First, rigor is essential to education and preparing students for what lies ahead. Rigor is nothing new and it certainly gets a lot of lip service. Step back and reflect on how often we ask students what something is or how often we let students give us short and/or opinionated answers with no evidence. Instead, let's design questions that get students to analyze data, and/or compile information from a variety of sources to create an original/alternative solution, and/or evaluate a document(s) to present a claim and defend with evidence. In other words, students need to speak articulately, write at a high level, or create an original idea in their own voice; not just regurgitate. Barbara Blackburn, in Rigor is NOT a Four-Letter Word, discusses the different ways to up rigor:
- Raise the Level of Content
- Increase Complexity
- Open-Ended Questions, Instruction, and Projects
Second, a lesson can be rigorous, but it also needs to be engaging and relevant. There has been a big push for project based learning (PBL), but it goes beyond PBL. Students need to be able to connect their learning. Technology provides a great tool whether it is blogging, tweeting, or live chatting with a class in another part of the country or world. George Couros has spoken effusively about the benefits of blogging such as sharing, providing feedback, speaking to an authentic audience, etc. Further, to be engaging, we need to stay on top of what is going on in the world by being an active participant in a personal learning network, reading books, and watching the news which are wonderful avenues for finding these connections.
Third, creativity is a key ingredient to both the teacher and the learner. Sir Ken Robinson has delivered the most popular TED talk and written two books on the importance of creativity and developing it in school. Creativity could be as simple as allowing students to make the choice of how they want to demonstrate their learning whether it be a paper, website, test, or presentation. In the end, teachers and students need to be encouraged to take creative risk. Standardized tests should be the floor, not the ceiling. Students that are regularly being asked to creatively solve problems, reason, and design original ideas will meet the benchmark of the test.
Individualizing student learning is the fourth component to creating a transformative education for students. Students often ask why do I need to know this or at the upper grades begin to check out because they don't see how school will help them. Allowing students the intellectual freedom to learn about a unique idea or demonstrate their learning in a particular way is important to fostering an interest in learning. Technology is a critical piece to enabling individualization because it can help with items such as intervention and enrichment. We need students to leave high school with the same love for learning as when they entered kindergarten.
The fifth component is grit. Paul tough in How Children Succeed writes eloquently about grit which is basically developing student focus, perseverance, and resilience. Stephen and Sean Covey have similar ideas on the importance of good habits. Making time to teach and have students practice these traits can be overwhelming, but it doesn't need to be one more thing. One just needs to find avenues to seamlessly weave these habits into teaching practice.
While none of these five components (Rigor, Relevance, Creativity, Individual, and Grit) are new, they need to all be a focus of creating a transformative learning environment.