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Rigor and the Common Core State Standards

Thanks to its partnership with publisher Eye on Education, EducationWorld is pleased to reprint this blog post based on the book Rigor is NOT a Four-Letter Word by Barbara R. Blackburn. In this post, Blackburn explains that there's more to rigor than simply covering standards.

I spoke with an educator a couple of weeks ago about the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). He said that the new standards are the solution to increasing rigor in the classroom. I wish rigor were that easy. The CCSS are a good starting point, but only if we pay attention to other aspects of rigor.

Rigor is more than what you teach and what standards you cover; it's how you teach and how students show you they understand. True rigor is creating an environment in which each student is expected to learn at high levels, each student is supported so he or she can learn at high levels, and each student demonstrates learning at high levels (Blackburn, 2008).

Notice the key aspects of that definition.

Create an environment that is conducive to growth. Rigor is about achieving at a higher level, but that doesn't happen immediately. Focus on progress, on the small steps that gradually show student growth. Encouraging students not to give up, using language that shows students you know they can learn, and celebrating the positive will help you create an environment to support rigor.

Focus on high expectations. The CCSS are reflective of higher expectations, but you have to reinforce that belief. How can we put high expectations into practice?  By not allowing the word "can't"—not from students and not from ourselves. By continually reminding students you know they can do it. A friend of mine says that sometimes you have to believe for your students until they believe in themselves.

Support students so they can learn at higher levels. This requires scaffolding within a lesson. Focus on prior knowledge, model the thinking process, and provide support for gaps that occur between students' current knowledge and the new standards. Some students will need extra help outside of class.

Allow each student to demonstrate learning. Provide a variety of ways students can demonstrate understanding. It's fine to use questions that are similar to the final assessment, but also provide opportunities that play to students' strengths. Allow students to show what they know through technology, drawings, projects, etc. In addition, as you use formative assessments, incorporate strategies that require each student to participate. Using whole group instruction and asking one student to answer does not accomplish this goal. Use think-pair-shares, clickers, dry erase boards (or a whiteboard app for the iPad), or thumbs-up thumbs-down strategies so you can see if each student is understanding each part of the lesson.

That may sound daunting, but you are already demonstrating high expectations, providing support for students, and asking them to show you they understand. If you build on those areas, you’ll create a climate that supports rigor. In my next post, we'll look at other activities to help you incorporate rigor into your classroom.

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