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Monday, May 20, 2013

Rigor: A Misinterpreted Term

The term Rigor has become a buzz word in the field of education these days.  There is an assumption that increasing the complexity of a text will lead to increased rigor in the classroom; however, increasing rigor is not quite that simple.  According to Kylene Beers in her book Notice & Note: Strategies for Close Reading, "rigor is not an attribute of the text but rather a characteristic of our behavior with that text" (2011, p.20).  In other words, rigor is more than simply the level of the text--it's about the reader's engagement and commitment to a text.

To help elaborate on rigor, Beers compares rigorous reading to lifting weights.  For example, a professional football player would not get a rigorous workout from lifting a 100 pound weight ten times; however, an eighth graders getting in shape to join the high school football team would.  Using this same comparison, a fourth grader who could not lift the weight at all would have difficulty classifying his workout as rigorous.  The rigor of the workout "does not reside in the barbell but in the interaction with it" (p. 21).

I do think students need and deserve to be exposed to texts that are beyond their independent/instructional levels.  But I worry that a side effect to increased text complexity is the idea that all we need to do is teach harder materials.  In reality, when we use difficult texts and do not provide our students with the scaffolding and the support they need to work through the challenge, then we actually decrease the rigor.  If students labor through the text, give up, and don't read it, then no work was completed.  Yes, the text was hard, but the work was not rigorous.

It's okay for students to struggle with a text, but this struggle does not need to be painful and defeating.  Students need to learn how to tackle more and more difficult texts, and as long as we support students along the way, we can help them learn at higher levels.  They will be able to lift that heavy weight because we have given them the training they need to do it.