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).

Monday, February 28, 2011

Great Apps for Conferences

A great article if you are attending a conference...this list of fourteen free apps might interest you. 

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Heartbreaking...and THANK YOU!

I just read this blog posting.  And I don't know how to respond.  It is a sad, poignantly accurate description of how many teachers feel today.   Her thorough description of her experiences and what has changed her mind about being a teacher is....heartbreaking.  I debated about posting it, except that it is a reflection of many others.  The demoralization of teachers is a theme I hear all the time.  One of my favorite parts of speaking is that I have the opportunity to be positive with teachers, and about teaching. I typically finish with a few minutes reminding my group just how important they are, and of the enormous difference they make in students' lives.  And I can't tell you how many teachers come to me afterward with tears in their eyes saying they really needed to hear that; they haven't heard anything positive in a long time.  I don't know what to say to this blogger, except that I do know she makes a difference.  And the other thing I'm going to do is encourage everyone I know to say thank you to a teacher this week. 

If no one has said that to you lately, please take this as a personal comment from me to you. And if you are a principal, school secretary, assistant principal, teacher assistant, media specialist, or anyone else who works with schools, please sub in your role.  Students cannot succeed without all of you.   Thank you for being a teacher.  Thank you for coming in to work everyday to work with students who have so many needs it seems like you are using a spoon to empty the ocean.  Thank you for smiling, even when you don't feel like it.  Thank you for being patient with students, with parents, with everyone, even when no one is patient with you.  Thank you for still trying something new, because you know you are as much a learner as you are a teacher.  Thank you for choosing to be in a profession where you do not immediately see the difference you make.  Thank you for having faith that what you do will help students, possibly long after they leave you.  Thank you for inspiring a student.  You do make a difference everyday.  Even when you don't feel like it, especially when you don't feel like it.  Our world is a better place because of teachers like you.  Thank you. 

Friday, February 25, 2011

Keep Your Heart for Students Pumping!

In honor of "Heart Healthy" Month, here's my recipe for keeping your heart for students pumping. 

Help a student who needs an extra boost.
Encourage a colleague.
Admit you're not perfect, and focus on progress.
Recharge your batteries everyday.
Take care of yourself so you can continue to make a difference!

The picture was taken by my husband in Union Square Park, San Francisco.

Another Perspective on Rigor

I recently read this article, which focuses on assessment.  Point five deals with ensuring rigor. 

"5. Ensure Rigor You can be creative with authentic assessments, but you still have to base your assessments on the standards you are teaching. Develop rubrics that will show you exactly what your students are learning. Share these rubrics with your students so they’ll have a clear idea of what you want them to accomplish and how you expect them to demonstrate it." 

I thought this was one great point about rigor...in fact, it reflects my definition of rigor.  First, creating an environment in which each student is expected to learn at high levels--match assessments to a high level curriculum.  Second, each student is supported to learn at high levels--helping students understand what they are expected to do is one aspect of support.  Finally, each student is expected to demonstrate learning at high levels--with clear standards, they have a better chance of actually demonstrating that learning at high levels.  Some great tips!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

NASSP in San Francisco

I'm in San Francisco at the National Association of Secondary School Principals!  If you're here, catch my presentation with Ron Williamson tomorrow (Friday) at 11:15.  Then I'll be signing our new book, Rigor in Your School: A Toolkit for Leaders in the NASSP Bookstore at 1.  Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The True Meaning of Rigor

I ran across this blog posting the other day.  I am always happy to see others write about the true meaning of rigor.  The word rigor is so often viewed as work that is more, or harder, is so much more.  As the author of the blog noted, "What really counts is what we expect students to do with the learning that is presented to them.  Do we expect them to think about the learning and interact cognitively with the experience?  Or do we just expect them to cover lots of content and repeat what someone else has learned."

During my recent chat over at teachers.net, I was asked why not use a different word, like vigor, instead of rigor?  I use the word rigor because that is what is commonly used, albeit with different meanings.  I am choosing to reclaim the word rigor for teachers.  Remember, rigor is creating an environment in which each student is expected to learn at high levels, is supported so he or she can learn at high levels, and each student demonstrates learning at high levels.  In other words, rigor is helping each student learn and become more than when they started.  Isn't that what teaching is really about?

The New Book Debuts at NASSP!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Rekindling Motivation

Love this quote by Albert Schweitzer:

"At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us."

