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R.I.G.O.R: Really Intensive Geared Operational Respect for Learning

Posted by on in Differentiated Instruction
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Do we all define rigor the same way?

With rigor being one of the biggest buzz words in education right now, teachers and administrators have to make sure we are all on the same page regarding what we believe it means.  Like many concepts in education, rigor is a word, heard often, but never really explained. It's an expectation, an outcome, a belief - one never normed or calibrated, just expected and understood.

Like with many concepts where meaning is assumed, there seems to be a miscommunication that few are willing to address; we just "assume" we are all talking about the same thing and go about our own definitions in our own spaces, sadly in isolation.

When we use big terms like "rigor" or "learning" or "mastery", seldom do we talk about what it actually looks like and how we can achieve it. "Engagement" seems to come up often when discussing any of the above as one of the measureable factors to ensure they are happening, but that too is extremely subjective.

This is all spinning around in my head after this past weekend's #satchat on the subject. Educational leaders and innovators share their Saturday mornings having a Twitter Conversation about the current ideas and initiatives we are all facing in our schools and classrooms. When rigor came up as the topic, I was eager to be involved.

Columbia University is considered one of the best schools in the country. Academically challenging -rigorous - and difficult to become a part of. Our classrooms should prepare for all kinds of institutions, even ones like this.
Columbia University is considered one of the best schools in the country. Academically challenging -rigorous - and difficult to become a part of. Our classrooms should prepare for all kinds of institutions, even ones like this.

The #satchat isn't the only place the word has been tossed around. In my school's weekly Professional Developments (PD), we are often tasked with sharing and discussing how we create rigor in our classrooms, most recently this discussion has been tied to teacher evaluations.  Several of the  domains call upon rigor in instructional expectations, project and outcome measurements and classroom expectations and participation.  So what does all of this look like? Can we measure it? Is it the same for everyone?

Challenging questions, not easily answered.

Teachers are unique individuals. The more successful ones parlez that singlularness into presentation of what they know and the relationships this forge and develop with their students.  Content area also plays a role in what it will look like and no cookie cutter approach is acceptable or reasonable for every teacher in every content area.

There are many ways to teach - just like there are many tools to learn and use. Part of mastering any of these tools, is knowing when it is appropriate to use them.  For example, if I have a nail that is going into the wall, I have to know the best tool to use is a hammer to get the nail in the wall as oppose to a wrench.

In education it is the same. I need to know that if I'm working with a complex information text, the best pedagogical choice may be paired reading and annotation techniques or a jigsaw that asks students to only become familiar with a small piece of it to share later; it depends on the purpose of what I'm trying to teach that day.  Rigor is tied into all of this.

Rigor, by my definition, has to do with the following:

  • High expectations with transparent goals for all students, all the time
  • Meaningful progress supported by the teacher with immediate and specific feedback for each child
  • A variety of pedagogical choices in structure of lessons and outcomes depending on the purpose and skills being taught
  • It is more student led, than teacher speaking - but lectures are appropriate at times for college-readiness
  • It is open-ended questions that never have only one right answer
  • It is providing meaningful evidence for any answer given
  • It is allowing students to solve problems in a way that works for them
  • It is allowing students the opportunity to choose the method and modality to show what they know with support
  • It is NOT proscriptive
  • It can be noisy and it requires risk (some of which may not work out)
  • It requires reflection for the teacher and the students
  • It doesn't look the same for everyone (which is why it is so hard to quantify and replicate in one specific way)
  • It is seeing your own content area with fresh eyes all the time and helping students to do the same
  • It is challenging project-based learning that requires use of multiple skills as once, with benchmarks and clear application
  • It is not one kind of assessment for all
  • It is standards based - common core or state or otherwise (AP in my case)
  • It provides real world connections and meaning for depth of understanding that transcend the classroom
  • It may require repetition
  • It requires a lot of patience and practice

Ideas are often difficult to define, but you know it when you see it.  Educators can't work in isolation. We must share ideas, use them, modify them and reproduce them.  We have to share the common goal of giving kids what they need to be successful in life, not just in our classrooms.

Here is a link to my AP class website - it is considered a "rigorous" class - perhaps one example worth sharing, by no means the only one.

How do you define rigor? Share your ideas

This post originally ran on StarrSackstein.com 

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Starr Sackstein currently works at World Journalism Preparatory School in Flushing, N.Y., as a high-school English and journalism teacher. She is the author of Teaching Mythology Exposed: Helping Teachers Create Visionary Classroom Perspective, Blogging for Educators, Teaching Students to Self-Assess, Hacking Assessment, The Power of Questioning and Simply May . She blogs for Education Week Teacher on “Work in Progress” in addition to her personal blog StarrSackstein.com where she discusses all aspects of being a teacher. Sackstein co-moderates #sunchat and contributes to #NYedChat. In speaking engagements, Sackstein speaks about blogging, journalism education, throwing out grades and BYOD, helping people see technology doesn’t have to be feared. Follow her @MsSackstein on Twitter.
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Guest Saturday, 22 October 2016