Unfortunately, over the years the term rigorous has accumulated a lot of baggage. The following are seven myths about Rigor:
Myth One: If you have rigorous standards, you have a rigorous course. Rigor isn't as much about the standards as it is about how you ask students to reach the standards. There are times when students are asked to achieve highly rigorous standards in un-rigorous ways. And other times, teachers are able to take mediocre standards and help students achieve highly rigorous learning by designing rigorous learning experiences that correspond with those standards.
Myth Two: Rigor means more work. While rigorous instruction may require that students put forth more effort, it is not based on the volume of work students complete. Rigor is about the quality of the work students are asked to do, not the quantity. More assignments or more reading does not guarantee more rigor. In fact, rigorous classrooms often have less assignments and homework.
Myth Three: Rigor means harder. Rigorous classrooms do present more challenge to students but there is a difference between challenging and difficult. Challenging work asks students to stretch and reach for new understanding. Work can be difficult however for a variety of reasons including unclear instructions, a lack of necessary resources, a lack of adequate support, demands that are too great for the time allotted, etc. We can all think of assignments we endured that were difficult without being intellectually challenging. Thus, it is a mistake to think that just because students had difficulty completing their work, they have engaged in a rigorous assignment.
Myth Four: Rigor is a matter of content. Just because you select highly rigorous content does not guarantee a highly rigorous learning experience for students. How you ask students to engage in the content also determines the level of rigor for your course.
Myth Five: Younger students cannot engage in rigorous instruction.
Even young children can think and interact with material in highly rigorous ways. In fact, left to their own devices, children naturally take what they are learning to solve unpredictable problems and deal with uncertainty. Doing so is at the very nature of learning. They key is to make sure that your rigorous instruction is developmentally appropriate. The chart in appendix A can help you plan rigorous learning experiences that are developmentally appropriate.
Myth Six: In order to engage in rigor, students must first master the basics. Rigorous thinking is involved in learning even the most basic material. Students can learn the basics in highly rigorous ways. They can learn how to build adequate representations, organize those facts in some way, analyze and construct relationships among those facts, and make inferences beyond what is explicitly presented while they are mastering the basics.
Myth Seven: Rigor is for the elite. All students can and should have access to rigorous instruction and learning. To reserve rigorous learning opportunities for an elite group of students while relegating others to lives of memorizing disconnected facts and blindly participating in meaningless activities is to leave them unprepared to meet the demands of a 21st century and beyond.