Rigor or Difficulty… You Decide

There’s a silent war being fought in the minds of educators around the globe. To many, they hide behind an old paradigm, “if it’s difficult, it must be good.” You can’t step foot in the realm of education without hearing the words “rigor” and “difficulty” being dropped on the daily. But what do they mean? And is one truly better than the other?
I read this quote the other day: Hard Hurts; Rigor Invigorates…

Difficulty is in essence, the word “hard”. My goal as an educator isn’t to make things “hard”, but to find the best means possible of getting the most out of my students. My goal is not, necessarily, to make if more difficult for students… but to get them to see the whole picture. To research, debate, question, synthesize, and whole-heartedly understand the things we discuss… while getting lost in the process of learning.

To quote Steve Jobs, “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” This really sums up the whole idea of rigor. It’s not just how detailed an assignment can be, nor how impressive the “laundry list” of requirements, nor how strict the directions are to follow. Rigor is the motivation and design with which we can create an efficient and authentically designed lesson, which will in turn deliver better results.

As educators, we need to question what we really want our students to know. What should they walk away understanding, and how will they demonstrate that they know it? One thing is for certain: all students need to have the ability to ask questions in an insightful, engaging, honest, and debatable fashion. Our goal as teachers is to teach the skills behind the units that would ultimately lead to teaching rigorous thinking. This model of thinking became the basis for me teaching a gamified, self-paced, self-directed, mastery learning classroom, that emphasized the necessity of skill building. When our students walk out our doors, it isn’t the plot of The Great Gatsby that will help them make it through the working world, but the skills they build along the way. This is something we, as teachers, often forget.
Check this little snippet out about the myths of rigor:
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This is a good example of where we struggle as teachers. All of the myths discussed above aren’t examples of rigor… but examples of difficulty. Making things more difficult for students is NOT making them more rigorous. Our mindset and way of thinking need to change. It’s time to hold ourselves and all of our students to a new and higher standard of rigor, defined according to 21st-century criteria. Rigor is not assigning more homework. It is assigning better homework, open-ended work that pushes kids to think in multiple ways about the tasks they’ve been assigned, and providing constructive feedback on their efforts.
This gap— between rigor and understanding, is where technology rears its head. a54e11_9c51e5abc75243faa2439d05ba912e08We have to use technology for what it is. A tool to create a better learning atmosphere that better engages our students. Michael Scott from The Office once said, “In order to truly change things and life morale, one big bolding sweep gesture is needed.” (I know this isn’t the best of sources but it is so true)
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3 thoughts on “Rigor or Difficulty… You Decide

  1. Nadine Berjawi

    Could you please elaborate more on giving better homework rather than more by giving examples?Could you please relate that to business subjects.

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    1. Hi Nadine! Thank you for your comment. I can absolutely shed some light on what I am talking about. Let me know if this answers it by the examples I am giving. I think it comes down to the “why” and the “what” when we assign work (regardless of homework or long term projects). We often forget to ask ourselves, “why” are we giving the assignment in the first place? And “what” do we need them to prove? My approach tell me that students need to prove a skill when they are doing any type of work and that whatever they do, should really tie back to themselves, and the world around them. For example: when I teach my unit of American Lit. on The Revolutionary Period, my students project is to synthesize all of their notes, and create a persuasive speech, utilizing the techniques we discussed in the various authors’ writing. But their topic is think of a wrong/injustice in our world, something you want to see changed, and stand up to it. My students would then have to present these speeches in my school’s auditorium in front of their fellow classmates and a few teachers I have sit in. This is more connecting them to real-life, something they care about, while also having them PROVE they have the skills and knowledge to advance.

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    2. This come down more to “effectiveness”. I read an article one time that stated… “the question isn’t how much, but rather, does it advance their learning.” I have all but ridden myself of normal study guides in my class. After reading a blog post by David Theriault, I have gone more to connected learning assignments– forcing my kids to find creativity and connections to themselves/the outside world in what they are doing. I could see in history, acting out various acting out various snippets from history- from war to courtroom trials… In science, a field study and tracking something on your own as an EXTENSION of work done in class— my seniors are currently reading Cormac McCarthys The Road and their current homework assignment (besides reading of course!) is to research possible end-of-the-world scenarios that they think may occur and create an infographic that teaches others about the possibility. (this has the kids researching, writing, publishing, and questioning… all valuable skills). I think business takes on a whole new connection to REAL-WORLD. It’s life as adults know it. I could see kids doing a “Shark Tank” project, selling an idea to a panel of teachers or brought in entrepreneurs (I am sure parents would help with this) OR a real life accounting assignment, forcing kids to create a spreadsheet (tech tie-in) and track funds in/out for various life needs. Hope this helps!

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