The term “academic rigor” has been perambulating its way through educational circuits, but many teachers are not familiar with the concept or how to support rigor within their classrooms. Understanding rigor is essential for understanding how to approach and measure student learning. It questions the standards we demand from our students and reconsiders exactly what we consider as a true achievement.
“Rigor,” in the academic sense, is referring to that fine line between challenging and frustrating a student. It means that students are challenged to think, perform, and grow to a level that they were not at previously. It means that students must work, like an athlete at a team practice, to build their skills, understanding, and thinking power so that they can achieve at higher and higher levels. It means that the standards of the course are calibrated so that students are compelled to grow but are not frustrated and overwhelmed in the process.
Academic rigor is commonly thought of in three different phases of the educational process. The first is setting the standard for students; the second is equipping students through instructional and supportive methods; the third is student demonstration of achievement. These three phases were popularized by Barbara Blackburn’s 2008 book “Rigorous Schools and Classrooms: Leading the Way.”
2006 Academic Affairs Faculty Symposium Unicoi State Park and Conference Center April 14-15, 2006
TASK: In preparation for the Academic Affairs Faculty Symposium, the organizers invite you to share with fellow participants some brief reflections on the concept of academic rigor. We would appreciate receiving by Friday, April 7th, your perception of academic rigor, your personal experience with academic rigor as a teacher or student, and/or your thoughts on what faculty and the University should do to promote rigor in our academic programs
Achievable Rigor, Relevance & Mentorship
By promoting and instilling high academic goals, objectives, and standards of learning in the classroom, and hence for students, educators are encouraging students to try and reach their fullest potential. However, for this strategy to be successful, several key elements need to be present in the classroom.
By way of an example, a student once informed me that “if her teacher didn’t give a damn, then why should she!” Hence, low expectations in the classroom only help to promote low expectations from students. Subsequently, the goals, objectives and standards of learning set for a classroom should be rigorous and challenging. However, they should also be viewed as realistic and achievable by the students. To help achieve this view educators should be sensitive to the diversity of their students, and their strengths and weaknesses. For instance, students have different learning styles (e.g., visual versus verbal) so educators should plan to incorporate a broad array of teaching approaches within their classes, while also offering different types of assignments (e.g., papers, individual and group presentations, class discussions). This approach would help to compensate for different learning styles while enhancing overall student learning and potential for achievement.
Educators that take an interest in their students’ lives, while also drawing upon real-world experiences and current understanding of the skills and abilities needed by today’s industries are better positioned to offer academic assignments that are both relevant to their students and the current market. By striving to demonstrate to students the connection between classroom assignments and success in their schooling and their long-term career plans, educators help students to become invested in their classroom assignments and learning. In line with this, it is also the responsibility of educators to provide students with the proper tools, skills, and information needed to successfully complete their assigned work.
Most people benefit from relationships that foster their growth and development. When people take the time to listen and be supportive of our needs, we often recognize their contribution and become energized in our own endeavours. The same approach works with students. Educators that strive to build relationships by making time for their students often become mentors. This mentorship not only plays a crucial part in a student’s current learning, but it also (in many cases) provides the root impetus for future learning as well.
Unfortunately, many students find the learning environment an impersonal and uncaring place. In general, educators do not place much time or emphasis on nurturing enthusiasm for learning nor do they seek to create lasting relationships with their students. Admittedly, a major part of the problem is that educators do not have an infinite amount of time or resources and much of their time is dominated by their research endeavours.
Limited time and resources often result in students being assigned grades with little opportunity for feedback. Yet, without feedback how are students to learn from their mistakes and improve upon future assignments? Similar, limited time also allows little opportunity for educators to routinely evaluate and monitor the effectiveness of their assignments as a teaching tool. Educating diverse student populations with challenging lessons within any given class can be successfully accomplished, but only if educators are well-trained and given the necessary support to achieve success. Education programs that seek to better train and equip educators in the various pedagogical techniques and tools available for enhancing student learning are needed. Ongoing developmental training opportunities for educators are also needed. Opportunities that help to continually expand educators’ knowledge about teaching and student learning can only help to enhance their teaching abilities, the use of innovative teaching techniques, the classroom environment, and student learning.