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).

Friday, September 28, 2012

Is teeaching a lost art?

Teaching is not a lost art, but the regard for it is a lost tradition.

—Jacques Barzun

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Support for the Common Core State Standards

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.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

How do students feel about rigor?

As I began writing Rigor is NOT a Four-Letter Word, I wanted to hear what students would say, since they are the ones who are most directly impacted by the decision to increase rigor in the classroom. I asked, “How do you feel about rigor, or challenging work in school?” I received over 400 responses from students in grades two through twelve. Their replies reflect the tug-of-war of negative and positive perceptions.

Students’ Responses About Challenging Work
I would want to quit. I would need help. Robert
I really don’t mind it. I prefer to be challenged rather than bored. Tim
I don’t like work like that because if I spend a long time on just one problem and can’t find the answer I get stressed and that just makes it harder to do. Amy
I think it’s okay. I mean, I don’t prefer it, but it’s not as bad as most people think. Sometimes I prefer to have a little bit of a challenge. Kyle
It makes my head and hand hurt. Hayley
I don’t like doing rigor but everything in life isn’t easy so I just try my best to do it. Dominique
I feel that rigorous work needs to be explained better than normal work so I understand the material. Benjamin
I feel that challenging work would be better for people that think their work is too easy. Sumerlyn
OK, but if it’s hard, I want it to be fun too. Keith
I feel that rigorous work is made for some people and some people just might get frustrated and give up. I guess everyone should at least try it and if they can’t do it they don’t have to. Mason
I honestly don’t mind it every once in a while but not every hour of the day. Devon
I guess it’s ok if I’m in the mood for it. Kayla
It makes me feel stupid. I don’t ask anything and I just shake my head like I understand and say yes I get it. Emma
Sometimes I like it….sometimes I don’t. Joseph

Too often, we promote rigor as work that is only for advanced students, or work that is more (doubling the amount of homework) or harder (you already can’t do it, so here’s something that is even harder). That is NOT rigor. I’ve focused my attention on the things any teacher can do to increase the rigor of his or her class–whether it is for honors students or not. My definition of rigor: 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, September 24, 2012

What is Instructional Rigor?

Instructional rigor has become a controversial topic. Educators disagree about the word itself, citing a dictionary definition of harsh or rigid. A friend of mine points out that if you look it up, the word rigor falls between rigamarole and rigor mortis.

True instructional rigor, however, is centered around student learning. 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.

Friday, September 21, 2012

What if students don't come to us prepared to learn?

If kids come to us from strong, healthy functioning families, it makes our job easier. 

If they do not come to us from strong, healthy, functioning families, it makes our job more important.

-Barbara Colorose

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Are you a new teacher?

If you are a new teacher, first, congratulations!  You are making a difference for students--even if it doesn't feel like it right now.  Next, you are probably feeling a bit overwhelmed--that's normal.  I can't tell you the number of times I thought about quitting (usually after I made a mistake).  Hang in there.  Finally, here's a great resource full of ideas for you!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Rigor in an Alternative High School

A great guest post about rigor in high school!
Rigor in an Alternative High School:  Thoughts on Beginning
                  Today I began a new adventure on my journey as a teacher – I stood in front of a classroom as a full time high school teacher for the first time.  During the course of the day, I saw about 100 different students in six different social studies classes ranging from History to Sociology and everything in between.  How then can I presume to write about rigor when I have only just begun?  I have a couple different answers to that question.  I have served as a part time teacher in the same building running an evening program (3:30-8:45pm) for the last six years.  I have also spent significant amounts of time substitute teaching in a wide variety of classrooms for the last eight years.  Most importantly, I don’t pretend to have all (or maybe any) of the answers.  I do have some thoughts on the subject however, and this year will serve as a proving ground to see whether any of my ideas bear any fruit.
                  The program in which I work is an alternative high school, which means that we get the kids who don’t make it in a traditional building.  They may have had significant attendance issues from problems at home or may be in legal trouble or any of a variety of other reasons.  Whatever the cause of their arrival at my school, they tend to have much in common with each other.  They are typically behind in credits, typically have trouble attending regularly, and typically are exceptionally unmotivated.  How can we as teachers possibly ask for rigor from these students?  I believe that step one is to develop relationships with them as human beings.  I have found from my time in the evening program that they are willing to give some extra effort if they believe you care.  Step two is present the material in a way that grabs their attention.  It must interest them.  If it doesn’t, why should they bother?  This is a difficult task, but by no means insurmountable.  Step three goes hand in hand with step two.  It is to allow them freedom to grapple with the material themselves.  Listening to a teacher lecture did not serve them well in a traditional setting.  Why should it in an alternative setting?  Turn the reins over to them as much as your administrators, standards, and teaching style allow.  Let them wrestle with becoming learners and critical thinkers, but be there to help scaffold them along the way.

Rick Jackson is the Social Studies teacher at Discovery Alternative High School in Grand Rapids, MI.  You can take a sneak peek at his classroom at www.discoverysocial studies2.weebly.com and follow further educational musings at www.nightschoolrick.weebly.com.  You can follow Rick on Twitter @RickJackson10 and e-mail him at rjackson@kvilleps.org.  Rick earned a Bachelors in US History and Education from Principia College and is the process of completing a Masters of Teaching Mathematics from Western Governors University.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Incorporating Value into Your Classroom

Students are more likely to be intrinsically motivated to learn if they value what they are asked to do. There are five building blocks to add value to your classroom:
  1. Variety
  2. Attractiveness
  3. Locus of Control
  4. Utility
  5. Enjoyment

Friday, September 14, 2012

Moving from Negativity to Positivity

Are you in the middle of a fishbowl of negativity? 

