RM Winter 2016 FLIP

Meaningful Math: How Children’s Literature Can Pave theWay

Joy Myers, James Madison University

Young Children and Genre Theory, research and professional wisdom indicate that students learn better if their learning can be contextualized and authentically motivated (Duke, Caughlan, Juzwik & Martin, 2012). Using a wide range of genres can do this because a variety of texts can broaden the curiosity of children and help present familiar things in new ways, which can connect reading to the real world (Hartman, 2002). Genre diversity is prevalent throughout the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) as a way to build a foundation for college and career readiness. “Students must read widely and deeply from among a broad range of high quality, increasingly challenging literacy and informational texts (CCSS, 2010, p. 10). Educators can support young children’s experiences with different genres by weaving explicit scaffolds for these texts into the fabric of their daily literacy instruction. Researchers promote the use of children’s literature to support learning math concepts (Bryan & Mason, 2012; Courtrade, Lingo, Karp, & Whitney, 2013). Haury (2001) writes a common thread among teachers who choose to incorporate children’s literature into their math instruction is they “provide vicarious mathematical experiences based on real problems or situations of interest to teachers and students” (p. 5). In addition to contextualizing learning, increased exposure to a variety of genres in the early grades may also make children better readers and writers of those genres (Wixson, 2005). When examining genres and math picture books, teachers have a variety to choose from including informational text, narrative nonfiction, realistic fiction, and fantasy just to name a few. In addition to choosing the type of text, educators must determine how to integrate the texts into their instruction. Context of the Study This study took place in a K-8 school located in a midsize city in the Southeast. At the time, I was in my fifth year of teaching and I was curious how the use of children’s literature would impact my students’ understanding and opinions of math. Thus, I began a yearlong journey of revamping my math instruction where traditional teaching had been the norm. In previous years, I had relied heavily on math textbooks and the accompanying worksheets to teach concepts. Although the students used manipulatives to help them solve problems, math time in my classroom was much less engaging than other parts of the day and I struggled to make math meaningful. My first grade math class had fourteen students, nine boys and five girls. The class reflected the lack of ethnic diversity at the school with all students being Caucasian, but the socioeconomic status of the

Abstract —Helping students comprehend text and develop a love of learning are two fundamental goals of educators everywhere. The establishment of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) challenges classroom teachers to closely examine their current pedagogical teaching practices in literacy and across all subject areas. Teachers are altering their instruction to fit the new curricular standards as outlined by each state and utilizing a wide variety of genres with the goal of simultaneously increasing student motivation, engagement and achievement. This study highlights a first grade teacher’s quest to pique her students’ interest in math by incorporating one of the children’s favorite parts of the day - reading picture books. Meaningful Math: How Children’s Literature Can Pave theWay “Is math over yet?”This was a common question posed by Annie (all names are pseudonyms), a first grader who did not enjoy math time in my classroom. On a typical day, she wandered over to the bookshelf instead of towards the various manipulatives that I placed strategically around the room. At the time, I thought I was engaging students like Annie by having math centers that challenged various skill levels. The students worked at their own pace practicing specific concepts while I met with small groups. Annie, however, was not interested, engaged or impressed with all of my hard work. She loved books and wanted to read during mathematics time. As I looked around the room, I realized that I was missing an opportunity to make math meaningful because although students were busy working, they were not talking, reading or writing about math. Even worse, I suddenly saw that my students were not connecting mathematical concepts to their everyday life. What could I do to help students like Annie? I had a bucket of mathematics books separated from the other book tubs in my room, but we did not typically work with these texts during math time. Would Annie like those books? Howmany other students in my class preferred reading time to mathematics? Although I knew that reading choices for young children tended to be skewed toward fiction texts, particularly in the early grades (Duke, 2004; Moss & Newton, 2002), I had never thought about math books as a text option that might engage my students and help me teach math concepts. These wonderings led me to a teacher research project focused on how the use of children’s literature impacted my students’understanding and opinions of math. My work draws on case study methodology (Stake 1995), which assisted me in answering my research question by focusing on the experiences of several students and how the use of math picture books influenced howmeaningful math became for them. By sharing my journey of conducting research in my classroom and what I learned frommy students, I hope to encourage other teachers to embrace the possibilities that math picture books have to offer.

Reading Matters Research Matters

Reading Matters | Volume 16 • Winter 2016 | scira.org | 11 |


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