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RIGOR is NOT a Four-Letter Word Chapter 1: The Case for Rigor

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1 RIGOR is NOT a Four-Letter Word Chapter 1: The Case for Rigor
Barbara R. Blackburn

2 Definition of Rigor rig·or (rgr) n.
1. Strictness or severity, as in temperament, action, or judgment. 2. A harsh or trying circumstance; hardship. See Synonyms at difficulty. 3. A harsh or cruel act. 4. Medicine Shivering or trembling, as caused by a chill. 5. Physiology A state of rigidity in living tissues or organs that prevents response to stimuli. 6. Obsolete Stiffness or rigidity. [Middle English rigour, from Old French, from Latin rigor, from rigre, to be stiff; see reig- in Indo-European roots.] The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

3 Chapter One: The Case for Rigor
Power of an Individual Teacher “One teacher always has made a difference in the life of a student. One teacher will always make a difference in the life of a student.” Students Reflect Our Perspectives “…students reflect our perspective of them”. Focus on What We Can Control “When you focus on what you can control, you’ll feel more productive.”

4 Still echoed in the news today…
The Call for Rigor Remember? “Our nation is at risk…The educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a nation and a people.” (1983, National Commission on Excellence in Education: A Nation at Risk) No Child Left Behind (2001) Still echoed in the news today…

5 Many high school graduates are unprepared for college.
The Call for Rigor Research says (ACT (2007); Williamson (2006); Achieve (2007); American Diploma Project (n.d.,); National High School Alliance (2006); United States Dep. Of Ed, cited in Williamson (2006): Many high school graduates are unprepared for college. Too few high school graduates are getting needed skills and are taking remediation courses in college. College readiness translates into work readiness as well. Employers say that high school graduates are lacking basic skills. Students planning to join the workforce after gradution do not need a less rigorous curriculum- they also need higher order thinking skills. Students are not prepared for high school.

6 Reading Between the Lines – Report 1
ACT: Reading Between the Lines (2006) “…most high school students are not prepared for college level reading.” Key points from the report: “independent nature of college life” could be an issue, but students are not prepared to meet college expectations, and, “…reading and writing skills required to be successful in the workplace are equivalent to those needed for college.” “In order to prepare our students for life after school – whether that is some type of higher education or a job, we must increase the rigor in our classrooms.” (Page 4)

7 The Silent Epidemic – Report 2
The Silent Epidemic: Perspectives of High School Dropouts (2006) Almost 500 dropout student interviews and responses from focus groups found that 88% of these students were not failing and 70% felt they could have graduated! Findings from the report: 47% of dropouts stated classes ‘weren’t interesting’ 43% ‘excessive absences’ prevented catching up. 69% ‘not motivated’ to succeed. 66% would have done better if more had been ‘demanded’ of them. Suggestions from the dropouts: 71% - make school more interesting, 55% help is needed for students having problems, 81% wanted more world related learning, 75% smaller classes, individualized instruction.

8 Does This Really Matter?
A speaker once said, “…education is the one profession in which everyone believes they are an expert because they have gone to school. But the reality is that we do need to increase the level of rigor in classrooms across our nation. There are schools where everyone is expected to learn at a high level and all students show growth and experience success. However, there are also many places where students, especially those who are not placed in advanced classes, are not held to high expectations.” A favorite question asked middle schoolers, “If you were in charge of the school, what would you change?” One insightful answer: “For people who don’t understand as much… [they should] be in higher classes to understand more [because] if they already don’t know much, you don’t want to teach them to not know much over and over.” “Isn’t that reflective of how students view our levels of expectations in classes that are not labeled “higher level”? (Page 5)

9 Students’ Perceptions of Rigor
“How do you feel about rigor, or challenging work in school?” Of 400 responses from students in grades 2 through 12, answers included: - I would want to quit. I would need help. Robert - I really don’t mind it. I prefer to be challenged rather than bored. Tim - I don’t like work like that because if I spend a long time on just one problem and can’t find the answer I get stressed and that just makes it harder to do. Amy - I think it’s okay. I mean, I don’t prefer it, but it’s not as bad as most people think. Sometimes I prefer to have a little bit of a challenge. Kyle - It makes my head and hand hurt. Hayley - I don’t like doing rigor but everything in life isn’t easy so I just try my best to do it. Dominique - I feel that rigorous work needs to be explained better than normal work so I understand the material. Benjamin - I feel that challenging work would be better for people that think their work is too easy. Sumerlyn - OK, but if it’s hard, I want it to be fun too. Keith - I feel that rigorous work is made for some people and some people just might get frustrated and give up. I guess everyone should at least try it and if they can’t do it they don’t have to. Mason - I honestly don’t mind it every once in a while but not every hour of the day. Devon - I guess it’s ok if I’m in the mood for it. Kayla - It makes me feel stupid. I don’t ask anything and I just shake my head like I understand and say yes I get it. Emma - Sometimes I like it … sometimes I don’t. Joseph

10 Stumbling Blocks to Rigor
“Ultimately, the longer I work with teachers and administrators, the more I believe we have to move beyond outside pressures and harsh terminology and focus on the real issue: how to positively impact each student we teach to increase learning.” Why do we need to talk so much about it and not actually implement rigor? Three stumbling blocks to implementing rigor …. 1) Who knows what it means? 2) Does anyone know how to get there? 3) But what about this? It’s your Turn! Reflection/discussion. What is your reflection on the concept of rigor? Do you feel a ‘tug-of-war’ about rigor? Did students’ comments affect you?

