Little Known Secret to Improve Math Grades: Work on Reading Skills

Math has never been my strong suit, and so I’ve never put much pressure on my kids to excel in that subject. But when my youngest started struggling with even the most basic math concepts I got worried. It was heartbreaking to watch her frustration with simple word equations: “Joe has 2 cookies and Sam has 3 cookies. How many cookies do they have altogether?” She had a firm grasp of basic addition when we used counters and pennies, yet couldn’t seem to wrap her brain around it when it came to the problems on her worksheet.

Her teacher assured me they could pull her into a small group and get her the extra help she needed. But when I peeked into the small group session a few days later I was dismayed to see them working on reading skills! Did she get put in the wrong group? Wasn’t she supposed to be working on math concepts?

New research published in Frontiers In Computational Neuroscience reveals surprising information about the correlation between improved reading skills and mathematical proficiency. While many of us tend to think the “numbers” part of our brain is distinct from the “language” part of our brain, researchers have discovered a foundational overlap within these cognitive functions. The scientists assert that their research “provides the clearest demonstration to date that reading-skill dependent functional connectivity within the reading network influences brain processing dynamics across cognitive domains.

According to, the research participants worked on two distinct tasks involving math and language. The resulting functional connectivity maps of brain activity revealed similar wiring for both the math and language tasks.

These results show that the way our brain is wired for reading is actually influencing how the brain functions for math. That says your reading skill is going to affect how you tackle problems in other domains, and helps us better understand children with learning difficulties in both reading and math. If the brain is showing that it’s wiring for reading is showing up in mental multiplication, what else might it be contributing toward?

In other words: for the math-frustrated student, spending time on reading skills can also bring mathematical improvements. The brain connectivity during language-based exercises is highly similar to the brain connectivity during math-based exercises. Who knew?

Apparently my daughter’s teacher did! She was basing her technique on well-grounded scientific wisdom: reading proficiency and math proficiency are closely linked!

Terissa Michele Miller, MS Psy

Check out the original research:

For additional information and insight on helping your child improve cognitive skills, don’t miss this Brainy Moms podcast interview with Dr. Jody Jedlicka.