Rigor: The Buzzword worth the Buzz

I know you're tired of hearing the word rigor. I am too, trust me. But I had a bit of a lightbulb moment in my classroom  the other day and all of a sudden I just kind of "got it".

So far this year my word work rotation has been pretty much what you what you would imagine it to be. Much of it consisted of cards that I had printed, laminated, cut, sorted, and organized for the kids to use. The kids then read, matched, ordered, and grouped those cards and recorded their answers. At first glance it seems like they learned the skill and we moved on. Then I was smacked in the face with the reality that maybe they didn't master it as well as I thought.

What happened? Well, for two months of word work the kids had a contraction activity mixed in with the rotation. In classic center style, they matched up the two cards that made the contraction and wrote the new word. And it seemed like we were pros! Then I gave this assessment. (It's part of this CC Assessment Pack).

I was pretty confident that the assessment would show mastery of the skill. I was wrong. When it came to actually applying the skill in context, they really struggled. One of the main goals of learning contractions is that students will use them in their writing to improve sentence fluency. That's exactly what I was expecting them to be able to do in this assessment and it didn't work out so well. 

It didn't hit me right away where things went wrong and then shortly after,  I was sitting with my small group working on the Fall See-it Centers. I realized that this type of activity really bumped up the level of rigor. I know that word has been way over-used and no one wants to hear it, but I'm coming to the conclusion that there might be something to it.

In these activities the kids aren't just sorting cards with words into categories, but they're actually searching the picture for words that satisfy the criteria. For example, my kids actually have a hard time with rhyming words for some reason. However, in a center with matching cards they almost always get it right. Why? Because they can easily match up the spellings for words like rake and cake, sing and ring. Of course, not all rhyming words are spelled the same, but most are and matching them up isn't so hard. But in the See-it Center, they have to go into the picture and find the rhyming word. So as they were looking for a word to rhyme with "flake", they were searching the picture and saying two words together until they found a match (or two!). To me, it really showed a deeper level of mastery and one where they can't accidentally get it right. 

Just for good measure, each See-it Center has a math page as well. Again, the kids have to use what they see and work on a higher level than just sorting and matching.
Now, don't get me wrong. There is value in the traditional sorting and matching center activities. It's a great way to introduce a skill and practice it for the first time. But I think we need to bring it up a level and try it in context before we can feel that the kids have mastered the skill. All of the team leaders met the other day and the same conversation creeped up again - each grade level is frustrated that they're re-teaching skills they expected the kids to learn in the grade before. Of course we all taught the skills and the kids learned them, but I started to think that maybe the level of mastery wasn't we thought. I'm thinking that more authentic practice might be the key to deeper understanding. Just my two cents...

If the See-it Centers look interesting to you, I've linked them all up so you can check them out. The first one is a freebie!


  1. Rigor isn't a bad word. It's all about high expectations, supporting students so they can meet those expectations, and watching them thrive. That's what you did! Barbara Blackburn. Www.barbarablackburnonline.com.

    1. Thank you Barbara! That means so much to me, especially considering your expertise in the subject!

  2. Girlfriend...I love these centers...I have two of them and my class loves the days we do them!!! I mix the classic center activities and then we do the see it centers...you are so right about the right of these centers...

  3. Also...keep these rolling out... I need to beef up my LA center materials. I'm covered over in.math...


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