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Academic rigor is a term that’s becoming more commonplace in education than ever before, but what is academic rigor? Why do we need it?

For many teachers, rigor in the classroom is unfamiliar, making it far more challenging to support and implement in practice. Having a good understanding of rigor in education can be essential for knowing how to measure learning or even to approach it in the first place. It makes us take a closer look at what is an achievement and what is just development – which can be valuable.

Read on to find out more about what academic rigor is and why being academically rigorous is necessary for modern education:

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What is academic rigor?

Academic rigor is a term that refers to the line between challenging your class by pushing them further or frustrating them by pushing them too far. It means encouraging students to perform, do more, and go above and beyond their current level. Like athletes, the idea of building themselves up and pushing their minds further has been around for a long time in education. But the idea of that delicate balance between great results and frustrated and overwhelmed students is precisely what academic rigor deals with.

Typically, academic rigor is defined in three distinct phases. These phases offer a way to progress effectively within an educational setting with more structure and guidance than similar classroom strategies. These three phases, defined in 2008’s ‘Rigorous Schools & Classrooms: Leading the Way’ by Barbara Blackburn, are as follows:

  • Setting the Standard
  • Supporting Achievement
  • Validating Achievement

With these three steps in place, academic rigor can be used in the classroom significantly. This method of gaining achievement is vital in that it provides students with the motivation and drive to go further, do more, and get more significant results with the careful support of their teacher. Whereas many schools don’t push their brightest students, this method encourages providing all students with the chance to go above and beyond their current skill level, with no exception.

Setting the Standard

As the first stage of academic rigor, setting the standard is a must to allow students to succeed. The teacher typically communicates these standards through examples, instruction, or even direction to explain what we expect from our students. However, in some cases, the standards are more ambiguous. Utilizing academic rigor in the classroom can ensure that you provide students with an accurate, clear, and effective demonstration of their learning outcome and what they are expected to do. A few key factors you may want to consider include the following:

  • Providing a classroom environment that supports high levels of performance for students
  • Believing in the high potential and possibility for every student’s success and communicating this clearly
  • Designing lessons and tasks to lead students to desired outcomes
  • Providing higher-level questions that are thought-provoking and require complex answers to push students further
  • Expecting and receiving more complicated and thought-out answers from students in response to higher-level questions
  • Offering examples of desired outcomes, as well as undesired consequences, to students overtly and practically

Supporting Achievement

Beyond setting standards, providing support is also integral to academic rigor. For teachers that wish to use this method appropriately, supporting students individually to steadily progress toward achievement and progress is a must. To ensure this, teachers must provide clear materials and consistent instruction, all of which help students push themselves beyond the average. Ways in which teachers can provide an environment that supports rigor in education include:

  • Providing well-scaffolded lessons designed to transition over systemically with ease
  • Offering highly organized and instruction-rich materials to students, as well as offering a clear demonstration of all tasks required
  • Utilizing intervention and instruction swiftly should a student begin to be left behind in their learning in comparison to their classmates
  • Being fully present and available for individual support to your students
  • Delivering color-coded, reinforced, and interactive learning tools designed to enhance and improve learning
  • Ensuring content for classwork is relatable, available, and relevant to students to enable them to develop further interest in the subject matter

Validating Achievement

For students to understand and comprehend that they have achieved something, they need to have the opportunity to review and revisit work based on the standard provided in phase one. Utilizing a range of appropriate activities that allow students to show their achievement and understand what they have achieved is vital to the academic rigor process. It shouldn’t be overlooked or less considered. The following methods are some of the options that can allow students to apply rigor to their learning further:

  • Demonstrating ability by utilizing assessment tools or rubrics
  • Providing the opportunity for students to revise and improve upon existing work
  • Using homework and classwork as forms of practice
  • Encouraging independent or collaborative work on projects
  • Requesting students provide high-level answers to similarly complex questions
  • Asking students to continue or ask for support if they are overwhelmed instead of giving up

Do the groundwork

For teachers looking to implement academic rigor into the classroom, the best place to start is always at the beginning. Do the groundwork and have processes in place, and you’ll be better at helping your children succeed. With a little work and a change to your classic teaching methods, your students of all ability levels can go above and beyond what they have previously achieved. Strike that balance and rigor in education will soon provide exceptional results.