Rigor – What Does it Really Mean?

When I hear the term “rigor” I immediately think of the three Rs.  Rigor, relevance, and relationships which are all critical elements of effective, meaningful education.  In my experience, the one we most need to examine and get better clarity on is rigor.  In education we often equate rigor with more.  Rigor in education does not necessarily mean more and it most definitely does not mean more of the same thing.  However, when you look at the definition of rigor -harsh, inflexibilty in opinion, temper or judgement or a condition that makes life difficult, challenging or uncomfortable- it makes sense that this is how we’ve been viewing rigor in education.  Maybe the term should have been depth – but that definitely doesn’t goes as well with relevance and relationships. 

Depth of understanding, depth of questioning, depth in how students apply what they’ve learned, and depth in the process and product related to their learning is really what we’re talking about.  Every year educators at all levels spend large amounts of time writing, reviewing, and discussing/changing grade placement of the standards or core learnings.  Instead, the bulk of the conversations should really be focusing on how to create learning environments where students are processing learning in deep, meaningful ways and making contributions.

The recent common core standards are attempting to increase the depth in what our children are learning by reducing the number of standards at each grade level and increasing the focus on problem solving and higher order thinking skills.  Below is an excerpt from the common core website:

These standards define the knowledge and skills students should have within their K-12 education careers so that they will graduate high school able to succeed in entry-level, credit-bearing academic college courses and in workforce training programs. The standards:

  • Are aligned with college and work expectations;
  • Are clear, understandable and consistent;
  • Include rigorous content and application of knowledge through high-order skills;
  • Build upon strengths and lessons of current state standards;
  • Are informed by other top performing countries, so that all students are prepared to succeed in our global economy and society; and
  • Are evidence-based.

It looks great and my hope is that this time around we can truly shift our thinking and dialogue around these standards toward creating deep, meaningful learning for our students. 

After writing this post, I came across a document that would really support this dialogue and ultimately the teaching and learning opportunities for our students.  I highly recommend that you read the Rigor/Relevance Framework posted at the International Center For Leadership in Education web site.

Rigor and Relevance

Rigor/Relevance Framework

Tips For Using Rigor, Relevance, and Relationships to Improve Student Achievement  

2 thoughts on “Rigor – What Does it Really Mean?

  1. What are your thoughts on Rigor in the musical classes. I have a group of students that I am making lessons for in my Introductory Piano class and it seems like they are all on different levels. As a music “teacher” I don’t have the background in education as much as the traditional teachers at my school. I do have tons of experience though and feel that the rigor should be adjusted to a one-on-one basis.

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