Drawing from their research article titled ‘Integrating Mathematics and Children’s Literature for Preschoolers with Disabilities’ published in the Journal of Early Intervention, the authors - Dr. Katherine B. Green (University of West Georgia) and Drs. Peggy A. Gallagher and Lynn C. Hart (both Professor Emerita, Georgia State University), have put together this short and easy-to-read blog post for interested teachers and parents. We hope you will find the information stimulating.
School-entry mathematical knowledge, specifically the knowledge and understanding of numbers, is the strongest predictor of later academic achievement (Claessens et al., 2009). Researchers have found that preschoolers are developmentally ready for mathematics (Balfanz et al., 2003) and that there is key foundational content that young children should master before they can understand more complex mathematical content (National Association for the Education of Young Children & National Council of Teachers of Mathematics [NCTM], 2002). One of these broad content areas is that of Number and Operations, the focus of this research. The NCTM (2006) noted that the domain of number and operations for preschoolers includes the development of number sense, understanding whole numbers, concepts of correspondence, counting, cardinality, and comparison.
Math and Young Children with Disabilities
While there has been a recent increase in research on mathematics and young children, there is a scarcity of research related to young children with disabilities and mathematics. This research is critical since, as noted, early mathematical knowledge is a predictor of later academic achievement (Claessens et al., 2009). In early childhood special education, researchers agree that most children learn best with a combination of explicit instruction and naturalistic learning, particularly children who are at risk or have disabilities (Wolery & Hemmeter, 2011). One way to intervene using a more naturalistic approach is to integrate mathematics and children’s literature.
Integrating Mathematics and Shared Storybook Readings
In instruction that integrates mathematics and children’s literature, the literature becomes a context within which to think about the mathematics, and the mathematics can be taught and constructed naturally within the context (Van den Heuvel-Panhuizen & Van den Boogaard, 2008). Using children’s literature as a context for mathematics problems and situations provides opportunities for children to actively construct mathematical ideas and promote critical thinking by providing a forum to ask questions, elicit discussion, and make personal connections (Anderson et al., 2004; Haury, 2001). Through active construction of mathematical knowledge, children develop new mathematical ideas, structures, and schemas (Elia, Van den Heuvel-Panhuizen, & Georgiou, 2010). Empirical research supports the premise that mathematics can be effectively integrated within children’s literature during shared storybook readings (Hojnoski et al., 2014; Skoumpourdi & Mpakopoulou, 2011; Van den Heuvel-Panhuizen & Iliada, 2011).
Shared storybook reading is a common and well-documented research practice in preschool classrooms (Dynia & Justice, 2015). The majority of the research literature for children with disabilities focuses on children with mild to moderate language impairments (e.g., Colmar, 2014; Van Kleeck et al., 2006; Voelmle & Storkel, 2015). Shared storybook reading is effective in improving children’s expressive and receptive language skills, mean length of utterances (MLU), and literal and inferential language skills (Colmar, 2014; Voelmle & Storkel, 2015). It is also effective in improving preliteracy skills, such as alphabet knowledge, concepts of print, alliteration, identification of initial sounds, name writing, and rhyming skills (Justice et al., 2015; Pile et al., 2010).
The purpose of our study was to examine the effects of an intervention that integrated mathematics instruction within children’s literature on the early numeracy skills of preschoolers with disabilities. The specific research question was, is there any difference in the math skills of preschoolers with disabilities who received a shared storybook reading intervention with related math activities and those of preschoolers with disabilities who received only a shared storybook reading?
We studied 50 children, ages 3 to 5 years, designated as having a developmental delay. The children all participated in preschool special education classrooms in one school district in a southeastern state in the U.S. We randomly divided the 10 preschool classrooms into two groups. Children in the intervention group read one children’s storybook three times per week for two weeks with related math activities introduced over the two week period. Three storybooks were read in all for a total of 18 sessions. For each lesson, this group spent approximately 5 to 10 minutes on the storybook reading and approximately 10 to 15 minutes on math instruction related to the storybook. Books used were The Snowy Day (Keats, 1962), Goldilocks and the Three Bears, and The Very Hungry Caterpillar (Carle, 1987). Children in the comparison group received the same small group storybook sessions, but there were no math questions or elaborations provided during the sessions.
