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Future preschool teachers’ mathematical questions during shared book reading

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Recent studies demonstrated that the adult-preschooler interaction during shared book reading (SBR) contributes to its effectiveness (Mol et al., 2008). The level of abstraction, or complexity, of the mathematical questions adults formulate during SBR serves as an indicator of the interaction quality. We aimed to investigate the chance of spontaneously formulating a mathematical question and the level of abstraction of the mathematical questions future preschool teachers propose to formulate during SBR, and their association with teachers’ professional knowledge and beliefs, and type of picture book. Participants were 111 future preschool teachers. We investigated their chance of formulating a mathematical question and the level of abstraction of their mathematical questions using a video-based instrument and distinguished between two types of picture books, namely, mathematical and non-mathematical picture books. We additionally assessed their (1) mathematical content knowledge, (2) mathematical pedagogical content knowledge, and (3) beliefs about mathematics in general and about the teaching and learning of mathematics, with three online questionnaires. Data were analyzed using multilevel analyses. Results revealed that mathematical picture books increase the likelihood of formulating a mathematical question and provoked more abstract mathematical questions compared to non-mathematical picture books. There were no significant associations between teachers’ professional knowledge and beliefs and the dependent variables. Our findings point to the importance of adequately selecting picture books to stimulate mathematical preschoolers’ development via SBR and also call for further investigations on the learning-supportive picture book characteristics and teacher characteristics.

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Authors and Affiliations



Emke Op ‘t Eynde, Fien Depaepe, Lieven Verschaffel, and Joke Torbeyns contributed to the study conception and design. Material preparation and data collection were performed by Emke Op ‘t Eynde, and analysis was performed by Emke Op ‘t Eynde and Wim Van Den Noortgate. The first draft of the manuscript was written by Emke Op ‘t Eynde, and all authors commented on previous versions of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Emke Op ‘t Eynde.

Ethics declarations

This study was not preregistered. Anonymized data are available upon request. This research was supported by Grant ZKD6093—STG/18/046, picture books and mathematics, from the Research Fund KU Leuven, Belgium.

Permission to carry out the study was obtained from the Ethical review board SMEC of the KU Leuven, Belgium (G-2019 12 1887).

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no competing interests.

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Emke Op ‘t Eynde (corresponding author): Center for Instructional Psychology and Technology, KU Leuven, Dekenstraat 2, Post box 3773 B-3000 Leuven, Belgium. Email:

Current themes of research:

Her current themes of research focus on early mathematics learning and instruction and preschool teachers’ professional competencies in the domain of early mathematics, with specific attention for the use of shared book reading.

Most relevant publications in the field of Psychology of Education:

Op‘ t Eynde, E., Depaepe, F., Verschaffel, L., & Torbeyns, J. (2022). Shared picture book reading in early mathematics: A systematic literature review, Journal für Mathematik-Didaktik, 1–27.

Fien Depaepe. Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, and ITEC, an imec Research Group at KU Leuven, Etienne Sabbelaan 51, 8500 Kortrijk, Belgium. Email:

Current themes of research:

Her research focuses on the instructional design of (technology-enhanced) learning environments, the professional competence of teachers implementing these learning environments, and the evaluation of these learning environments in terms of cognitive and non-cognitive learning outcomes.

Most relevant publications in the field of Psychology of Education:

Depaepe, F., Van Roy, P., Torbeyns, J., Kleickmann, T., Van Dooren, W., & Verschaffel, L. (2018). Stimulating pre-service teachers' content and pedagogical content knowledge on rational numbers. Educational Studies in Mathematics, 99(2), 197–216.–9822-7.

Depaepe, F., Verschaffel, L., & Kelchtermans, G. (2013). Pedagogical content knowledge: A systematic review of the way in which the concept has pervaded mathematics educational research. Teaching and Teacher Education, 34, 12–25.

Van Schoors, R., Elen, J., Raes, A., & Depaepe, F. (2021). An overview of 25 years of research on digital personalised learning in primary and secondary education: A systematic review of conceptual and methodological trends. British Journal Of Educational Technology, 52(5), 1798–1822.

Vanbecelaere, S., Van den Berghe, K., Cornillie, F., Sasanguie, D., Reynvoet, B., & Depaepe, F. (2019). The effects of two digital educational games on cognitive and non-cognitive math and reading outcomes. Computers and Education, 143.

Verbruggen, S., Depaepe, F., & Torbeyns, J. (2021). Effectiveness of Educational Technology in Early Mathematics Education: A Systematic Literature Review. International Journal of Child-Computer Interaction, 27, 1–26.

Wim Van Den Noortgate. Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, and ITEC, an imec Research Group at KU Leuven, Etienne Sabbelaan 51, 8500 Kortrijk, Belgium. Email:

Current themes of research:

His research lines are in the field of statistical modelling and research methodology for educational sciences, with a special focus on learning analytics and meta-analysis.

