In addition to the running list of curriculum questions we have generated, I am adding "How do we define rigor?" This has been a popular new word added to our "edubabble", and it seems that almost every new ASCD text or 21st Century Learning presentation, blog, webinar, etc. includes this as a key component of its message. However, as Tony Wagner shares in his book The Global Achievement Gap, when you actually go into teachers' classes with administrators and peers, evaluating whether or not rigor in present in the lessons is solely dependent upon the individuals observing the work--they all see different things. So here is yet another example of a standard impressed upon education that is unclear.
Larry Ainsworth shares in Unpacking the Standards that all standards are unclear and that we need to clarify their purpose and drive them with assessments. And these need to be drawn from the big ideas and essential questions that we see within the standard. So what are the big ideas and essential questions we see within the standard of rigor? As I have written in previous posts, praxis is at the heart of these determinations, and Wagner engaged in such a collaboration with administrators and teachers, taking groups of educators and participating in learning walks. This exercise asked them to observe the same instruction and then debrief what elements of rigor they saw. As one could imagine, this led to much debate, but more importantly, it created questions that framed their ability to identify the big ideas, and as such, they were able to created a model to evaluate these questions. The questions they developed followed:
1. What is the purpose of this lesson?
2. Why is this important to learn?
3. In what ways am I challenged to think in this lesson?
4. How will I apply, assess, or communicate what I’ve learned?
5. How will I know how good my work is and how I can improve it?
6. Do I feel respected by other students in this class?
7. Do I feel respected by the teacher in this class?
When it comes to standards, the target need to be clear. All parties need to understand their purpose and drive them with assessments. They also need to be a part of the collaboration that identifies the big ideas and essential questions. And to be a part of this praxis, there needs to be transparency and trust on the part of all the players. This is a topic for a later post!