New research suggests using storybooks to help young children with maths

Storybooks and tutoring could be important tools for improving young children’s maths skills, according to a new review.

In a review of international evidence into teaching and learning Early Years and Key Stage 1 maths, published on 27th November, researchers make several recommendations for classroom-based interventions. They identified a small, but growing body of research which advocated teachers using storybooks to support mathematical talk and discussion with three-to-seven-year-olds. Tutoring programmes, especially for low-attaining children, were also found to have a positive impact on maths achievement. However, the review emphasized that this was only likely to be the case with planned interventions which were designed to address specific weakness in numeracy.

Almost all the effective tutoring programmes had been developed by experts and were based on research into children’s mathematical development.

Loughborough’s Dr Colin Foster, of the Mathematics Education Centre, said: “Improving children’s maths skills is an important aspect of education and anything which helps educators do this is vital for their development. Using storybooks could be a good way of helping children build more sophisticated mathematical ideas. However, we did find that teachers needed to carefully consider which storybooks to use and how to use them. There was a similar caveat for tutoring. The programmes we reviewed had an impact on learning and achievement. But successful interventions tended to be structured and designed around specific needs and involved regular sessions lasting a term or longer.”

The review made five key recommendations:

  • Develop practitioners’ understanding of how children learn mathematics
  • Dedicate time for children to learn mathematics and integrate mathematics throughout the day
  • Use manipulatives and representations to develop understanding
  • Ensure that teaching builds on what children already know
  • Use high quality targeted support to help all children learn mathematics

Other teaching aids highlighted in the review included computer-assisted instruction and explicit teaching.

Researchers found a large body of evidence demonstrating that interventions delivered through apps or computer-assisted instruction, or where guidance from teachers is high, can have a positive effect on children’s attainment in mathematics. However, much of the evidence relates to software that is not distributed in England or designed for the English mathematics curriculum.

Professor Jeremy Hodgen, of the UCL Institute of Education, added: “Raising young children’s attainment in maths is vitally important and particularly so during the current pandemic. Our review, and the guidance it informed, provides valuable evidence for teachers and other educators about effective ways of improving young children’s understanding of mathematics.”

The review, Early Years and Key Stage 1 Mathematics Teaching: Evidence Review, was published by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and written by a team from the UCL Institute of Education (IOE), the University of Brighton, Loughborough University and Ulster University. It was written by Professor Jeremy Hodgen (IOE), Dr Nancy Barclay (University of Brighton), Dr Colin Foster (Loughborough University), Professor Camilla Gilmore (Loughborough University), Dr Rachel Marks (University of Brighton) and Dr Victoria Simms (Ulster University).

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