Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Cris Tovani on Rigor/Hard

One of my favorite sessions at the All Write Summer Institute was Cris Tovani's talk "Rigor and Hard are not the Same: Redefining Terms to Engage More Students."

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
  • choice
  • support

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!


  1. Last year I attended a conference that spoke about rigor. I listened and I thought about the examples of rigor vs. hard work but still left unsure of the difference. Your post today painted a clear picture of the difference between rigor and hard! I thinking blogging and teaching are rigorous for me and that's why I love them both! Thanks so much for helping me find this connection and understanding!

  2. Anonymous2:20 AM

    I loved this post. As the mother of 3 young children I am a firm believer in reading aloud, daily. We have never shied away from the classics as well as the current trends - their vocabulary is thriving as a result. Many books that we read require having a dictionary handy and I am always amazed how they will fight to be the one to look up the next word. Rigor - it is a word that isn't used often enough and I thank you for explaining the importance of it.

  3. Great post!

    I enjoyed Cris immensely. In her session, Using Workshop Model to Assess and Differentiate,she said that her planning had changed the past two years...that she now thinks about what the STUDENTS will do...WOW! That was very powerful.

    At first, I thought, 'Well, of course." But then I realized that I always plan a lesson around what I am going to do...what minilesson I am going to present...what I will be reading...

    I was shocked!!

    I am now going into next year with a renewed vision of planning. I will think about what I want the STUDENTS to do. Then I can plan what I need to do to support that learning.

    It seems like a very simple shift to make...seems like that should have been a no-brainer. But what a SHIFT in thinking. It has excited me about the upcoming year! I can't wait to get planning!

  4. Deb F. and Michele, Thanks for your feedback on my post!

    Deb T., That is an important shift in perspective, indeed. I'll have to monitor MY thinking as I plan next year, too.

  5. What a great way to distinguish between what is plain hard and what is rigorous. Of course, I identified with your baking analogy. :) I definitely need to check out the All Write Summer Institute. It sounds wonderful!


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