Who has rekindled your spark?  When you have lost your motivation, and feel like you are not making a difference, who helps you remember that you are? I can still remember the teachers who originally helped light my flame for teaching, and I count with gratitude those who encourage me today.  If today isn't your best day, take a moment and think about those who helped you discover your gift for teaching.  Now, find whoever helps you today and say thank you!  By the way, if it's a really bad day, find someone else and say an encouraging word to them.  You may be the only one who does. 

Monday, February 21, 2011

Is a True/False Test Rigorous?

I'm having a great day just outside of Houston.  I love seeing teachers when they realize that they are already incorporating many aspects of rigor in their classrooms, and increasing rigor doesn't mean throwing everything away...it just means adjusting some of what you are doing.  For example, you may use true-false tests in your classroom.  Although I prefer some other options, I never tell teachers to get rid of those tests.  If you want to use one, great.  Just adapt it.  Instead of students choosing to write T or F or that wonderful letter they hope we will interpret to be the correct answer, add one more step.  If an item is false, rewrite it as a true statement.  That simple step makes any true-false test more rigorous!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Lifelong Readers and Inspiration

I love working with teachers, and am always frustrated that I can't do more to help.  So last year, I used donorschoose.org to find a small project.  I used my married name with the donation, so they didn't know who I was, but I just received handwritten thank you notes about the book each student is reading, as well as this public thank you note.  A friend of mine says reading each day isn't homework, it's lifework, and I agree.  Thanks to Mrs. Bauguess, who is inspiring her high school students.  So many times, we give up on this as students become older.  Mrs. Bauguess inspired me!  Who is inspiring you today?  Who are you inspiring? 

Friday, February 18, 2011

What to do when someone wants to derail your group?

This is probably what I'm asked most often.  What do you do when someone just takes over, or constantly comments without allowing anyone else to talk?  My best solution is exactly what I do with students...deflect, derail, and dissolve.  First, deflect an off-topic comment or a comment that is designed to inflame the group. "That's really interesting.  Since we don't have time to discuss that fully today, would you mind just writing it down on a post-it and we can come back to that at a later time."  Or...."That's an interesting topic.  Why don't you do some research and then come back to me with that later and we'll plan a time to include it."  By the way, that one is perfect for students who want to draw you off topic--they get extra homework as a bonus!

Next, derail.  Often, the person is looking for attention.  So let's find a way to shift the attention away.  I immediately ask people to grab a partner and discuss something.  Then I can go over, and speak to the person individually.

Finally, dissolve the issue.  People who want to grab and keep attention are masters at it when you are asking the whole group a question and then asking one person to respond.  Include lots of pair-shares, small groups of three to discuss and share out, etc.  One of my favorites with a group is to allow small groups to discuss, then have the pick the person who has talked the most during the session. That person is the notetaker.  Then, they pick the person who has talked the least, and they share the group's response.  A fun way to solve the problem.

Enjoy your weekend, take some time for yourself.  I'll be in Houston Monday working with some great teachers in Pearland.  I know I'll have a great time!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Another Book Study Blog

Another blog for the book study!  Hope these are giving you ideas for your own.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Book Studies: Frequently Asked Questions

I love this set of questions and answers from my good friend, Sally Zepeda.  I think they will help as you plan your own book studies.  It's also downloadable in a PDF from the same link.  Do you have a question that isn't answered? Ask it in the comments and I'll give you my perspective. 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Blogging for a Book Study

Are you reading Rigor is NOT a Four-Letter Word? Here's someone else who used it for a book study/discussion. Their posts and comments are great!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Leading Book Studies with Rigor is NOT a Four-Letter Word

I am often asked, "Is there a study guide for Rigor is NOT a Four-Letter Word?"  That's a yes and no answer.  I did not create a separate one as I did with my A to Z books; this time, I chose to build it into the book.  I wanted to put the questions and reflections at the point of use, and save some money for schools at the same time.  I also created a short guide for leaders, which you can download here.  Scroll down to the facilitator's guide at the bottom, and be sure to allow pop-ups.  No registration is needed.

This week, I'll be linking to a couple of schools that have already done book studies, and adding some other ideas, so check back for more!  Happy Valentine's Day--remember, you are inspiring someone today, even if you don't think so! 

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Friday, February 11, 2011

What are the Characteristics of a Rigorous Classroom?

A recent article I wrote with Ron Williamson describes the characteristics of a rigorous classroom. It's a great way to start your own discussion.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Teaching ELL Students and MORE!

