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Call this a vent session. Call it a soapbox moment. Call it whatever you wish, but this needs saying, if for no other reason than to get it off my chest. Rigor, the buzzword being tossed around like cheap candy at a parade. Everyone claims they want to increase the rigor in their classrooms. Principals tell us to do it. Professors tell education students to increase it. Teachers claim they are doing it. But, are they?

The quick answer is, shamefully, not nearly as many are actually increasing the rigor that think they are increasing the rigor. While we can point fingers all day long trying to place blame, to assign the fault to someone, that is not the important thing. The important thing is to look at the victim. The kids. They lose out when teachers don’t give it their all.

Take, for example, social studies. Imagine, if you will, that a teacher has been told to up the rigor in their class. The teacher, not really understanding how to increase it, simply assigns more work. Before you get that crazed look, yes, it happens. I know this. Now, when a parent asks the teacher why the increase in worksheets, they are told they are upping the rigor. Kids need to be able to do more.

Here lies the problem. Somewhere along the way, teachers have fallen into the trap of thinking that simply giving more worksheets (busy work) is making their class more rigorous. How in the world do they figure that? Just because a student can complete five worksheets filled with DOK 1 questions in an evening makes that student no better prepared… just more tired and frustrated.

Somewhere, somehow, teachers have to be held accountable for actually increasing rigor. Assigning pages and pages of worksheets doesn’t do it. Having students in junior high complete a “research project” where facts about some random state or country are regurgitated onto a poster board doesn’t do it. Having kids answer 50 multiple choice/matching vocabulary questions in science doesn’t do it. Same goes for that English teacher assigning pages of sentences to underline various parts of speech. Getting the idea yet?

Instead, making kids think. Let kids struggle with something. If it can be done on a worksheet, it is probably not very rigorous. Kids need to create. Kids need to debate. In the words of the famous Ms. Frizzle, kids need to take chances, make mistakes, get messy.

Recently I wrote about the FAILure movement.  In that post, I discussed my personal feelings about the whole idea of FAILure. When done well, and kids are allowed to struggle through a learning experience, it can be immensely powerful. When kids are allowed to fail because of a lack of appropriate teaching/planning on our part, it is unacceptable. I think that goes hand in hand with making learning rigorous. Rigor does not equal quantity, but rather quality. Kids should be allowed to struggle and fail in this instance, but they should  not be left in that failed state. They need to be supported and eventually struggle through, to learn from the experience.

My child has some wonderful teachers. She has a math teacher who is the most exceptional math teacher she has ever had. She does rigor, and does it well. Over her years in school, her teachers have been a fair mix. Some pushing harder than others. She has, or has had, others who think that massive amounts of busy work make things hard. No, it makes things miserable. Know the difference.

Want to know what your kids are really doing in school? Dump their backpack. If it’s full of worksheets, it may be time for some questions.

I think I will start using a new hashtag on Twitter. I may be alone in using it, but oh well. Call it my personal statement. #rigornotws  for rigor not worksheets.

Pardon me as I climb off the soapbox.


image from http://www.smore.com