By Teachers, For Teachers
The term “academic rigor” has been perambulating its way through educational circuits, but many teachers are not familiar with the concept or how to support rigor within their classroom. Understanding rigor is essential for understanding how to approach and measure the learning of students. It questions the standards we demand from our students and reconsider exactly what we consider as true achievement.
“Rigor,” in the academic sense, is referring to that fine line between challenging and frustrating a student. It means that students are challenged to think, perform, and grow to a level that they were not at previously. It means that students must work, like an athlete at a team practice, to build their skills, understanding, and thinking power so that they can achieve at higher and higher levels. It means that the standards of the course are calibrated so that students are compelled to grow, but are not frustrated and overwhelmed in the process.
Academic rigor is commonly thought of in three different phases of the educational process. The first is setting the standard for students; the second is equipping students through instructional and supportive methods; the third is student demonstration of achievement. These three phases were popularized by Barbara Blackburn’s 2008 book “Rigorous Schools and Classrooms: Leading the Way.”
We all know that there is a certain standard of excellence that we implicitly expect of our students. Sometimes these standards are made clear to students via examples, rubrics, directions, and instruction. Sometimes these standards are less defined. What is essential for establishing the appropriate degree of rigor in your classroom is making sure that you overtly demonstrate to students what the expected outcome is. Here are a few key characteristics of a classroom that communicates the standards.
Not only is maintaining a high standard essential for student success, but excellent teachers must also make sure that they are supporting each and every student to move progressively toward the desired level of achievement. Teachers must consistently ensure that whatever the content or skill they are covering, they provide the requisite materials and instructional patterns. Here are the signs of a classroom environment supportive for student progress:
It’s not enough for teachers simply to “teach” and expect students then to “learn.” The final step for true assessment of academic rigor within the classroom is for the teacher to provide students with various opportunities to demonstrate their degree of achievement in relation to the given standard. Here are a variety of methods available for allowing students to exemplify their progress:
So what are your standards in your classroom? How are those communicated, supported, and demonstrated throughout the year? Take time to consider how “rigorous” the academic requirements are for your classroom, and shape the environment to consistently demand of students higher and higher levels of academic progress!
What do you consider “rigorous” for your students? Do you think it is different depending on the class? How do Common Core standards affect the type of rigor you engage your students in? Share your thoughts on this subject below!
Jordan Catapano is an English teacher at Conant High School in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated, he also sits as the District Leader for the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and serves as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website ACTWritingTips.com.