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?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Feeling Overwhelmed?

One of my favorite authors and friends is Frank Buck. He specializes in getting organized, time management, etc. His blog is filled with wonderful suggestions for principals, teachers, and anyone else who works in or with schools. http://frankbuck.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope everyone has a happy Thanksgiving and a rest from the daily stress of school life. No matter how much you love your job (or not), we all need a few days away. I would encourage you to take time to do one thing totally for yourself in the next few days. Go to a movie, write in your journal, take a walk...whatever you enjoy. Afterward, when you feel like you have had a chance to breathe, write down three reasons you CHOOSE to do what you do. Because it's always a choice...maybe you want to make a difference for a student, maybe you like the "a-ha" moment that comes (not nearly as often as we'd like), or maybe you like knowing that you learn as much as your students. Thank you for choosing to be a teacher or a leader. You make a difference for students everyday...even when it doesn't feel like it.

Saturday, November 20, 2010


Have you ever felt like you were juggling too many things at one time? It has been that way for me lately. I kept thinking that things would calm down by now, but... A friend of mine laughed at me, saying "things never calm down; you just get better at dealing with them." I hope that's true. For me, the last year has been full of changes. In 2009 I took a new job at a different university. It's amazing how the same job is different at a new place. When I married in December, I was balancing a new job, commuting two hours each way, a new husband and stepson, finishing a book, and selling my house. TOO MUCH! My first decision to add balance was to quit my university job at the end of the year. So, in June, I became a full time writer/speaker, wife and mom. There's still a lot to balance. Just finishing the new book--Rigor in Your School--A Toolkit for Leaders, and I'm taking some time off the road. Right now, my biggest tip for balance is to make a list this morning--not a full to
do list but a two column list: Definite Things to Accomplish Things I'd Like to Get Done (But I won't beat myself up if I don't).
Usually, that was all on one list, but this way I feel more accomplishment!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Are you doing a book study on Rigor is NOT a Four-Letter Word?

Check out this blog (thanks to Brenda Martin and her teachers for sharing).  I'm always humbled and amazed at how teachers take the material and make it their own!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Perceptions of Rigor

What do you think when you hear or read the word rigor? Does it carry a positive or negative connotation? When discussing rigor and its importance in the classroom, teachers and students often find themselves face-to-face with a seemingly impenetrable wall created by how their perceptions. So, rather than trying to penetrate the wall, let’s walk around it, or get a harness and some rope and climb it! Rigor, like this wall, presents a challenge, but not to the extent that students feel they must overcome insurmountable obstacles. Rather, it offers a challenge that, combined with strategic thinking and action, paves the way for success.

When teachers combine challenge with instruction and encouragement to guide students toward success, students are more likely to view rigor as something that positively impacts their learning and their abilities to seek information. Too often, students resist challenges because they fear failure. So, we must rearrange our own perceptions of rigor. Instead of trying to “stump” students, we should invite them to take risks as learners, to think critically, to express themselves, and to experience the personal satisfaction and joy that accompanies genuine accomplishment.

What do you think? How do you help students take risks in your classroom?

What does a teacher do?

From my great friend, research assistant, and former student Missy Miles:
A teacher will be some place in the world tonight preparing lessons to teach your children while you are watching tv. In the minute it takes you to read this, teachers all over the world are on their own time for your children's literacy, prosperity and future. If you can read this, then thank a teacher.

I love it!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Review of Rigorous Schools and Classrooms

The Teacher Leaders Network just released a review of Rigorous Schools and Classrooms: Leading the Way.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Thoughts from the last couple of weeks

I've been traveling some lately. Two sessions with a mix of teacher-leaders and administrators; one in South Carolina, one in Kentucky. Really great groups. One of the most important takeaways? How we can concretely look at high expectations in the classroom. We regularly talk about asking higher order questions, but just as important is how we respond to students' responses. Often, students respond with a low-level answer, and we accept that and move on! That isn't rigor. What happens in your classroom? Do we probe, extend, or accept a basic response from students?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Interesting blog entry!

Ran across this blog--a nice application of the vision letter activity!


Monday, May 17, 2010

Leading Rigor in Schools

Have you seen the newest book, Rigorous Schools and Classrooms: Leading the Way?

Friday, May 14, 2010

Are you an IPAD user? If so, check out this new group about using IPADs in education!


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Lessons Learned....

Try to think of a time when you or someone you knew, or about whom you read, thrived under conditions that did not challenge them. The two ideas essentially negate each other because in order to thrive, people must be challenged. In addition, however, they must have the necessary skills and belief in their abilities to use those skills in order to thrive. This is the idea behind rigor in the classroom. When teachers combine high expectations with genuine belief and solid instruction, students perceive that they are capable of excelling and achieving, and they readily welcome rigor. Throughout my experiences as en educator, I have learned countless valuable lessons, among them:

  • An individual teacher can exert immense influence over students just by holding them to high standards, and believing in them.
  • Students reflect our perspectives of them. Much like the idea of self-fulfilling prophecies, students will attain success at whatever levels they perceive that others—particularly their teachers—believe they are capable of doing so.
  • As teachers, we must focus on what we can control. By virtue of our humanity, this tends to be a difficult frame of mind to adopt. However, it is vastly wise in its simplicity. Avoid becoming a victim to circumstances beyond your reach or control. Instead, learn how to seek and create alternate options and possibilities. This kind of level-headed persistence and determination can help you meet your students’ needs, your students’ parents’ needs, and your own needs.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Rigorous Questions for the New Year

Rigorous questions and tasks tend to be open-ended, rather than having one simple answer. Although it is important to ask questions about facts and details that have only one answer, higher-level questions generally have several possible responses. One of the best activities I have found for promoting open-ended questions is using a Question Matrix. Here’s an example:

Question Matrix

What Is

When Is

Where Is

Which Is

Who Is


How Is

What Did

When Did

Where Did

Which Did

Who Did

Why Did

How Did

What Can

When Can

Where Can

Which Can

Who Can

Why Can

How Can

What Would

When Would

Where Would

Which Would

Who Would

Why Would

How Would

What Will

When Will

Where Will

Which Will

Who Will

Why Will

How Will

What Might

When Might

Where Might

Which Might

Who Might

Why Might

How Might

Wiederhold, Chuck. Cooperative Learning and Higher Level Thinking: The Q-Matrix (San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing, 1995)

Click here to download a printable PDF of the Question Matrix.

You can use the pdf above to copy the Question Matrix onto bright colors of card stock, cut the squares apart, and put a complete set in a plastic bag. I like to use different colors of card stock for each set so thatit is easier to tell if you have mixed up pieces between the bags.

After reading a text or completing a unit, put students in small groups and give each group a bag. Taking turns, ask each student to draw a card and finish the question. Then the rest of the small group must answer the question.

During the activity, ask each student to write down the question they come up with and the group’s answers. After each person in the group has takena turn, collect the papers and use the questions and answers in a whole-class review. You can even use some of the questions and answers on the test, so that students can feel ownership over the test.

You'll notice the upper left addresses basic questions, and the closer you go to the bottom right, the higher level the question. The Question Matrix provides a starting point for students, but with regular opportunities,they will learn to craft high-level questions without prompting from you or the cards.