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The Values of Rigor
       As I noted 63 months ago in this site, rigor is a necessary component of a successful education. Rigor relates to a few different concepts, but I am referring to strictness – setting a high standard. If there is an absence of rigor, students are too often merely passing time in school without really gaining anything for the spent time (other than perhaps the course credit noted in their transcripts). While this may have short-term value, it is not meaningful when considered in a broader perspective.
       If students are not being challenged in a course, it is simply an exercise in repetition. This offers little value for the time that is invested, both on the part of the educator and on that of the students. One does not actually progress if no energy is exerted. Students need to be learning new concepts, new ways of interpreting and applying what they have learned or new levels of mental cognizance. Even if they are not learning new material, students are undergoing rigor if they are mastering a clearer ability to carry out a skill.
       Rigor makes the education harder, but it means there is a real reward that is offered for the invested time. Think in terms of exercising for a sport. If the practice time did not lead to new knowledge or honing one’s skills, the time would be wasted as far as the sport is concerned. There might have been positive interaction with friends, but if the team and team members did not improve in their playing skills, the practice would have minimal value. Rigor in the classroom carries equal important.
       We need to see our students moving forward, reaching new levels that may have previously been unattainable. Even if the topic of a course may not appear to be necessary for one’s future, rigor still has two benefits. In any course, it pushes one to new levels in one or more ways. At the same time, it offers unforeseen options and potential for the future. As far as I am aware, no one has an actual crystal ball that lets them foresee his or her future. New events and experiences can lead to major changes in the path one follows and classes that may have seemed meaningless may wind up surprising one in the future!
       Usually, to gain knowledge that is retained and offers actual potential value, the material being learned must be both consistent and extended. These attributes require rigor. Once again, think of the example of meaningful practice in any sport. Consistency enables one to develop a skill or understanding that can be applied in the future. By being extended, it can be internalized.
       An equally important factor is seeing that the rigor is set at a level that is achievable by each student. Most will give up if the trail is too rigorous. There may be setbacks along the way, as long as they are surmountable. Teamwork and mutual support can help, just as support from the educator is a necessary component. True success should not be measured by the grades that students earn, but by pushing themselves to their limits and recognizing that they are actually advancing.
       Students may complain while they are doing the work. If no students are complaining, there probably is an absence of any true rigor. However, they will probably wind up with a far better attitude in the end. Students usually offer such positive feedback only after the fact, one or more years in the future. I would like to close by sharing excerpts from a letter I received last month from a student I had three years ago, who is currently in college:
       “As the semester comes to a close, I'm writing to thank you for being an influential teacher far beyond the classroom….The classroom was a very unique environment, one that I appreciate to this day. There was structure and great intent from simple worksheets to elaborate labs…. I also am thankful for learning the idea of “learning how to learn,” another idea that you expressed in the classroom which positively impacts how I learn today. This idea is what I apply to my daily life, which has truly helped me at times….The lessons that I learned in and out of your classroom are always improving and being applied beyond the role of a student.…you truly have a lasting impact….I hope students realize that as well, either while taking your class or even after, since what matters most is what they learn and carry beyond the classroom.”
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