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You may have noticed by this point in the series that the 4 secret ingredients of a Co-Created Education are all words you’ve heard before.
In fact, they’re often terms that get overused, misused, or vaguely used, which is unfortunately a pretty common phenomenon in the education world. We get these buzz words stuck in our heads, we throw them around too much, and they lose meaning.
I really hate it when that happens, because some of them are such good words!
So instead of spending time hating on these watered-down words or scrapping them altogether, we want to give them new life--
We’re taking them one by one and defining them ourselves so that we can all work off of a shared set of definitions and a common language for the Co-CreatED community.
(input welcome; let us know what you think, too!)
A learning experience is rigorous when it pushes students to think deeply, to stretch their thinking in new directions, and to lean into their curiosity, knowing that the adults around them fully believe in their high potential.
AND NOW... MYTHBUSTING TIME :)
In this article from Edutopia, Brian Sztabnik calls out some of the common misconceptions about rigor. Despite common practice, rigor does NOT mean MORE work. And it does NOT mean “harder” work (whatever that means).
These misconceptions have led to what the author cleverly describes as “push-down and pile-on syndrome” --
College-level work gets pushed down onto highschoolers; reading fluency expectations are pushed down on Kindergarteners and even Pre-K’ers, before they’ve even hit the developmental readiness window.; so on and so forth.
Or-- a "pile on" example I observed firsthand when touring schools once--
An admissions professional from a prestigious, elite private school brags about the 2 hours of homework piled onto students each night, starting as early as 4th grade. Because "rigor."
These “push-down, pile-on” efforts, while well-intentioned, are misguided. They can even be harmful, squashing the love of learning right out of overburdened students.
Luckily, there are ways to reach the pinnacle of Rigor Mountain without overburdening learners and without extinguishing their spark for learning.
TOP 3 WAYS TO MAKE “RIGOR” A REALITY IN YOUR CLASSROOM OR SCHOOL:
THE *NEW* RULES OF RIGOR
Rigor Rule 1: Create a culture of high expectations for all.
Ever heard of the Pygmalion effect or the Golem effect? They are two psychological principles about our tendency as humans to rise to the expectations placed upon us.
The Pygmalion Effect explains that when others anticipate high performance from us, that’s what we tend to deliver. On the flip side, The Golem Effect shows that the opposite is also true-- when someone expects low performance from us, that’s what we tend to deliver.
Others’ expectations of us often become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
This is why it is critically important for us as educators to believe wholeheartedly in our students’ capabilities. Our students need to know that they are surrounded by caring adults who hold them accountable, push them to their highest potential, and believe in their capability fully.
Our expectations must communicate the message,
“I believe in you! I know you are capable! I care enough to push you, and I’m here for you every step of the way! I see your potential and I see you becoming the best version of you!”
You can't have high rigor without high expectations.
So how do we do it?
I got you. Use this free guide.
Rigor Rule 2: Focus on HOW to think, not WHAT to think.
In the digital age, how students think matters far more than what students know. They have nearly infinite information at their fingertips-- they carry tiny computers around in their pockets (that's what smartphones are, really).
I had a rule of thumb in my classroom: I’m not going to ask you to memorize something you can easily Google. That’s a waste of brain space.
Instead, I’m going to challenge you to think critically, to think creatively, and to apply what you know (or what you Google) to solve authentic, meaningful problems.
Because that’s what today’s world and tomorrow’s workforce demands.
A rigorous learning experience is one where students either deepen or build thinking skills-- they use their brains in new ways.
No matter your starting point, here's a full buffet of options for you to start from exactly where you are with increasing rigor via thinking skills:
Rigor Rule 3: Go Deeper. Aim Higher.
Bloom’s Taxonomy first came on the scene in 1956, as basically a ranking system for ordering cognitive processes. Then it got a makeover in 2001.
For reasons unknown, it is often visualized as some version of a colorful pyramid. (?)
When we use the term “higher-order thinking,” it usually means the upper tiers of Bloom’s pyramid; the higher a thinking skill falls on the pyramid, the more complex it is.
Bloom’s goal was to give educators a tool and a language for setting rigorous learning goals, and then assessing students’ mastery of those learning goals with the same level of rigor.
A second and relatively newer framework for ranking cognitive demand is Webb’s Depth of Knowledge (D.o.K.), developed in 1997.
Webb’s goal was actually very similar to Bloom’s-- to help educators align our assessments to our expectations. In other words, are we actually measuring what we think we’re measuring about students’ learning?
To figure that out, let's first break down the most basic structure of teaching and learning into its 3 component parts:
Sometimes when we go...
from point A (goal) → to point B (activity) → to point C (assessment)...
the rigor can get lost in translation like a bad game of telephone.
Instead, we want to focus on aligning the three, and keeping them all as rigorous as possible. Both the D.o.K. framework and Bloom’s Taxonomy can help with that.
A quick note about verbs...
One very ironic thing that has happened to both Webb's framework and Bloom's Taxonomy is reducing them down to a list of verbs to match each level. In fact, some people only ever know them to be menus of verbs.
When you stop to think about it, how could a tool about complexity have possibly gotten so oversimplified over the years?!
Phew! Now that we got that part out of the way, we can move on to a few tools that don't come with PSAs.
The 3 tools below are intended to be simple enough to be usable, yet meaty enough to maintain the complexity that is measuring cognitive rigor.
The bottom line is, we want all students thinking deeply and doing work that challenges them to grow.
Deepen Rigor Across Subject Areas
Wondering how to tell how rigorous an activity is within a certain subject? There's a tool (or 2) for that!
The first is a menu of learning activities, arranged by increasing Depth of Knowledge for each of the 4 main subject areas. This handy chart is just a visualization of Webb's 2002 article "Depth-of-Knowledge Levels for Four Content Areas."
The second is Dr. Karen Hess' Cognitive Rigor Matrix, which overlays Webb's D.o.K. and Bloom's Taxonomy. This particular version combines her 4 subject area matrices into one master tool.
The trouble is, those matrices are still a bit dense as a starting point.
To help use them more purposefully, here's a nice "decision-tree" type accompaniment. Together they make a perfect pairing!
Ask these 3 "more than one _______" questions:
Here's a tool to use as you're doing a quick "more than 1" check on your assignments and assessments:
These 3 "more than one ___" questions hone in on the main factors that distinguish one Depth of Knowledge level from another. Used as a quick rule of thumb, they help make D.o.K. a bit more approachable!
*DISCLAIMER: This tool is by no means meant to be used in isolation or as a replacement for a full understanding of Webb’s Depth of Knowledge framework. We’re not here to oversimplify complexity! That said, I also know how much is on your plate as a teacher, so a rule of thumb can come in handy from time to time. You’re a smart, competent, thinking person— use your professional judgement. You got this!
Turns out rigor is a pretty daunting topic to try to cover in just one article. It is HUGE!
So to recap:
A learning experience is RIGOROUS when it pushes students to think deeply, to stretch their thinking in new directions, and to lean into their curiosity, knowing that the adults around them fully believe in their high potential.
To make rigor a reality:
Get the COMPLETE new rules of rigor toolkit for FREE here:
The free New Rules of Rigor toolkit comes with everything you need to make rigor a reality in your school or classroom. Because bottom line, rigor is an equity issue-- it has to be accessible to all. Use this toolkit to make that happen.
How will you step up the rigor
in your classroom or school?
Leave a comment!
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