Drawing from their research article, titled 'Shared book reading to promote math talk in parent–child dyads in low-income families' which is published in Topics in Early Childhood Special Education journal, the authors - Dr. Nicole M. Hendrix (Emory University), Prof. Robin L. Hojnoski (Lehigh University) and Dr. Kristen Missall (University of Washington) – have put together this short and easy-to-read blog post for interested teachers and parents. We hope you will find their blog post interesting.
Differences in early mathematical skill and knowledge develop prior to formal schooling, with some children entering kindergarten with greater skills and knowledge than others. Children from lower-income backgrounds, dual language learners, and children with disabilities may be at increased risk for entering school with limited mathematical skills and knowledge (e.g., Hojnoski et al., 2017; National Mathematics Advisory Panel, 2008). Because early mathematical skills and knowledge are related to long-term achievement in both reading and mathematics (Duncan et al., 2007), it is important to provide rich mathematical experiences for young children in their natural environments.
Math in the home
The home mathematical environment includes activities, materials, and interactions that support development of mathematical skills and knowledge. Different opportunities to learn in the home environment lead to differences in children’s skills and knowledge. The home learning environment varies widely across families (e.g., DeFlorio & Beliakoff, 2015; Levine et al., 2011), which has implications for school-based learning (Berkowitz et al., 2015; Kleemans et al., 2012). Variability may be due, in part, to gaps in understanding about skills and knowledge young children should develop as well as activities that can support mathematical development in the home. Given the busy lives of many families, it is useful to consider whether mathematical interactions can occur during more common routines, such as shared book reading.
During shared book reading, adults can support children’s learning through rich language experiences that go beyond the words on the pages (Towson et al., 2017). Adults can engage children in talking about key vocabulary and concepts embedded within the book, guiding children’s conceptual understanding and language skills through interactive dialogue. Because interactions during shared book reading are related to the content of the book, books can be strategically selected to promote certain types of interactions and learning.
In our work, we were interested in whether the use of mathematically-oriented books during shared book reading would lead to more parent and child mathematical interactions than books without mathematical content. To address this, we provided three parents of preschoolers with four to five books each week for four to six weeks to read with their child. Parents received a mix of mathematically-oriented books and books without mathematical content. Mathematically-oriented books discussed topics such as geometric shapes (e.g., Mouse Shapes), measurement (Inch by Inch), counting (e.g., Each Orange has 8 Slices), and connections between printed numbers and their quantities (e.g., Rooster’s Off to See the World). Books without mathematical content contained no clearly identifiable mathematical concepts (e.g., Corduroy) and were selected as developmentally appropriate given their balance of text and illustrations.
We asked parents to read with their child as they normally would and to audio record their reading sessions. We transcribed the audio recordings and coded parent and child interactions that occurred outside of the story line for mathematical content (e.g., numbers and operations, geometry, measurement, algebra, patterns, and data analysis); we refer to this as “math talk.” Using the coded interactions, we calculated the overall number of utterances, or verbal statements that occurred, and the percentage of utterances that were mathematical for parents and children separately.
The data showed clear differences in the occurrence of math talk and the percentage of utterances of math talk between mathematically-oriented books and those without mathematical content. Both parents and children used more math talk while reading mathematically-oriented books, creating more opportunities for children to learn mathematical vocabulary, concepts, and skills. Our results suggested that the content of the book influences what parents and children talk about during shared book reading. Strategically selecting books, then, provides a simple way to increase math talk at home.
While the results of the first phase of our work were encouraging, we also were interested in whether parents would benefit from additional support in the form of training in shared book reading strategies and a review of key early mathematical vocabulary, concepts, and skills that they could focus on during shared book reading. To address this, we asked the same parents to participate in brief training on how to use books to engage in mathematical interactions with their children. Following the training, we asked parents to continue with shared book reading using only mathematically-oriented books. To support parent use of specific strategies, each book included a reader’s guide that contained a one- to two-sentence summary of the book, learning objectives and key concepts (i.e., mathematical knowledge targeted within the book), key mathematical vocabulary, and recommended questions to encourage math talk. As in the first phase of our work, we asked parents to audio record reading sessions, and we then transcribed and coded parent-child dialogue.
