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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What is this thing called Rigor?

The latest and greatest way to aggravate kids and teachers is this thing called rigor.  But no one really knows what it is.

Rigor is supposed to be about higher standards.  That does not mean just more quantity of work.  Rigor should be about the level of cognitive processing that is expected of students.  That is the quality of the work, not the quantity.

More assignments and more reading doesn't necessarily mean more rigor.  It is what students are expected to do with that material that really counts and that often means covering less territory but in more depth.  Harder should mean more intellectually challenging.  Too often harder means something that has not been well taught or was taught to students before they were prepared to learn it.

What really counts is what we expect students to do with the learning that is presented to them.  Do we expect them to think about the learning and interact cognitively with the experience?  Or do we just expect them to cover lots of content and repeat what someone else has learned.  The ability to memorize other people's learning is not rigorous content.  Young children too can do rigorous learning if they are made to interact with the content so that they bring their own understanding of the content to the learning experience.

Are students asked to interact with the content in ways that cause them to bring their own personal experiences to what they are learning?  Are students asked to compare and contrast the content to what they know?  Are students asked to reflect on how this content has meaning in their own lives at this point in time?  These experiences will be different for different children.  They will be meaningful as well and will change the child because of the new learning.  New learning will also allow the child to view his/her subsequent experiences through the prism of this new learning.

Our President has called us to STEM learning, science, technology, engineering and mathematics.  These are indeed very important subjects and vital if our economy is going to continue to lead the world. Education, however, is about integrating new learning and new experiences in all subjects into our experiential fields.  Education is about changing our view of the world and changing our view of our own experiences.  Just increasing quantity will not do that.  In fact, increasing quantity does not give us time to do the quality learning we need to do.  We need to spend more time learning horizontally and less time covering time learning vertically so we cover more content.


Barbara said...

I really enjoyed your posting, and am blogging about it/linking to it on February 23. Barbara Blackburn, http://rigorineducation.blogspot.com

Kendra said...

Dear Dr. J.
I have greatly enjoyed reading your posts! I've been a teacher for 25 years, many of those in Special Education. In my experience only about 10% of teachers "get" special education kids.
Much of what I do is to help regular classroom teachers understand, support and appreciate all students especially those who struggle in our system.
It was so good to see someone challenge the idea that all students should go to college. Not everyone is suited or capable of college level work. When schools focus on the 1/3 or so that go on to university what does it say to the other 2/3rds?
For too long we've focused on the "go to school well" students. They know how to fill in the form, stay in the lines, hand in their homework and memorize the content. The message seems to be everyone should be like them. What does it say to all the kids who are brilliant "squares" that don't easily fit into the round holes of education?
Anyway, thank you for some great reading. It made my day!