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).

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Winter Break

For many of you, the winter break (or holiday break, or Christmas break) is just around the corner. I wish you the best, and hope that you take some time to do something for yourself--not work, not grad school, not family....just you. I know that is hard. I've spent the last year learning to balance a new husband and stepson. Last year around this time, we were three days away from our wedding! But one thing I have learned...or relearned...is that no matter what, if I don't take time to refresh, there's not much left to give anyone else. So this break, take a deep breath, and step away from the rest of the world. Then, ask yourself, what is it that I need to do to be the best I can be when I go back in January? Have a blessed holiday season. Barbara

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Rigor, Grading, and Tests

If you've read Rigor is NOT a Four-Letter Word, you know I believe in a "not yet" or "incomplete" grading policy.  In other words, for key assessments, students should be required to demonstrate mastery.  I used this policy with my graduate students, and one of those students, Robin Madden, has transferred that to her students.  As she says, When most of her class scores below 85 percent on a test, Madden re-teaches the lesson before giving the test again. When just a few students fall under 85, they get extra practice and tutoring before they re-take the test. "I'm seeing the light bulbs come on for these kids," Madden said. "I see value in my work now that I haven't seen."

This epitomizes rigor.  She has high expectations, and pairs that with increased support so that each student is required to demonstrate learning! 

Here's the full article

Monday, December 13, 2010

Can humor help your students learn?

Interesting story in The New York Times.  Have you seen this play out in your classroom?  I've seen excellent examples of teachers who use humor to set up a lesson, but I never connected it to better problem-solving. 

Friday, December 10, 2010

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.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Website for School Leaders

Ron Williamson and I have launched a new website focusing on rigor for leaders. www.rigorineducation.com. You'll find a wealth of resources, including a series of articles focusing on leadership in your school. Just click on free resources.

Do we measure up?

Did you read about this?  It's easy to dismiss international comparisons because the cultures are so different.  But don't miss this last paragraph:  "
“This is the first time that we have internationally comparable data on learning outcomes in China,” Mr. Schleicher said. “While that’s important, for me the real significance of these results is that they refute the commonly held hypothesis that China just produces rote learning. Large fractions of these students demonstrate their ability to extrapolate from what they know and apply their knowledge very creatively in novel situations."

Too often, we think rigor is harder work, or more work, or memorizing more facts.  That cannot be the point.  Rigor is about challenging students to think at higher levels, to truly be able to solve problems, think creatively, and apply factual information to new situations.  Those are the skills that will lead us to higher levels in all comparisons.  Is that what rigor is in your school?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A student's view of rigor...what would you say?

I ran across this "yahoo question" from a student, posted a year ago.  I think many students feel this way, not just those in IB.  Trying to balance time in school, homework, a social life, extra activities (sports, clubs, etc), and family time is difficult for any student...or for a parent.  When my son was playing football this fall, it was a chore just to get to homework, much less finish it.  When his grades dipped a bit, we had to readjust.  Talking to him about time management, balancing priorities, and getting things done rather than doing it "in a minute" was more than a conversation.  It was a new way of looking at what he did, and how we supported him.  It wasn't easy, and we are still working with him to reinforce new study habits.  Taking time to notice and praise the positive efforts he's making, no matter how small has been a key component that is paying off for us.  Now, if I could only figure out how to get a 13 year old to actually do something in ONE MINUTE!!!!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Rigor + Motivation + Engagement = Student Success

During a workshop last month, someone asked me why I start my sessions talking about motivation and engagement. It's simple. I don't believe you can talk about rigor without discussing motivation and engagement. The three are interrelated circles, overlapping for optimal student success. Without considering motivation and engagement, students view rigor as "the same old thing, just harder". It's critical that we build a foundation of addressing student motivation as well as creating engaging lessons. With that strong foundation, then it's easy to add rigor into the mix.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Is there a place for extra credit in a rigorous classroom?

Just read an interesting article.  When I was teaching, I struggled with the whole concept of extra credit.  It never seemed to accomplish what I thought it would.  The students who usually earned it, didn't really need it...earning an A plus instead of an A or an A instead of a B.  It also seemed to overemphasize points vs. learning.  Last year, one of my graduate students was furious because I wouldn't give her extra credit.  She was on the border between an A and a B, and she wanted me to increase one low grade because she had done a good job "the rest of the time".  In effect, she wanted me to give her extra credit on a very poor assignment because....she wanted it.  I'm still not fully sure where I stand with this, but I do know that I don't appreciate an attitude that demands extra credit.  What do you think?