This blog wouldn’t be called The Life Argotic without me taking on some buzzwords. So this will be my inaugural buzzword debunking. I’m fairly certain it won’t be my last. Education is full of them.
Every time I hear the word rigor, I cringe and brace for whatever is coming next following that word. Why? Because the majority of the time it’s being used, it’s being used as a euphemism to mean weak and not enough. Not enough of what “I” (the person looking in) think is rigorous because “I” (again the person looking on) don’t think it’s hard enough.
Let me use an analogy. If I asked you to cycle 100 miles right now, and you weren’t a cyclist, you might say that it’s too rigorous. But to Chris Froome, the 2017 Tour De France winner, he would say the opposite. So if you instead decided to ride 10 miles, would it be fair for me to say that you aren’t being as rigorous as Mr. Froome, even if you are pushing your hardest and sprinting the whole way?
Similarly, when you say that the student isn’t doing something as rigorous as other students, whatever you’re basing that comparison on, you’re saying that there is only one standard ruler to measure rigor. Again, coming back to separating language ability from cognitive ability; expecting someone who cannot write more than one or two sentences to write a paragraph and calling the sentences not rigorous enough is absurd. Just like the cyclist who is sprinting 10 miles, they are too are working rigorously.
When we use the word rigor, we have to ensure that we are using it not as a way to demean and degrade students’ efforts, but as a way of checking ourselves and ensuring that we are meeting academic excellence with every student. The revised Can-Do descriptors from WIDA do an excellent job of helping you match higher order thinking skills with tasks that even early language speakers can tackle. There are other tools out there also. Recently I read an article about using Webb’s Depth of Knowledge; however, I am a little wary of tying levels of knowledge to tasks. But that’s for another article.