Shared Story Reading: Teaching Mathematics to Students with Moderate and Severe Disabilities

Article excerpt

Shared story reading is used successfully to promote literacy skills for all students. However, the benefits of shared story reading are not exclusive to literacy instruction and should carry into other disciplines, such as mathematics. Using shared story reading to teach mathematics concepts can play an important role in mathematics instruction for all students. What steps should teachers follow when using children's literature as a contextual springboard to meaningful mathematics lessons for students with moderate and severe disabilities?

Have you ever felt dissatisfied? If so, you might relate to the story of a greedy triangle that goes on a wild mathematical adventure in an attempt to find fulfillment. The triangle begins by spending his days as roofs on houses or halves of sandwiches but he quickly falls into place when people put their hands on their hips. Soon he wants more. He visits the local "shapeshifter" and requests "one more side and one more angle" (Burns, 1994, p. 5). With the help of a magical charm, the triangle turns into a quadrilateral. Now he can be a page in a book, a checkerboard, and more! As you might guess, there is no stopping the "greedy" triangle as he winds his way through multiple changes that illustrate the geometric properties of many different two-dimensional shapes.

A story such as The Greedy Tdangle (Burns, 1994) not only immediately engages students' attention but also can be used to combine instruction in literacy and mathematics. This integrated approach is a foundational component for teachers in states adopting the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Students learn mathematics when the concepts are embedded in meaningful contexts (Van de Walle, Karp, & BayWilliams, 2013). Starting a mathematics lesson with a problem set in a context (e.g., the "greedy triangle" seeking more sides and angles) engages learners and positions them in the role of a problem solver. This meets the CCSS goal of having students "make sense of problems and persevere in solving them" (CCSS Initiative, 2010, p. 6). Using children's literature to create a context for problem solving can result in meaningful mathematics lessons for students with moderate and severe disabilities (see box, "Teaching Rudy").

What Is Shared Story Reading?

Reading picture books aloud is a common practice of teachers as well as parents to engage children in the literature experience in an attempt to improve reading skills. Anderson, Hiebert, Scott, and Wilkinson (1985) described reading aloud to children as "the single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading" (p. 33). That foundational concept is still alive today, but this same knowledge-building in literacy can be used to strengthen learning in many areas. Reading aloud to students can build vocabulary, improve listening comprehension skills, and increase their ability to recognize words (Lane & Wright, 2007). Readers can also actively engage the student through discussion about the story situation (Morrison & Wlodarczyk, 2009).

Shared story reading (also called interactive read-alouds, modeled reading, or story-based lessons) occurs when a teacher orally reads a book, and students purposefully and strategically interact with both the content of the book and the teacher. The shared story reading experience differs from traditional "reading aloud" in that it requires the student to be an active participant rather than a passive listener (National Early Literacy Panel, 2008). lb stimulate this interface, teachers use sense-making techniques such as questioning, prompting, or modeling before, during, and after reading the book to enhance meaning and draw connections (What Works Clearinghouse, 2007). Shared story reading must be interactive and foster communication to accomplish the goal of meaningful student engagement.

Shared Story Reading and Mathematics Instruction

Shared story reading can play an important role in mathematics instruction because "many children's books present interesting problems and illustrate how other children solve them. …