Closing the Gap

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This is no longer just a warning about underground trains.

By: Scott Sterling, Instructional Empowerment

It’s called college and career readiness for a reason. The goal is to produce students that are ready to work in the next phase of their lives. The previous standards only dictated what a kid should know—not how. The standards, no matter the state, now know what kind of student they want to generate.

For instance, let’s have a look at a mathematics practice standard from the Common Core State Standards.

Note the keywords we have put in bold:

CCSS.MATH.PRACTICE.MP2 – Reason abstractly and quantitatively.

“Mathematically proficient students make sense of quantities and their relationships in problem situations. They bring two complementary abilities to bear on problems involving quantitative relationships: the ability to decontextualize -to abstract a given situation and represent it symbolically and manipulate the representing symbols as if they have a life of their own, without necessarily attending to their referents—and the ability to contextualize, to pause as needed during the manipulation process in order to probe into the referents for the symbols involved. Quantitative reasoning entails habits of creating a coherent representation of the problem at hand; considering the units involved; attending to the meaning of quantities, not just how to compute them; and knowing and flexibly using different properties of operations and objects.”

First, congratulations if you made it through that hunk of text. Unfortunately, education is becoming more dense, not less. Look at our keywords, words that will appear throughout the next generation standards. Contextualization? Flexibility? Probing? These are the math practice standards, meaning they apply to every grade level. Kindergarteners will need to work in this fashion.

Second, the skills required by this standard are higher-order thinking skills. On any taxonomy, including Dr. Marzano’s, these skills are at the top of the pyramid. Previously, many students did not emerge from high school with these abilities. Now elementary students are required to think in this way.

How do you accomplish something like this within your current practice? The answer, in short, is rigor.

Many educators have the misperception that rigor simply means more work. If I ask for more practice problems in a shorter period of time, that’s more rigorous. That way of thinking will not accomplish this standard.

Rigor might actually be the same amount of practice or even less, as long as it’s the right kind of practice. It’s the balance between complexity and autonomy. I think we can all agree that the standard above is complex. It takes complex thinking to abstractly understand mathematical concepts. But no one can tell a student how to think abstractly; they just have to do it. That requires autonomy.

So in an upcoming lesson (doesn’t matter what subject area you teach), stop focusing on what answer your students provide and instead listen to how they got to the answer they provided. No answer is wrong as long as the student worked through the process. It’s that process that develops higher-order thinking skills.

Next week: How Goals and Scales Form the Backbone of Student Success

Still confused about the concept of rigor? Share your thoughts with your colleagues in the comments section.

For more insights like this, investigate the Marzano Center’s Essentials of Achieving Rigor. It’s the most effective way of improving your practice in anticipation of the new college and career readiness standards.