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, November 23, 2015

Should Students Be Required to Complete Work?

Another part of high expectations is requiring students to complete their work, especially major assignments or assessments.  If something is important enough for you to assign it, then it should be important enough for a student to complete it. Let me clarify a key point. This is not just about the student’s responsibility. You play a major role in his or her success. First, it means we design assignments that are valuable, not just busy work. In addition to helping students understand the value of the work, we hold them responsible for completion.
           When I was teaching, that meant that students who did not complete an assignment stayed with me during lunch and completed it while eating. You don’t have to give up your lunchtime, but requiring students to complete something means you also provide a structure and support to ensure they finish. I was recently in a high school where the teachers posted office hours for students to receive extra help. That’s a great idea, but the students who need the most help usually don’t voluntarily seek it. Another school in the same district offered specified times for help, but it was required for any student who failed a test. The teachers sent a clear message that learning was not a choice.  

Thursday, November 19, 2015

#Rigor: No Excuses

One aspect of rigor is high expectations.  A key part of high expectations is communicating that learning is not optional.  Many students think it’s okay to “take a zero”, and in a rigorous classroom, that is not acceptable.  I used two specific strategies to communicate high expectations with teachers, and with students.  
I took several teachers and the principal from a local school to visit a high-poverty school in a neighboring state. The school had a strong reputation for closing achievement gaps, despite the challenging student population. Bob Heath, the principal of a local middle school, described his experience.
The option to not do work was not there. If as adults, we accept that students cannot do work, we are not doing the kids any service at all. This comes out in several ways, starting with our vocabulary. If we say “students just won’t do the work,” we are part of the problem. We have to get those words out of our vocabulary. They won’t do because we don’t make them do
            When I was teaching, my students’ default response to assignments was, “I can’t do that.”  It became so automatic to them, that they would answer “I can’t” before I asked them to do something.  Finally, I added it to our classroom rules:  You are not allowed to use the word can’t.  It took about six weeks, but students stopped using the word.    I was in an elementary school in Cleveland, Ohio, and a teacher shared her response to the same issue.  Each student took a can, and filled it with sheets of paper noting all the things they couldn’t do.  Then, they buried their “can’ts” and started fresh.

Do you use the words can't and won't?  Do your students?  How can you remove those from your vocabulary?

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Rigor and Different Perspectives

My newest e-newsletter is out, and topic is looking at different perspectives to increase rigor.  If you are interested, sign up on the right.  I'll be resending it later this week.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Applying Webb's Depth of Knowledge

In my last post, I described Webb's Depth of Knowledge, recommending it as a stronger alternative to Bloom's Taxonomy.  Today, let's look at sample activities taken from Webb’s Depth of Knowledge Guide Career and Technical Education Definitions.

Sample Activities
DOK Level
Possible Activities
Level One
Develop a concept map showing a process or describing a topic.
Write in your own words.
Make a cartoon strip showing the sequence.
Paraphrase a chapter.
Outline the main points.
Basic measurement tasks that involve one step.
Use a simple formula where at least one of the unknowns are provided.
Locating information in mapts, charts, tables, graphs, and drawings.
Level Two
Construct a model to demonstrate how it looks or works.
Write a diary/blog entry.
Make a topographic map.
Write an explanation about this topic for others.
Stating relationships among a number of concepts and/or principles.
Multi-step calculation tasks.
Aggregating/organizing data collected in a basic presentation form.
Level Three
Use a Venn Diagram to compare and contrast.
Make a flow chart to show critical stages.
Write a letter to the editor after an evaluation product.
Prepare a case to present your view about a topic.
Explain abstract terms and concepts.
Complex calculation problems that draw on multiple processes.
Create graphs, tables, and charts where students must reason and organize information with teacher prompts.
Level Four
Applying information to solve ill-defined problems in novel situations.
Writing/research tasks that involve formulating and testing hypotheses over time.
Perspective taking and collaboration with a group.
Creating graphs, tables, and charts where students must reason through and organize information without teacher prompts.
Writing tasks with a strong element of persuasion.

Samples from: http://www.aps.edu/rda/documents/resources/Webbs_DOK_Guide.pdf

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Webb's Depth of Knowledge for #Rigor: More than Verbs

Today's post is a little long, but I want to give you a full understanding of the material.  Most people use Bloom's Taxonomy to determine how rigorous something is.  In contrast to Bloom’s Taxonomy, Webb’s Depth of Knowledge (DOK) focuses on complexity rather than the difficulty level of the task.  It is more complicated to understand because you can’t just consider the verbs—they are not sufficient on their own to truly demonstrate the complexity of the task, the prior knowledge needed to complete the task, and the cognitive processes needed to be successful. 
Since Webb’s DOK is an integral part of the Common Core State Standards, it is important to fully understand their meanings.  When I spoke with Norman Webb’s assistant via email, he directed me to the full meaning of each level and suggested I use those rather than some of the simplified visuals that list verbs that are available on the internet.  Let’s take a look at each.

