Reading and mathematics

Growing bookworks Jan 2020

Those of you who are familiar with the writing of Enid Blyton, may be familiar with her Enchanted Wood series which features the folk of the Faraway Tree. One of the characters in this delightfully imaginative series is Dame Snap, a strict school mistress, who runs a school for naughty pixies and other fairy folk. I loved this series as a child and was quite astonished by the questions Dame Snap poses to the learners in her class. This is an extract from The Enchanted Wood:

“Jo looked at the questions on the board. He read them out to the others, in great astonishment.

“If you take away three three caterpillars from one bush, how many gooseberries will there be left?”

“Add a pint of milk to a peck of peas and say what will be left over.”

“If a train runs at six miles an hour and has to pass under four tunnels, put down what the guard’s mother is likely to have for dinner on Sundays.”

Everybody gazed at the board in despair. Whatever did the questions mean? They seemed to be nonsense.”

Image result for Dame Snap from the Faraway tree"

Dame Snap from The Enchanted Wood

This particular extract came to mind the other day when I was assisting my younger son with his mathematics homework. He had ten sentences to complete, all of which were missing certain vital words to form a well-known mathematics concept. I thought this was quite a difficult way for a mathematics concept to be enforced and tested and it made me realise how important good reading and comprehension skills are to performing well in all school subjects, including mathematics.

As learners progress through the school system, the need to assemble, analyse and interpret data in order to present a view or outcome about a specific problem, increases significantly. In order to do this, the learner must frequently read and understand a mass of research material and extract the salient points for further analysis.

A big component of testing mathematical concepts involves solving word problems, which were called story sums when I was at school. A word problem is a few sentences describing a ‘real-life’ scenario where a problem needs to be solved by way of a mathematical calculation. These sentences are often complex and if a learner does not have well developed reading and comprehension skills, he or she will struggle to determine what they need to do to solve the problem and arrive at the correct answer.

Studies have been done to determine the correlation between good reading comprehension and mathematical word problem skills. The results showed that good performance with mathematical word problems is strongly related to effective reading comprehension. The results indicated that this is because reading comprehension and problem solving both require superior reasoning skills.

Reading understanding and comprehension is increased through exposure to the written word as a result of parents or other caregivers reading to children and later, by children reading on their own.

In summary, children who are read to and who are encouraged to read, generally perform better in all of their school subjects including mathematics which does not merely constitute manipulating figures on a page, but involves comprehension and assimilation of written data.

About Robbie Cheadle

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Hello, my name is Robbie, short for Roberta. I am an author with six published children’s picture books in the Sir Chocolate books series for children aged 2 to 9 years old (co-authored with my son, Michael Cheadle), one published middle grade book in the Silly Willy series and one published preteen/young adult fictionalised biography about my mother’s life as a young girl growing up in an English town in Suffolk during World War II called While the Bombs Fell (co-authored with my mother, Elsie Hancy Eaton). All of my children’s book are written under Robbie Cheadle and are published by TSL Publications.

I have recently branched into adult and young adult horror and supernatural writing and, in order to clearly differential my children’s books from my adult writing, I plan to publish these books under Roberta Eaton Cheadle. My first supernatural book published in that name, Through the Nethergate, is now available.

I have participated in a number of anthologies:

  • Two short stories in #1 Amazon bestselling anthology, Dark Visions, a collection of horror stories edited by Dan Alatorre;
  • Three short stories in Death Among Us, an anthology of murder mystery stories, edited by Stephen Bentley;
  • Three short stories in #1 Amazon bestselling anthology, Nightmareland, a collection of horror stories edited by Dan Alatorre; and
  • Two short stories in Whispers of the Past, an anthology of paranormal stories, edited by Kaye Lynne Booth.

I also have a book of poetry called Open a new door, with fellow South African poet, Kim Blades.

Find Robbie Cheadle

Blog: https://www.robbiecheadle.co.za/

Blog: robbiesinspiration.wordpress.com

Goodreads: Robbie Cheadle – Goodreads

Twitter: BakeandWrite

Instagram: Robbie Cheadle – Instagram

Facebook: Sir Chocolate Books


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56 Comments on “Reading and mathematics”

  1. Reblogged this on Robbie's inspiration and commented:

    Did you know that the ability to read and comprehend could have a huge impact on your child’s success with mathematics. I have over at Writing to be Read discussing this interesting topic. Thank you to Kaye Lynne Booth for hosting me with this post.

  2. This is an excellent post, Robbie, with a lot of food for thought!!

  3. trentpmcd says:

    Nice post, Robbie. Pure Math gives you little, Applied Math more, and Problem Solving the most. Word Problems (what they have always been called on this side of the pond) are a step towards problem solving. A lot of language skills also involve problem solving skills, like sequencing, comprehension, etc. Part of problem solving is also expression, a language skill.

