Saturday, July 9, 2016

What is rigor?

As I drink my coffee this Saturday morning, I'm reminded of a conversation I had with another teacher this week. This teacher and I were talking about another teacher that is a common acquaintance, and we were talking about how this teacher is a "brand new, baby" teacher. She has no teaching experience, but when the three of us were talking, this acquaintance was using all sorts of buzz words when talking about her future classroom.

When it was just the original teacher and myself together, we were talking about what this acquaintance had to say. The other teacher was frustrated that she was using buzz words, thinking that she was saying what we wanted to hear. She believes that this new teacher needs to teach content. She kept reiterating that she needs to teach RIGOROUS content.

I felt like she was insinuating that I do not teach rigorous content, nor does my team teach rigorous content. Is it because we teach with iPads? That's how it felt. I think she was alluding to the fact that she does not consider teaching 21st century skills or teaching in a project-based classroom teaching "rigor". I honestly think that she believes rigor is MORE.

That blew my mind, and inspired this post to talk about rigor. A quick Google search [What is rigor?] provides many results about rigor and education. This is a hot topic of which most of you are aware. I feel like Dr. Barbara Blackburn says it best,
"Rigor is creating an environment in which each student is expected to learn at high levels, and each is supported so he or she can learn at high level, and each student demonstrates learning at high level." (Blackburn, 2008).
Our job, as teachers, is to create a rigorous environment, create units and lesson that force students to learn at high levels, support students through those rigorous units and lessons, and provide choice for students to demonstrate their new learning. This can be done through traditional or new methods of teaching.

I know that when I started teaching with "new" methods, I was taking a risk. I was scared of failure and was embarrassed when I messed up. But in the end, risk taking transformed my teaching. My students were creating projects I considered insane (i.e. above and beyond 8th grade). I was proud of my students and was proud of the change in my classroom. I know that my students are going to have the same feelings (scared, frustrated, embarrassed) when they enter my classroom, but I hope that they are proud when they leave.

How is my curriculum rigorous?
  • My students answer open-ended questions. Students are asked What is an individual's responsibility to a community? and What drives people to seek independence? Students have to answer these questions based on evidence from the historical era that they are studying. They have to make connections between past and present in order to see trends throughout time. 
  • My students have to demonstrate their learning through various forms of media. They have created digital stories, infographics, silent films, travel videos, DBQ essays, and sketchnotes (for some examples). Every project is different so they have to demonstrate learning of the content and learning of different forms of media. These should be forms of media that they will encounter in the real world. 
  • Students have to plan out their learning before they create a final project. They have to construct meaning of the content for themselves. They have to figure out what questions to ask while thinking critically about the content. It's not about memorizing the content - it's about how the content is used. 
This can all sound fine and dandy, but students really struggle in my class. Often, my classroom is the first that they've encountered that "looks" like this (not traditional memorization and regurgitation). My classroom doesn't fit the game of education that they've been playing since kindergarten, so they do get frustrated and upset with me. Often I hear students say they want it to be easy. I know that I have to build in more support to help them, and am learning this more and more each year while I teach.

In the end, rigor is not more. I can challenge students to think critically through a paragraph instead of a five page essay. I can challenge students to think critically through an iMovie trailer instead of a whole movie. I know that when I plan units and lessons, I have to remember:
  • Learning at high levels 
  • Support of learning at high levels 
  • Demonstration of learning at high levels 

If I can remember these things, I can make my class rigorous no matter my teaching style.

Thanks for reading! I'll see you next Saturday :)
- Rachel

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Note: I was really inspired by this article from Huffington Post. It makes great connections between yoga and rigor in the classroom.