the strategy was applied. Both the qualitative data collected are indicative of positive outcomes in students’ conceptual learning. At the beginning of the research project students were asked to in their own words define perimeter and area in their math journals after a short-traditional mini-lesson was given. Students did this and after they were taught the same concepts they were given a chance to change their definitions. After being introduced to the concepts through literacy books almost all students attempted to change their definitions and included the idea of the edge of the table being related to perimeter and the table being area like in the literacy book. This was an indication that students were able to make a real-world connection to the story in order to grasp the mathematical concepts. An example of the journal responses showing the definitions is provided in the student work samples section at the end if this research paper. The IXL results were also better after using the literacy books which provided more quantitative data supporting the use of literacy books.

Next, students were asked to solve the following problem at the beginning of the action research project in their journals: On the grid draw a rectangle that has a perimeter of 24 units and an area of 35 square units. Use what you know about perimeter and are to explain your answer is correct. Would the area remain the same if the area was 24 square units and the drawing was a square? Use words number or symbols to explain. This problem was meant to be challenging so that I could have a problem that students were not able to quickly answer before the introduction of the test strategy that used literacy books to teach math concepts. Initially students were not able to answer this problem. Most of my students did not even try to do it; they just got frustrated and sat until it was time to move on. After they were introduced to the concept of area and perimeter using literacy books many of my students were able to tackle this problem and were less afraid to attempt solving it. There was also a few students who were able to successfully complete this problem strengthening the idea that literacy books help increase the conceptual understanding of mathematic concepts.

The Narrative Journal Responses:

- Indicated that the lesson that used literacy books had a positive impact on students’ attitudes about mathematics and increased their conceptual understanding of the mathematics concepts.
- “I loved learning with literacy books. I love math now! It was a really fun way to learn about perimeter and area. I want to learn math like this always”
- “Perimeter is the outside length like in the story only one person could sit down and the area is the inside like the amount of space a table covered. Perimeter can change while the area stays the same.”
- “We should also use literacy books to teach math lessons.”

Notes were recorded in the observation notes throughout the study to show what the students were working on. At certain times throughout the project, behavioral responses were added to the observation notes to show how the attitudes of students were on particular projects. During the 3^{rd} week of this action research project, these notes were grouped by theme and the positive effects of using literacy books were put into a visual graphic using Wordle. The visual graphic tells a story that shows students responded well to the use of literacy books in the mathematics curriculum.

The happy and sad face survey (Appendix B) was given twice during the project. It was first administered after the first lesson that was taught with the literacy book *Spaghetti and Meatballs For All: A Mathematical Story* by Marilyn Burns to teach area and perimeter. It was again administered after another lesson was completed that reinforced the concept of area and perimeter using the literacy book *Racing around* by Stuart J. Murphy that also concentrated on perimeter and area. Both results of the happy and sad face survey showed that students liked the use of literacy books to learn mathematics concepts but also they felt their skills were increasing. Qualitative results indicated a positive effect on students’ mathematics learning when literacy books were used to teach the concepts.

The final results were being able to respond to the area and perimeter problem in their math journals. Ultimately, the results showed that students were performing much better and their attitudes were reflecting a positive change.

**Analysis **

This qualitative study took about 3 weeks and involved using the qualitative inductive design and some quantitative data was used to help show improvement in students’ conceptual understanding. Bits and pieces of information from interviews, observations, surveys, and narrative statement (journal responses) were combined and ordered into themes. The two emergent themes were students engage in mathematics due to literature books and students make real-world connections due to literature books. From data it was theorized that students preferred and developed a greater sense of mathematical ideas when literacy books were integrated into the mathematics curriculum.

The data I collected from the students initial understanding of perimeter and area was shocking, because these students could not grasp the concept of the connection between area and perimeter. Most defined area and perimeter with a description I had previously given on the board or did not attempt to try this exercise indicating it was conceptually too hard.

The data I collected from their initial journal response defining area and perimeter, IXL activities, and area and perimeter word problem was very helpful in planning my interventions and understandings of where students were having the most trouble. This initial data was insightful because it allowed me to focus on the initial problem, which was students’ lack of interest in math and their abilities to grasp the mathematical concepts. The first evident reason the use of literacy books in the mathematics curriculum was successful was because it hooked my students with something that was familiar to them. And secondly it provided a familiar avenue for students to relate to allowing the mathematics concepts to have real-world context.

I was able to conclude from my interviews with other teachers that in order to effectively teach mathematics concepts with literacy books students need to be aware of the concepts they are going to be learning and provided with hands-on manipulatives to better engage in the story being read. The reason I came to this conclusion is because many students stated it was their first time learn mathematic concepts with literature books, which was different from the interview results. Many teachers claimed to have used literacy books that have taught mathematics concepts. However, the overall arching theme is that these teachers did not teach it as if it were a math lesson and just leisurely read it. When following like the research states on this topic, I found more fruitful results in terms of engaging and increasing conceptual understanding.

During the initial data collection I made informal observations of students’ attitudes towards mathematics being negative in general. I was surprised how many students expressed their dislike. The formal observation made it evident intervention was needed. The final results were indicative of the positive effects the use of literacy books have on engaging students and effectively teaching mathematical concepts.

