If you know me or have visited my store on teacherspayteachers, you know I write a book for EVERYTHING even math. When I was teaching in an autism classroom, I loved starting my lessons with a book, and so did my students. Of course, I had a hard time always finding a book that was at an appropriate level for my students, but it got to the point I could write one up in about 20 minutes. So, I wanted to share some reasons why this is such an effective strategy for starting your math lesson as well as some FREEBIES at the end so you can give it a try yourself.
Predictable, Calming, and Repetition
We know students with disabilities struggle with unstructured time as well as an inconsistent flow to the day. Starting your math lesson with a story is a great way to cue your students that there is a change in subject matter, and it gives them time to settle in. Reading can be a calming routine especially when it is paired with engaging pictures and simple language.
If you had kids yourself who liked to watch Nickelodeon, you may have noticed that the same episode of Blue’s Clues would run every day for 5 days. That was not a way for the network to save money. It was actually based on research! There was a study done by the creators of Blue’s Clues (click here for the link) that demonstrated typical children need to see and hear subject matter about 5 times before they begin to internalize the material and make those personal connections. I had heard that in a training early in my teaching career, and it totally made sense. So, I decided I would use the same book to start my math lesson for 5 days. On day 1, many of the kids were fiddling with toys, falling out of their chairs, and seeming to not even hear me reading. But, by the end of the week, many were chiming in and following along. It took that much consistency to get their attention. Of course, by mid-year, they were following along much more quickly, but I always kept the same book for 5 days.
When you read a story, it is a perfect time to work in some of those IEP goals and gather data. My assistant and myself always had our clipboards with the IEP goals for each student with us. That way as I was reading I could work in lots of “wh” questions as well as measure and track level of engagement. Of course, as these stories were dealing with math content I had lots of opportunities to work on counting, identifying numerals, size, and other topics that were addressed on individual IEPs.
Students with disabilities, especially autism, have a lot of difficulty generalizing information they have learned to new situations. This is very true of math. I often had a student that could count an array of objects as long as they were in a straight line. But show them a picture with a group of puppies, and they were totally unable to count them. Very, very typical and very challenging as a teacher. You think your student has mastered a skill, but when you attempt it in a more real-life situation, and they seem to have no clue what to do. Pulling literacy into your math lessons is the PERFECT way to work on some of these generalization skills. It forces you as a teacher to present math in a less traditional format. While keeping IEP data, I would have different codes if a student was successful at a skill in a traditional format or was successful in a new, more generalized format. It was a great way to ensure I continued working on skills I thought the student has mastered until I could prove they could do it across environments, people, and material or stimuli.
Typical Math Lesson
So, what would a typical math lesson look like in my classroom which consisted of students kindergarten through 5th grade with significant autism? The lesson would be about 30 minutes.
- 5 min : Counting or other math song
- 5 min : Read a math story
- 10 min : Group activity using manipulatives
- 5 min : Individual work (This usually meant that my assistant and myself would have to help students one on one to complete a product for the parent to see what we are working on and for me to keep as a data point. While helping one student, the other students were given access to the book for the week, previous math stories or other math manipulatives. This would keep them engaged with appropriate materials while we were focused on other students. They actually loved “reading” these books on their own.)
- 5 min : Math game
Reading a story to start your math lesson has many benefits. Students find it calming and predictable, you can gather IEP data and generalize skills to make more personal connections, and the repetition reinforces the math concepts you are currently trying to teach.
Below are some free stories I have used in the past. Click on the buttons below to download them for free. If you find this strategy works for you, try writing your own stories. It is quick and easy to do!