When Barbara Blackburn and I were writing Rigorous Schools and Classrooms we spent a lot of time talking about the challenges that principals face when working to improve the rigor of their schools. The conversation led us to talk about the myths that are associated with rigor in schools. We identified four of them that we think impact the way parents, teachers and administrators think about rigor.
- Myth #1: Lots of Homework is a Sign of Rigor - For many people this is the most prevalent indicator. Many teachers are proud of the amount of homework they expect of their students. It is often built on the idea that "more is better." Unfortunately the evidence is that "more" often means doing more low-level activities, often repetition of things done earlier. Because students learn differently it is important to vary the instruction with the student and to use homework as an opportunity to deepen understanding of what has been learned.
- Myth #2: Rigor Means Doing More - There is also a belief that students need to do more than they are currently doing. Tony Wagner of Harvard found that classrooms are often characterized by low-level, rote activity. A study by Howard Johnston and me found that parents saw rigor as doing less but doing it more in-depth. That is often difficult for principals to reconcile when talking with teachers and other school personnel. True rigor is expecting every student to learn and perform at high levels and requires that students delve deeply into their learning, engage in critical thinking and problem solving, and be curious and imaginative.
- Myth #3: Rigor is Not For Everyone - There is a belief that if everyone is engaging in rigorous activity, it somehow lowers standards and lessens the value. There is growing recognition that all students must be provided an opportunity for a rigorous educational experience that is more than just a set of courses. It is anchored in the belief that every student can be successful if given adequate time and sufficient support.
- Myth #4: Providing Support Means Lessening Rigor - Rugged individualism characterizes the fourth myth. It is that if students are provided and accept support, it is a sign of weakness. We've found that providing support is an essential component of a rigorous school. Students are motivated to do well when they value what they are doing and when they believe they have a chance for success. When Howard and I talked with teachers and parents about their own rigorous experiences they invariably shared the support that they were provided.
I'd like to hear your reaction to these four myths and about your experience increasing the rigor of your school and classrooms. I look forward to hearing from you.