3 Opportunities for Connecting Numeracy and Literacy When Using Literature in the Mathematics Classroom
Do trade books have a place in today’s mathematics classroom? Yes! Incorporating literature into the mathematics classroom at any level can increase student engagement, can make the mathematics being studied come alive for the student as well as have meaning, and can help to differentiate instruction as well as support ELL/ESL students. Using literature helps students build a conceptual understanding of mathematical topics via the illustrations. Rich problems and tasks can be generated based upon the story being read as well as opportunities for writing original stories, explanations, predictions, etc.
Reading stories spark a student’s imagination and can allow them an opportunity to see a context for a problem or situation and visualize it in a way that the same problem in a textbook or on a worksheet might not. Using literature also bridges the gap for students who are verbal learners and who love to read but may not enjoy working with numbers as much.
The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics notes the importance of communication in mathematics education (NCTM, PSSM, 2000).
Literature naturally lends itself to providing a more complex mode of communication since the mathematics presented is not just through numbers but through illustrations and words. Scaffolding from concrete manipulatives to the more abstract using the context of the story can deepen understandings developed by students. Using trade books also lays the groundwork for making connections to mathematics when reading other text from other disciplines, which is something students often do not experience. And through the reading and associated discussions students can naturally extend communication to the written word by creating original ideas, writing explanations, questions, and critiques.
So what is a trade book? The term “trade book” is just another way of describing any published literature. It is usually intended for general readership and it is not a textbook. It can be fiction, non-fiction, even comics. To fully implement a piece of literature in the mathematics classroom, it is suggested that the work first be read. Depending upon the grade level and reading ability of the students, the books can be read aloud, even over a series of days and weeks if it is a longer work or a chapter book. The teacher as well as students can be the readers. This provides a great opportunity for reading expressively as the story is developed.
There are 3 opportunities when using trade books in the mathematics classroom (or any classroom for that matter) that support literacy and numeracy working together to maximize student achievement.
First is, As You Read. As the book is being read, discussions can be facilitated around topics of interest associated with the story, even if it is not mathematically related. Time for students to share their work as well as to review and critique the work of their peers needs to be provided. Students can use rubrics as they review their peers’ work and as they justify their own work. NOTE: Even though many of you reading this and looking at the picture to the right think of elementary students, let me assure you that both my secondary and collegiate students enjoyed me reading a story to them as much as young children do!
Students experience Being a Mathematician as they engage with the connections to mathematics that can naturally be made to the piece of literature. Tasks based upon the piece of literature should be provided for the students. Working collaboratively in pairs or small groups can help support struggling students as well as allow for differentiation of tasks. This allows the teacher time to facilitate and support students and/or groups that need additional help. Once a piece of literature has been used, it can be revisited for later scaffolded tasks with just a cursory review of the story. The familiarity of the story provides a less threatening opportunity for most students to engage in a task or activity that is now more cognitively demanding. And students will begin making connections from one piece of literature to another piece of literature, which provides more opportunities for rich mathematical experiences.
With more rigorous standards and assessments, students are expected to write at a higher level than before. All students need opportunities to write authentically about mathematics. And that writing should be original thought. Opportunities for Writing naturally occur in mathematics and should be taken advantage of as often as possible. Suggestions for journaling, writing prompts, creating poems, as well as reflecting on their work and the text they read should be provided for students.
For a list of suggested trade books by mathematical topic for both secondary and elementary classes, clink the images below.
To see available resources with questions, prompts, and activities formatted for the 3 Opportunities for Using Trade books see the links below:
For questions or more information on using trade books to connect literacy and numeracy to maximize student achievement contact, TammyJones@TLJConsultingGroup.com