Our topic today for our #satchat discussion was “rigor” in schools and classrooms. It was an exciting chat with multiple perspectives and insights from great educators. There were several tweets in our chat that talked about students taking ownership of their learning, stretching students’ thinking and moving our lessons away from allowing students to get away with simple answers and just “doing school”. The tweets prompted me to link one of my older posts about my son and some of the experiences he has had with “doing school” and the negative impact of low expectations and a curriculum that does not challenge students. It also prompted my decision to write this post as a follow up to that original blog.
My son is now in his first year of middle school this year and has been experiencing all of the excitement and challenges that go along with this new phase in his life. One of the highlights for me, though, is the impact two of his teachers are having on his learning.
First, his math teacher… as a sixth grader, my son has been placed in an advanced pre-algebra class. I was actually worried that while I WANT him to be challenged, that this class MIGHT not be a good idea. Turns out it was a GREAT idea thanks to my son’s teacher. Hayden loves his math class. While he is not one to share all of his experiences in school, math is a frequent topic of conversation this year. His enthusiasm for math goes beyond getting the answers right. He wants to “get it”, and we find ourselves frequently discussing the “why” of the math and how it works. His teacher has clearly made the conceptual understanding important, and I can tell that “talking math” and “writing math” in his classroom is a part of their every day work. Hayden has shared with us that his teacher has a special way of helping them understand complex math concepts and that he doesn’t give up on them when they don’t get it. His teacher expects great things of them and believes that his students are capable. His class is one of high expectations, lots of support, and an unwavering confidence in his students’ abilities… Hayden is THRIVING in this class!
Next, Hayden’s English teacher. As his mother, and also a former English teacher, I have consistently struggled with the lack of good writing instruction my son has received (I believe I highlighted how bad some of it was in my earlier post!) Hayden’s English teacher has turned him on to writing and has also increased his passion for reading. Imagine my shock the day my son came home insisting on reciting a poem to us – making sure he changed his voice and body language to elicit the proper tone of the piece! In his English class, students are reading incredibly complex texts that prompt discussion of meaty issues. They have read, discussed, and written about failure and the role of technology in our lives; they have read excerpts from Paul Tough’s book How Children Succeed and from Carol Dweck’s book Mindset. During the elections in November, they read about the battle for the Hispanic vote, and after the Sandy Hook tragedy they read an article in Time called “Sandy Hook Shootings: Video Games blamed Again”. In fact, they read an article like these at least once each week. They are expected to read closely, ask questions, form opinions based on evidence, and participate in discussions about what they read. They talk, debate, and ultimately write each week about what they have read and learned. One of my favorite writing topics was “What’s better… a hard earned B or an easy A?” Additionally, my son keeps an amazing writing journal and has developed several of his ideas into exceptional pieces of writing (he has even contemplated starting his own blog!)
In these two classrooms, my son has NOT been “Doing School”. He has been learning and thriving. He is being challenged and he is being treated like a thinker. He is expected to do great work, he is expected to stretch his thinking and share it with others, and he is producing amazing work for himself and for these two teachers.
Whether you call it increasing rigor, having high expectations, incorporating higher-level thinking skills, stretching thinking, levels of complexity (or anything else)… get it into your schools and classrooms. Our students deserve it… and they are hungry for it!