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, October 31, 2011

What's the best way to plan?

When I was working on my PhD, I learned about a planning model from the Dupont Corporation. The Task Cycle focuses on starting with the rationale (purpose) and desired result (product) before determining the process and resources needed. Think about how this would look in your classroom. Too often, we start with process (how to get there) and resources (what we use). We plan to have students read about spreadsheets (process) in chapter five of the textbook (resource). Then, we figure out what they should know at the end and how we’ll assess their success.

Think about a lesson you are planning, but this time, start with the fact that it’s important for students to understand how to create a spreadsheet because they can use it to plan a budget (purpose), and they’ll need to apply that knowledge when they get their first job (product). Now, to do that, students need to read about setting up a spreadsheet (how), but the textbook (resource) only includes a short description that provides a definition, but no instructions. So, we also ask students to use the help section of the computer spreadsheet program and show them real-life samples of finished spreadsheets.

Try it, see how it works, and let me know!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Teachers Have Power

Everything the teacher does, as well as the manner in which he [or she] does it, incites the child to respond in some way or another and each response tends to set the child’s attitude in some way or another.--John Dewey

WOW--isn't that a powerful thought?  Actually, isn't that an insightful thought about our power?  We have the power of our actions, which provoke a response, which affects a student's attitude.  That sequence can be positive, or negative.  And WE have that choice!  Remember, you do make a difference everyday.  Choose to be a positive influence!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

How do I measure success?

Yesterday, we talked about measuring success.  For me, success is broader than a test score—it’s about how we look at and identify a student.  It's short and simple for me:

Achievement is...

S Showcasing the
U Unique

C Competency and
C Capabilities of
E Every
S Single
S Student

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Truly Measuring Student Growth

It’s important to remember that student growth is never completely measured on a test. Suzanne Okey, a former special education teacher, agrees:

Achievement is supposed to be a benchmark of where students are so we understand where they are learning and where they are in development. We measure infants in every checkup: Are their heads growing enough? Can we assume they are getting adequate nutrition? It’s like that in schools; we measure whether or not they get adequate nourishment, are they benefiting from what we are providing or are we doing one size fits all model and leaving lots behind? We are in the business of nourishing children; nourishing their minds, bodies, and social development. Achievement looks at the tunnel of academics only. This means we are not doing observation necessary to see if a child develops in all aspects. Then one day, you have a bright child who is doing well academically who falls off the planet because no one noticed social problems.

Our job is to help our students be successful in school, but more importantly, it’s about helping them be successful in life. Great teachers define success as more than the test, and they provide multiple opportunities for every student to succeed frequently. They know that success breeds success and that all students can learn. Great teachers also teach their students that attempting something new is valuable, because even if you fail, as long as you learn and grow from the experience, you are not a failure.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Rigor for Students with Special Needs?

From IStock Photo, compliments of a dear friend, Rachel!
When I was in Everett, Washington last week, a teacher of students with special needs came up after the presentation.  She said, "Thank you for saying that my students need rigor too.  I hope everyone heard you."

Of course rigor is for students with special needs, just like it is for gifted students, at-risk students, and everyone else.  Rigor is about helping students move beyond where they are to a higher level, and that is for each student.  To deny some students that opportunity is to say, "you aren't worth it because you can't learn."  I have only heard that phrase once from a teacher (now a former teacher).  I hope to never hear it again. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

Helping Students Develop High Expectations

Here's a great quote from Patricia Neal:

A master can tell you what he expects of you. A teacher, though, awakens your own expectations.

How do you help students awaken their own expectations?  We'll take a look at some examples next week.  Have a great weekend.  

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Great Leadership Resource

Ron Williamson is my co-author on several leadership books:  The Principalship from A to Z, Rigorous Schools and Classrooms:  Leading the Way, and the brand new book, Rigor in Your School:  A Toolkit for Leaders

He's a great resource when it comes to leadership issues, and he's and expert at facilitating long-term change for improving schools.  Here's how you can find him:


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Myths About Rigor

What are the four biggest myths about rigor?  Ron Williamson and I explain them: 

  • Myth #1: Lots of Homework is a Sign of Rigor - For many people this is the most prevalent indicator. Many teachers are proud of the amount of homework they expect of their students. It is often built on the idea that "more is better." Unfortunately the evidence is that "more" often means doing more low-level activities, often repetition of things done earlier. Because students learn differently it is important to vary the instruction with the student and to use homework as an opportunity to deepen understanding of what has been learned.
  • Myth #2: Rigor Means Doing More - There is also a belief that students need to do more than they are currently doing. Tony Wagner of Harvard found that classrooms are often characterized by low-level, rote activity. A study by Howard Johnston and Ron Williamson found that parents saw rigor as doing less but doing it more in-depth. That is often difficult for principals to reconcile when talking with teachers and other school personnel. True rigor is expecting every student to learn and perform at high levels and requires that students delve deeply into their learning, engage in critical thinking and problem solving, and be curious and imaginative.
  • Myth #3: Rigor is Not For Everyone - There is a belief that if everyone is engaging in rigorous activity, it somehow lowers standards and lessens the value. There is growing recognition that all students must be provided an opportunity for a rigorous educational experience that is more than just a set of courses. It is anchored in the belief that every student can be successful if given adequate time and sufficient support.
  • Myth #4: Providing Support Means Lessening Rigor - Rugged individualism characterizes the fourth myth. It is that if students are provided and accept support, it is a sign of weakness. We've found that providing support is an essential component of a rigorous school. Students are motivated to do well when they value what they are doing and when they believe they have a chance for success. When Howard and Ron talked with teachers and parents about their own rigorous experiences they invariably shared the support that they were provided.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

