DisruptED TV Magazine

Rigor of Vigor

By Peg Grafwallner


It’s all around us — from district mission statements to pedagogical research journals to principal leadership workshops. Rigor is something to be touted, to be shared by parents as a way to measure one’s children against the neighbors or as a principal boasting about the school’s elite curriculum.

For some parents, rigor is identified with getting into the right high school and the right college. Parents feel a sense of pride when they read that their child’s school has a “rigorous” curriculum or the homework and assessments are “rigorous.” They feel justified in spending thousands of dollars on a high school and many more thousands on a college where the marketing brochure screams RIGOR and students look happy and studious.

Yet, other parents might see rigor as a negative, assuming that too much rigor is too much pressure for students to bear. In addition, students might feel that a rigorous curriculum is out of their reach — it is simply too hard for them to accomplish.

Increasing rigor should not mean more and longer homework assignments; rather, it means time and opportunity for students to develop and apply habits of mind as they navigate sophisticated and reflective learning experiences.

Rigor comes from the Latin phrase “Rigor mortis”; rigor which means “stiffness” and “mortis,” which means “of death.” Another definition of rigor by Blackburn (2013) is in “creating an environment in which each student is expected to learn at high levels, each student is supported so he or she can learn at high levels, and each student demonstrates learning at high levels” (p. 10).

Instead of creating lessons of rigor, why not create lessons of vigor? Lessons of vigor encompass three distinct thinking components: Thinking Critically, Thinking Creatively, and Thinking Flexibly thereby creating classrooms that are stimulating, engaging and supportive.

A Thinking Critically Classroom

A Thinking Critically classroom is one where process is the key to learning. While the final product is important, do not overlook the process. To create a Thinking Critically classroom, focus on conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating the information students are taught.

When your students are able to think beyond the essentials of defining or listing and locating or explaining, they can truly interact with the text and its meaning. They are learning to think critically and are able to successfully achieve based on their thinking.

A Thinking Creatively Classroom

A Thinking Creatively classroom encourages choices and allows mistakes. When offering choice; however, consider limiting the choice so students are not beleaguered with the choice itself, but rather, are able to make solid selections based on what they know about themselves as a learner.

If the student happens to fail an assessment, schedule a one-to-one conference and have the student explain the failure. Try to determine the root of the failure with the student. What would work for her to be successful? What can she learn from the failure that would support her in trying again? Chances to reabsorb, rewrite, react, re-engineer, and re-engage have to be encouraged and offered.

A Thinking Flexibly Classroom

In a Thinking Flexibly classroom, students are encouraged to look at problems and solve them in unique ways. One problem-solving technique is not enough in our 21st century world. Students need to put on a different “thinking cap” to stretch beyond what they know.

Students need to be taught how to use those different “thinking caps” for various situations and experiences. In a Flexibly Thinking Classroom, the learning experience motivates students to question their assumptions and think deeper. Students feel a sense of personal accomplishment when they are able to engage their personal intellect and challenge or change their preconceived notions.

Think about eliminating “rigor” from your classroom lexicon. Ask your Superintendent to consider changing rigor to vigor on your district’s mission statement; share articles with colleagues about the importance of creating classrooms of vigor and, encourage your principal to substitute rigor with vigor when discussing instruction during the next PLC. In addition, when creating that vigorous classroom, make sure it is one where students are thinking critically, creatively and flexibly inspiring the process, preference and progress of student learning.

Peg Grafwallner @PegGrafwallner

Grafwallner, P. (2018). Lessons learned from the special education classroom. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

Rowman and Littlefield webpage: https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781475844276/

Amazon https://www.amazon.com/Lessons-Learned-Special-Education-Classroom/dp/14