Few people question the need for America’s schools and classrooms to be more rigorous. But there is little agreement about what rigor is and what it looks like.
In Rigor is NOT a Four-Letter Word. Barbara Blackburn defined rigor as creating an environment in which each student is expected to learn at high levels, each student is supported so that he or she can learn at high levels, and each student demonstrates learning at high levels (Blackburn, 2008). This three-part approach assures that rigor doesn’t consist of just adding curriculum requirements or raising grading standards. Integral to the model is providing every student with high levels of support so that they can thrive and be successful in their classrooms.
Rigor is more than a specific lesson or instructional strategy. It is deeper than what a student says or does in response to a lesson. Real rigor is the result of weaving together all elements of schooling to improve the achievement and learning of every student.
We’ll start with the first part: rigor is creating an environment in which each student is expected to learn at high levels. Having high expectations starts with the decision that every student possesses the potential to be his or her best, no matter what.
we talk with says that they have high expectations for their students. Sometimes that is evidenced by the behaviors in the school; at at other times, actions don’t match the words. When you visit classrooms and work with your teachers, use the following tools to assess the level of rigor you see.
As you work with teachers to design lessons that incorporate more rigorous opportunities for learning, you will want to consider the questions that are embedded in the instruction. Higher-level questioning is an integral part of a rigorous classroom. Look for open-ended questions that are at the higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy (analysis and synthesis).
It is also important to look at how teachers respond to student questions. When we visit schools, it is not uncommon for teachers who ask higher-level questions to accept low-level responses from students. In rigorous classrooms, however, teachers push students to respond at high levels. They ask extending questions. If a student does not know the answer, the teacher continues to probe and guide the student to an appropriate answer rather than moving on to the next student.
Tool 1: Questions and Responses
You can use this tally tool to chart your observations about questioning techniques and talk with teachers about questions in class.