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).
Do you have a copy of my Beginner's Guide to Rigor? It's a short, four page introduction to the concept of rigor and how it looks in the classroom. Remember, rigor doesn't have to be a negative......when you take a good look at this, you'll see it's all about learning at higher levels!
One day a teacher asked her students to list the names of the other students in the room on two sheets of paper, leaving a space between each name. Then she told them to think of the nicest thing they could say about each of their classmates and write it down.
It took the remainder of the class period to finish the assignment, and as the students left the room, each one handed in the papers. That Saturday, the teacher wrote down the name of each student on a separate sheet of paper, and listed what everyone else had said about that individual.
On Monday, she gave each student his or her list. Before long, the entire class was smiling. "Really?" she heard whispered. "I never knew that I meant anything to anyone!" and, "I didn't know others liked me so much," were most of the comments. No one ever mentioned those papers in class again. She never knew if they discussed them after class or with their parents, but it didn't matter. The exercise had accomplished its purpose. The students were happy with themselves and one another. That group of students moved on ...
Several years later, one of the students was killed in Viet Nam and his teacher attended the funeral of that special student. She had never seen a serviceman in a military coffin before. He looked so handsome, so mature. The church was packed with his friends. One by one, those who loved him took a last walk by the coffin. The teacher was the last one to bless the coffin. As she stood there, one of the soldiers who acted as pallbearer came up to her. "Were you Mark's math teacher?" he asked. She nodded: "yes." Then he said: "Mark talked about you a lot."
After the funeral, most of Mark's former classmates went together to a luncheon. Mark's mother and father were there, obviously waiting to speak with his teacher. "We want to show you something," his father said, taking a wallet out of his pocket. "They found this on Mark when he was killed. We thought you might recognize it." Opening the billfold, he carefully removed two worn pieces of notebook paper that had obviously been taped, folded and refolded many times. The teacher knew without looking that the papers were the ones on which she had listed all the good things each of Mark's classmates had said about him. “Thank you so much for doing that," Mark's mother said. "As you can see, Mark treasured it."
All of Mark's former classmates started to gather around. Charlie smiled rather sheepishly and said, "I still have my list. It's in the top drawer of my desk at home." Chuck's wife said, "Chuck asked me to put his in our wedding album." "I have mine too," Marilyn said. "It's in my diary" Then Vicki, another classmate, reached into her pocketbook, took out her wallet and showed her worn and frazzled list to the group. "I carry this with me at all times," Vicki said and without batting an eyelash, she continued: "I think we all saved our lists"
That's when the teacher finally sat down and cried. She cried for Mark and for all his friends who would never see him again.
The density of people in society is so thick that we forget that life will end one day. And we don't know when that one day will be. So please, tell the people you love and care for, that they are special and important. Tell them, before it is too late.
I'm so excited about my newest book, Rigor for Students with Special Needs, co-authored by Dr. Brad Witzel. He and I have been colleagues for over ten years, and we talked about writing this book for at least four years! The latest news is a very positive review over at Middleweb. Check it out!
Here's a great source for speeches from history. The site itself is full of resources for a history class, but I found the speeches to be an exceptionally strong resource when you are looking for informational text, particularly some that provide an argumentative view (as included in the Common Core).
There is a nine-year-old kid sitting at his desk and all of a sudden, there is a puddle between his feet and the front of his pants are wet. He thinks his heart is going to stop because he cannot possibly imagine how this has happened. It's never happened before, and he knows that when the boys find out he will never hear the end of it. When the girls find out, they'll never speak to him again as long as he lives.
The boy believes his heart is going to stop; he puts his head down and prays this prayer,
"Dear God, this is an emergency! I need help now! Five minutes from now I'm dead meat."
He looks up from his prayer and here comes the teacher with a look in her eyes that says he has been discovered.
As the teacher is walking toward him, a classmate named Susie is carrying a goldfish bowl that is filled with water. Susie trips in front of the teacher and inexplicably dumps the bowl of water in the boy's lap. The boy pretends to be angry, but all the while is saying to himself, "Thank you, thank you, Lord!"Now all of a sudden, instead of being the object of ridicule, the boy is the object of sympathy.
The teacher rushes him downstairs and gives him gym shorts to put on while his pants dry out. All the other children are on their hands and knees cleaning up around his desk. The sympathy is wonderful. But as life would have it, the ridicule that should have been his has been transferred to someone else - Susie. She tries to help, but they tell her to get out. You've done enough, you klutz!"
Finally, at the end of the day, as they are waiting for the bus, the boy walks over to Susie and whispers, "You did that on purpose, didn't you?" Susie whispers back, "I wet my pants once too."
May we all see the opportunities that are always around us to do good.
The new podcast is out over at School Leadership Briefing. It's an interview with me and Brad Witzel, the co-author of my newest book, Rigor for Students for Special Needs. In the two parts, we address how rigor applies to special needs students, learned helplessness, and strategies for school leaders to help teachers. Enjoy!
When I was in Columbus, Ohio, for a meeting, I had the opportunity to
visit the Franklin Park Conservatory. While visiting the “Blooms and Butterflies” exhibit, I was reminded of the beauty of butterflies. I also remembered
how much students are like butterflies. Just as butterflies are not in their final
state when they are born or when they become caterpillars or even when they
form a chrysalis, so our students are not in their final state when we are teaching them.
Think about that for a minute. Where are the students you teach? Are
they newborn? Are they caterpillars? Or are they inside a chrysalis? What
does that mean to you? If you think about your students as butterflies in the
making, how does that change the way you view them? One of the most difficult things for teachers to do is to keep our expectations high, especially
when our students’ actions make us think less of them. There were days my
students challenged me to come up with any positive thoughts about them,
but those were the days they needed me most. I saw a comment one time on a
bulletin board: Students need the most love when they least deserve it. I found that my students needed me to believe they were butterflies when they
were most acting like worms!
Offering choices is one of the simplest ways to encourage student
involvement in your classroom. Unfortunately, I talk to many students who
feel as though they never have any choices. I spoke with one student who
told me he felt that school is a place where “they tell you what to do all the
time.” Feeling a lack of choice is disheartening and frustrating for anyone. There are many opportunities for students to have choices in your classroom. It’s fairly easy to give students choices; it just takes a little extra
planning. You can allow students to choose what they read, how they
respond to the reading, how they learn, or what topics they research. One of
the most basic ways to give students a choice is to allow them to choose how
they will demonstrate their understanding of the content. When I assigned a
book report, for example, my students could choose the desired format.
Imagine the depth of understanding needed for a student to summarize a
book in a two-minute commercial or the creativity involved in developing a
music video to explain the content. If they are allowed to choose how they
will show that they understand the content, many students will invest more
time and effort in the task.