On our web page, in other publications, and in our daily work here in Hall County Schools, we are focused on the motto “Character, Competency, and Rigor . . . for All.” But what do we mean by the term “rigor”?
Essentially, we believe that mastery of challenging and meaningful content must be our goal for all students. Whether they are performing at, below, or above the levels of their age peers, all students deserve an education that challenges them just above their current levels of development. I believe that every student should come to school every day thinking, “Wow, this class is tough! But I know my teacher will help me, and I know that if I work hard, I can do it!”
We must ask all students, including those who can quite easily achieve “adequate” indicators of achievement by No Child Left Behind (NCLB) standards, to stretch, to achieve at levels commensurate with their peers, not just nationally but internationally! There is great power in high expectations, and I believe that all our young people can do far more than we have typically asked them to do. Taking this proficiency view of students, i.e., focusing on their strengths and interests as we increase the level of academic challenge, is the best way to change the culture of schools. Simply put, adequacy is not enough for our children; we must have excellence!
I would also like to clarify what we believe rigor is NOT. It is not just asking our children to do more of the same (“Complete all the problems on page 30 . . . PLUS the bonus problems.”). Yes, we want our children to be engaged in curriculum that pushes them, but not in a joyless, repetitive sense. As I work with teachers on ways to raise the academic bar, we are also talking about ways to make curriculum more meaningful and interesting for students. In summary, we are asking teachers to improve the “authenticity” of the work they ask students to do. Using the language of Dr. Fred Newmann’s work on Authentic Intellectual Work, we are focusing on the following:
- Construction of Knowledge – We want students to use what they learn, not just repeat it. Students should be asked to grapple with information and ideas by synthesizing, generalizing, explaining, and drawing conclusions that produce new understandings for them – just the things that we as adults do in the world of work!
- Disciplined Inquiry – Instruction must focus on important concepts within the discipline, and students should learn them with such thoroughness that they are capable of exploring connections and relationships so they have a deeper understanding of the subject. Also, students should be able to discuss subject matter in depth with their classmates and their teachers in ways that build improved understanding.
- Value Beyond School – Rigorous curriculum should have clear connections to students' lives. We want our teachers helping students see the connections between substantive knowledge and either public problems or personal experiences in their lives outside of school.
Commitment to rigorous curriculum means that we envision each learner on an “escalator of development” and envision ourselves – teachers and parents working together -- as seeing to it that each escalator moves steadily upward in all those areas required for persistent intellectual, emotional, and moral growth in all students. Here on the Rigor web page, we put the spotlight on some of the best examples of rigorous learning opportunities . . . and the extraordinary way Hall County students are responding!
Dr. Sally Krisel
Assistant Director of Teaching and Learning (Academic Rigor)