Most relevant publications in the field of Psychology of Education:

Abbakumov, D., Desmet, P., Van Den Noortgate, W. (2019). Measuring growth in students’ proficiency in MOOCs: Two component dynamic extensions for the Rasch model. Behavior Research Methods, 51(1), 332–341.–1129-1.

Debeer, D., Vanbecelaere, S., Van Den Noortgate, W., Reynvoet, B., Depaepe, F (2021). The effect of adaptivity in digital learning technologies. Modeling learning efficiency using data from an educational game. British Journal Of Educational Technology, 52(5), 1881–1897.

Park, J.Y., Joo, S.H., Cornillie, F., van der Maas, H.L J., Van den Noortgate, W. (2019). An explanatory item response theory method for alleviating the cold-start problem in adaptive learning environments. Behavior Research Methods, 51(2), 895–909.–1166-9.

Raes, A., Vanneste, P., Pieters, M., Windey, I., Van Den Noortgate, W., Depaepe, F. (2020). Learning and instruction in the hybrid virtual classroom: An investigation of students’ engagement and the effect of quizzes. Computers & Education, 143, 103682.

Vanneste, P., Oramas Mogrovejo, J., Verelst, T., Tuytelaars, T., Raes, A., Depaepe, F., Van Den Noortgate, W. (2021). Computer vision and human behaviour, emotion and cognition detection: A use case on student engagement. Mathematics, 9(3), 1–20.

Lieven Verschaffel. Center for Instructional Psychology and Technology, KU Leuven, Dekenstraat 2, Post box 3773 B-3000 Leuven, Belgium. Email:

Current themes of research:

His major research interest is psychology of mathematics education, with special attention to early mathematics education, number sense and estimation, mental and written arithmetic, arithmetic word problem solving, and rational number knowledge.

Most relevant publications in the field of Psychology of Education:

Dewolf, T., Van Dooren, W., & Verschaffel, L. (2011). Upper elementary school children’s understanding and solution of a quantitative word problem inside and outside the mathematics class. Learning and Instruction21(6), 770–780.

Rathé, S., Torbeyns, J., De Smedt, B., Hannula-Sormunen, M.M., Verschaffel, L. (2018). Verbal and action-based measures of kindergartners' SFON and their associations with number-related utterances during picture book reading. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 88(4), 550–565.

Rathé, S., Torbeyns, J., De Smedt, B., Verschaffel, L. (2019). Spontaneous focusing on Arabic number symbols and its association with early mathematical competencies. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 48, 111–121.

Verschaffel, L., Luwel, K., Torbeyns, J., & Van Dooren, W. (2009). Conceptualizing, investigating, and enhancing adaptive expertise in elementary mathematics education. European Journal of Psychology of Education, 24, 335–359.

Wijns, N., Torbeyns, J., Bakker, M., De Smedt, B., Verschaffel, L. with Wijns, N. (2019). Four-year olds’ understanding of repeating and growing patterns and its association with early numerical ability. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 49, 152–163.

Joke Torbeyns. Center for Instructional Psychology and Technology, KU Leuven, Dekenstraat 2, Post box 3773 B-3000 Leuven, Belgium. Email:

Current themes of research:

Her current research focuses on the development and stimulation of young children’s early numeracy and patterning competencies, the efficient and adaptive use of strategies in the domain of elementary arithmetic, and preschool teachers’ professional competencies in the domain of mathematics.

Most relevant publications in the field of Psychology of Education:

Bojorque, G., Torbeyns, J., Van Hoof, J., Van Nijlen, D., Verschaffel, L. (2018). Effectiveness of the Building Blocks Program for enhancing Ecuadorian kindergartners' numerical competencies. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 44, 231–241.

Torbeyns, J., Hickendorff, M., Verschaffel, L. (2017). The use of number-based versus digit-based strategies on multi-digit subtraction: 9–12-year-olds' strategy use profiles and task performance. Learning & Individual Differences, 58, 64–74.

Torbeyns, J., Verbruggen, S., Depaepe, F. with Torbeyns, J. (corresp. author) (2019). Pedagogical content knowledge in preservice preschool teachers and its association with opportunities to learn during teacher training. ZDM: The International Journal on Mathematics Education, 1–12.–01088-y .

Wijns, N., Verschaffel, L., De Smedt, B., De Keyser, L., Torbeyns, J. (2021). Stimulating preschoolers’ focus on structure in repeating and growing patterns. Learning And Instruction, 74, 1–9.

Wijns, N., Verschaffel, L., De Smedt, B., Torbeyns, J. with Wijns, N. (corresp. author) (2021). Associations between repeating patterning, growing patterning, and numerical ability: A longitudinal panel study in 4- to 6-year olds. Child Development, 92(4), 1354–1368.

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Op ‘t Eynde, E., Depaepe, F., Van Den Noortgate, W. et al. Future preschool teachers’ mathematical questions during shared book reading. Eur J Psychol Educ 38, 1707–1727 (2023).

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