September 18, 2013 17:09 Age: 4 yrs

Raise the Rigor: Five Tips to Push Student Thinking

Category: News, Home, Doug McCurry
By: Doug McCurry

Once, when I was at a conference, I met this guy who was passing out business cards trumpeting himself as the “Emperor of Rigor.” At the time, I thought he was a bit strange. Now, I want to track him down. In order to close the achievement gap, all of us need to become emperors of rigor for our students.

At Achievement First this year, we are pushing every educator to be relentless about asking a key question: Is this lesson rigorous? If so, you should be able to answer “yes” to the following five questions.

  1. Grounded in end-of-year outcomes: Is the lesson grounded in the quality of work that students will need to produce at the end of the year? Is this lesson pushing—with urgency—the level of thinking necessary to get there? If every day were as urgent and rigorous as this day, would students achieve the college-ready goals they need to reach by the end of the year?
  2. Text rigor: Is the text the students are reading rigorous enough? Is it at the level of the Common Core for this grade level? Is it complex enough to drive deep, juicy thinking?
  3. Big ideas, big thinking, big knowledge: Before planning the lesson, do you clearly know the main idea of the text, the key mathematical thinking necessary to tackle the problem or the strong understanding of the world we want students to gain?  
  4. Great questions: Are you asking really tough questions that require student thinking? Are you comfortable with your students struggling, or do you jump in at the first sign of discomfort? Are the students the ones doing the thinking in class?
  5. Quality of responses: Am I accepting so-so answers, or pushing my students constantly to give the best answer? Do I define what quality responses, both oral and written, look like, and are students getting feedback on their answers? Do I demand that low-effort and low-quality work be redone?

At the end of the day, we owe it to all of our students to become “Emperors of Rigor.” At Achievement First, we are obsessed with raising the bar and with ensuring that every class exudes rigor. That’s because constantly pushing this bar is what will truly fulfill the college-ready promise we’ve made to our students.