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, April 30, 2012

Myths About Rigor

This week, we'll be looking at the 5 myths about rigor.  Myth number 1:  Lots of homework is a sign of rigor.

For many people the best indicator of rigor is the amount of homework required of students. Some teachers pride themselves on the amount of homework expected of their students, and there are parents who judge teachers by homework quantity.
Realistically, all homework is not equally useful. Some of it is just busywork, assigned by teachers because principals or parents expect it. One study (Wasserstein, 1995) found that students described busywork as unimportant, and therefore, not satisfying. Contrary to what many adults believe, the study found that students viewed hard work as important and enjoyed the challenge and enjoyment that went with accomplishing a task that was hard.
For some students, doing more homework in terms of quantity leads to burnout.  When that occurs, students are less likely to complete homework, and may be discouraged about any learning activity.
“Doing more” often means doing more low-level activities, frequently repetitions of things already learned. Such narrow and rigid approaches to learning do not define a rigorous classroom.  Students learn in many different ways. Just as instruction must vary to meet the individual needs of students, so must homework. Rigorous and challenging learning experiences will vary with the student. Their design will vary; as will their duration. Ultimately, it is the quality of the assignment that makes a difference in terms of rigor.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Teaching is Leadership

Good leadership is motivating and mobilizing others to accomplish a task or to think in ways that are for the benefit of all concerned.  Don Page

Doesn't that sound like teaching?  Especially the part about accomplishing a task?  Teachers are leaders--you lead your students to higher levels of learning.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Building Blocks of Success

Have you seen my newest article on building student success over at suite101.com? 

Do you teach students who are intrinsically motivated? Intrinsic motivation comes from within. It’s the sense of working toward something simply because we want to or because we feel a sense of accomplishment, and it is relatively easy to know when a student is intrinsically motivated. Students are motivated internally when they pursue an activity independently, enjoy the activity, don’t want to stop working until they are finished, move beyond the minimum expectations, and don’t care if there are rewards attached.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

5 Leadership Tools

Did you miss my podcast on 5 Leadership Tools to shape culture?  Here it is!  A special thanks to Ron Williamson, my co-author on the Principalship from A to Z for our joint creation of the material. You can also subscribe to the School Leadership Briefing here. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

A Beginner's Guide to Understanding Rigor

You asked for it--you've got it!  I just finished a short beginner's guide, which addresses why you should care about rigor, what it is, and what it looks like in the classroom.  Enjoy and share with others!

Friday, April 20, 2012


Do you see the caterpillar?
Ahhh, things are not always as they seem!  Have a good weekend. 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Are your students frustrated with the books they are reading?  Here's a few guidelines for choosing texts for your students.  Keep in mind the Common Core State Standards provide recommendations at each grade that are appropriately challenging for growth as opposed to easy reading. 

Considerations for Text Selection
Is the content of the text pertinent to my standards or objectives?
Is the content of the text appropriate to the purpose of the assignment (independent reading, research, partner reading, etc.)?
Is the content of the text appropriate to the age or developmental level of my students?
Is the content of the text appropriately challenging for growth (not too hard, yet not too easy)?
Is this the only opportunity my students will be given to read, or are they allowed choices at other times?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Valuing Depth

In our culture, we are often bombarded with the message that more is better. We can find ourselves so focused on covering material that we only skim the surface; therefore, our students often log information in their short-term memory rather than truly learning and applying it in the future.
When it comes to rigor, less is more. If we expect students to learn at a high level, we must focus on depth of understanding, not breadth of coverage.
I worked with a school district that encouraged summer reading. High school students read one book over the summer and then gave a brief summary of the book during the first week of school. As you might imagine, the quality of the presentations varied tremendously. Some students were creative and provided great detail about their books, while others stated surface information that was available from the internet.
            As an alternative, one teacher required her students to create book webs. In addition to the presentations, each student drew a web connecting their book to their classmates’ books. It was their responsibility to talk to each other and discover ways the books were related. In addition to shifting responsibility for learning to the students, the structure of the assignment forced students to move beyond basic, summary information to look for the deeper connections among the various books.
Tonya Woodell points out that rigor is applicable in all subjects. “As a beginning band teacher, the music standards would allow my students to play all grade 1 pieces. The grading scale of music is set from 1 – 6. Grade 6 music is generally played by very good high school bands and colleges. Although I could allow my students to play only grade 1 music, I expect them to be able to play grade 2 and 3 pieces. And they are able to do it! In Choir, I could allow them to simply sing ‘crowd pleasing’ songs. However, I expect my students to sing at least one foreign language piece a semester. I also expect that they sing in three-part harmony when unison or two-part would be acceptable.”

