Tuesday, February 7, 2012

My "Beef" with the Word Rigor

I think I've heard the word "rigor" at least 50 times this week. It was uttered in almost every conversation about teaching and learning that I experienced.

Yes, I want students to have rigor.
Yes, the Common Core Standards have increased rigor.
Yes, performance tasks can add rigor to your teaching if used correctly.

However, my questions is: What defines rigor?

While the answer is seemingly simple, it is often elusive. Rigor can be difficult to define, and one person's version of rigor may differ from another's. Dictionary.com defines rigor as a "strictness or harshness." How harsh is harsh? Just a few days ago, a teacher told me that rigor was adding additional problems to the worksheet. Clearly, this is not the type of "harshness" that we wish to inflict upon students.

I think the entire conversation and movement can be simplified by changing the language we use. Instead of using the word "rigor", which simply describes a level of difficulty, use the word transfer.

Insert skeptic comment here --> Ok, Kristen. But how does changing one word alter the conversation about teaching and learning?

Well, transfer has a very clear definition. Transfer is when students can use content and skills in novel situations. Essentially, the use what they have learned to solve authentic problems or build creative plans. There are near and far transfer, but I would venture to say that any degree of transfer meets most educators' definitions of "rigor."

So, ensure that you ask students to use their capacities in novel situations. It ensures that the rigor's built right in!

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/81851211@N00/227465632


  1. I detest the word, "vigor," because it has become education's "outside the box." I also don't want learning to be harsh. Challenging, thought-provoking, inspiring, stretching... Yes.

    Thanks for a great post.

  2. Glad you enjoyed the post. Learning should be engaging, not harsh. When I'm really absorbed in a task, it seems close to effortless. Flow...if you will...

  3. Prior to the current application of "rigor" to learning, the primary association I had with it was in the phrase "rigor mortis". Can't get that image out of my head.

    1. Haha. I certainly do not think that is what we want for our students. Thanks for the smile this morning!



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