I Can't Do This

Yesterday we talked about the first key of intrinsic motivation for students, seeing the value of learning.  Today, we'll turn our attention to the second key:  success.  Students need to be successful, or feel like they have a chance to be successful.  How can we do this?  By providing the opportunity for each student to be successful.  There are several ways to do this. 

First, you can provide activities in which there is no wrong answer.  This may mean giving students a post-it note as they enter class and ask them to anonymously write down either something they learned the prior day, or something they don't understand.  Ask them to place their notes in two categories on your wall or dry erase board.  Then use their notes to review yesterday's class.  Also, you can ask them questions such as what is your favorite part of the book, ask students to go to four corners of the room after you give them four possibilities.  Then, re-explain the concept, and ask them to choose their corner again, allowing them to change corners if they would like.  Next, each group decides why they chose the answers they did, and in a positive way, guide them to the correct answer. 

Second, chunk larger activities into smaller steps, ensuring that students are successful at each step.  Helping them be successful in small ways gives them the confidence to try bigger tasks. 

How will you help each student be successful today?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Why Do I Have to Learn This?

Has a student ever asked, Why do I have to learn this?  Too often, we assume that students are just being disrespectful when they ask that question.  However, seeing the value in something is one of the two keys to intrinsic motivation.  We are all hardwired to look for the value in whatever we are doing.  And if we don't see the value, then we aren't as motivated. 

Imagine that your students have a radio station playing in their head--WII-FM. What's in it for me?  And two answers don't work.  Because it's on the test.  Because I said so.  It's important to find ways to help students see the value in learning.  I'd love for all students to be motivated to learn simply for the love of learning.  However, that's not true for many students. 

So we need to help them see the value in learning.  Sometimes that means showing students the relevance of the lesson, sometimes students value the relationship they have with you, or sometimes they see value in the type of activity you provide. 

How will you help students see the value of your lesson today?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Just a reminder....

Did you miss signing up for my first newsletter? The next one comes out in three weeks, and is on the Common Core State Standards. To sign up, use the link below or the signup to the right!


Stepping Stones Or Stumbling Blocks

I've been reminded lately of how often we face challenges--small and large.  When there are several that mount up, it can be overwhelming.  I've found that overcoming challenges starts with a choice.  Do I choose to view the challenge as a stumbling block that causes me to fall, or as a stepping stone to a new level?  Once I decide to look at the obstacles as stepping stones, then I can move forward by chunking tasks, and taking it one step at a time.

What about you?  What challenge are you facing right now that seems overwhelming?  Take time to reflect.  What is the worst thing that could happen?  Now, take a deep breath and recognize the worst probably won't happen.  Realize you can choose to see this as a stepping stone to something great.  And move forward with one small step at a time.

Enjoy your weekend!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Rigor for Gifted Students

Don't we already provide rigor for gifted students?  That's the question I received from a participant in my workshop earlier this week.  I think it depends on the teacher (doesn't it always).  I have seen many teachers of gifted or honors students who provide rigor for the students.  But I've also been in similar classrooms that were not rigorous.  For example, I've observed teachers who ask very high level questions, but who accept student responses that are simplistic.  I've also reviewed assessments and assignments for gifted students.  One in particular stands out. 

It was a project for a high school Advanced Placement course.  Students were to read ten current events articles and summarize each.  In addition to the assignment, students were given how the assignment would be graded.  X number of points for the number of articles read, x number of points for putting their name in the upper right hand corner, x number of points for legibility, x number of points for summaries, x number of points for listing the references and attaching the articles. 

Do you see the problems?  First, the grading is more about completion than it is about quality. Second, is summarizing really appropriate for AP high school students?  A more rigorous activity would require students to analyze and synthesize the articles, and make connections among articles, and to other outside readings and experiences. 

I'd like to add a special thanks to @jabbacrombie on Twitter for reminding me that I haven't written specifically about gifted students lately! 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Common Core State Standards--Where should I start?

