top of page

The Best Explanation for Rigor You'll Ever Read.

If you're a friend of mine here at (or even better, if we're friends in real life), you know that I love the College and Career Readiness/Common Core State Standards. They provide direction and structure to our classrooms and make our lives easier. But as a standards implementation strategist/consultant/trainer, one teency weency issue comes up often when I'm teaching others The One True Way: "I don't understand rigor."

Join the club.

As you probably know, there are three key shifts--or changes in instruction--in ELA and math that are the result of the standards. In ELA, the advances are complexity, evidence, and knowledge. In mathematics, they are focus, coherence, and rigor. I'll probably devote some posts just to the key advances in the near future because they provide a lot of basis for why we have the standards, but let's talk about rigor today.

So what is rigor exactly?

Rigor is the increased attention in making sure students know more than "how to get the answer" and dictates that equal attention is given to conceptual understanding, procedural skill and fluency, and application. In general, this means that due to a narrower focus of mathematics lessons, a single lesson will likely focus only on one of these elements. To explain, let's time-travel back to 2001 when little Susie began learning to drive. Look out, Kentucky: another teen driver was about to be on the loose.

My parents' lifelong love affair with Subaru station wagons dates back to 1987. As a result, I was fortunate enough to learn to drive a 5-speed version of this fine example of Japanese craftsmanship--a '97 Outback. Not only did I have to ensure that I could steer the vehicle where I wanted to go without crashing into fellow drivers, I first had to learn to make it...go.

I understood the concept: ease off the clutch while easing on the gas. Got it. I watched my dad's feet as he demonstrated (he obviously drew the short straw), and I understood what to do. Piece of cake! He made it look so easy! But understanding and doing were two very different things.

It would have been impossible for me to actually drive that car anywhere for awhile. I had to really grasp this concept first.

After much practice on a farm lane (the cows didn't mind my revving of the engine) and in the back-end of town, I could actually take off without the car dying every time. More importantly, I was no longer concerned that I'd be purchasing a new clutch for the family car. I became more fluent in its operation. I had the skills required to take this baby for a drive. Bring on the license test.

Then, after awhile of taking off and shifting with ease, I had to start applying my skills in different ways. I learned how to take off on a hill while rolling backwards--which really led to knowing I needed to spend time finding alternate routes to avoid hills altogether. And with driving in general, teenagers have the conceptual understanding and procedural skill/fluency to pass a driver's test in a 35 MPH zone on a sunny day. But throw in a little ice, or a deer, or an impaired fellow driver, and the application becomes very important to ensure safe destination arrival.

It's not realistic to expect students to learn a new concept, become fluent at it, and apply it to a million scenarios in one single sitting...or sometimes even a few sittings. Rigor means that time and attention are given to these 3 elements in a way that allows student mastery to take place at each point along the way.

And you know what? I haven't owned a 5-speed for 10 years, yet I was able to drive one flawlessly just last month. I took the time to learn the concept, become fluent, and have lots of practice applying my skills. It stuck.

bottom of page