Rather than look only at what teachers are doing, I try to assess what students are being asked to do: the specific skills and knowledge that students are expected to master and the level of intellectual challenge in the lesson. What the teacher does is the means by which the students learn – not the end… I have consistently found that the kinds of questions students are asked and the extent to which a teacher challenges students to explain their thinking or expand on their answers are reliable indicators of the level of intellectual rigor in a class. If the questions require only factual recall – which is most often the case – then students are probably not being asked to do very much in the way of reasoning, analysis, or hypothesizing – and the primary skill being taught is memorization. If I see this pattern in a number of classes, then I can reliably predict how well a school's students might perform on an essay exam or how well prepared they are for college. p. 52-53
How would Wagner evaluate your classroom? Out of the approximately 250 minutes a week in your class, are students doing more factual recall or are they analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating? How many papers – real papers – are students asked to write in a semester? Are students frequently engaged in rigorous discussion and debate, possibly in small groups so all are engaged instead of just a few, and asked to support their arguments? Wagner's questions and statements seem to line up directly with the Rigor and Relevance framework being used in our school… Thoughts?
Jump roping with some serious rigor!
Jim Collins tells us that "Great" organizations build a culture of innovation and rigorous debate guided by core values that never change. Our opening school workshops this year included presenting"SJH Core Values" (Download GTG Diagram) that are to serve as those never changing back bone strands which guide how we do business – and we then jumped into a debate about cell phone and i-pod use in study halls. Ultimately our fear of the unknown, and a lack of necessary framework, held us back from promoting the use of technology to further education.
A recent post by Scott McLeod called "4 tales out of school" raises some of these questions by making us see them from a different angle. Take a look. Do any of these tales ring close to home? Do we at SJH have practices in place that do not line up with the core values we have stated? How much of what we do falls into "quadrant A" of the Rigor and Relevance framework? Is it because it's right – or because we've always done it that way? If our assessments were quadrant B, C, and D assessments, would it matter if students found a copy of it early or took one home?
May the new year take us closer to living out the values we have articulated!