When they aren’t challenged properly, students can easily fall into a routine in which they simply slide by, content to do the minimum amount of work that is required. To counteract that tendency, education reform supporters, teachers and administrators have all called for more rigorous learning goals in classrooms across the country.

Setting and maintaining more stringent educational benchmarks is imperative to engaging students in their studies. In order to set higher standards, teachers must implement a creative curriculum that challenges students to push themselves in order to achieve at a higher level academically and, in turn, in their lives outside of the scholastic setting.

What are rigorous learning goals?

Rigorous learning goals are specific standards set by teachers and administrators to which students must aspire. Rather than using broad or general ideas like grade-level reading and math, students should be given an objective for each class or content area, the purpose of that objective, and a weekly or even daily agenda. Students are often involved in setting individual goals that help them advance or reach the learning goals.

In order to promote rigorous learning, teachers must clearly explain how and why they have set the academic benchmarks they are using, especially as they relate to real-world applications. Students then undergo regular checkups, or formative assessment, to determine how they are faring in this rigorous environment. Ongoing use of formative assessment strategies ensures that students are comprehending instruction and deriving meaning from the material they are learning.

These are a few things a rigorous learning curriculum should include:

  • Higher-order thinking skills
  • Depth and complexity of material
  • Required investment of time outside of class
  • Research
  • Problem solving
  • Critical thinking exercises
  • Acceleration above grade-level work
  • Relevant writing across content areas

Rigorous learning in different classroom environments

Implementing a rigorous learning environment differs from classroom to classroom and student population to student population. For instance, gifted students might need to have different opportunities to master the same grade-level standards as compared to ESL students. An effective rigorous learning curriculum takes into account the many different types of students that teachers are working with, and challenges each of those types differently and appropriately.

For gifted students, teachers should design a curriculum that challenges them at an accelerated pace. Many children who fall into this group often lose interest in classwork and activities because they feel that the pace of instruction is too slow. If anything, gifted students should be challenged at a level beyond their current capabilities in order to push them to fully recognize and achieve their potential.

On the other end of the spectrum, students who function behind their current grade level or who are ESL learners still need rigor in order to maintain the necessary level of classroom engagement. However, learning experiences to master standards for these students should be specific to their needs. For instance, in ESL classes students might be required to participate in an extensive amount of reading, writing, public speaking and collaboration with their classmates. This will provide frequent and consistent practice in the areas where these students are behind, which will in turn make it easier for them to perform on grade level in other subjects like math and science.

Rigorous learning techniques

Teachers and administrators who want to introduce more rigorous learning standards in their classes should consider the following techniques:

  • Engagement: Regularly engage with students on both an individual and class-wide basis. Clearly explain the standards they are expected to meet, and why those standards are in place.
  • Feedback: Keep students informed about where they stand in relation to meeting set goals. Provide constructive feedback and focused practice to help students who are falling behind get up to speed with the expectations of the lesson plan.
  • Grouping variety: By having students work in a variety of groups, they will better learn from one another, and it will be easier to assess the progress that students are making in their studies.