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The Ideal Level of Learning Challenge

Families typically seek out my services when their child is experiencing difficulty or stress at school. In many instances, the children have learning differences that impact how they learn. Students with atypical learning needs often experience a mismatch between classroom expectations and their abilities. Such gaps between classroom instruction and individual needs often cause the child to feel frustrated, discouraged, and isolated.

In many of these cases, the students whose families seek my services also have issues with focusing attention and initiating tasks, particularly tasks that are not preferred. The ability to selectively attend to instruction while simultaneously ignoring environmental distractions can be very difficult for young children, even in the best of circumstances. Attending becomes even more challenging when the child processes information or learns at a different rate than classroom instruction. Learning the power of persistence is the key to helping these children reach their full potential.

Staying with the “sweet spot”—the ideal level of learning challenge

The research is clear that when students engage in lessons at a level commensurate with their abilities, they are able to do their best learning and are most likely to sustain their attention. For this reason, I have frequently recommended that families invest in DreamBox Learning Math when math achievement is an area of focus. DreamBox is unique in that it rapidly adjusts to the learning rate of the student in a way that is just not possible in a typical classroom of 25 students. A classroom teacher cannot possibly adapt on a problem-by-problem basis for each of the students in her classroom. DreamBox is able to adjust the difficulty of tasks to stay within the range of what Vygotsky refers to as the Zone of Proximal Development—that “sweet spot” where tasks are within the student’s capability but also at an ideal level of challenge.

The capability of DreamBox Learning Math to tailor the task difficulty to the needs of the student prevents a too-frequent experience for many students, total frustration and discouragement. Families who have purchased home licenses for DreamBox have reported rapid growth in math achievement in their students. One client whose son scored below the 10th percentile in the Fall reported that he had been reassessed at school and that his math achievement had risen to the 50th percentile in only a matter of months. They noted that he loves working on DreamBox and that they were impressed that they no longer needed to nag or bribe their son to work on his math.

Equality for all learners

I have also been impressed that DreamBox seems to hold equal appeal for both boys and girls. Families of girls have provided similar reports that their daughters enjoy DreamBox and independently get online to practice their skills. Given how early many young girls decide that they aren’t good at math, I’m encouraged by how DreamBox is helping reverse that trend.

Transforming the learning experience has far-reaching effects

What is most exciting to me as an educator is seeing the transformation in students who once viewed themselves as “not good at math,” “not smart,” or “not like other kids,” who now return with new confidence. They come to see themselves as competent and can recognize that their work paid off. They begin to understand that they are capable of achieving their own goals—and this increase in self-confidence almost always extends beyond math.

Educational psychologist Michelle Proulx leads an educational consultancy, The Capable Child, in Seattle, Washington.

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