What is Rigor?

According to the OED “…Harsh inflexibility (in dealing with a person or group of people); severity, sternness; cruelty….” Its obsolete meaning is “the sensation of numbness”

So, it’s no wonder that when charged with trying to define or explore rigor in math, the two researchers, Blintz and Delano Moore who wrote an article in this months Teaching Children Mathematics (December 10/January 11) titled “What Children Taught Us About Rigor” came away with a very interesting take on it all.

They looked at 2nd grade and 4th grade classes and depending on the perspective, teachers generally had very different definitions of rigor, than their students.

The authors stated that “rigor was the extent to which learners efficiently and effectively act on meaningful problems. Sometimes teachers characterize actions as problem solving that really are not…such actions are practice. Not that there is anything wrong with practice…but problem solving and practicing problem solving are not the same thing.

“Teachers primarily were seeing rigor from the realm of curriculum, where as students were seeing it from the realm of teaching and learning. The challenge is to integrate these two constellations.”

Here are the qualities of rigor identified:

  1. Active engagement: create learning experiences that get students actively involved in their own learning and the learning of others.
  2. Curiosity and inquiry: Develop open-ended lessons and provide a context that gives students encouragement and support to pursue extensions of those lessons.
  3. Confidence: Create a classroom environment in which students are comfortable taking intellectual risks.
  4. Meaningfulness: Design leaning experiences that are personally and culturally relevant.
  5. Critical thinking: Emphasize the how and why, not just the what.
  6. Problem solving: Offer opportunities for students to gain increasing ability to solve rich mathematical tasks as well as be thoughtful problem solvers.

While a teacher may be required to teach the steps in an algorithm, creating a lesson beyond that – that incorporates the 6 steps above requires rigor on the part of the teacher. When looking at teaching materials for children, those above criteria should be looked at carefully.

If you look at all the other definitions in the OED of rigor: strictness, hardships, privations, cruelty, etc., there is only one that states, “The requirements, demands, or challenges of a task, activity, etc.” That is what I think the authors meant.


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