11 Stumbling Blocks to Rigor
Who knows what it means? Quality of thinking, not quantity, and that can occur in any grade and at any subject. Bogess (2007) High expectations are important, and must include effort on the part of the learner. Wasley, Hampel, and Clark (1997) Deep immersion in a subject and should include real-world settings and working with an expert. Washor and Mojkowki (2006) “‘Rigor’ would be used to say something about how an experience or activity is carried out and to what degree. Specifically, a ‘rigorous’ experience would be one that involves depth and care as, for example, in a scientific experiment or literary analysis that is done thoughtfully, deeply with sufficient depth and attention to accuracy and detail.” James Beane (2001) “Goal of helping students develop the capacity to understand content that is complex, ambiguous, provocative, and personally or emotionally challenging (p. 7).” Strong, Silver, and Perrini (2001) “ … rigor is more of a process, that it involves depth and thought, which require effort, and that it is about the content provided in a lesson.” (page 9) It’s your Turn! Reflection/ discussion. What does rigor mean to you? Does your school have a definition for rigor? Do the above descriptions reflect your idea of rigor?

12 Stumbling Blocks to Rigor
2) Does anyone know how to get there? Recommendations Related to Courses/Course Content (Page 10) Expand access to high quality courses. ACT (2007); National High School Alliance (2006) Improve the quality and content of the core academic areas. ACT (2007);Cavanagh (2004) States should specify course content American Diploma Project (n.d.) Specify the number/kinds of courses taken for graduation ACT (2007) Raise graduation requirements National High School Alliance (2006); American Diploma Project (n.d.) “There is research to support the belief that the College Board’s Advanced Placement (AP) courses are beneficial, particularly in terms of success in college ( AR html), but the AP program has its critics. Therefore, the discussion of how to increase rigor needs to be broader than particular courses.” State standards are okay but….two alternatives are: “The Southern Regional Education Board ( has developed benchmark guidelines and rubrics based on the NAEP. The National Center on Education and the Economy ( has created a set of New Standards Performance Standards (1997) for all grade levels in the areas of English/Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, and Applied Learning” Note: NM’s Standards the 6th highest in the nation?

13 Stumbling Blocks to Rigor
2) Does anyone know how to get there? (Cont) 2nd area of focus - increase rigor through assessments. Assessments Variety of assessments American Diploma Project (n.d.); Washor & Mojkowski (2006) Relevant assessments Daggett (2005); Dyer (n.d.) Assess processes, techniques, exhibitions, and project reports Washor & Mojkowski (2006) K-12 and higher education should collaborate on assessments and vertical alignment Achieve (2007) Measure results at a course level ACT (2007)

14 Stumbling Blocks to Rigor
2) Does anyone know how to get there? (Cont) 3rd area of focus - increase rigor through teacher/student interaction. Teacher/Student Interaction Students and teachers should be reflective Bogess (2007); Washor & Mojkowski (2006) Work in a close setting National High School Alliance (2006); Washor & Mojkowski (2006) Learning connects to student interests National High School Alliance (2006); Southern Regional Education Board (2004); Washor & Mojkowski (2006) Connect learning to real world contexts National High School Alliance (2006); Dyer (n.d.); Southern Regional Education Board (2004); Washor & Mojkowski (2006) Build relationships with students Southern Regional Education Board (2004); Washor & Mojkowski (2006) It’s your Turn! Reflection/discussion Do you agree with these statements? What do you do in your classroom that follows these ideas?

15 Stumbling Blocks to Rigor
3) But what about this? Other concepts to consider… Related Concepts Small learning communities engaged in reflective thought with high expectations leads to success. Sammon (2006) Integrate nonacademic subjects such as physical education, music, art, with academic standards to improve instruction. Reeves (2003) Highly qualified teachers should be assigned to students who need them most. ACT (2007); California Gear Up ( Teachers need support. ACT (2007); Southern Regional Education Board (2004) “Now, the discussion of rigor incorporates not only curriculum, assessment, and instruction, but also school or class size, interdisciplinary teaching, teacher quality, and professional development. No wonder we seem to be stuck just talking about rigor!” (Page 14) It’s your Turn! Reflection/discussion What blocks do you encounter when thinking of rigor? Can you control this or is this controlled by someone else?

16 Where do I go From Here? “I believe that we need to assess what we are doing in our schools and develop plans for school improvement, whether that is evaluating and adjusting our standards, providing professional development that is focused on vertical alignment, or ensuring that our students who are most at risk for failure have a high-quality teacher. “However, I believe that real change, lasting change, change that impacts the students who need it the most, happens at the classroom level.” (page 14) “That is the core of my view of rigor. Rigor is ensuring that each student you teach is provided the opportunity to grow in ways they cannot imagine.” (page 15) Keep in mind three beliefs to accomplish the opportunity for students to grow… Quality … not Quantity – doing more with less Everyone … not just “Special Students” Learning … not Punishment – growth and success, not failure

17 Definition of Rigor 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, page 16) “In other words, we are going to focus on things you can do every day to help your students. Together, we’ll discuss practical strategies you can incorporate immediately into your classroom.” (page 16) It’s your Turn! Reflection/discussion Write a ‘vision letter’ (Ch.7) of how you have incorporated rigor into your classroom and what your successes were – in past tense.

18 Conclusion “The case for increased rigor is clear. If we want to prepare our students for a future after they leave school, we must provide experiences that are more challenging. However, we need to move forward with a positive approach to help all our students succeed. Our approach to rigor will shine the spotlight on your classroom, providing strategies related to your curriculum, your instruction, and your assessment.” (page 18) Final Insights The most important idea I read was … One way I plan to apply this information in my classroom is … I wonder …

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