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Tiny Victories Add Up to Big Wins for DreamBox Students at Linden Elementary

Why believing in yourself is key

There’s a term you may remember from your introductory psych classes in college called “self-efficacy.” Psychologist Albert Bandura defined self-efficacy as a person’s belief in their ability to accomplish a particular task. The idea is that if you believe you can do something, you probably can. It’s like the old Henry Ford quote: “Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you’re right.”

Fourth-grade math teacher and DreamBox Nation member Jennifer Longnecker recently presented a webinar on motivation in the classroom entitled, “Acquiring an Appetite for Math.” Jennifer teaches two periods of math daily at Linden Elementary School in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. And, the students in both of her classes not only think they can do math — they’ve proven it, beyond a shadow of a doubt. They are, in fact, a study in the power of self-efficacy.

Jennifer has engendered a motivational mindset in her students that’s positively contagious and nothing short of inspirational. She uses achievements in DreamBox to reinforce self-efficacy in her students and build their confidence — one lesson at a time.

One success leads to another, and so on

Students take turns updating the number of lessons completed daily on a poster proudly displayed in the classroom. Jennifer also created a border near the ceiling that looks like a racetrack that goes all the way around the room.

On Mondays, students get to move a car with their name on it a certain distance along the road, depending upon the number of lessons they completed the previous week. Her students can visually see their progress, and where they are with relation to their classmates. They see who’s in front them, who’s behind them, and where they can go next. The track is 250 lessons long, but there’s no end. In fact, two students have completed more than 1,000 lessons and circled the room several times. And then there’s Zachary.

Zachary, fourth-grade mathematician and DreamBox devotee

The road to achieving 569 percent personal growth

Zachary started fourth grade on-level, and Jennifer quickly discovered he had an appetite for math. The more DreamBox lessons he completed, the more he wanted to take. He kept asking for more assignments, and eventually Jennifer let him choose the math topics he wanted to pursue. Since July of 2016, Zachary has completed 1,033 lessons and met 100 standards. He recently took fifth- and sixth-grade placement tests, and placed in sixth-grade advanced math. He’s even completing eighth-grade-level lessons in probability and statistics.

Zachary’s progress is phenomenal and serves as an inspiration to his classmates. Albert Bandura, the psychologist mentioned at the beginning of this post, says that one of the sources of self-efficacy is “social modeling.” That means that when we see people similar to ourselves “succeed by sustained effort,” we believe that we too possess similar capabilities. In short, we think, ‘if Zachary can do it, so can I.’ Zachary’s classmates, on average, have experienced 210 percent growth in less than a year’s time.

Roadblocks are just speed bumps

Of course, students occasionally hit a roadblock and struggle with a particular concept. In a traditional classroom setting this is where frustration can result in low self-efficacy, but not so in Jennifer’s classroom. She employs a number of clever morale-building strategies, including assigning a below-grade-level lesson every now and then. It allows students to refresh a foundation skill, overcome doubts, and rebuild their confidence so they’ll be motivated to persist and progress.

If you’d like to learn more about how Jennifer Longnecker keeps her fourth-grade students so engaged and motivated, you can watch this recording of her 30-minute webinar on demand. You’re bound to come away with actionable ideas that you can start applying in your own classroom immediately.