I've developed a  new handout to accompany Rigor is NOT a Four-Letter Word.  I've had several teachers email me asking "How can I be rigorous with students who are English Language Learners?"  Or...students with special needs, or just very young students.  Take a look at the five strategies in the handout and let me know what you think. All are ones I regularly use in my workshops, and teachers find them effective with a variety of students...not just ELL students.  A group of Pre-K and Kindergarten teachers in Texas had a lot of fun with their students using these.  Oh, in case it is gray where you are....have a great day!  You make a difference.  Thanks for being a teacher or school leader and working with students who need you. 

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Teachers.Net Rigor Chat Transcript Posted!

I loved working with the folks over at Teachers.Net.  Just prior to the Super Bowl, we chatted for about an hour.  In case you missed it, you can find a transcript here. 

Motivating Yourself

Are you having one of THOSE days?  Me too!  One of my strategies for motivating myself is keeping a folder of notes, etc. (I also have an electronic one) of positive things people send me.  This was on the back of a business card....how the person felt before our workshop, then after.  I needed that today.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Teacher.Net Chat Today at 4 pm EST

Final preparations for my chat!  I am very excited!  In case you don't know, many of the activity templates from my books are available on my website.  Just choose the book, then scroll about halfway down.  There is a drop down menu of the available PDFs.  No registration needed, but you do need to allow popups!  One sample I'm using today is a math graphic organizer.  It's an excellent tool that helps students organize the information in a word problem.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Rigor and Assessment


Consider this: you’ve developed and taught a challenging, rigorous unit, with support built in to each lesson to enhance instruction and student comprehension. Now it’s time to determine the extent to which your students have learned and can demonstrate their understanding at high levels. Can you count on what and how you’ve taught to be enough? If only it were so simple.
You have to plan and implement appropriate and logical assessments. These assessments should be challenging, varied, and formative. Be creative, but in such a way that the assessments you develop support your students’ understanding that what they have been studying has real world applicability. Seek to move beyond question-and-answer tests. Guide your students to think, process, and make connections. Pose higher-level questions, and attempt to have your students pose some higher-level questions of their own. Have a purpose and think quality!
I will leave you with an excerpt of a story I share in Rigor. Scott Bauserman, a social studies teacher at Decatur High School in Indiana, shares an experience he had when he asked his students to develop a game to demonstrate what they learned from a social studies unit. His goals were for the finished product to teach about the topic, use appropriate vocabulary and processes, and be fun to play. His results were inspiring….
Students had to construct the game, the box, provide pieces and a board, and write the rules. I received a wide variety. One game I will always remember was about how a bill gets passed into law. We spent time [in class] talking about all the points where a bill in Congress or the state General Assembly could be killed, pigeon-holed, or defeated. The student took a box the size of a cereal box, set up a pathway with appropriate steps along the way, constructed question/answer cards, and found an array of tokens for game pieces. If a player answered a question correctly, he or she would roll the dice and move along the path to passage. But the student had cut trap doors at the points where a bill could be killed, and if a player landed on a trap door/bill-stopper, the player to the right could pull a string, making that player’s token disappear from the board. The player would have to start over. Not a bad game from a student who has fetal alcohol syndrome and is still struggling to pass his classes.

What is a creative assessment you have used in addition to a test?

Friday, February 4, 2011

New Article on Rigor

NASSP just posted a new article I wrote with Ron Williamson. Four Tools for Recognizing Rigor. Check it out over at https://www.principals.org/tabid/3788/default.aspx?topic=Recognizing_Rigor_in_Classrooms_Four_Tools_for_School_Leaders_.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Can making a list be rigorous?

In her article on making lists, Abby Conner points out how list-making can actually enhance creativity.  When you are incorporating rigorous activities, I've found that making lists can lead to better, more analytical responses.  My seventh grade son is required to write extended responses for homework in his social studies class (I cannot tell you how impressed I am with his teacher...she is fabulous).  The questions are open-ended and require that he synthesize the information learned in class.  When he's in a hurry, he wants to just "write the paragraph."  Inevitably, that requires a rewrite. But when he starts by breaking down the question, making a list of possible responses to each part of the question, then writing a draft, his response is always better.  Without an extra step of support, many students never reach the next level.  Working from a more concrete activity (lists) to a more abstract one (analytical response) is a great way to support students as they reach higher levels of learning.  And that is rigorous!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Interested in chatting with me?

Teacher.net is hosting a live chat with me on Sunday, February 4 at 4 pm EST.  I'm excited, especially since the request came from a spirited discussion on their site about the true meaning of rigor.  There are so many different perspectives of rigor, many of them negative.  My definition of 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.  It's really all about helping students learn.  Isn't that why you became a teacher?