Turning Mathematics Learners Over to Authors

by Sara Delano Moore & William P. Bintz

Bill & I met when we were both faculty at the same university. I was in mathematics education and Bill was in reading education. Our offices were on the same floor but we did not interact much, except for polite chit-chat while passing in the hall or in small groups at faculty meetings, in large part because we represented different content areas. Fortunately, all that changed. Today we enjoy a personal and professional relationship that, unlike earlier times, is based on a number of shared interests. One interest is teaching mathematics, K-12, using high-quality literature.  We want to use this blog to share this common interest with you.        

One night after teaching his graduate class in reading theory and practice, Bill shared an incident that happened in class and quickly added that this same incident has happened many times in the past. As he does at the beginning of every class, Bill was preparing to conduct a read aloud. In particular, he planned to read If You Hopped Like a Frog by David Schwartz and demonstrate how the book can be used to teach ratio and proportion. Before reading, he asked students to share what they knew about the work of David Schwartz. The class was completely silent. He could tell the students wanted him to bail them out, so after a little while he shared what he knew. He told them that David Schwartz had published many pieces of literature that taught good mathematics for different grade levels. Students remained silent. Finally, he identified two titles: How Much Is a Million? and If You Made a Million. At that point students’ eyes lit up and smiles appeared.

One student commented: “Oh, yeah, I know those books. I use them in my class to teach big numbers.” Another student stated, “I use those books, too. I just didn’t know who wrote them.” Still another student remarked, “I don’t own those books, but I use On Beyond a Million with my students. I didn’t recognize the author’s name. I guess I should pay attention not just to titles but also authors.”

These comments, and many others like them, inspired us to write this blog. Our purpose is to share a series of entries, each of which focuses on a specific author of high-quality literature and a variety of research-based instructional strategies that can be used with this literature to teach mathematics, K-12. We were also inspired by the words of Frank Smith, an internationally acclaimed author and reading educator, who stated that “good reading instruction involves turning readers over to authors.” We agree. Turning readers over to authors, particularly authors of high-quality literature, has many benefits. Most importantly, it helps students develop a positive disposition about reading and see reading as an enjoyable and satisfying tool for learning. Here, we focus on turning you, our readers, over to authors of high-quality literature to teach mathematics, K-12. We hope this blog will hear new voices, start new conversations, and see new potentials for teaching mathematics with high-quality literature.

In our first entry, we will highlight the work of Mitsumasa Anno, commonly referred to as Anno. This renowned author/illustrator has published many excellent pieces of literature, primarily picture books, to teach a wide variety of mathematical concepts. Subsequent columns will focus on the work of authors like David Schwartz, Cindy Neuschwander, Theoni Pappas, and others.

Let the conversations begin. We'd love to hear your favorite authors and books in the comments.