Academic Rigor and Accessibility in Collaborative Literacy: Part 2

By Kristy Rauch | Categories: Reading, Writing

In part one of this series, we discussed the importance of incorporating social and emotional skills, read-alouds, partner work, conferring, and teaching lessons in context. As we continue to think about rigor, let’s consider a definition. In their 2001 book Teaching What Matters Most, researchers Richard Strong, Harvey Silver, and Matthew Perini define rigor as learning that is marked by the characteristics of complexity, ambiguity, provocativeness, and emotional challenge. To create a learning environment that embodies these elements, consider the implications of shifting your teacher “stance.” How might you begin to rely less on leading and modeling learning and more on facilitating the construction of knowledge? This can be accomplished in a variety of ways. As the school year winds down, consider incorporating increasingly complex texts, posing questions that are open-ended and thus amenable to a wide array of responses, encouraging students to challenge one another’s thinking in a respectful way, and reinforcing students’ sense of perseverance as they struggle with a new concept. In light of what is expected of students under the Common Core State Standards, it is more important now than ever to establish a caring and supportive learning environment that will encourage students to take the risks and engage in the struggle that is associated with rigorous learning.

students at tables working together

Responsibility and Rigor

In a collaborative classroom, teachers strive to release the responsibility of learning to students-to encourage them to direct their own learning. This serves as a de facto bridge to the concept of rigor. Invite students to build reading stamina through daily opportunities to engage in independent daily reading; similarly, help students to build writing stamina by engaging every day in the process of writing. Students will be able to pursue a rigorous educational experience only if they are able to read and write for extended periods of time. Strengthening stamina is a rigor prerequisite, and it requires providing students with the opportunity to tap into their own internal motivators and to develop their independence.

The Power of Teacher Facilitation

Even as teachers strive to set up a classroom in which students demonstrate autonomy and perseverance, the ways in which teachers facilitate learning can have a tremendous impact on the level of rigor in a lesson. Facilitation techniques are often deceptively simple: asking several follow-up questions might encourage a student to provide additional key ideas, integrate knowledge, or confirm comprehension in a way that wouldn’t be possible if only a single, surface-level question was posed. When a teacher avoids repeating or rephrasing a student’s comments, the classroom will likely become a more rigorous learning environment as other students assume responsibility for asking for clarification if a comment is unclear or incomplete. A teacher’s neutral response will also encourage more students to respond to a question: when students realize that a teacher isn’t saying “Right!” or “Perfect!” to signal that they’ve given the answer he was looking for, more will risk sharing their ideas, thereby creating a more complex, rigorous classroom conversation.

I invite you to explore the tools and strategies discussed in these blog posts so that you can further support your students’ own personal learning objectives for reading and writing. Rigor is a term that must be assessed individually for each student: what is rigorous for one student is too easy for another, and vice versa. Release of responsibility and facilitation techniques are two ways to help ensure that student learning is differentiated and that the level of rigor can be calibrated at an individual level.

To continue to explore ways to construct learning environments that provide both accessibility and rigor, download sample lessons from our Collaborative Literacy suite of programs: Being a Writer, Making Meaning, and Being a Reader. And of course I welcome any questions or comments you have!