Let's Talk About Rigor

What is Rigor?

Rigor is "hands-on, minds-on" learning. It is deep thinking about and engagement with the content.

The CMS definition of rigor is: "Rigor is a characteristic of the learning experience which helps students develop the capacity to understand content that is complex, ambiguous, provocative, and personally or emotionally challenging. As a result of rigorous content, students create a process of thinking and problem-solving that is self-directed and applicable to the real world."

An analogy that may help:

What do you know about the ocean if you have only seen it from a boat?
What do you know about the ocean if you are a scuba diver?


Rigor is knowing a subject to depth and complexity.
To teach to depth and complexity is to invite students to venture further and engage more deeply with the material and subject and to identify and explore several aspects of the ideas or problem at hand. It is encouraging the students to make connections between and across time, curriculum, and disciplines and explore the perspectives, biases, and scope of the relevant issues.

Think about how you know the level of student thinking in your class. What evidence of student thinking is generated in assignments, learning experiences, class discussions, and assessments? How do you plan for deep thinking and engagement in your lessons?

Developing rigor in your lessons:

This lesson design format will help teachers think through what opportunities for learning they will offer students.

Some activities that encourage rigorous thinking:

Links for more resources:

Explanation of the Rigor and Relevance Framework with excellent teacher resources.
Quadrant D lesson plans and activities
Great site for Rubrics, assessments, plans, and activities for all curriculum areas.

Common concerns and questions:

  • I don't have time to go into depth with the content and still cover all the material in my curriculum that could be tested.
Think about what students need to know before they leave your class at the end of the semester and go to the next level. What will they need experience doing? What will they need deep knowledge of, and what skills are transferable? Focus on getting students to be independent thinkers when confronting new material.
  • My students can't handle group activities, they don't like to think, and they can't behave.
Engaged students have less time to be disruptive and off-task. The key is to teach procedures and hold high expectations for all students.
  • How much time should I spend planning lessons?
It takes a little longer to plan good lessons, but the outcome will be less time spent on managing students and more time facilitating learning.
  • How much class time should be spent in activities?
Research proves that human brains need processing time to really learn any material. Chunk your lessons so that students do some reading, writing, thinking, and listening every day.
  • What content should be taught to depth and complexity?
What is essential learning for your curriculum? What skills will transfer to another discipline or the real world? Those should be the focus of rigorous lessons.