Rigor In the Classroom – What Does That Really Mean?

I feel like rigor is a buzzword in education that means something different to every educator. I was talking with a group of teachers this week and they were advocating for more rigor in our classrooms. As I listened, what I heard (and maybe I’m a little defensive) was that our 3rd graders still don’t accurately form their letters. “How can that be?” said one 3rd grade teacher. I also heard that WE (all of us?) needed to make sure that everyone was on the same page. Now when I hear that I see myself handing out daily handwriting packets and planning all of my lessons so that I can be on the same page of the same book from the same curriculum with every other 1st grade teacher in my building. (maybe even in my whole school district) My heart sank. Is that rigor? Is that what’s best for kids?

No. So what is the definition of rigor in an educational setting? According to the Glossary of Education Reform http://edglossary.orgy Rigor is defined and used by educators to describe instruction, schoolwork, learning experiences and educational expectations that are academically, intellectually, and personally challenging. Rigorous learning experiences help students acquire skills that can be applied throughout their lives.

For me, that means I’m on the right track. I believe to develop rigor in our students we must build relationships. And as we get to know each child socially, emotionally and academically we can differentiate learning so that each student is working at their own pace. In my school, 1st grade is when students learn what it means to be a self directed learner. We talk daily about mindset, what it means to be flexible, optimistic and persistent. I have no assigned seating so that students can learn how to pick a space that works for them. They learn how to work independently for short than longer periods of time. They participate in projects where they work together to ask and answer questions. They use their imagination to create original work.

Rigor also includes voice and choice. My students are almost never doing the same thing at the same time. Independent reading, word work, math, science, it looks different for everyone. My mini lessons are often strategy lessons and students apply and build on these strategies to do their best work. Last week we were working on measuring during our math block. Students picked non standard units of measure and were working together to find different ways to measure items in our classroom. This led to a discussion of perimeter and soon more than half of my students were measuring the distance around objects, taking pictures of this work and using technology to show what they had learned. Perimeter had not been in my lesson plan but it was in theirs. Students can and should drive their learning!

I am not a perfect teacher. But lifting expectations is key. Even our youngest learners can set their own learning goals and use these goals to challenge themselves. And one more thing, mistakes are welcome in my classroom. And yes, their handwriting is far from perfect. But my 1st graders are learning how to learn, to work with their peers, to think critically about their world and their place in it. Rigor.