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A teacher talks about Rigor and Differentiation and how the district is getting it all wrong.

From a reader

Hi Chris,
I composed a compelling, heartfelt muse to you regarding "rigor," which my daughter read over my shoulder. She was so moved that she wanted a copy, so I went to add her and hit something on my keyboard, which deleted most of my muse. I thought I sent you what remained, but no such luck. In a nutshell, I complained that the word "rigor," like "differentiation" drives me crazy. 

The District and admin don't know what it is, cannot recognize it, and do not know how to implement it. It is not teaching up a grade level or requiring "touted" software programs without prior instruction. It is delving deeply into material and spending as much time as is needed to explore, analyze, and ponder. It takes time, patience, and discipline to provide rigor. It requires spiraling between the fundamentals and the esoteric. This can take weeks. 

It is not evidenced by "exit tickets." Rather, it is evidenced when student walk out of a classroom with more questions than answers. It is magical when accomplished. For a teacher to really teach with "rigor" requires the student and the admin to trust the teacher because it cannot be observed by a quickie walk-through. Little trust exists in this environment, as is reflected by the mandated curriculum that focuses on software programs (meant to be supplements), as well as district mandates of identical and uniform presentation and implementation of their curriculum. Our school-based administrators' jobs are in constant jeopardy, so it is difficult for them to buck downtown to prevent this fiasco. Regardless, we will be blamed for the District's impeding failure.

I don't know about you but that seemed pretty perfect to me. 


  1. Well said. It is completely true that no one can judge the rigor of a class on a short visit. I recently had a district reading specialist visit my class, unannounced (she couldn't even be bothered to introduce herself). I was using a picture book to introduce the concept of how authors can use both fantasy and realism in a story (we were reading Charlotte's Web). The lesson later had the students read closely in the first few chapters of the book to pull out realistic elements and fantasy elements in the story (LAFS.3.RL.1.1, pulling out explicit references). We then compared and contrasted Charlotte's Web with a novel we had previously read, Because of Winn Dixie. We focused on how the books had similar themes, but the authors used differing approaches (one very realistic, the other with fantasy elements). This was a fairly thorough lesson for 8 year olds, but they were engaged and interested. When I later spoke with my principal she told me the specialist had told her I wasn't teaching a standard on the curriculum guide and asked if I could explain what I was teaching. I explained the lesson and she was satisfied. Had the specialist bothered to ask me or look at my lesson plans (clearly out and accessible) she could've, herself, known what I was doing that day. Thank goodness I work for a principal that trusts me or this could've turned out very differently.