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Brandt Schneider

Take a step back: who decided note taking was important? Are you monitoring an initiative that the teachers/students/parents thought was needed? An initiative that is desired by the teachers would certainly impact your compliance vs. implementation issue.

Mike Parent


I am intrigued by your posting. As a principal of a high school looking to increase rigor, I am preparing to involve the staff in a serious discussion and initiative about what rigor is and how it can be established and monitored. After much research, reading, and thought, I cam e down to this simple statement: "Rigor is achieved through expectations and assessment." It's not all encompassing about the subject of rigor, but it's a statement that a large faculty can understand and digest. (I like to keep things simple and palatable).

One way you can measure rigor is through assessing assessments. I will ask all faculty to structure exams and projects at the highest levels of Bloom's Taxonomy. Quizzes and Homework should be relegated to the lower four quadrants of the taxonomy. We can then measure the level of rigor by monitoring the quality of assessments. And using UBD ideology, if your assessments are developed using essential questions prior to the teaching, then the rigor should flow throughout the unit.

As far as that example about the Cornell system, why in the world would any school mandate such a program? After all that has been said and published on holistic teaching and learning, why would a one size fits all program be expected to work? Bag that idea. Students should be learning enough about themselves to see what works for them. Introduce the system, but don't mandate it.

Karen Szymusiak

Rigor is critical to learning and teaching, but I don't think that it can be encouraged through compliance. Rather than implementing a particular method (note taking) we have to create classrooms where a predictable structure is in place but where students are engaged, motivated, inspired, and encouraged to discover the tools and strategies that build "rigor" in their learning.

At our elementary school, we have been working on sustaining a predictable structure for reading and writing workshops in our classrooms. The structure of the workshop promotes teaching in response to the individual needs of learners. The conversations and interactions within the workshop promote the "rigor" for learning.

As a side note, I have recently had a conversations with a few people about finding another word for "rigor" when we talk about learning. If you study the origin of the word, it refers to a stiffness, rigidity, severity, strictness that is not conducive to rich learning experiences. I haven't come up with another word for "rigor" but I am encouraging others to think about it.

Kevin W. Riley

In search of a better word than RIGOR?

rigor |ˈrigər|
1. the quality of being extremely thorough, exhaustive, or accurate : his analysis is lacking in rigor.
• severity or strictness : the full rigor of the law.
• ( rigors) demanding, difficult, or extreme conditions : the rigors of a harsh winter.


vigor |ˈvigər| ( Brit. vigour)
1. physical strength and good health.
• effort, energy, and enthusiasm : they set about the new task with vigor.
• strong, healthy growth of a plant.

Vigor is the word Colin Powell used when he endorsed Barack Obama. I believe he described his “vigorous thinking” as opposed to “rigorous thinking”. It seems so much more healthy and alive. Hopeful.

RIGOR became a buzzword a few years ago… as soon as everyone figured out we are really going to have to push hard to meet the accelerating expectations of AYP. Push hard… (even if we have to push kids and teachers over the cliff?)

I would suggest to you that you don’t have to kill people to inspire high levels of learning.

RIGOR... push... accountability... consequence... threat... sanctions... rigor mortis... death.

Inspire. Hope. Create. Energy. Enthusiasm. Love of Reading. Joy of Learning. VIGOR.

See a pattern here? We quit using the word rigor. We threw it out. Our teachers are willing to be "vigorous"... and when they view teaching, learning, training, alignment, and balance through that lens-- they are far more productive.


Good questions. In responding to this, I’m looking at the larger question of rigor in instruction overall.

For implementation, I agree with Brandt in that an initiative needs to be supported by the staff in order to achieve true implementation and not just compliance. In my school, discussions in professional development help us accomplish this. For example, currently, we are looking at using rubrics. We spend a lot of time talking about what each category looks like (e.g. beginning, developing, etc.) and through that acquire a common understanding of each. (We started by talking about the purpose and use of using rubrics and how they impact student learning.) These discussions avoid the top-down approach of initiatives as teachers work together to develop their own thinking around implementation. They take a long time but I think necessary for true implementation.

Essentially, we run up against the question of rigor regularly and try to continuously infuse the topic of rigor into our discussions. It seems that with a staff-wide expectation of rigor in instruction overall, the question of rigor would be addressed in any initiative or program. We work in an urban school and have encountered assumptions that certain populations of students cannot learn at high levels. For us, the issue of rigor is particularly important here. Instead of reserving rigorous study for students in advanced classes, all courses are expected to show that students are ask to engage in higher-order thinking. These points often come up in staff discussions.

For monitoring, I agree with Mike about assessing the assessments to see the level of thinking that is elicited from students. As an AP, I work with my principal to examine assessments, looking for questions and performance tasks that reflect thinking that reaches higher levels on Bloom’s.

In using the term ‘rigor’ here, I'm going on the definition provided by Stephanie in the original post—“deep exploration of the content at higher levels of thinking”. I agree we could use other terms to express it in a positive way; however, for the purposes of this post, I’m using the term with this definition.

Karen Szymusiak

Thanks, Jill, for bringing us back to the essential understanding of "rigor" per Stephanie's original post.

Stephanie, I am looking forward to your post regarding the strategy you are beginning to use. Thanks for initiating this discussion.

I am hoping that the discussion also sheds some light on rigorous learning rather that compliance. How can we encourage students to learn with rigor rather than simply complying (playing the game of school).

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