Rigor in Education- What's the Deal?
Chances are rigor sparks a feeling for you, maybe good or maybe bad. There seems to be a positive definition of "rigor" out there, but also a negative one.
Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines rigor as:
1a (1) : harsh inflexibility in opinion, temper, or judgment : severity (2) : the quality of being unyielding or inflexible : strictness (3) : severity of life : austerity
Harsh inflexibility seems incredibly negative to me, and is definitely not something I would ever want to encourage in a classroom.
According to Edutopia, however, we need a new definition of rigor. “Rigor is the result of work that challenges students' thinking in new and interesting ways. It occurs when they are encouraged toward a sophisticated understanding of fundamental ideas and are driven by curiosity to discover what they don't know.”
Since there are negative definitions of rigor, it’s important that we differentiate and continue implementing the positive attributes of rigor. As a result of providing positive rigorous instruction, our students are challenged to think critically about the topic, and develop a more in-depth understanding.
Positive rigor also encourages confidence in the classroom. Confidence leads to creativity. Once students are more confident in a topic, they will naturally gravitate towards thinking outside the box on the given topic.
Rigor in learning is, simply put, powerful.
Can they handle it?
Listen, kids may whine at first when you have higher standards and require them to push through more challenging coursework. But they truly can do it! It’s hard to not feel guilty for leveling up your game. The complaining has led me to question so many times whether I was pushing too hard or expecting too much. But if you just stick with it, it turns out they will accept that you are a tough teacher and that you believe they can do it!
Their coaches push them to run and require a lot of them, and they are not allowed to complain! They can do the same in school. Don’t be afraid to keep your expectations high. Of course, you will need to differentiate and reach every student. So I am not saying to make your demands on the kids unreasonable. You’ll know what a student can truly do, and be sure that you are aware of their differences. But keeping the level of healthy rigor high benefits everyone.
Remember that a whiny attitude at first is just a way of testing. Are you going to cave and say “oh you’re right, that is too hard for you” or will you stick to your guns and have them give it a try?
The reaction of kids to “test” the expectations reminds me of a video I saw a couple of years ago about parenting teens. It compared teenagers to riders on a roller coaster. When the ride crew comes around and pushes the bar down tight on your lap, what do you do? Of course you push back up to test it. But deep down, you are hoping it will hold steady. You know you need that clear expectation, that you don’t want too much freedom. You are hoping someone will be steady, clear, and not budge when you need that. I think about that video often and I feel that it relates to so many aspects of dealing with teenagers and kids.
How to Blend Inquiry, Creativity, and RIGOR
NCTM shares the key to moving towards rigorous instruction as a big picture. “Professional development experiences that model rigor through the use of rich tasks, rich discourse, and good questions allow teachers to experience rigorous instruction.”
Let's break that down! Here are specific ways to incorporate healthy rigor:
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