I’ve been thinking a lot about “rigor” lately. It is a big buzz word in education right now. Last June, I was fortunate to attend the Model Schools Conference, where Dr. Bill Daggett showcased his Rigor-Relevance Framework. It was inspiring and motivating to me as an educator.
Recently, I read a great Edutopia blog on rigor by Brian Sztabnik. You can read it here. His words and reflections resonated with me. I was especially intrigued by this statement:
Rigor is the result of work that challenges students’ thinking in new and interesting ways.
Sztabnik explains how the great novelist David Foster Wallace would not use stereotypically “classic” works of literature in his 100-level college class. Instead, Wallace chose more contemporary, culturally-popular books. He warned not to write off the books as “easy” or “blow-off” books.
In his own genius, Wallace was selecting books that were more accessible and not teaching a difficult book, but increasing the students’ ability to articulate informed opinions/reasoning of their reading responses.
This is where real rigor lies.
It is not always what we are teaching, but it is definitely how we teach it. Utilizing any tool for instruction in a way that ignites a student is where the real magic lies.
I used to have a notion that rigor meant difficulty. As I continue to try to improve my own instruction, I know that rigor does not mean “harder.” It means that students are motivated to accomplish, and that they are aware of themselves metacognitively. Rigorous learning allows students to choose to turn on their thinking.
In terms of STEM, Melissa Marshall has a great 4.5 minute TED talk here. She speaks along the lines of rigor, motivation, using Tier 3 vocabulary (she says “jargon”) in a specific, and high-level of content geared to anyone. She discusses great communication and states:
Making your ideas accessible is not the same as dumbing it down.
Edutopia also has a great infographic about what learners pay attention to here. Also worth a look.
I find that the more I differentiate my instruction, the higher the overall engagement. If tasks are more creative and open-ended, students tend to let their imaginations run wild and get more immersed in the task. Immersion is actively diving into something more deeply. In my book, that is what rigor looks like.
Choice within the content material is also an accelerator of engagement, in my opinion. Giving students options on what they read, or how they present what they know has shown to foster engagement in my own classroom. This gives a confidence boost to the students who like to “swim upstream” – and allows them to shine. As confidence goes up, so does one’s commitment to learning, and rigor is the by-product.
A Year Later
So, almost a year later – how has rigor been focused on within my lessons? What have I changed? What have I eliminated? How has rigor been increased/decreased by the inception of our 1:1 iPad classrooms?
I teach 9th graders. They often have one foot in middle school, and one foot in high school. The students they are in September are vastly different than the students they are by the following June. Some of them are extremely tech savvy, and blow me away with their ability to administrate their high school courses electronically. Others struggle with the distraction the iPads present. Although we have been vigilant to minimize the distractions, they are inevitable.
I have learned not to use iPads for every task. Although I have created a paperless classroom this year (sans summative assessments), I need to allow students choice in what works best for them. For example, some prefer reading in their paper textbook, others like viewing the pdf of their textbook online.
Novelty and diversity in tasks are key. In my previous post, I discussed how “edtech” is not innovation. In the same way, difficulty is not rigor.
Metacognition is the other piece I have learned to add into each task, in order to increase engagement and rigor. Taking a moment to show students how to think about the task, open their awareness, and create a mindful group of learners makes each lesson I teach more successful than it would have been without the metacognitive piece. Discussion, and having students explain things back to me are intellectually stimulating. Pulling ideas out into the “big picture,” pushing into the micro level, applying it to their experiences in life to ignite relevance all have shown to help relate to what my students are learning. Increase of rigor is not guaranteed by these approaches, but more possible.
What do you think?
Have a happy, inspired day!