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Students and Respect

Do you have a student who does not show you respect?  I come from a background in which students were taught to respect teachers.  Unfortunately, I'm not sure that's the case anymore.  Last year, my husband and I had a foster son, who had been homeless for 6 months prior to living with us.  His perspective was totally different.  He believed that, until a teacher showed him respect, he should not show respect to a teacher.  That was a real challenge for me and his teachers.  But  between us working with him at home, and the teachers understanding the issue and working with him, things were ok.  They weren't great, and they never became great except with two teachers, but they were acceptable.  How would you respond to a student who feels this way?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Unlocking Mazes and Puzzles for Students

Do your students feel like this?

Mine did.  There are a variety of ways we can help students, but one is to start with a belief that we can navigate the mazes and puzzles of life. I really like this quote from Brian Tracy:

Life is like a combination lock; your job is to find the right numbers, in the right order, so you can have anything you want.

Here's my version:
Learning is like a combination lock; with your effort and the help of your teacher, you can find the right numbers, in the right order, so you can learn anything!

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Fruits of Your Work

In teaching you cannot see the fruit of a day's work.  It is invisible and remains so, maybe for twenty years.  ~Jacques Barzun

Thursday, April 12, 2012

What are you expecting from your students?

“If you expect nothing from anybody, you’re never disappointed.” --Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
  What do you expect today?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Summarizing and the Common Core State Standards

In response to a recent blog post about rigor and the Common Core State Standards, Tracy commented:

The CC Bundles mandated to us use "summarizing" extensively. I was a little surprised to see this low level (DOK) task used so often in the bundle. I assigned the summarizing as HW to determine a)who had read the selection and b)to determine their comprehension of it.
There are a couple of key points here.  First, summarizing may or may not be a low level task.  For students who have never summarized, the task of pulling out key information to describe in a few words what they have read or learned may be challenging.  However, many students simply write down the topic sentence, or something you said, or write down everything they know hoping you will choose the correct part.  None of those are summarizing.   As a result, you may need to teach the skill of summarizing.  However, then we need to move to the next level of analyzing and synthesizing information.  But remember, unless a student can summarize, he or she can't move to the next step!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Meeting the Common Core State Standards

This was a tweet a couple of weeks ago related to the Common Core State Standards:

Challenge for my fellow #ascd12 attendees: Tell every vendor it's students, not products or curriculum, that meet Common Core standards.@eduleadership
I worked for three publishing companies for a total of ten years.  The most important lesson I learned?  That it's never the materials; it's what a teacher does with those materials.  Do the right materials help?  Yes, but the materials don't help students grow--YOU DO!!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Expectations and Labeling

My dad recently gave me a copy of a poem written and given to him by a fifth grader.  What does this tell you about expectations for students?

Man, man, put him in a can.

Place a label on him,  pretend to understand.

Yet excuse him, defend him.

If he doesn't fit in,

Tear off the label and try it again.

5th grade student

Quite telling, isn't it?  How many of the students in your school feel this way?  What can you do to change it for those student who challenge you the most?

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Seeing Is Not Learning

One of my mistakes as a teacher was assuming if my students read or saw something, they learned it.  Even if they didn't, we could just do the same thing again.  But repetition does not lead to learning.  Why do I say this?

What are the colors of the word google on their pages?  Don't know? Neither did I.  Thanks to my 14 year-old for another reminder of the importance of teaching. 

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Common Core State Standards and Text Complexity

Looking for help providing support for students with the Common Core State Standards and text complexity? 

One of the areas of emphasis in the new Common Core State Standards is to move students to higher levels of text materials. Supporting students to read and learn at higher levels of text can be challenging, especially if you teach students who are reading below grade level. However, the Common Core State Standards require that we move students to higher levels of text. Providing extra help and scaffolding becomes a critical aspect of helping students succeed. There are three simple ways you can scaffold learning for your students.


The first effective strategy is to model for students. In addition to thinking out loud, or talking students through your own learning process, you can model by providing a list of steps to follow as they read. For younger students, at-risk students, English Language Learners, or students with special needs, adding a picture to those steps is helpful.

Read the full article at Suite101 here.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Impossible Dreams

Have you ever thought, this is impossible.  I can't keep going because...my students have so many needs.....I have so much to do....I'm so tired....testing is overwhelming....etc.

This quote is for you!

Alice laughed: "There's no use trying," she said; "one can't believe impossible things."I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”