Monday, December 5, 2011

Myths About Rigor

In recent years I've found that the mere mention of "rigor" provokes a variety of reactions. Some see rigor as an agenda that undermines the student centered school. Others see rigor as some political agenda. Others see rigor as a commitment to assuring that every student is provided the tools for success in school.

I've written a lot about rigor the last few years and with my colleague Barbara Blackburn have provided principals with tools they can use to work with their teachers, families and communities to improve the rigor of their schools. Our books, Rigorous Schools and Classrooms: Leading the Way, and Rigor in Your School: A Toolkit for Leaders, have proven to be useful guides for school leaders.

We identified four myths that exist about rigor.
  • Myth 1: Lots of Homework is a Sign of Rigor - For many people rigor is measured by the amount of homework and many teachers pride themselves on the amount they assign. But the evidence is that lots of homework is not an indicator of rigor because "doing more" often means doing more low-level activities. Rigorous and challenging learning experiences take many forms and will vary with the student. More homework is not the answer.
  • Myth 2: Rigor Means Doing More - Some suggest that rigor means doing more than they currently do. The evidence is just the opposite. It shows that more often leads to low-level activities rather than the more in-depth analysis and synthesis that is important for long-term learning. True rigor is expecting every student to learn and perform at high levels.
  • Myth 3: Rigor is Not For Everyone - There is also a belief that the only way to assure success for every student is to lower standards and lesson rigor. The National High School Alliance says that an agenda of rigor must assure that every student is prepared for post-secondary education, a career and participation in civic life. It is about high-quality, rigorous learning for every student.
  • Myth 4: Providing Support Means Lessening Rigor - The belief in rugged American individualism---doing things on your own, often gets in the way of student learning. Barbara and I've found that supporting students so that they learn at high-levels is central to a rigorous school and classrooms. Howard Johnston and I conducted a study where we asked adults, teachers and parents, about rigorous experiences. They invariably described the challenge and the high levels of support and encouragement they experienced. The same is true for students. They are motivated to do well when they value what they are doing and when they believe they will be successful.
The most successful schools are those that build a culture of success, celebrate success, and build a success mentality. I'd enjoy hearing from you about your response to these four myths and how you're working to provide a rigorous, challenging and engaging educational experience for your students.