**Discussion**

The purpose of my action research project was to seek out and examine the effectiveness of teaching math concepts using literacy books. Upon completion of my action research project, I feel confident that I will be able to effectively teach math concepts though the use of literacy books. I am now aware of the instructional strategies that make the use of literacy books effective to teach math concepts. This became more evident after reviewing my own results with how students reacted with the instructional approach and from teacher responses in interviews.

The findings from this study coincide with what I learned from the review of literature on the topic of using literacy books to teach mathematics concepts. The published text and the results of this action research study confirm that the use of literacy books to teach mathematics is an effective strategy that increases students’ conceptual understanding and engages them by providing a real-world context through a familiar means. Across the board the data collected in journal responses, qualitative responses, narrative journal responses, observations and surveys all support the use of literacy books to teach mathematics concepts.

As a teacher, who grew up in a small Alaska village, I can relate to the students needing a familiar means to associate mathematics. It is especially important to find real-world contexts in which students from smaller rural areas can relate to. By teaching with literacy books in which students are familiar with and have a real-world context to relate to, you should see greater student achievement. A simple step in ensuring that students are making a real-world connection to mathematics is to teach some concepts through the use of literacy books.

From my research, results, and experience I was also able to infer that effective teaching strategies when using literacy books requires that the teacher stress the mathematics concepts. Teacher should point out the math concepts when reading a literacy book because it makes it easier for students to transfer their knowledge to various math problems and to make real-world connections.

To motivate their students, educators should develop lessons that use literacy books to teach mathematics concepts. These lessons can help boost students confidence—resulting in motivating them intrinsically. Because literacy books are familiar it tends to hook students and engage them because they are more comfortable with the materials. I had many students tell me they like literacy books because they are good at literacy and not math. It helped to ease the transition from an unfamiliar platform to something the students could relate to. The use of literacy books engaged students by creating a fun way for them to learn, study, and memorize the math concepts. I am excited to continue to test this learning strategy with continuing on with the next stage in my action research project. At this point, I have to decide what I would like to do. I am thinking it is important to schedule a time to observe another teacher teach how he/she uses literacy books in their classroom during mathematics.

**Bias in the Study**

It is important to note that some biases may have influenced the responses of candidates in the study because the researcher (myself) conducting this study is very fond of using literacy books and encourages students to like them as well. It is not hard to imagine when a teacher is passionate about something their students will tend to do better in that area due to the passion expressed by their teacher.

**Conclusion**

This action research paper has shown that the implementation of literacy books to teach mathematics concepts has positive effects on students’ mathematics education. The data will be used to help other colleagues improve their teaching in the classroom. Following the completion of the course, literacy books will continue to be used in the mathematics curriculum to see if it continues to increase students performance in mathematics as well as boosting their confidence.

From the data collected in this action research project, it was evident that students need to be explicitly told which mathematics concepts they are learning. This strategy will be shared with other colleagues in efforts to boost students’ performance.

Following this research, literacy books will be used to teach mathematics concepts and the data from the project will be shared with colleagues. Other teachers can use this data to help them to more effectively use literacy books in their mathematics curriculum.

**References**

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Burns, M. (2005). 3 lessons by Marilyn Burns: using storybooks to teach math. *Instructor*, *114*(7), 27-30.

Cotti, R., & Schiro, M. (2004). Connecting teacher beliefs to the use of children’s literature in the teaching of mathematics. *Journal of Mathematics Teacher Education*, *7*(4), 329-356.

Hong, H. (1996). Effects of mathematics learning through children’s literature on math achievement and dispositional outcomes. *Early Childhood Research Quarterly*, *4*(11), 477-494.

Mink, D., & Fraser, B. (2005). Evaluation of a K-5 mathematics program which integrates children’s literature: classroom environment and attitudes. *International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education*, *3*, 59-85.

Moyer, P. (2000). Communicating mathematically: children’s literature as a natural connection. *The Reading Teacher*, *54*(3), 246-255.

Ruiz, E., Thornton, J., & Cuero, K. (2010). Integrating literature in mathematics: a

teaching technique for mathematics teacher. *School Science and Mathematics*, *110*(5), 235-237.

Shatzer, J. (2008). Picture book power: connecting children’s literature and mathematics. *The Reading Teacher*, *61*(8), 649-653.

Thatcher, D. (2001). Reading in math class: selecting and using picture books for math investigations. *young children*, *July*, 20-21.

Ward, R. (2005). Using children’s literature to inspire K-8 preservice teachers’ future mathematics pedagogy. *The Reading Teacher*, *59*(2), 132-143.

Appendix A

**Narrative Journal Prompt:**** How did you like learning math with literacy books? Did it help you to learn math skills? How was learning different without the literacy book?**

Appendix B

Appendix C

Interview Protocol

Teacher’s Name:

**Interview Questions**

Have you used literacy books to teach mathematics concepts?

If so how was this done?

Is it an instructional strategy you prefer to use?

Were you able to notice if the use of literacy books to teach mathematics concepts had a positive impact on students’ learning?

Did the use of literacy books make it easier for you to teach mathematics? If so, how?

Do you enjoy teaching mathematics concepts with the use of literacy books? If so, why?

Is it worth the time it takes reading a literacy book to incorporate them into the mathematics lesson?

**Appendix D**

Observation Notes

**Appendix E**

**Appendix F**

**Appendix G**

**Appendix H**