Building Rigor Into Every Classroom
By Peter Noonan
Assistant Superintendent for Instructional Services, FCPS
What is rigor? As the leader of your school, are you encouraging it?
Those are the questions that we encourage you to consider as you read through the Summer 2011 issue of INSIDE ISD.
On the following pages of our e-newsletter, you’ll find discussions by the directors in Instructional Services. Our goal is to help you understand the mission we are hoping to accomplish in FCPS as we move forward with our goal of preparing each and every student not just to get into the college of their choice—but to have the successful college careers and professional lives that they dream of. So let’s get started.
Defining Rigor: First, I want to begin by making sure that we are using a common definition. For the leadership team in FCPS, academic rigor is defined as the set of standards we set for our students and the expectations we have for our students and ourselves. Much more than ensuring that the course content is of sufficient difficulty to differentiate it from PreK-12 level work, rigor includes our basic philosophy of learning. We expect our students to demonstrate not only content mastery, but applied skills and critical thinking about the disciplines being taught. Rigor also means that we expect much from ourselves, our colleagues, and our institutions of learning.
Outlining the Components: How are we going to hit the high mark? By agreeing on the essential components of rigor in the classroom, which to the Instructional Services Department include content acquisition, critical thinking, relevance, integration, application of concepts, and long-term retention. Perhaps most importantly, we must ensure that each student and educator assumes personal responsibility for accomplishing these goals.
How are we going to get there? Because rigor must be demanding, relevant, engaging, challenging, adaptive, and address different learning styles, we need a plan. Below is the outline for the steps FCPS is taking so that each educator in every school works toward the same goal.
Here’s what we know: Students taking advanced academic courses are more likely to be accepted into post-high school education (rigor), according to the AP Report to the Nation. Further, the US Department of Education project, Answers in the Toolbox, shows that access to classes teaching higher-level thinking skills is a stronger predictor of their success than are socioeconomic factors and grade point averages.
Here’s what we believe: We must take the most positive qualities of the advanced academic classroom—rigor, relevance, and relationships—and replicate this environment in all FCPS classrooms, including the general education program.
Here’s how we are going to accomplish our mission: For all of our students to achieve success after high school, we need to engage in the following three best practices, as outlined in Ron Ferguson’s groundbreaking 2008 work, Toward Excellence with Equity.
Following are the three steps we need to take to accomplish our goals:
1. Characteristics of Schools: Schools must provide a healthy and safe learning environment, distributed leadership among the staff and administrators, a focused and aligned curriculum, effective instruction, and strong assessments to ensure all students are learning.
2. Conditions of Classroom Learning: For students to learn best, the curriculum needs to be feasible, relevant, and enjoyable. In addition, there needs to be strong adult support, as well as authentic peer support.
3. Student Engagement: It follows that if students are truly going to engage in the learning process, they must trust their teachers and the school, and they need to be willing and able to cooperate. They also need to be diligent in their leaning, and have ambitious goals set by their teachers, parents, and by themselves. And ultimately, they must get satisfaction from knowing they are working hard.
This is just the beginning. I realize that having high standards and being rigorous is a complicated endeavor. But I know that if we all work together, share ideas, and continue to have an open discussion about what it takes to hit this mark that we’ll be successful.
I invite you to send me an email with your thoughts, so that we can begin talking this summer. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And now, I encourage you to click to page 2 to read the next article, by Greg Hood and Marcy Miller. Here’s to making a difference!