Following the training, parents and children talked more consistently about math during shared book reading, and the occurrence of math talk was generally higher than before the training. Also, the ways in which families talked about mathematics during shared book reading were qualitatively different following the training. There was more discussion of mathematical concepts, and parents used more open-ended questions than prior to the training; accordingly, these strategies may have allowed for richer interactions related to mathematics. Despite these positive changes, over time, parent and child math talk decreased. Parents may have benefited from a reminder of key strategies, or perhaps, math talk was more difficult with certain books.
Overall, our work suggests the promise of shared book reading to support mathematical development in young children. Strategically selecting books with a mathematical focus provides more opportunities for adults to introduce and explain key mathematical vocabulary and concepts and to support children’s skills. Parents can also benefit from brief trainings that address their own knowledge of early mathematics and strategies to engage children in shared book reading. Although our work focused on mathematical shared book reading between parents and children, similar approaches have been demonstrated to be a promising way for teachers to increase their attention to early mathematical vocabulary, concepts, and skill development (e.g., Hojnoski et al., 2016; Purpura et al., 2017). Shared book reading may offer parents and teachers a way of supporting math development that fits within existing daily routines.
Berkowitz, T., Schaeffer, M. W., Maloney, E. A., Peterson, L., Gregor, C., Levine, S. C., & Beilock, S. L. (2015). Math at home adds up to achievement in school. Science, 350(6257), 196-198.
DeFlorio, L., & Beliakoff, A. (2015). Socioeconomic status and preschoolers' mathematical knowledge: The contribution of home activities and parent beliefs. Early Education and Development, 26(3), 319-341.
Duncan, G. J., Dowsett, C. J., Claessens, A., Magnuson, K., Huston, A. C., Klebanov, P., Pagani, L., Feinstein, L., Engel, M., Brooks-Gunn, J., Sexton, H., Duckworth, K., & Japel, C. (2007). School readiness and later achievement. Developmental Psychology, 43(6), 1428-1464.
Hojnoski, R. L., Caskie, G. I., & Miller, R. Y. (2017). Early numeracy trajectories: Baseline performance levels and growth rates in young children by disability status. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 37(4), 206-218.
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(4), 469-492.
Hojnoski, R., Polignano, J., & Columba, H. L. (2016). Increasing teacher mathematical talk during shared book reading in the preschool classroom: A pilot study. Early Education and Development, 27(5), 676-691.
Kleemans, T., Peeters, M., Segers, E., & Verhoeven, L. (2012). Child and home predictors of early numeracy skills in kindergarten. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 27(3), 471-477.
Levine, S. C., Gunderson, E. A., & Huttenlocher, J. (2011). Number development in context: Variations in home and school input during the preschool years. In N. L. Stein, & S. W. Raudenbush (Eds.), Developmental cognitive science goes to school (pp. 189-202). Taylor and Francis: New York, NY.
National Mathematics Advisory Panel. (2008). Foundations for success: The final report of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education.
Purpura, D. J., Napoli, A. R., Wehrspann, E. A., & Gold, Z. S. (2017). Causal connections between mathematical language and mathematical knowledge: A dialogic reading intervention. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 10(1), 116-137.
Towson, J. A., Fettig, A., Fleury, V. P., & Abarca, D. L. (2017). Dialogic reading in early childhood settings: A summary of the evidence base. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 37(3), 132-146.
About the Authors
Dr. Nicole Hendrix is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pediatrics within the Emory University School of Medicine. In her clinical role, she conducts psychodiagnostic evaluations for children and adolescents and provides parent coaching for families with toddlers with social communication delays. Her research focuses on early academic and social communication interventions for at-risk populations, early identification of autism spectrum disorder, and systemic issues impacting healthcare disparities.
Prof. Robin Hojnoski is a Professor of School Psychology and is currently the Associate Dean for Graduate Studies in the College of Education at Lehigh University. Her research interests center on supporting early learning and social development through effective assessment, instruction, and intervention practices across home and school settings.
Dr. Kristen Missall is an Associate Professor in the University of Washington's College of Education. Her research centers on child growth and development from 3 to 8 years of age in the areas of early academic and social development, data-based decision making (MTSS) and school readiness/transition to school.