Friday, February 20, 2015

Rigor, It's All the Rage...

Rigor is all the rage these days, both literally and figuratively speaking.  Everybody from the President on down believes that students must have more rigorous curriculum, more innovative instruction and challenging assessments to prepare them for the 21st century, for a college ready future, for a solid career pathway, and for whatever else we want kids to accomplish in America in the next decade.  But here's the question.  Can anybody that politicizes rigor tell us exactly what rigor looks like?

Diane Ravitch likens the perception of rigor to rigor mortis (a strict and rigid curriculum), and Barbara Blackburn (author of Rigor is NOT a Four-Letter Word) said, "People don't know what it means".  These two experts are right.  Rigor is one of the most confusing buzzwords today, and it has a different meaning depending on who you ask.  So the question becomes this.  How can administrators and teachers work together to define what rigor must look like to inspire kids to achieve success at the highest levels?

For more thoughts on rigor, click HEREHERE and HERE

Rigor Me This.

The problem that I see with rigor is not that we don't have rigor in our classrooms.  It's that we don't have an aligned understanding of what rigor must be so that students will be inspired to reach our rigorous expectations.  What teachers and leaders need is a common language about rigor, so that when someone says, "We Need More Rigor!", everybody knows what that means for kids.

To help educators work together to have some focused conversations about what rigor must mean, I whipped up this table comparing what it is and what it isn't.  My hope is that all educators within an organization will have meaningful discussions about rigor and create a common understanding, so that together they could make a rigorous school instead of rigorous classrooms.
Rigor is NOT
Rigor Is
More work
More appropriately
challenging work
Cognitive engagement
Q & A
Classroom discussion &
student collaboration
Hard classes
Rich learning environments
Hard work
Cognitive work
Selecting Correct
Making the best decisions from multiple correct responses
Depth of Work
Depth of Knowledge
Knowledge &
Creativity &
Based on the
verbs in a standard
Based on the
complete standard
Frustrating and
Challenging and

What would you add?  


  1. I'm with you on the confusion around rigor, John -- and on the notion that confusion around key terms can cripple forward progress in any work that we are doing with kids.

    I think the problem with the term rigor is that people apply it to their own interests. So to a math fan, if a kid isn't killing algebra by the time that they are in early middle school, there's not enough rigor in the curriculum. But to a STEM junkie, a school without a deep and meaningful Science Olympiad program isn't providing enough rigor.

    Rigor has become a cudgel that is used by tons of different stakeholders to criticize schools. My worry is that switch was intentional -- that rigor is the ultimate political term.

    Any of this make sense?

  2. Just scrap the word. It's not a very good way to describe learning. We have many better choices.