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.

A transcript of this chat can be found at our Wakelet page.

Global #gtchat Powered by the Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented  is a weekly chat on Twitter. Join us Thursdays at 8E/7C/6M/5P in the U.S. and Fridays at 1PM NZDT/11AM AEDT/1AM UK  to discuss current topics in the gifted community and meet experts in the field. Transcripts of our weekly chats can be found at Wakelet. Our Facebook Page provides information on the chat and news and information regarding the gifted community. Also, checkout our Pinterest Page and Playlist on YouTube.

About the authorLisa 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:


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

Teachable Moments and Academic Rigor: A Mini-Unit | Edutopia

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

What is Academic Rigor and What Do We Do with It? |

Rigor for Gifted Learners: Modifying Curriculum With Intellectual Integrity (book – Kilgore)

Gifted Guild’s Guide to Depth and Complexity: Finding Your Way Through the Framework (book)

Slow Down and Ask the Right Questions: Building Depth and Complexity into Pre-AP and AP Classrooms | TAGT OnDemand

Promoting Rigor Through Higher Level Questioning: Practical Strategies for Developing Students’ Critical Thinking (book)

How to Increase the Rigor in Online Assignments for Gifted Learners | Broward Schools

Academic Rigor in the Middle School

Keep Remote Learning Robust and Rigorous

Rigor, Relevance and Relationships

Explaining Academic Rigor — and Why You Want It for Your Child

Cybraryman’s Rigor Page

Gifted Children Need Rigorous Assignments…Not More Work

Image courtesy of Pixabay Pixabay License

Graphic courtesy of Lisa Conrad.

Posted on October 11, 2021, in curriculum, Differentiation, Education, gifted education, Teaching and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: