Rigor

As I have spent a substantial number of days recently observing in K12 classrooms, I’ve looked to identify examples of students engaged in rigorous learning.

Oregon’s Small School Initiative website provides the following description of rigor:

“When instruction is academically rigorous, students actively explore, research and solve complex problems to develop a deep understanding of core academic concepts that reflect college readiness standards.

Increasing rigor does not mean more and longer homework assignments, rather, it means time and opportunity for students to develop and apply habits of mind as they navigate sophisticated and reflective learning experiences. Students with strong habits of mind weigh evidence, consider varying viewpoints, see connections, identify patterns, evaluate outcomes, speculate on possibilities and assess value. They find creative paths to resolve problems when they don’t immediately know the answer.

Through an academically rigorous program students not only gain knowledge and skills to achieve at high levels, they also gain ways of thinking and doing that prepare them for college, work and citizenship.”

I saw an example of rigor in a first grade classroom where students were working to solve the following problem:

If five children were practicing fair sharing with 25 games, how many would each child receive?

The teacher working with the whole class at the overhead created a drawing of the five students (using names of children in the class). She then began distributing games among each student in the drawing. Initially, she placed a game by each individual before giving a second to each. After three had been given to each, she gave the next individual three additional games, and continued giving three, thus “running out of games” before each had an equal number.

Students immediately yelled, “Unfair!”. She then began asking for volunteers to describe, “What she had done wrong?” and “How it could be fixed?”.

Listening to student responses to each other and to individuals who stepped to the overhead, it was clear that possibilities, patterns, and connections were present in their thinking. Fixing the teacher’s mistake created more rigor than just solving the problem.

In the November 2009 issue of Kappan, James Stigler and James Hiebert in Closing the Teaching Gap, identify that high student achievement is not the result of a single best teaching practice but the result of students attending to important mathematical relationships and doing serious mathematical work.

“They (teachers) also must learn to monitor what students are experiencing, thinking, and learning during a lesson and be able to constantly readjust their strategies in order to capitalize on every opportunity for students to learn.” (page 36)
So my read is that teachers need to look for rigorous learning and continually shift practices to gain rigorous learning responses.

In the following video clip,


Larry Rosenstock the CEO of High Tech High provides this definition of rigor….

“being in the company of a passionate adult who is rigorously perusing inquiry in the area of their content and inviting students along as peers in that adult discourse”

I think that is what I saw in the first grade math classroom. When I met the first grade teacher later in the day and mentioned that I saw the students rigorously engaged in math thinking, she shared that the “mistake” was a mistake, not planned.
So her inquiry with the students, “What did I do wrong?” was an invitation to an adult discourse.

During an interdisciplinary project, High Tech High students use the power of media in Humanities and the knowledge of scientific data in Biology to educate the public about the water quality at local beaches in San Diego. You’ll find the elements of rigorous learning as you listen to students describe their work in this clip:

What patterns emerge in the classrooms where you find rigor most often?

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Steve Barkley

For the past 30 years, Steve has served as a consultant to school districts, teacher organizations, state departments of education, and colleges and universities nationally and internationally, facilitating the changes necessary for them to reach students and successfully prepare them for the 21st century. Read more…

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