In the beginning of my career I thought that rigor looked like giving assignments with lots of components and moving parts that would take students weeks of careful organization and planning to execute. Now I of course realize that rigor is more than a super long to-do list. To me, rigor is pushing students past what is easy and comfortable for them while delving deeper into a topic that at the surface level they seem to understand quite well.
Recently, I taught an EngagyNY unit based on the story A Long Walk to Water, a semi-true story about the Sudanese Civil War. When I first picked up this rather thin book, I started and finished it in an evening. After reflecting on what I read, I questioned if I had even come across a vocabulary word that my 7th graders wouldn't understand. As I was cautioned in the unit plans - although the book my be simplistic, the lessons will not be. The students were in for a change. They were asked to dig deep, answer complex, multiple part questions, make inferences and synthesize the work much different level than they had ever been asked to before. There were non-fiction companion pieces from The Washington Post that pushed even my strongest readers. Everything we did was just out of their grasp, but with patience, instruction and collaboration, students were able to make meaning of the text at a deeper level. This is rigor. Not huge, long, multipart tasks, but short, focused, in depth calls for a much more thorough understanding. For the first time all year, many of my students failed. They didn't fail tests, or assignments, but their first answer was not always right. Asking many of these children to go back and try again was something they had never heard before. However, by the end of the unit, these students owned the material and felt much more invested and successful than they ever have. In this case, the gift of failure was the struggle to master a new challenge.