Tag Archives: rigor in the classroom

Go ahead and teach grit, but not by dishing out gravel.

I haven’t read the book yet, and I’m sure it’ll be well written, full of insight, and helpful in my practice, just like Mindset, the other contender for the staff’s summer book choice. But as I confessed to the principal when I picked up my copy of Grit by Angela Duckworth, I don’t like the language. Grit is what gets in your teeth from poorly washed salad greens, or in your pants after visit to the beach.

I feel that same distaste for with that other trendy word, “rigor.” The dictionary and I associate it with mortis and other highly unpleasant experiences.  Rigor is now to be seen as something we should purposely provide in our classroom experiences. In order to foster grit, I suppose.

Yes, I know the value of perseverance, and the need, now more than ever, in an age of instant gratification, to help students push through difficulties, work patiently over the long term, face as much boredom as necessary to discover their creativity. But what I object to is emphasizing only the negatives–life is hard, school isn’t always fun, what doesn’t kill you, etc. To less skilled, less all-in, less creative and hardworking educators, it might justify expecting students to put up with crappy classes in the name of growth, and give the impression that enjoyable experiences are to be, if not entirely avoided, then minimized as a necessary evil. I can hear them now: “Students, you don’t have to like me; you don’t have to like math; you might just hate this class; but you have to show GRIT, ’cause that’s what its’ all about!” I expect to hear about the opening of a new school with “Boot Camp” in its name any day now. It will attract a certain type of person.

What ever happened to delight-directed learning? Okay, so that wasn’t ever much used in public education circles, but I sure heard about it a lot as a homeschooler, thought about it, and tried for it. I tried to have a basic “table time,” for math and handwriting, and sometimes things I as an adult thought were important, such as memorizing poetry, but then it was, “Run along and find something interesting to do until chore time (and if you can’t come up with anything, chore time starts now).”  Some of the most meaningful experiences my kids had were while pursuing their own passions and interests, because they wanted to persevere trough the difficulties they encountered (The rest came through chores, some of which can also have their satisfactions).

I hope I can still make a place for delight in the way I work with students in public school. The rigor, challenges will always be available–I don’t believe in avoiding those, and students will often need to grow in grit, perseverance, but let’s start with delight, enticement, wonder, enthusiasm, and confidence that what we have to teach is worth learning, is inherently interesting. Whenever possible, let’s kindle fascination, vision, desire—the drives that will create the momentum to drive through those challenges and not give up. And along the way, the more happy memories associated with learning math, science, art, whatever, the more likely students are to continue learning when no one’s giving a report card.

More on annoyingly trendy lingo: Rigor, Grit, Collaboration

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Posted by on June 26, 2017 in Education


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Rigor, as in mortis?

Question on teacher job application: How do you ensure that there is rigor in your classroom?

(Here’s how I would have liked to answer the above question. I gave a somewhat milder response to stay under the 1500 character max.

This is a post I started weeks ago, then found that another teacher’s similar comments on “rigor” had been picked up by a blog I follow. Guess I’ll put this out there too.)

One definition of rigor is “a sudden feeling of cold with shivering, accompanied by a rise in temperature, often with copious sweating, especially at the onset or height of a fever; short for rigor mortis.” Aside from this medical sense, rigor is associated with inflexibility, difficulty, and severity. Some educators have adopted “rigor” as a stated value, with the meaning (one would hope) being limited to “challenge.” This emasculated sense of the word may come to predominate over the traditional one, but “challenge” seems what is wanted as a word here, rbecause unlike rigor, which can be a precursor of death, challenge is an essential element of growth, including the growth we foster in education.

Where there is challenge in a classroom, the evidence manifests in two basic ways. For students with a growth mindset, there is active, interested engagement and anticipation of accomplishment. Students with a fixed mindset, in contrast, exhibit discomfort, frustration, and, if the teacher is not careful, fear of failure and the onset of mental rigor mortis. It’s easy to deal with students who enjoy challenge—they practically teach themselves if presented with appropriate guidance and resources. Creating rigor there is about connecting that natural and relatively uninhibited drive to learn with well constructed and timely lessons incorporating content and process skills, rich resources, and the means of synthesizing and applying learning. Highly motivated students who react to an overly directive or restricted approach need more freedom, while motivated but disorganized or easily distracted students might need more guidance there.

Inspiring the others, those whose basic attitude toward learning, whether academic or personal, is the teacher’s special challenge and, one hopes, gift. The teacher should continually foster an atmosphere where these students feel safe taking risks, so building community and a consistent routine is very important. These students need frequent positive feedback; they also need help connecting prior understanding with new and grasping the value of what they are learning. Pacing is also important, as the brain does not learn well under duress. Humor, a sense of being cared for and valued, and the fostering of a “need to know” drive help these insecure students to press on. If everything is in place and students experience not just external reinforcement but the personal sense of gratification that comes with success and growth, all students can enjoy challenge, and there will be no need for inducing shivering or copious sweating in pursuit of rigor in the classroom.

By the way, I heard that the teacher who started using the “rigor” term has regretted it. I agree that it’s a poor use of terminology, and that the term rigor should be reserved for medical emergencies.


Posted by on July 7, 2016 in Education


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