Rigor and culture

Within Teach For America, we often talk about two different things: rigor and culture. In fact, you’ve probably heard from your MTLD something about these two. We’ve got a couple scales we use to consider what we see from students. In terms of rigor–which I prefer to think of as “student thinking”–we have five categories:

  1. No learning
  2. Passive and confused when presented with new content
  3. Factual recall and procedural thinking
  4. Analysis, explanation, and application
  5. Evaluation and synthesis

And in terms of culture we have five different labels:

  1. Destructive
  2. Apathetic or unruly
  3. Compliant and on-task
  4. Interested and hard-working
  5. Passionate, joyful, and urgent

Of course, if you ask most people, you might find that they don’t think these two things are quite so separate–the kind of “joy” students take in their classroom, for example, is going to have a lot to do with what kind of thinking they’re doing. Doing meaningful thinking is fun!

Which is why I was interested to come across this scale, with which you can consider how a learner is engaging with a given task:

  1. Disengaged: distracted by other things while doing the task;
  2. Compliant: completed the task but didn’t get much else out of it;
  3. Interest: being curious about what is presented;
  4. Engaging: wanting to be, and being involved in the task;
  5. Committing: developing a sense of responsibility towards the task;
  6. Internalizing: merging objective concepts (the task or what is to be learned) with subjective experience (what is already owned) resulting in understanding and therefore ownership, of new ideas;
  7. Interpreting: wanting and needing to communicate that understanding to others;
  8. Evaluating: wanting and being willing to put that understanding to the test.

This reminds me that ultimately, of course, student thinking and student “culture” are the very same thing–they’re all about how excited and invested a student is in the material that we put in front of them. If we want joyful students, and if we want students doing meaningful evaluation, we need to get materials in front of them that both pique their interest, and also allow them to evaluate some kind of thinking, and scaffolding materials in ways that encourage both those things.

So, for example, if we just tell students, “solve this equation for x,” of course we won’t get students being much more than disengaged. The question is–how do we take the materials we need to teach and modify them to get that kind of thinking.

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