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[FORETHOUGHT] Prep Students for Success

October November 2007


Willard Daggett of the International Center for Leadership in Education explains how rigor, relevance, and relationships are keys to success.

As educators, we are constantly challenged to prepare students for successful futures. But in an ever-evolving global economy that is driven by rapid technological changes, who can say what the future will look like? It’s true that we can’t anticipate every technical skill students will have to master, but we do know they will need to develop critical-thinking, creative, and analytical skills to solve problems we cannot yet imagine. The future requires that we create rigorous and relevant curricula now to help our students learn how to adapt to new situations—to know what to do when they do not know what to do.

Meanwhile, we also face the immediate challenges of today’s world. Accountability requirements push our schools to focus on ensuring that students pass standardized tests and achieve a narrowly defined idea of academic achievement. These pressures make it even more critical for us as educators to push beyond question-and-answer learning and teach the higher-order thinking skills students will need to compete in the global economy.

To meet that need, schools must rigorously determine curricula and teaching practices, not just student scores. We need to look at not just what students know, but whether or not they are learning to apply new knowledge in a myriad of ways. Researchers at the International Center for Leadership in Education have developed a plan to examine curricula, instruction, and assessment to ensure that rigor and relevance are addressed. This Rigor/Relevance Framework is a necessary tool for assessing the teaching of deeper learning.

The framework looks at the level of engagement with subject matter, from basic awareness to the ability to synthesize and evaluate new information. At the same time, it looks at whether or not curricula help students take what they know and apply it beyond the classroom. Using this framework, we can assess whether students are simply acquiring knowledge (Quadrant A) or progressing to the application, assimilation, and adaptation of new knowledge (Quadrants B, C, and D).

Consider how the Rigor/Relevance Framework can be applied to fourth-grade math. The rote task of memorizing multiplication tables would fall under Quadrant A, acquiring knowledge. When students collect outside temperatures for a period of time, do the calculations, and graph the results, that’s application of knowledge. Quadrant C could include finding the values in number sentences when those values are represented by unknowns. Finally, in Quadrant D, students could work together to develop a formula for estimating the number of beans contained in a jar.

What works for the Rigor/Relevance Framework is that it provides a structure that enables schools to ask the right questions about the curriculum: Is it going deep enough? Is it asking students to be flexible thinkers, take risks, analyze real-world problems, and propose creative solutions?It is no longer sufficient to merely address the minimum academic needs and requirements of our students. By focusing on the new three R’s—rigor, relevance, and relationships—we can set the stage for our students’ future successes. @

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