Last week, a group of teachers and principals asked me this question.  There is so much material on the CCSS, and so many unanswered questions.  So my answer was simple; start at the beginning.  First, read and unpack the standards for your subject/grade level. There are resources available for this; check yesterday's post for some examples.  Pay particular attention to the verbs (thanks @blairteach for that tip).   Next, compare the new standards with your current standards.  Look for gaps--concepts you aren't teaching now that will be expected in the new standards.  That will be important as students move to the next grade; especially if the standards will be introduced in multiple grades at the same time.  Finally, begin to create lessons and formative assessments for the new standards.  And remember, it can be overwhelming, so work through the process with other teachers.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Resources for the Common Core State Standards

Is your state adopting the CCSS?  Here's a variety of resources that I'm reading:

From the National PTA
From Education Northwest
Common Core Website 
Assessment Information (pdf)

A new report on implementation of the standards--Progress and Challenges

State Specific Sites.  Here are two samples, but please check your own state's website for more information:
North Carolina

There are many others, but I'm receiving so many questions, I wanted to provide a few starting points.  There's also a discussion on LinkedIn, and the Twitter hashtag is #ccss

Friday, October 7, 2011


One thing I always remembered when I was a teacher:  don't be discouraged if a strategy doesn't work with every student; unlocking each student's potential is individual.  The strategies in any books (including mine) are like keys--you may have to try more than one to find what works. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Rigor? Yuck.

Want to know how people feel about rigor? Ask them three questions:

What is rigor?
What are students doing in a rigorous classroom?
What are teachers doing in a rigorous classroom?

See what you can learn!

Don't forget to sign up for my new e-newsletter. Use the form on the right top of the page.

RIP Steve Jobs

As many of you may have, I learned of Steve Jobs death on an iPhone. I remember the Apple IIC and then I taught with several Apple IIes. We moved our school newspaper from a typewriter to an Apple computer. I've never lost my love for creative products, and for an unwavering commitment to education. Steve Jobs inspired me by refusing to give up when everyone else said to quit. Second, I learned to have a vision, dream big, and move forward, no matter what. And now, I am privileged to watch how IPads, etc. are changing classrooms. I believe he changed how we view technology, especially in education. I wish peace and hope for his family and friends.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Power of an Individual Teacher

Who was your best teacher?  I'm guessing that it wasn't hard for you to answer that question.  It's easy to name those memorable teachers from our lives.  One of the foundational beliefs that guides my work with teachers and leaders is the power of the individual teacher.  There are a myriad of suggestions for improving schools, and I'm not undervaluing those efforts.  But in the end, it boils down to what a teacher does in the classroom.

I was visiting a school where there had been an increase in learning and achievement scores.  As I talked with teachers, everyone said, "Oh, we improved because of a new computer program for reading we purchased (name deleted)." I understand the program helped, but it wasn't the program that increased scores--it was how teachers used it.  I worked for two educational publishers and one educational software company, and they would love for you to believe materials make a difference.

But here's the bottom line--the best program or materials in the hands of a poor teacher doesn't make much of a difference.  And the worst program or materials in the hands of a great teacher makes a positive difference.  The best program or materials in the hands of a great teacher is magic.

Implement strategies that make a difference, embrace reforms that work, use materials that help.  But never underestimate your role--you make the difference in your classroom!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

New Resource on Motivation, Expectations, Common Core State Standards

Tomorrow is Debut Day for my new e-newsletter! This issue focuses on motivation and engagement, with easy ideas you can implement today or tomorrow.  In addition to the short articles for teachers, there is a Principals' Perspective and Remarkable Resources.  Other monthly issues will focus on High Expectations, the Common Core State Standards, and Engaging and Rigorous Strategies for Reviewing Content.  If you haven't signed up, just look to the top right of the blog (sign up for e-newsletter as opposed to subscribe to this blog). I hope you'll take a look, try some ideas, and send me your tips and your feedback. 

Monday, October 3, 2011

Why Does Rigor Have to Be Hard?

I was asked this question during a presentation last week.  When I was a college professor, I told my students "Don't make it harder than it has to be."  I feel the same way about rigor.  Between all the difference perspectives of rigor, the belief that rigor is only for advanced classes, the new Common Core State Standards, and general feelings of being overwhelmed, no wonder teachers think rigor is hard.

I believe rigor can be EASY.   Rigor is:
Engaging to all students.  The traditional model of "sit and get" does not actively engage students in learning, and will not allow them to apply the higher order thinking skills needed to meet the new Common Core State Standards.

Accommodating to all learners.  Rigor is for everyone, not just a certain group of students.  Rigor may look a bit different for honors students compared to students who are English language learners, but a rigorous environment provides for all groups.

Scaffolds learning.  If we simply raise the bar for students without providing the needed scaffolding and support, then we are setting them up for failure. 

Yields results.  Sometimes we are so focused on what we need to do to increase rigor, we forget the goal:  to help students learn at higher levels.  That's the ultimate focus of rigor.

Those four components can help you build a rigorous classroom.  And, you don't have to add extra to what you are doing now.  You are probably already focusing on improving student engagement, meeting the needs of all learners through support and scaffolding, and helping students learn.  And that is rigor!