Should We Be Worried About Rigor?
As schools across the country are digging more deeply into the work of the Common Core, teachers are beginning to understand why people are calling the standards more rigorous. Many teachers have shared that they are happy with the standards and feel that they represent worthwhile goals for students. However, teachers are often leery of the expectations for rigor. They worry, for example, that students who have already found it difficult to read at grade level will be lost when we increase the complexity of the text—by increasing Lexile measures, qualitative measures, as well as expectations for more analysis. They also worry about asking struggling students to learn the concepts of math needed to solve more complex problems and to justify their thinking.
When teachers work in high-performing collaborative teams, they find they have a much better chance of being able to increase the rigor for students. In fact, there are at least four ways teams can do this work more efficiently than individual teachers:
- Teams interpret the standards much more deeply when they answer the first question of a PLC together: what do we want our students to know? Teams who work to agree collectively about which standards are essential must build consensus about what those standards look like when students have reached proficiency. This process leads to deeper understanding for all teachers and lays the foundation for looking at what rigor means for their students.
- Teams talk about and must reach consensus about the cognitive demand of these new standards when they unwrap them together. Finding and defining specific learning targets require deeper discussion about not only the meaning of this rigor, but also about what student proficiency will look like.
- Teams must learn new instructional strategies together if they are to help their students meet these more demanding standards. When they embrace the idea that learning together is important work for teams, they feel more confident that they can use important new strategies in their own classroom. High-performing teams are comfortable talking about how to do the work, not just about the work itself. Consider the focus on close reading. We are asking teachers who teach ELA, as well as the content areas, to provide more challenging text in their classrooms and have students read them for multiple purposes. This requires finding quality text, developing several lessons for that text, and learning what the facilitation of a close read should look like. Math teachers are moving from being the expert who demonstrates an algorithm to being the facilitator who asks scaffolding and advancing questions as students dig into problems with multiple right answers. One math task might require a full planning period for teams to just plan the questions they want to ask.
- One of the most difficult things that the new CCSS are requiring teachers to do is to find appropriate and aligned text and math tasks. While many are finding quality materials online, this requires time to search and evaluate for accuracy and quality. High-performing teams assume this responsibility together rather than as individuals.
Rigor isn’t quite as threatening when teams work collaboratively to approach the work. Experienced PLC teams recognize this work as the same work they’ve always done, just with a new set of standards. Working and learning together will be essential for success with the CCSS.