Notice and Note: RIGOR!

I have about a dozen books in my Summer Read basket, but this one topped the list. I know I want to start the school year with these strategies to support our new Reading LIterature Common Core State Standards.

Notice and Note by Kylene Beers and Robert E. Probst

I found out there was a slow chat on Twitter (#elachatNN) meaning we would read one of the three sections each week and discuss them over the week. Let’s just say I’m a little slower than the average slow chatter. But that’s okay. It’s summer.  In fact, I’m typing this while on a vacation with my daughter in Newport Beach.  An afternoon nap is a luxury for a teenager, and a window of opportunity for me!

The topic that impacted me most in the first section:
---> The Role of Rigor <---
This has been such a buzz word that it has become jargon. This chapter really made me stop and unpack the idea of rigor in a new way. A very specific way. A way that has come up in teacher conversations several times already... in the month of July!

“When the text is too tough, then the task is simply hard, not rigorous.” (page 21)

"The rigor has to be achieved by engaging the readers in a process that is sufficiently interesting and rewarding that they'll invest energy in the work." (page 22)

“The essence of rigor is engagement and commitment.” (page 23)

Simply put, and I needed to really read this, because I have heard otherwise so many times, rigor does not simply equal a lexile level or a book read.  Rigor is a characteristic of our behavior with the text.  It is what we DO with the text that makes the most difference to our learning, personally and with our students.  I am fully able to read some pretty high level text, but it would not be very meaningful to me. The same is true with our students. Does the text need to be appropriately challenging? Yes. But a challenging text without rigorous reading behaviors is not appropriate. Rigor is not a commentary on the texts I choose ("Oh, that is a RIGOROUS text!") as much as it is a commentary about the engagement and depth of thought of the students with the text we read.

It is important to add: this does not mean I expose my students exclusively to simple texts, either. Texts need to be challenging. But there is a definite place for using lower level texts as we hone our close reading skills, then moving to more complex. The idea that only high level texts should be used in my classroom is not seeing the big picture. High level thinking skills should be the expectation, scaffolded using appropriate texts of a variety of levels. Rigor is a human quality. Teachers generally have a keen eye for that "just right" text to use. Trust that instinct. But simulataneously have an awareness of text complexity. 

I have loved to use the book Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli with my classes. The social issues we are able to discuss as they enter jr. high have been meaningful. But, I am aware that it is a lower lexile level. I have a professional decision to make. Use the book and make sure the interaction with the text is rigorous, or look for a more challenging book. I have chosen to find different avenues to discuss peer issues in jr. high, because I had to admit that there isn't a lot of 6th grade level comprehension neat on the bones of Stargirl. Yes, some, but I can expose my student to high level comprehension using a more complex text. I don't want to overwhelm my students with too high of a text, but I don't want to limit them with a 4th grade text, either. What a surprise, instructional choices are strategic! Rigor does not simply refer to text level, it refers to the whole package of instruction. So, trust your instinct, or, as I say in the jr high classroom, "trust but verify".