We assessed all children before and after the intervention on the Test of Early Mathematics Ability, Third Edition (TEMA-3; Ginsburg & Baroody, 2003) and the Individual Growth & Development Indicators Early Numeracy (IGDIS-EN; Hojnoski & Floyd, 2004). The TEMA-3 is a norm-referenced instrument designed to measure the mathematical knowledge of children ages 3 to 8 years old, whereas the IGDIS-EN is a curriculum-based measure used to assess young children’s number sense including quantity comparison, one-to-one correspondence counting, and oral counting.
The results showed that the integration of mathematics and children’s literature had positive and significant effects on the intervention groups’ total mathematical ability scores on the TEMA-3, quantity comparison skills, oral counting, and one-to-one-counting correspondence on the IGDIS-EN.
The researchers believe that it is important to be intentional and purposeful in selecting the storybooks, and to consider which book(s) might best elicit particular math skills. It is interesting to consider the beginning number sense skills targeted in this intervention. For instance, the children in the intervention group were noted to experience significant gains in the Quantity Comparison task. The skill of recognizing which of two groups have “more” objects is one of the most fundamental and early developing numeracy skills (Chu et al., 2013), and, as discovered, a most natural concept to incorporate in math-focused storybook readings. For example, two of the targeted storybooks had several pictures throughout the book that naturally allowed for discussion of which page or object had more. The Snowy Day had some pages with more snowballs or snowflakes than other pages. The caterpillar in The Very Hungry Caterpillar ate more fruits on different days of the week. Quantity comparison was addressed in lesson activities and easily targeted during the storybook readings. Counting skills, too, were intentionally modeled and encouraged throughout the intervention. For example, in The Very Hungry Caterpillar, the researchers pointed, counting the fruit after reading each page. The children were then encouraged to count objects by touching each item as opportunities occurred during the instruction. Counting skills proved to be an easily integrated mathematics skill when reading all three target storybooks.
Integrating mathematics instruction and children’s literature allowed researchers to not only provide a shared storybook reading using quality literature within a short time frame, but also within a limited budget. The materials were specifically designed so that teachers may use the intervention in their own classrooms, with costs kept to a minimum. The manipulatives used were materials that most teachers already have in their classrooms (i.e., counting/sorting bears or snapping cubes), as were the books.
Providing mathematics interventions for children with disabilities is of immense importance, as researchers have found that children with disabilities who lag behind peers in math skills may experience less growth and slower gains than peers without disabilities (Lambert et al., 2014). Within a 20-minute intervention per day, three times per week for six weeks, two content areas were targeted: storybook reading and mathematics, with books and materials readily found within the preschool classrooms. Integrating the mathematics instruction and children’s literature provides a shared storybook reading to the children using quality children’s literature while encouraging the construction of early numeracy concepts. Implications for teacher preparation programs include focusing on the strategy of teaching early math skills through children’s literature. Parents could also implement many of the ideas and activities in their homes, as well, by reading the storybooks and creating fun and engaging games and mathematics activities with their children.
Anderson, A., Anderson, J., & Shapiro, J. (2004). Mathematical discourse in shared storybook reading. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 35, 5-33.
Balfanz, R., Ginsburg, H. P., & Greenes, C. (2003). The big math for little kids early childhood mathematics program. Teaching Children Mathematics, 9, 264-268.
Carle, E. (1987). The very hungry caterpillar (Rev. ed.) Philomel Books.
Chu, F. W., vanMarle, K., & Geary, D. C. (2013). Quantitative deficits of preschool children at risk for mathematical learning disability. Frontiers in Psychology, 4, 1-10. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00195
Claessens, A., Duncan, G., & Engel, M. (2009). Kindergarten skills and fifth-grade achievement: Evidence from the ECLS-K. Economics of Education Review, 28, 415-427.
Colmar, S. (2014). A parent-based book-reading intervention for disadvantaged children with language difficulties. Child Language Teaching & Therapy, 30, 79-90.
Crehan, K. D. (2005). Review of the Test of Early Mathematics Ability–Third Edition. In R. A. Spies & B. S. Plake (Eds.), The sixteenth mental measurements yearbook. Buros Institute of Mental Measurements. Retrieved from http://www.buros.org
Dynia, J. M., & Justice, L. M. (2015). Shared-reading volume in early childhood special education classrooms. Reading Psychology, 36, 232-269.
Elia, I., Van den Heuvel-Panhuizen, M., & Georgiou, A. (2010). The role of picture books on children’s cognitive engagement with mathematics. European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, 18, 125-147.