Do the negative attitudes of others bring you down? 

Take a chance!  Find a fresh start! Go for a positive beginning!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

How Can I Motivate My Students?

Do you teach a student who seems unmotivated? All students are motivated, just not by what we'd like them to be motivated by!  There are two keys to motivation:  value and success.  Students are more motivated when they see value in what they are doing and when they feel successful.  How can you help your students with these two areas today?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Classroom Arrangements

I was recently asked: “How should you arrange classroom (ie-teacher’s desk) to promote community…or does it matter?”

I'm not a big believer in "one" right way to do something, but it does make a difference. For example, the standard room with desks in a row and the teacher's desk front and center sends a message that the teacher is in charge, and the students are simply recipients of information. However, I was in a classroom set up like this, and it was a community, mainly because the teacher was never at his desk; he was always in the middle of his students, who also had flexibility to rearrange the desks. That's what is more important--do students feel like they are a part of things, or separate from the teacher? In my classroom, I tend to find that clustering desks/tables works better for me so I can facilitate groups. In my grad classes, though, if I have a small group (8-12), I tend to do a large, square U so everyone is together. In that instance, clusters of tables actually breaks community rather than building it.

Monday, September 10, 2012

What are teachers doing?

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.


Friday, September 7, 2012

Think Positive Today!

It may be the end of a hard week for you, but it's still important to think positive. 

Our thoughts drive our actions, and if we aren't careful, our negative thoughts can take over our lives! 

So today, what is something positive that has happened to you?

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Parent Guides for the Common Core State Standards

Another great set of resources for the Common Core.  The National PTA has released a set of parent guides (specific to grade levels K-8, and then a set for high school).  They include excellent information for parents, including focus areas for the year.  Well worth checking out.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Group Work and the Common Core Standards

A new and higher standard of rigor within the Common Core State Standards focuses on increasing skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, and collaboration. But when your students do group work, do they work together or just sit together? I use a cooperative learning rubric to help define and assess effective group work. Here's an excerpt from my book Classroom Instruction from A to Z.  You can download the rubric by visiting Free Resources at my website www.barbarablackburnonline.com.  Choose book templates/downloads and then Classroom Instruction from A to Z.  Scroll down to download the PDF.

Group work is one of the most effective ways to help students learn. It can increase student motivation and is an important life skill. When I was teaching, some of my students didn’t like to work in groups. They complained every day until I brought in a newspaper article that said the number one reason people were fired from their jobs was that they couldn’t get along with their coworkers. That was an eye-opener for my students.

Recently, I was talking with a project manager, and I asked him about the importance of teamwork. He pointed out that knowing how to work with other people is critical. “The more successful you are, the more important it is to influence, motivate, and work with others. If you think about successful people, working with people becomes your job; that is what you do.”

That’s pretty insightful. For people who have achieved high levels of success in the workplace, no matter what the setting, teamwork isn’t part of their job, it is their job. As a teacher, this reminds me that if I believe I should prepare my students for life after school, then I need to teach them to work together.

Recently, I was in a classroom in which the teacher bragged to me that her students worked in groups all the time. When I asked her students, they told me that the desks are placed in groups, but they just read the book silently and answer questions individually. After thinking for a minute, one student said, “We can ask each other for help if we need to.” That’s not really group work. Effective group activities provide opportunities for your students to work together, either with a partner, a small group, or the entire class, to accomplish a task. In these instances, everyone has a specific role, and there are clear individual and shared responsibilities. Missy Miles uses a rubric for assessing each GROUP in her classroom.

You're a Team Player!
You're Working on It…
You're Flying Solo
Group dedication
The student is totally dedicated to his or her group, offering all of his or her attention by actively listening to peers and responding with ideas.
The student is partially dedicated to his or her group though sometimes becomes distracted by students or issues outside the group.
The student spends most of his or her time focusing on things outside the group; he or she is not available for discussion or group work.
The student shares responsibility equally with other group members and accepts his or her role in the group.
The student takes on responsibility but does not completely fulfill his or her obligations.
The student either tries to take over the group and does not share responsibilities or takes no part at all in the group work assigned.
Open communication
The student gives polite and constructive criticism to group members when necessary, welcomes feedback from peers, resolves conflict peacefully, and asks questions when a group goal is unclear.
The student gives criticism, though often in a blunt manner, reluctantly accepts criticism from peers, and may not resolve conflict peacefully all of the time.
The student is quick to point out the faults of other group members yet is unwilling to take any criticism in return; often, the students argues with peers rather than calmly coming to a consensus.
Utilization of Work Time
The student is always on task, working with group members to achieve goals, objectives, and deadlines.
The student is on task most of the time but occasionally takes time off from working with the group.
The student does not pay attention to the task at hand and frustrates other group members because of his or her inability to complete work in a timely fashion.

The student is observed sharing ideas, reporting research findings to the group, taking notes from other members, and offering assistance to his or her peers as needed.
The student sometimes shares ideas or reports findings openly but rarely takes notes from other group members.
This student does not openly share ideas or findings with the group, nor does he or she take notes on peers'