Rigor is creating an environment in which each student is expected to learn at high levels,
each student is supported so he or she can learn at high levels,
and each student demonstrates learning at high levels (Blackburn, 2008).

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Review of Rigor is NOT a Four-Letter Word

Featured blog over on the Teacher Leaders Network--very positive review of Rigor!


Thursday, August 27, 2009

Why write???

A teacher in one of my workshops asked me why I write books for teachers. Classroom Motivation from A to Z was my first book, and I wrote it because I meet many teachers who feel as though they are fighting a losing battle. Too often, we only focus on what is wrong with schools, and in many cases, the solution is to buy the latest program or product which will “fix” what’s wrong.

As I said in my introduction, “

There is an old saying used in medical schools: "If you hear hoof beats, think horses, not zebras." It was used in response to medical students who looked for exotic diagnoses for basic illnesses. Some teachers fall into the same trap. We look for the latest quick fix to help us deal with the ever-increasing challenges we face with today's students. The solution to many of the challenges you face is not purchasing the latest program; it is a focused effort to provide your students an environment in which they can thrive.”

I’ve worked for three educational publishing companies and know that programs aren’t the solution, they are simply tools that can assist teachers do what they know how to do best, which is reach and help their students. I meet great teachers everyday, and I see example after example of strategies and activities that help students learn. Most of these seem basic, but when used consistently and appropriately, students learn and teachers see the difference. So, my first goal in writing Classroom Motivation was to share some of these strategies with other teachers.

But I also wanted to write a book that reminds teachers of their value. I believe that teachers change the world everyday; but you don’t always see the results. Sam Myers, from Sumter 17 School District in South Carolina says, “On your worst day, you are someone’s best hope.” That’s a strong reminder of the positive power of a teacher.

If you’d like to read an excerpt from the book (chapters A: Achievement is More than a Test Score; E: Engagement Equals Success; and Y: You are the Key), head over to my website, www.barbarablackburnonline.com. You’ll also find downloadable templates from the book and handouts from many of my workshops.

Evaluating Content for Rigor

What does rigor look like in the classroom? Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said recently in an interview with EdWeek, "We want to reward rigor and challenge the status quo." He has said that he would like to use part of a federal incentive-grant fund to reward states, districts, and nonprofit groups that have set rigorous standards for their students and raised student achievement. Here's one idea from Rigor is NOT a Four-Letter Word to increase rigor in your classroom.

Part of respecting your students is expecting high-quality work from each one, while considering where a student truly is on the learning continuum. The first step this requires is to define high quality. Rubrics are an effective way for you to determine your expectations for quality. However, if you don’t have anything for comparison, you may unknowingly lower your standards.

Try comparing your expectations for students to published national standards from organizations such as the SREB, NCEE, and Mid-Continent Regional Education Laboratory.

It’s also important to simply sit down with other teachers and discuss what your expectations should be. Choose a standard assignment that students complete, such as writing a short essay. Share copies of the paper with other teachers, and ask everyone to assess it. Since everyone participates, each teacher actually assesses a paper from each of the other teachers. Then come together to discuss what you found. It’s likely that some teachers will be more rigorous, and others less. However, as you talk about how you determine quality, you’ll come to consensus about your expectations.

I recommend that you first meet with other teachers of your same subject and grade level. Over time, meet with teachers one grade level above yours, or if you teach high school, meet with teachers from your local community college or university. Ask questions such as, “What do you expect students to know before they come into your class? From your perspective, what are the overall strengths students bring into your classroom? What are some areas that students struggle with?” Finally, meet with teachers one grade level below yours. You’ll discover new information that will help guide your instruction for the coming year.

Here’s a tool to help you assess your standards and expectations. Choose something from your current lesson or unit. List it in the left column, then compare it as noted in the right column.

Standards or Expectations



Comparison to benchmarks


Comparison of assessment with other teachers


What I learned from teachers a grade higher:


What I learned from teachers a grade lower:

What I want to do with the new information I learned:

Follow me on facebook or twitter?

Interested in more updates? You can become a fan at Facebook or follow me on Twitter (barbblackburn).

What is your vision for rigor?

At the start of a new school year, what is your vision for you and your students? Would you like your students to become independent learners? Would you like your students to learn at higher levels? Do you want to provide rigorous instruction and still have fun? The first step to a rigorous classroom is setting your vision. Try this activity:

Project that it is the last day of school and write a letter to a colleague or friend. Describe the school year that just happened (remember, you are imagining that the upcoming year has already happened). It was the best year ever....it far exceeded your expectations. What did you do? What happened with your students? How did they learn and grow and change? How did you?

Create your vision..and then strive to live it! Have a great year!