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.