by Barbara Blackburn, author of Rigor is not a 4-Letter Word
Last week, we discussed the true meaning of rigor. Now, we’ll examine the different parts of that definition.
First, rigor is creating an environment in which each student is expected to learn at high levels. Having high expectations starts with the decision that every student you teach has the potential to be the best, no matter what. There are times this is hard, but I’ve always remembered that students live up to or down to our level of expectation for them. Expecting every student to learn at high levels begins with the curriculum, or content of your lesson.
Curriculum is sometimes referred to as what is taught. However, there is a difference between standards (what is to be taught) and curriculum (the materials and plan for teaching the standards). You likely have rigorous standards—the Common Core State Standards are quite rigorous, and other state standards, such as those for Texas and Virginia, measure up as well. Given that, let’s turn our attention to the materials you use and your plans for those materials.
Are your teaching materials rigorous? That depends.
Many textbooks are written at lower levels (compared to the standards). Basic resources, and even newer technology-based materials often incorporate activities that are more focused on creativity than the level of challenge. I’m not talking about creating new products; I’m referring to those activities that evaluate how something is presented. There is a place for artistic creativity, especially in art, but in a language arts classroom, rigor is based on more than that. Here’s a simple checklist to use to evaluate your resources.
5 Questions To Evaluate Curriculum For Rigor
- What is the level of difficulty of text based on well-known readability formulas, such as Lexiles or ATOS?
- How many of the questions within the text are at high levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy? Do students move beyond basic recall for analysis and synthesis?
- Consider projects or extended response questions. Are they at the higher levels of Webb’s Depth of Knowledge or do they only require basic thinking?
- What percentage of the material is review? Although some review is needed, students must move beyond review to new material to work at rigorous levels.
- Is creativity included as an aspect of the project? That is, in order to be creative, are students still required to think at higher levels, such as analyzing and evaluating material prior to creating something new or are they only using artistic creativity?
Let’s look at an example of a webquest that moves from less rigorous to more rigorous. After an exploration of plate tectonics, students virtually create tectonic plates, demonstrating how the plates fit together to create the ancient continent of Pangea. Then, discuss how the continent shift affected tidal currents and the weather. Next, students read two differing articles on plate tectonics and compare them, evaluating the authors’ perspectives, using specific examples from the texts to justify their conclusions.
Notice how students are able to use creativity (virtual creation of visual), but they must understand the content in order to finish the activity. Then they move from that basic activity into higher levels of analysis. If you stop after the first part, it is not as rigorous as the total webquest. That’s one of the challenges with curricular materials—parts are more rigorous than others, so you need to be careful with your choices!
That leads us into the next aspect of curriculum—curriculum planning. In the webquest example above, I mentioned choosing what you use and don’t use. That’s curriculum planning. How do you want to use the materials you have? Even rigorous materials can be used in a non-rigorous manner. For example, I was in an English class where the text was read aloud to the students. Students were not using any reading skills; rather, they were listening. Not only were students not meeting the reading standard, there was no student ownership of learning.
It’s important as you plan that you incorporate rigorous learning strategies. That’s our focus of our blog post next week!
Barbara is a best-selling author of 14 books, including Rigor Is Not A Four-Letter Word. A nationally recognized expert in the areas of rigor and motivation, she collaborates with schools and districts for professional development. Barbara can be reached through her website or her blog;; 5 Questions To Evaluate Curriculum For Rigor