Supporting Academic Rigor in the Classroom
Academic rigor defines the lesson as something more than just the curriculum or its content. An academically rigorous lesson challenges students with depth and complexity. It explores and constructs new knowledge. It motivates students to think outside the box; to push the boundaries of their thinking. Academic rigor begins with a teacher who has high expectations for their students and creates an array of engaging activities.
Why does it matter whether students are engaged in rigorous learning? Engaging the brain in rigorous learning is simply a matter of neuroplasticity. When students are challenged, their brains are building new neural connections. By demanding higher-level thinking, we increase the potential for more creative problem-solving, better executive function, deeper reflection, and intellectual growth. Failure to provide academic rigor for GT students can severely limit potential individual growth. These students can easily become bored with school and in worse case scenarios, lose motivation and drop out altogether.
There are a myriad of reasons why school districts may not offer more rigorous courses beginning with the lack of teachers certified to teach the classes. Unfortunately, in some areas there is a mindset among school boards and parents that more rigorous classes are not necessary. There is also a misperception that if coursework is too rigorous, it will affect students’ test scores. For a school with a majority of its students working well-below grade level, will more rigor result in more failure and increase retention rates?
Can refining differentiation, AP classes, or dual-enrollment provide the necessary degree of rigor needed by GT students? Simply labeling options as rigorous does not ensure that they are in fact rigorous. An AP class which teaches to the test may offer little rigor for GT students. Dual-enrollment classes through local community colleges may not provide rigor beyond an advanced high school course. Classes in which teachers must differentiate instruction and curriculum for a wide array of ability levels may not be adequately differentiated for high-ability students.
Strategies to cultivate a climate with academic rigor include requesting students to explain their problem-solving thought processes; pre-test to determine student knowledge; eliminate repetition; Socratic seminars; and expect advance vocabulary. Rigorous classroom should be student-centered; use authentic assessments; connect learning to real-life context; emphasize critical thinking; provide for student choice and learning opportunities based on ideas; and cultivate curiosity. Teachers can increase rigor by teaching cognitive and metacognitive skills; organize their curriculum to look at big ideas and concepts; and provide exposure to events outside the classroom.
How do teachers get students to a place where they are engaged, but not overstretched? There needs to be a point of equilibrium when it comes to rigor in the classroom. Pushing a student too far beyond their capabilities for an extended period of time may cause the student to lose motivation. Students should be exposed to tough problems – those not easily solved – on a regular basis but with teach directed strategies which keep students engaged and willing to persist in finding solutions.
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About the author: Lisa Conrad is the Moderator of Global #gtchat Powered by TAGT and Social Media Manager of the Global #gtchat Community. She is a longtime advocate for gifted children and also blogs at Gifted Parenting Support. Lisa can be contacted at: email@example.com
Searching for Rigor – Identifying Practices of Effective High Schools (pdf) | The National Center on Scaling Up Effective Schools
School Leadership Strategies for Classroom Rigor (pdf) | Eye on Education
Academic Rigor: You’re Doing It Wrong and Here’s Why | The Edvocate
Teaching for Rigor: A Call for a Critical Instructional Shift (pdf) | Learning Sciences Marzano Center
Rigor and Assessment in the Classroom (pdf) | Instructional Leader Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association
Teachers’ Perspectives and Development of Academic Rigor: An Action Research Study (pdf) | Dissertation University of Bridgeport
Understanding and Reporting on Academic Rigor (pdf) | The Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media Columbia University
The Relationship Between Project-Based Learning and Rigor in STEM-Focused High Schools (pdf) | The Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-based Learning
Gifted Children Often Don’t get the Challenge They Need | Vanderbilt Peabody College
How to Increase the Rigor in Online Assignments for Gifted Learners | Broward Schools
Graphic courtesy of Lisa Conrad.