Wow! Rigor sounds like it could be pretty unpleasant, harsh, even scary ... But I'm finding it's something we should value in our personal lives, in education, and in our work world too. This is the 2nd of a 3 part blog series on The 3 R's: Rigor, Relevance and Relationships where I will explore why Rigor should be embraced instead of erased.
Rigor ramps up our thinking, our interest, and our energy. But rigor scares us... because it can be hard. Yet it's during those times of challenge or hardship that we often find out who our true friends are... the ones who stand beside us, support us, and help us overcome the obstacles in our path. In times of adversity, we band together with others to solve a problem, to offer ideas, or get ideas, because in most cases "all of us are better than one of us!"
Rigor gives meaning to what we do, adding depth to our feeling of success because we overcame a difficult task. I love to win, and will never turn down a win, but when you win a close game, come from behind, or knock off a top ranked opponent, the victory becomes sweeter because of the rigor of the game. When things are too easy, we get bored. When things are rigorous, we pay attention because we have to concentrate in order to understand.
I think about the role rigor plays in my relationships as well. My husband and I are better together when we have a project... the project provides challenge, interest, and requires us to achieve a goal. I find this true with my friends too. Even when we just meet for lunch, if we have a problem to tackle, I am better for it because of the perspective I gain from my friend. We stereotype retirees as sitting in their rocking chairs on the front porch, but frequently they need to find more meaning in their lives so they may opt to get another job, volunteer, or find projects that require significant effort. That keeps them relevant and involved with others.
Consider the role rigor plays in good health. A rigorous exercise program keeps us physically healthy. Word games and puzzles challenge our brains and forestall the effects of aging. You gain much from a little sweat and some difficult thinking. While our goal is often to make something easier to manage, easy is not always the best path to success.
But can we have too much rigor? Of course, but balancing the need for rigor against the frustration of too much rigor is a distinction we must make, and something we must not be afraid to do. Rigor implies hard work. Rigor scares us. Rigor makes us uncomfortable when we don't know the answer. Rigor is often the first thing to be cast aside because it's a quick fix. Expectations slide as we water down the content or the process so that the goal becomes easier to obtain. It is a given that challenges must be developmentally appropriate, but sometimes we under estimate what challenges we can present or accept because we have doubts or lack the background knowledge. In our effort to be helpful, reduce stress, or save time, we often sacrifice or chip away at the challenge of the situation and the result may not be what we'd actually hoped for. In a classroom we might find teachers reducing assignments, planning simpler activities, or choosing a text resource that has a lower reading level. But did that really accomplish the learning goal? Why not keep the rigor, but teach them HOW to deal with the presented challenges?
The Common Core State Standards, now called College and Career Ready Standards in Kansas, require the infusion of rigor in curriculum. That scares some people.... both within and outside of education. Yes, it will be challenging as teachers to learn to teach like that (again) and for students to learn how to use what they know, but the end result will make both the teaching and the learning more meaningful. Relevance (the next topic in this 3 part blog series) and Relationships (the previous topic) will be enhanced by the increased rigor as we come together to promote higher thinking levels, problem solving, and application of knowledge and skills. Rigor will require thinking, effort, and perseverance... traits that will be helpful to our students into higher education or the work world. Learning must be active, engaging, meaningful, and challenging. We must embrace the challenges and allow them to take us to new heights!
What would rigor look like in the classroom? Students would be asking questions, using higher level thinking to analyze, synthesize, evaluate and revise. Teachers would be facilitators of learning instead of the sole deliverer of the knowledge (the person doing the work is doing the learning). Problem solving would be a regular occurrence - and not just in math! Project based learning and performance assessment would be the norm. That means fewer worksheets and fewer multiple choice tests (all students are now breathing a collective sigh of relief!). Active engagement in the learning would make that learning more fun, effective, and meaningful. Writing and technology would be used to enhance learning and demonstrate understanding. Subjects would be integrated instead of compartmentalized (what I learn in math could be applied to science!). Learning is applied and transferred to real life situations. Suddenly rigor becomes relevant!
So I encourage you to give Rigor another look.... face demands head on and enjoy great satisfaction when you achieve those goals. And don't forget to celebrate your success!