Might Be Worth A Listen…

“Education is not received.  It is achieved.”  -Albert Einstein

The word “rigor” has been bandied around the educational world and instructional circles for so long now it has begun to lose some of its significance and even relevance.  It has been defined, depicted, explained, diluted, reworked, reframed, and updated more times than most of us can keep pace with.

It is one of those academic terms that we all have a basic concept and understanding around – however, if we were all to sit in a room and write our own definition on a white board to hold up – we would very likely end up with as many variations as there are people in the room.

If we were to google the word “rigor” we would find over 42,900,000 results.  Showing that we don’t have a readily apparent universal definition of the word, especially in education.  Tony Wagner contributes definitions of ‘old world rigor’ vs. ‘new world rigor’ in the Global Achievement Gap.  Edutopia provides adds to the fray with articles such as the Four R’s of Rigor in the 21st Century.  Turn to ASCD and you might see such pieces as Expecting Excellence; Rigor Redefined.  The International Center for Leadership in Education even has an entire Rigor/Relevance Framework.  All of which I believe are important and necessary reading for us to consider and discuss.

We all understand the necessity and importance of “rigor”, especially in light of the onset and urgency to prepare our students for coming of the Common Core.  We can’t deny that it is something we are all after.  We allude to in it our mission statements, while serving it as a promise of the future in our visions.  Nary a district or school that does not exclaim the extent of the rigorous instructional program provided to enhance student achievement and success.

We observe and evaluate for it in our classrooms.  We find it stamped on every curricular sales offering promoted to our schools and districts.  And we claim it as a driver of the plethora of assessment offerings we levy at each and every grade level…whether formative, summative, district or state.  They all have the “rigor” seal of approval.

You might say we have unintentionally diluted the educational waters with the frequency and ferocity in which we incorporate “rigor” and “rigorous” into our instruction, curriculum, and assessments.

And while I may have spent far too many lines considering our use of the term itself – the overall purpose here is not to determine a universal definition for our schools and classrooms – rather, it is to continue the discussion around “rigor” and what exactly that looks like in a 21st century school and classroom.  What that looks like under the coming Common Core.  Not only what that looks like, but what that sounds like.

Lately, I have been under the impression and consideration that we may need to begin there – as a starting point – starting with what that sounds like.  I am not advocating that we exclude instruction, curriculum, and assessments from the conversation.  But maybe we need to start at the relationship level.  The level of where we connect.  Getting at the connection level of what does “rigor” sound like – in a classroom, in student to student discussions and interactions, from student to teacher, teacher to student – and even the adult to adult discussions in  our academic settings and buildings.

Are we considering the academic “rigor” of our language in the classrooms, on the playground, in the hallways, in our offices, and even in our staff lounges?  Do we have “rigorous” language and discourse?  And if so, where do we hear it?  And who are we hearing it from?  Administrators, teachers, students?  All three?  Questions that might be worth asking…

A recent keynote courtesy of Kate Kinsella focused on the academic discourse and interaction necessary for the Common Core if we are to truly have our students Career and College Ready.  It was deep and it hit you in the face like a ton of bricks.  The level of academic discourse she was describing is not often readily audible in many a school or classroom…or even in staff lounges and faculty meetings for that matter.  And while I might not be able to provide the definitive definition of “rigor” and “rigorous” – let’s just say that she made sure that you know it when you hear it.

So as we prepare hastily for the oncoming of the Common Core…it may be well worth our while to put an observing ear forward.  As we make the “rounds” of our building and classrooms – determine if the level of academic discourse occurring is on par with what you would consider to be “rigorous” – from both the adults and students.  Or if appropriate academic discourse is even occurring at all?  And if so…is it the level of academic language that will prepare our students for successful integration into college or career life?

Might be worth a listen.



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