Math and Early Literacy

Blog Math and Early Literacy

“Language proficiency, no matter how it is measured, is related to mathematics achievement.”  -Walter Secada, Northwestern University.

You may recall from your school days that classmates of yours who were at the top of the class in math were also often among the best at reading and English. That wasn’t a coincidence, as reading and math skills are closely linked together for numerous reasons.

The nonprofit Kids Come First published a report last month highlighting declining math scores in Calgary. According to the report, almost 20% fewer students in Calgary achieve “excellence” on the Grade 6 math provincial achievement test (PAT) than four years ago, while the Grade 9 math PAT failure rate is 28%. In addition, 35% of Calgary Grade 12 students don’t even take Math 30. Calgary Reads sees the spotlight on math scores as an opportunity to explore how math achievement is tied to reading.

Success at reading enables success in all subjects

Many studies have recognized the connection between reading ability and math achievement. Firstly, most math problems are word problems that often pack a lot of information into each sentence. Solving these requires a clear understanding of the language. Secondly, literacy and numeracy share many of the same thinking skills: deriving meaning from symbols (either letters or signs), word recognition, and comprehension. Alberta Education’s Ministerial Order on Student Learning recognizes the importance of literacy and numeracy in constructing and communicating meaning.

Reading helps improve math skills

Vocabulary knowledge and print knowledge are the strongest predictors of math performance, as the more words children know, the easier they are able to understand the problem. Reading aloud is a wonderful way to build vocabulary, as children’s books contain three times as many rare words as parent/child speech. Children’s literature has also been shown to improve math achievement and motivation in young children, even when there is no math content in the story.

By reading with their children for 15 minutes every day, parents are helping build not just language skills but math skills as well. Reading texts in everyday items like flyers, coupons, the sports pages, and recipes is another great way to combine words and numbers.

Every teacher should remember that he or she is a teacher of literacy, as students often don’t learn all the literacy skills they need in the language arts classroom alone. For all subjects, students must be able to read. Before we teach students skills in other subjects, we must ensure they can read. Literacy is key to success in school at every level.

Research & Resources

Reading and Math: What is the Connection? A Short Review of the Literature, Dr. Gene Fite

The Relationship Between Reading Comprehension and Conceptual Mathematics of Third Grade Students at a Selected Elementary School, Patrick N. Kariuki and Dustin A. Morris

Impacts of Authentic Children’s Literature and Literacy Strategies on Teaching Mathematical Comprehension In Elementary Grades, Elizabeth M. Sliwa

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