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 28, 2015

Creating #Rigor Through Facebook

One of the activities I recommend in my books is to have students create fake Facebook walls instead of writing a simple summary about a person or character.  It pushed students to higher levels to create status updates, choose friends and interests, and decide on page likes.  Look at this sample from @realmraugustus on Twitter and see how you can use this in your classroom!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Prioritizing Standards for Depth

Last week, we talked about prioritizing vocabulary for instruction. You also likely have a wide range of standards you are expected to teach. In his book, Rigorous Curriculum Design, Larry Ainsworth recommends we do the same with standards.  Prioritize which ones need the most attention.  He provides six criteria to consider:
              Endurance—Will this standard or indicator provide students knowledge and skills that will endure throughout a student's academic career and professional life?
              Leverage—Will this standard provide knowledge and skills that will be of value in multiple disciplines?
              Readiness for the next level of learning—Will this standard provide students with essential knowledge and skills that are necessary for success in the next grade level?
              School—what students need to know and be able to do at each level of learning.
              Life—what students will need to know and be able to do to be successful after the end of school.
              Tests—concepts and skills that are most heavily represented on external, high-stakes assessments. (Ainsworth, pp. 53–54)

How would prioritizing your standards help you improve the depth of your instruction?

Monday, September 21, 2015

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Are Your Students Overwhelmed by #Vocabulary?

My students were often overwhelmed with content-specific vocabulary. The traditional model of vocabulary instruction promotes memorization for a test, but doesn’t encourage a true understanding of concepts.. Choose your words carefully! In other words, rather than expecting students to learn 10 to 20 words each week, take time to teach critical concepts. In Building Academic Vocabulary (2005), Robert Marzano states that of the wealth of vocabulary terms embedded for each subject, some are critically important, some are useful but not critical, and others are interesting but not very useful. That is a helpful way to con- sider your vocabulary. Prioritize the terms and/or concepts that are critical for students to comprehend your content.

Monday, September 14, 2015

A Great #Rigor Activity

Check out this great rigorous activity from @orplewis on Twitter.  Instead of just writing a summary, students must compare and contrast two historical figures.  They also must create from the perspective of both people in order to complete the skit.  Depending on the level of research and depth the students do, this can easily be a Level Four activity based on Webb's Depth of Knowledge.  See if you can adapt this for your classroom!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Planning for What is Most Important

Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (1989), tells a story about time management. He describes filling a big jar about halfway with sand. After putting in some small stones, he tries to add the big stones; of course, they don’t fit. He demonstrates that, by putting the large stones in first, adding the small stones, and finally adding the sand, everything fits. The lesson? This is how our time works. Our calendars and days are so full of little things that are urgent, then we don’t have time to do the things we value (big stones). The largest stones, the things we value the most, must be planned first, or they don’t happen.
The same example works for us as we plan our classrooms. What are the stones in your classroom? The standards or the content you are expected to teach? If so, you agree with most teachers I talk with. But I think that answer is too narrow. Covey’s point is that the big stones are the
important things we value that get lost in the urgency of everyday challenges. In your classroom, the biggest, most important stones are the key instructional and motivational strategies that make a difference with your students, the true building blocks of learning. The smaller rocks are your standards. You know they are mandatory, and you ensure that you cover them. Finally, the sand granules are all the other activities that take up time in your classroom such as checking attendance or collecting money. It’s like Covey said, you always get to the sand, but sometimes we have so much sand that we never get to the stones. There’s simply not enough time left. We are so caught up in the urgency of busyness that important things don’t happen.
That’s how I felt when I started teaching. I was so worried about covering the material for the test and making sure I finished the textbook that I sometimes just didn’t get to other important concepts. I quickly realized that many of the characteristics I wanted to develop in my students (independent learning, problem solving, creativity) needed to be the foundation for my instruction. Otherwise, they would be the leftovers—the important lessons I would never have time for. That’s the point: If you wait to finish everything you are required to do before you use motivational strategies, you’ll never get to them. Strategies should frame how you do the things you need to do.
You may feel like the requirements to which you are held (standards and testing) are the big stones and that they are weighing you down. Again, standards and accountability serve a purpose. But how you accomplish them is up to you. Anyone can simply meet the requirements, similar to a checklist, but that won’t promote higher levels of student understanding, nor will it encourage your students to be successful lifelong learners or problem solvers. But if you build your teaching around engaging motivational and instructional strategies, chances are you’ll accomplish more; and your students will learn more. Engagement strategies, when viewed as the big rocks that go in the jar first, are not one more thing to do; they are the way to do all the things you already have to do.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Importance of Chunking Information

When I'm presenting to teachers, we also discuss the importance of chunking information.  One teacher asked me, "Why should I chunk?  As students get older, they need to learn to do more on their own."  I do believe there are times for them to handle larger amounts of material, but especially when introducing new material, we need to stop and chunk the information so they can reflect on it.  There's more on that method in this article.

My response to her was simple.  I asked her if she had ever used a GPS or GoogleMaps.  When she replied yes, I said, "How would you like it if it gave you all the directions at once and didn't repeat them?  If we need chunking, why don't our students?"

Think about it--provide your lesson in small bites so students can reflect and apply the information.  You'll find the learning sticks longer.