  4. Excellent post Robbie.. there are far too many 16 year old boys and girls leaving school who are functionally illiterate and in many cases this also means that they are unable to deal with simple arithmetic let alone maths problems. Being able to read and write is vital for most of the life skills needed to thrive in our modern world.

    • Thank you, Sally. You are 100% right especially with the Fourth Industrial Revolution snapping at our heels and the need for the youth to have higher order thinking skills if they want to be employed in the future.

  5. I loved The Enchanted Wood when I was a child. I remember being very scared for the characters when they were stuck in Dame Snap’s school, and very amused by the ‘sums’ she gave them to do.
    We had to do problems in school, and I never found them easy, even though I was good at reading..

    • Hi Annabelle, The Enchanted Wood books were my absolute favourite books. Michael also loved them and I read them to him repeatedly as a child. Mathematics also requires an ability to understand and interpret mathematical concepts and that doesn’t come easily to everyone. Comprehension is important to unpack the requests for information that are being made and to understand and process the problem.

  6. Loved Enid Blyton’s books and the Enchanted Wood….. Reading is such an important tool and from someone whose own reading skills were not always so good as a child, I was really appreciative of my English Teacher who when I changed schools took me under her wing and introduced me to a world of books from her own library that encouraged me to read more..

    Schools I know pose many different methods to test students abilities and if they have not a good grasp of reading then these tests become even harder… (And I speak from my own childhood experience..)

    Making reading enjoyable is the key and I think Robbie you do an excellent job.. And I always encouraged my children with reading and read stories at bedtime to get them interested in books… Both are big book worms and so is my Granddaughter..

    Lovely post and thank you for sharing ❤

  7. Darlene says:

    This is so true and all jobs require a certain level of reading skills. Just think of all those thick IT manuals. People in the trades need to read and follow instructions. A chef needs to read recipes. The list could go on. A great article, Robbie.

  8. Mary Smith says:

    Interesting, Robbie. I was excellent at English with reading skills way beyond my age group but was still utterly useless at maths!

    • I do understand that, Mary. Some people struggle with maths and have a remedial problem. Michael’s previous remedial school focused on both maths and English as main subjects. If you do understand maths concepts, however, you need to be able to apply them to a specific problem or set of circumstances and that is where the comprehension skills come in.

  9. you’ve read some of the most intriguing books

  10. Excellent post! Sharing… 🙂

  11. Jim Borden says:

    it all comes back to how important reading is…

  12. The Enchanted Wood series were among my favourite stories as a child, I have them at home and read them many times over to my own boys at bedtime when they were little.

    • Hi Kim, lovely to see you here. I was the same with Michael. He just loved this series and also The Wishing Chair. He seems to be coping with the transition from his remedial primary school to main stream high school and I am very relieved.

  13. Annika Perry says:

    Robbie, some good points here about the added benefit of reading across all the subjects. I enjoyed the way you illustrated the point with reference to Enid Blyton’s story … I rarely read her books but now wish I had! 😀 I hope it went well with your son’s homework … maths always sent me to my room reading a book, any book as long as it wasn’t maths!

  14. I’ve always loved logic puzzles! Yet… I always almost failed math in school. 🤔 But, I definitely always had my mother reading to me, and when I got old enough I took over and read to her! (I actually did this well into my teens!) she’s definitely the reason behind my love of books. ❤️📚

    • Maths does require an understanding of certain concepts that isn’t easy for lots of people, Nicole. REading skills won’t help you necessarily with understanding these concepts but they will help people who have a reasonable grasp of these concepts to solve a word problem which they might misinterpret otherwise.

  15. I could never understand any mathematical problem at all. I can only do the 4 basics; add, subtract, divide and multiply. Anything else is Greek to me and always will be.

  16. I remember those mathematical word problems, the need to read carefully and identify the key elements. Great post, Robbi, and a reminder of all the ways that good reading skills are necessary for success. 🙂 Thanks for hosting, Kaye.

  17. Ellen Hawley says:

    I’ve been out of school for a few thousand years now, but word problems in math class made me want to weep. I was (and am) a word person. It wasn’t the reading that sank me, it was the math. If train A leaves Penn station at 6 o’clock, going east, carrying 40 pounds of ham sandwiches and train B leaves Penn station at 4 o’clock on the same track but carrying 6 gallons of coffee, what time is the picnic?

    I don’t know. I never knew. All those numbers and I had no idea what to do about the relations between them.

  18. CarolCooks2 says:

    I have the Enchanted Forest Set of books on order for Lily…Maths… I was never a problem solver like many it seems and yet I worked in Banking… Strange world isn’t it…Good post-Robbie 🙂 xx

  19. Teri Polen says:

    Fantastic post, Robbie – so important. And those questions from the book gave me a laugh!


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