By Dan Koch @danvkoch

I’ve been thinking about buzzwords a lot lately. In the educational space, there are a ton of them. Within the past few years, one word I’ve been hearing increase in popularity is the term “rigor” (the other one is “grit”). Besides the fact that “Rigorous Grits” would be an awesome band name, it got me thinking about how often we seek to label our educational practices, and learning in general.

This week on the #EdTechAfterDark After Hours Podcast, Zac, Alex and I meandered into a discussion about the fact that in education, we are almost obsessed with the idea of labeling learning with terms, phrases, and buzzwords. Then, when they somehow lose their luster, we, like insatiable consumers looking for a quick fix on early morning infomercials, seek out in search of another one.

I partially understand this. On a basic level, we all want to be able to observe and track learning gains or growth in our students. Part of that entails being able to define what it is we are looking for in terms of that growth: Are students demonstrating “grit?” Are they able to struggle through “rigorous” texts? Are students adhering to the state learning standards? (Fun bit of trivia: my state’s “standards” have changed twice in six years).

This constant ebb and flow of what we deem necessary for students to demonstrably prove they know is, at best, problematic. On one hand, yes, changing times (new technologies, access to media and content) do necessitate changing paradigms in how we teach and what we expect from students. On the other, it seems to me that this constant nomadic trek to find what “fixes” student learning is really designed to fix one thing: their test scores.

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Take, for example, the definition of “rigor” above, as defined by Merriam Webster dictionary. Do we really believe in subjecting students to classrooms like this? Why do we wear extreme struggle as a badge of honor that we “know” will equate to students’ “grit” in tough times? Student courage and resolve to complete tasks and persevere are important skills to cultivate, don’t get me wrong–but if we are asking them to apply these skills to test taking strategies and not much else, I’m unsure if the impact is what we all pat ourselves on the back for in assuming it will be.

To make matters worse, teacher effectiveness is judged based on this criteria. Students engaged in processes that reflect this standardized thinking are met with high marks on teacher evaluation forms. Think about the last time an administrator was in your classroom and your students were quietly “engaged” in a task (maybe involving a textbook). Now think about if they happened to be loud, discussing various topics, and scattered throughout the room. If your principal had an observation form in hand, which room would you be most comfortable with?

We need to start redefining effective learning practices. If we are going to demand “rigor” from our students, this needs to be reflected in our rigorous pursuit to not test them to death, not expect standardized definitions of innovation, and (perhaps most difficultly) not care about how our evaluation “data” defines us (or our kids).

Dan Koch has a wife, daughter, dog, and uses technology a lot. He’s also the Citrus County Schools Title I Technology TOSA (Teacher On Special Assignment) and is part of the Apple Distinguished Educator Class of 2015. He is also the 2016 Lead PBS Digital Innovator for Florida

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