Advice on Rigor

Robert Harrell gives some sage advice to any CI teachers who may be getting challenged in their buildings about the mistaken idea – by ignorant* administrators – that rigor must be onerous and unpleasant. Krashen has shown quite well that unless the language learning process is not pleasant, it can’t occur:
“I’m sorry to hear you are getting grief from your administrator about rigor. It sounds to me like he attended a meeting and received a one-size-fits-all worksheet. I think you need to educate him (nicely, of course) about what rigor is and what it looks like in a language acquisition classroom.
“As I continue to talk to people – including my students – about rigor, I have expanded a bit on my definition, though the base and core remain the statements provided by the US Department of State. This week I concluded that my students needed a reminder of what the class is about, so I had some discussion with them. When I got to the section on rigor, I began by asking them to define “Academic Rigor” or tell me how they decide if a class is rigorous. Then I gave them my own definition: Academic Rigor means that an educational experience is designed to help students 1) understand knowledge and concepts that are complex or ambiguous and 2) acquire skills that can be applied in a variety of educational, career, and civic contexts throughout their lives.
“Next I shared with them the four elements of rigor that the Department of State gives and one that I have added:
1. Sustained focus
2. Depth and integrity of inquiry – paying attention to what is going on until I understand it, can reproduce it, and can explain it in my own words. I clarify if I don’t understand, and I contribute appropriately to the conversation or discussion.
3. Suspension of premature conclusions – I do not listen to only a few words and then think that I know what is being said. I listen to complete statements and questions and think before trying to formulate a reply.
4. Constant testing of hypotheses – I try out the language and then listen for feedback. If I used the language correctly, I will get confirmation; if I said something wrong, I should get a re-statement with correct language or other help.
5. Person Challenge – I do not take the easy way out but am always trying to improve both my understanding and my performance. I do not allow a failure to understand make me give up or be frustrated but strive to clarify and understand.
“I also addressed the issue of mindset, although I didn’t use the term.
There are two ways of thinking:
1. If I think my ability or intelligence is fixed, then I will do everything I can to protect myself
2. If I think I can increase my ability and intelligence through challenging myself, I will not see walls but bridges to success
“Perhaps you can have a meeting with your administrator to discuss the concept of rigor. Ask him what his definition of rigor is. If you do a search and look through various websites that discuss rigor, most are careful to distinguish rigor from simply more or harder work. The Department of State website even cites Alfie Kohn. “Academic rigor does not imply harshness or severity.
In a recent interview, Alfie Kohn (in O’Neill & Tell, 1999) states, ‘A lot of horrible practices are justified in the name of “rigor” or “challenge.” People talk about “rigorous” but often what they mean is “onerous,” with schools turned into fact factories. This doesn’t help kids become critical, creative thinkers or lifelong learners (p. 20).’”
*ignorant is used here in the French sense of the verb ‘ignorer’ as “not knowing” and is not meant to be pejorative.



2 thoughts on “Advice on Rigor”

  1. I love rigor, in this sense that you are citing. In the school where I’m teaching, the administrator rejects the word rigor and enforces the word “vigor.” …That a student should set themselves to working vigorously. It just doesn’t work. Students don’t have a sense of urgency to learn or a yearning for excellence. This school has a cultural problem of laziness, which was created by the pendulum swinging too far from rejection of onerousness… to facility. There has to be, in my opinion, some demand for rigor on the part of the school.

    1. Listening with the intent to understand IS rigorous work. And I force my students to do that. But once they have that down, class flows easily and feels easy. If I slacked in enforcing rigorous listening on them, though, class would feel like a waste of time for us all.

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