Cris started by challenging us to think about whether we believed that our time should be spent covering vast amounts of content, or engaging students in purposeful work. It's kind of a no-brainer to choose between those two based on our personal philosophy of teaching -- of course we want the engagement and the purposeful work, but the pressures we are under because of testing push us to act in ways that don't always match our philosophy.
To help us to redefine what a rigorous curriculum might look like, and the kind of rigorous work our students might embrace with engagement rather than compliance, Cris led us in an activity where compared and contrasted reading that's hard, and reading that's rigorous. We started by listing things that make reading hard. Most people's list included
- no background knowledge
- unknown vocabulary words
- not invested in the work
- too many words or too much data
- no choice
Next we thought of a hobby in our own lives that is at times rigorous and at times just plain hard. I thought about baking. When I've planned well and have all the ingredients and tools I need, when I get to share the outcome, when I have the choice of what I make, and when I have the support of more experienced bakers, the work is rigorous. When the work is rigorous, I have internal motivation to do it, it energizes me, and I linger with it. When baking is hard, I don't have a choice, my time is crunched, things go wrong in a domino-effect way, and I drop or avoid the project. Can you hear how similar that is to when reading is rigorous vs. hard? The important factors to hold onto are
- good planning
- the social nature of reading/learning
In the same way that reading levels change based on background knowledge, interest/motivation, and purpose, rigorous reading varies from child to child and from moment to moment. My work is no small feat: I need to help each student learn to tell the difference between hard reading and rigorous reading. I need to teach them to embrace rigor. I need to know books well so that I can help each child find the right book at the right time.
It's a big job, but the work, for me, is RIGOROUS, not hard!