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).

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.