I believe in vigor!

The “R” Word

Not unlike the elementary aged students that I serve, everybody is saying it yet no one knows exactly what it means. Don’t worry, I’m not talking about THAT “R-word” the one we’ve long since done away with. No, I’m addressing the new R-word which comes up daily in the world of education… rigor. Everyone involved in education from as high as the federal government to the proverbial conversation around the water cooler wants to know how we are incorporating rigor into our classrooms. So just what is rigor?

Merriam-Webster first defines it as, “harsh inflexibility in opinion, temper, or judgment.” Wow, wait… that sounds a lot like the one room school house of yesteryear. That can’t be what they mean, let’s check for alternate meanings. Hmm, “unyielding, strictness, severity, cruelty, strict precision”… these are not words I want to use to describe my classroom. OK, perhaps I can get behind this one a little bit, “a condition that makes life difficult, challenging, or uncomfortable” at least the challenging word fits well with my vision.

Surely the description of challenging is what “they” mean when looking for or adding rigor, so let’s examine that further. I recently attended a wonderful training for our Advanced Academic educators and we looked at the difference between difficult tasks and complex tasks. What we found was that difficulty was rated based on the amount of effort required to complete a task whereas complexity is rated based on whether or not the task requires higher order thinking (think: Bloom’s Taxonomy/Webb’s Depth of Knowledge). It is difficult for me to lift 50 pounds, but it is not complex. It may be difficult for a student to be required to write more sentences or calculate more problems, but it is not complex. What appropriate term would define the challenging complexity with which we want our students to grapple?

Shakespeare had Juliette ask us all, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” While that may be true to an extent, as educators we know the power of precision in linguistics. So if rigor doesn’t accurately describe what we want to see in our classrooms what word should we choose instead? May I propose to you today that we consider using the word vigor, defined as “effort, energy, and enthusiasm,” as the litmus test for complexity in our education system. What a joy it would be to see every student enthusiastically expending effort and energy into our classrooms. Join me, fellow educators, as I endeavor to ensure that my assignments are chock-full of tasks worthy of the name vigor!

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