Level One
Level Two
Level 1 (Recall) includes the recall of information such as a fact, definition, term, or a simple procedure, as well as performing a simple algorithm or applying a formula. That is, in mathematics a one-step, well-defined, and straight algorithmic procedure should be included at this lowest level. In science, a simple experimental procedure including one or two steps should be coded as Level 1. Other key words that signify a Level 1 include “identify,” “recall,” “recognize,” “use,” and “measure.” Verbs such as “describe” and “explain” could be classified at different levels depending on what is to be described and explained.
Level 2 (Skill/Concept) includes the engagement of some mental processing beyond an habitual response. A Level 2 assessment item requires students to make some decisions as to how to approach the problem or activity, whereas Level 1 requires students to demonstrate a rote response, perform a well-known algorithm, follow a set procedure (like a recipe), or perform a clearly defined series of steps. Key words that generally distinguish a Level 2 item include “classify,” “organize,” ”estimate,” “make observations,” “collect and display data,” and “compare data.” These actions imply more than one step. For example, to compare data requires first identifying characteristics of the objects or phenomenon and then grouping or ordering the objects. Some action verbs, such as “explain,” “describe,” or “interpret” could be classified at different levels depending on the object of the action. For example, if an item required students to explain how light affects mass by indicating there is a relationship between light and heat, this was considered a Level 2. Interpreting information from a simple graph, requiring reading information from the graph, also is a Level 2. Interpreting information from a complex graph that requires some decisions on what features of the graph need to be considered and how information from the graph can be aggregated is a Level 3. Caution is warranted in interpreting Level 2 as only skills because some reviewers will interpret skills very narrowly, as primarily numerical skills, and such interpretation excludes from this level other skills such as visualization skills and probability skills, which may be more complex simply because they are less common. Other Level 2 activities include explaining the purpose and use of experimental procedures; carrying out experimental procedures; making observations and collecting data; classifying, organizing, and comparing data; and organizing and displaying data in tables, graphs, and charts.
Level Three
Level Four
Level 3 (Strategic Thinking) requires reasoning, planning, using evidence, and a higher level of thinking than the previous two levels. In most instances, requiring students to explain their thinking is a Level 3. Activities that require students to make conjectures are also at this level. The cognitive demands at Level 3 are complex and abstract. The complexity does not result from the fact that there are multiple answers, a possibility for both Levels 1 and 2, but because the task requires more demanding reasoning. An activity, however, that has more than one possible answer and requires students to justify the response they give would most likely be a Level 3. Other Level 3 activities include drawing conclusions from observations; citing evidence and developing a logical argument for concepts; explaining phenomena in terms of concepts; and using concepts to solve problems.
Level 4 (Extended Thinking) requires complex reasoning, planning, developing, and thinking most likely over an extended period of time. The extended time period is not a distinguishing factor if the required work is only repetitive and does not require applying significant conceptual understanding and higher-order thinking. For example, if a student has to take the water temperature from a river each day for a month and then construct a graph, this would be classified as a Level 2. However, if the student is to conduct a river study that requires taking into consideration a number of variables, this would be a Level 4. At Level 4, the cognitive demands of the task should be high and the work should be very complex. Students should be required to make several connections—relate ideas within the content area or among content areas—and have to select one approach among many alternatives on how the situation should be solved, in order to be at this highest level. Level 4 activities include designing and conducting experiments; making connections between a finding and related concepts and phenomena; combining and synthesizing ideas into new concepts; and critiquing experimental designs.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Is Pork Barrel Spending Rigorous?

Today's rigorous example comes to me from Jason Roebuck at Monson High School in Massachusetts.  He teaches high school social studies and asks his student to create Powerpoints about pork barrel spending after they have explored the concept.   Notice how he not only requires them to research pork barrel spending, they must identify multiple good and bad projects (both nationally and in the state).  Then, they must defend their choices, a key aspect from the Common Core and other state standards.  It's an excellent example of rigor!  How can you adapt this for your students? 

  1. Using the internet research what pork barrel spending is. Begin your research @ go.hrw.com keyword SV3 Gv6. Define and explain what pork barrel spending is and what importance does it have for members of Congress.
  1. Identify the good and bad that comes with pork barrel spending. What are the positives and negatives of pork barrel spending?
  1. Identify and explain ten good pork projects and ten bad pork projects across the country. You must defend your choices.
  1. Identify five good and five bad pork projects in Massachusetts. (Preferably in our district). You must defend your choices.

  1. Format will be a 10 slide PowerPoint presentation complete with text and visuals. You must include a works cited list.