All Aboard the Rigor Spectrum

Author: Kellie J. L. Seals, Ed.D.
AVID Program & Research Director
Roscoe Collegiate PTECH Academy

As student-centered advocates, we adhere to the adage, meet students where they are. But in terms of our teaching craft, do we meet ourselves where we are? Do we expect to reach the highest heights of rigor like a caped superhero atop a mountain having conquered the world, our co-created learning environments, today? Our kryptonite—fatigue and lack of work-life balance—remind us of mortality. Or do we push steadily onward the boxcar of our own personal ZPD?  

Working in our Zones is joyously non-fatal yet satiates the thirst for challenge. And it’s not bad to work in our boxcars (as long as they’re moving). When we use a quality instructional framework, we are effective at both ends of the rigor spectrum and all points in between. We can still deliver something fruitful.  

Take collaboration for instance. It’s a Monday. We open our lesson plans. We forgot to implement our common instructional framework, be it WICOR, CIF, or whatever our scrupulous school team adopted as its shared box of instructional tools. Quickly, we sprinkle a think-pair-share activity in the lesson. It did not take much planning time, no. But our students just spoke their thoughts aloud to peers. Our English Language Learners had to dust off their dry larynxes and hook them up to their frontal lobes. Our students just shared a moment together. They had the opportunity to communicate and listen.  Our on-the-spot collaborative activity, simple as it was, still yielded fruit. 

Ahead, at the end of the track, we see the Godmother of all lesson plans, one that uses collaboration at its highest potential to facilitate students garnering rich 21stcentury learning skills while meeting a plethora of state standards. It’s not a simple think-pair-share. It’s a long-term project-based, problem-based, or play-based learning adventure. This one will take much more planning. But as we move up the scale toward dreamy superhuman-like rigor, multiple components of our common instructional framework latch themselves onto our plan. Our highly rigorous collaborative project suddenly involves writing, inquiry, critical reading, organization, scaffolding, and classroom discussions. Take any component of your framework to a high level of rigor, and you’ll end up using all the components. Its flavor becomes multidisciplinary too. 

It’s okay to dabble at both ends of the rigor spectrum. Meet yourself where you are. Yet using tools from your quality common instructional framework, stretch and refine your rigorous teaching practice. Regardless of the location of your mobile ZPD, you are building 21stcentury learning skills in young people, and that’s cape-worthy.

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