What is Academic Rigor?

The term “academic rigor” has been making its way back through my building, 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 and makes me think about what I really want students to know. (think 40 years from now)

“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.

Setting the Standard

We all know that there is a certain standard of excellence that we implicitly expect of our students. My students know that those expectations involve everything they do for me from writing assignments, pictures drawn, or speaking and listening to peers.

Sometimes these standards are made clear to students with examples, rubrics, directions, and instruction. Sometimes these standards are less defined. What is essential for establishing the appropriate degree of rigor in my classroom is making sure that you overtly demonstrate to students what the expected outcome is.

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. I make sure whatever content or skill is I'm are covering, I have the needed materials and instructional patterns.

  • Lessons are systematically scaffolded from one to the next.
  • Materials are consistently organized to clearly provide instructions and demonstration of task
  • Intervention tasks or instructions are regularly utilized to ensure no students are left behind.
  • I'm available for helping students individually at other points throughout the day.
  • Parents are communicated with regularly regarding the academic goals of the course.
  • Learning tools are color-coded, graphically organized, reinforced, and interactive.
  • Content is made relevant and relatable to student background information and interest.
  • Validation of Achievement

It’s not enough for teachers simply to “teach” and expect students then to “learn.” The final step for assessment of academic rigor within the classroom is to provide students with various opportunities to demonstrate their degree of achievement in relation to the given standard.

  • A balance of formative and summative assessments intermittently provided.
  • Student demonstration measured using a rubric or other standard-based assessment tool.
  • Students allowed the opportunity to conference and revise work.
  • Homework and class activities thought of as “practice.”
  • Students work independently or collaboratively on a given project.
  • Students connect material to real-life examples and situations.
  • Students provide a written or spoken summative report.
  • Students metacognitively apply a variety of content learned.
  • Student performance compared to previous student attempts.
  • Students provide high-level answers to high-level questions.
  • Students do not give up or feel overwhelmed when faced with challenges.
  • Students reflect on their learning progress and efforts.

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!

Anticipate Difficulty

  • Traditional remediation for struggling students imposes interventions after students have failed. It's more productive, however, if teachers anticipate areas of difficulty before students approach new material. Part of that anticipation includes the teacher considering the classroom population by knowing which students have identified learning disabilities, which have limited English proficiency, or how students have previously performed in class. Teachers should also be aware of which concepts and ideas have been difficult for classes in the past, where student misperceptions or confusions have been particularly strong.

Use Graphic Organizers

  • Struggling students often need help organizing information in a coherent fashion to show how different parts relate to the whole and other kinds of relationships and connections. Graphic organizers can help, provided that teachers don't use them like worksheets. I demonstrate using them and make my student create their own. I only provide copies if I have a student that for whatever reason just can't--this is VERY rare. The point of the graphic organizer is to show kids how the facts are connected so they can organize them in their heads. Organizing information into a mental model or framework is the first stage of rigorous learning, and if you don't get that part right, it's harder to go farther in rigor. Ultimately, the goal is to get kids spontaneously creating their own graphic organizers—not on paper, but in their heads.
  • A graphic organizer used in advance of a lesson gives students a heads up about key vocabulary, concepts, and skills, that they will encounter in a unit, showing the relationships of the upcoming information but also clarifying expectations of student learning. At the same time, such organizational tools can help teachers clarify in their own mind what kind of work they'll need to do to activate student's prior knowledge in a given area and fill gaps for some students, to better level the playing field as a new unit is undertaken.

Look for Clues
  • During a lesson, teachers are constantly collecting information about students' learning through observations and other formative assessments, assignments, quizzes, tests, class participation, and behavioral cues. The feedback you collect all along from students gives you a lot of information about where kids are and where they're struggling but a lot of teachers make the mistake of seeing every struggling student as needing intervention without making the distinction between a productive struggle and destructive struggle.

If you are looking for more on Rigor or Supporting Struggling Students--check out Robyn Jackson. I love her insights and always find something new when I reread them. (Her website has great planning freebies.) My district is very big into 21st-century skills and knowledge with the 4cs--I found returning to her books the push I needed to rethink my reading instruction in a group wishing to "think outside--the box." (more on them later)

Until next time,

0 comments:

Post a Comment

About Me

Welcome to my all thing special education blog. I empower busy elementary special education teachers to use best practice strategies to achieve a data and evidence driven classroom community by sharing easy to use, engaging, unique approaches to small group reading and math. Thanks for Hopping By.
Instagram

I contribute to:

I contribute to:

I contribute to:

I contribute to:

I contribute to:

Instagram

Followers

Follow by Email

Search This Blog