Rigor and the Common Core: Just the BeginningBy Barbara Blackburn
Click here to read the transcript of live chat defining instructional rigor.
Rigor is one of the most discussed topics in education today, especially given the emphasis through the Common Core State Standards. However, many teachers assume that because the Common Core Standards are rigorous there is no need to consider any additional aspects of rigor. Yes, the standards are rigorous, but unless we implement them with rigorous instructional strategies, we will not achieve a rigorous classroom.
Instructional Rigor What is instructional rigor? True instructional rigor is “creating an environment in which each student is expected to learn at high levels, each student is supported so he or she can learn at high levels, and each student demonstrates learning at high levels (Blackburn, 2012).” Notice we are talking about four distinct aspects of the classroom: environment, expectations, support, and demonstration of learning.
Environment First, we need an environment that supports rigor. An appropriate classroom culture focuses on risk-taking, since working at higher levels requires that student take a risk. How do we do this? First, by reinforcing progress, so that students see they are rising to higher levels, step-by-step. Next, it’s important to recognize and praise effort by students. When we do so, students put forth more effort, which leads to increased student achievement. Finally, we should emphasize grit, or persistence. According to Angela Lee Duckwoth, grit is having resilience in the face of failure, and having deep commitments to something, such as learning. Grit is continuing to focus and move forward, even when stumbling or struggling with learning. It’s another aspect of the classroom culture that allows students to thrive in a rigorous environment.
High Expectations Reaching the raised expectations set by the new Standards will be challenging for students. We must consider how we let our students know that we truly believe they can meet the expectations identified in the new standards. For example, the language we use when teaching the standards can reflect high expectations or low ones. We can say, “I know we have new standards that are challenging, but I also know you can do it!” or we can state, “Of course you don’t know this. We have these new standards that are too hard.”
One of the ways in which the standards raise the bar is by focusing on the application of knowledge through higher-order thinking skills. Simply asking higher-order questions is not enough. We must be mindful of how we respond to students’ answers to our questions. For example, do we accept a low-level answer from a student? Or if they don’t know the answer, do we move on or answer the question ourselves? Each of those responses reflects a lack of high expectations for the students, and therefore is not rigorous. As such, we can teach toward rigorous standards in an environment that is not truly rigorous.
Support Another critical aspect of rigor is the increased support for student learning. There are a variety of ways to support students during the transition to new learning. First, make expectations clear to your students. Frequently, students don’t learn because they did not understand the goal. Teachers can reframe the standards as questions for students to answer. Questions shift the perspective to the learner, as opposed to the teacher, and they tap into the investigative nature of learning. For a student, the question becomes, “what do I need to figure out?” vs. “what is the teacher talking about today.”
Second, understand that scaffolding strategies will continue to be an integral part of your instruction. The exact strategy and tools you will need for your students will depend on your individual situation (and on the individual learners), but they are still needed. If anything, the higher standards will demand an increased focus on using chunking, graphic organizers, metacognitive strategies, and many other tools to help students be successful.
Demonstration of Learning The CCSS are to be accompanied by matching high-level assessments. It is likely that some of these assessments will be more useful to teachers than others, and the immediate emphasis appears to be on summative assessments. It is important that we remember the critical role of formative assessments. As we ask students to meet a new set of standards that is more challenging, they will likely struggle. One of the best scaffolding strategies we can use is to assess their work frequently in a manner that provides feedback so they can adjust what they are doing.
It is imperative that we not allow students to fall through the cracks in this process.
Ultimately, the new CCSS are an excellent way to create immediate, rigorous expectations
A Final Note
Real change, lasting change, change that impacts the students who need it the most, happens
In classrooms where all students learn, regardless of gender, ethnicity, poverty level, or
Rigor is ensuring that each student you teach is provided the opportunity to grow in ways
Blackburn, B. (2012). Rigor is NOT a Four-Letter Word (2nd edition). New York: Routledge.
Also by Barbara Blackburn
About the author
Barbara is a best-selling author of 14 books, including Rigor is NOT a Four-Letter Word. A nationally recognized expert in the areas of rigor and motivation, she collaborates with schools and districts for professional development. Barbara can be reached through her website: www.barbarablackburnonline.com or her blog: rigorineducation.blogspot.com.