Haury, D. (2001). Literature-based mathematics in elementary school. ERIC digest (ED No. 464807). ERIC Clearinghouse for Science, Mathematics, and Environmental Education.
Hojnoski, R. L., Columba, H. L., & Polignano, J. (2014). Embedding mathematical dialogue in parent-child shared book reading: A preliminary investigation. Early Education and Development, 25, 469-492.
Hojnoski, R., & Floyd, R. (2004). Individual Growth and Development Indicators of Early Numeracy (IGDIS-EN). Early Learning Labs.
Justice, L. M., Logan, J. R., & Damschroder, L. (2015). Designing caregiver-implemented shared-reading interventions to overcome implementation barriers. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 58, S1851-S1863.
Keats, J. E. (1962). The snowy day. Viking Press.
Lambert, R. G., Kim, D. H., & Burts, D. C. (2014). Using teacher ratings to track the growth and development of young children using the Teaching Strategies GOLD® assessment system. Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment, 32, 27-39.
National Association for the Education of Young Children & National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. (2002). Early childhood mathematics: Promoting good beginnings. A joint position statement of NAEYC and NCTM. Retrieved from http://www.naeyc.org/files/naeyc/file/positions/psmath.pdf
National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. (2006). Curriculum focal points for prekindergarten through grade 8 mathematics: A quest for coherence. NCTM.
Pile, E. J., Girolametto, L., Johnson, C. J., Chen, X., & Cleave, P. L. (2010). Shared book reading intervention for children with language impairment: Using parents-as-aides in language intervention. Canadian Journal of Speech-language Pathology & Audiology, 4, 96-109.
Skoumpourdi, C., & Mpakopoulou, I. (2011). The prints: A picture book for pre-formal geometry. Journal of Early Childhood Education, 39, 197-206.
Van den Heuvel-Panhuizen, M., & Iliada, E. (2011). Kindergartener’s performance in length measurement and the effect of picture book reading. ZDM Mathematics Education, 43, 621-635.
Van den Heuvel-Panhuizen, M., & Van den Boogaard, S. (2008). Picture books as an impetus for kindergartners’ mathematical thinking. Mathematical Thinking and Learning, 10, 341-373.
Van Kleeck, A., Woude, J. V., & Hammett, L. (2006). Fostering literal and inferential language skills in head start preschoolers with language impairment using scripted book-sharing discussions. American Journal of Speech-language Pathology, 15, 85-95.
Voelmle, K., & Storkel, H. L. (2015). Teaching new words to children with specific language impairment using interactive book reading. SIG 1 Perspectives on Language Learning and Education, 22, 131-137.
Wolery, M., & Hemmeter, M. L. (2011). Classroom instruction: Background, assumptions, and challenges. Journal of Early Intervention, 33, 371-380.
About the authors
Dr. Katherine (Katy) Green is an associate professor and program coordinator of Special Education at the University of West Georgia. She graduated from Georgia State University with a Ph.D. in the Education of Students with Exceptionalities with a focus on children with disabilities ages birth to five. With degrees in Speech-Language Pathology and Special Education, Katy taught young children with disabilities in public schools for eight years. Katy’s passion and expertise include social-emotional, early communication, and academic supports for young children with disabilities and their families.
Dr. Peggy Gallagher, Professor Emerita, Early Childhood Special Education, Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA, has over 40 years of experience in Early Childhood Special Education, both as a classroom teacher and as a University faculty member. Her research interests are in families of children with disabilities, inclusion for young children with disabilities, and personnel preparation in special education. Dr. Gallagher is involved in special education at the international level as well. She has been an active member of the European Teacher Education Network, and is the past Director of International Programs for the College of Education at Ga. State University. She has recently presented her research in Turkey, China, Hong Kong, and India and completed a Fulbright Specialist project writing curriculum to train special education teachers in Sri Lanka. In Fall 2018, she completed a Fulbright assignment in Mongolia, training assistant teachers to include children with autism in their classrooms.
Dr. Lynn Hart is Professor Emeritus from Georgia State University. Before her retirement in 2019, she served as a department chair in the College of Education and Human Development where she also served as a professor of mathematics education for over 20 years. In addition, Dr. Hart was an adjunct professor for 10 years at Notre Dame University. Dr. Hart has 3 edited books and 12 book chapters in addition to numerous scholarly journal papers.