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.”