Hack 7: Vigor v. Rigor

With the educational system constantly changing, it has become increasingly difficult as an educator to establish what “quality content” looks like for our students. In addition to that, there is no solidified “one-way” to teach anything. There isn’t one curriculum that we all follow, there isn’t one method that we all teach. Even from building to building in districts, there are often substantial discrepancies between what is being taught to students at the same grade level. Generally speaking “the unknown” causes significant anxiety amongst the human population and looms an even darker cloud over teachers: the group of the human population that NEED A PLAN!

This anxiety is what educational vendors feed on to build their business. They create and instill this “fear”  within us to make us believe if we don’t have the latest “common core aligned” reading, writing or math curriculum, we are preventing the learning of our students. If we don’t have the most recent revision of a teacher’s guide, we are made to believe what we are doing is not “rigorous” enough for their future.

But what does that even mean? Rigor? Michael Fisher talks about this idea a great deal in his incredible book, Hacking the Common Core. If you haven’t had a chance to read this work in the Hacking Education series, you can catch up via the D100 Blogger PD with the last six hacks. To do this, follow the links below to read some of my colleague’s amazing reflections. In Hack 7, Fisher talks about creating “vigor instead of rigor” in our classrooms. Essentially stating, “vendors who do not know [our] population of kids personally, should never be the ones directing traffic in [our] classroom.” Fisher proposes that we replace the “r” in rigor with a “v” for vigor. When we create vigor in our classroom instead of worrying about rigor, Fischer says, (and I believe most teachers and administrators would agree) that we create “authentic growth” in our students, generated from “organic and authentic learning moments.” Essentially, how will you create the “buy-in?” If students are not engaged in what they are learning, and the teacher provides little meaning for what they are learning, students are less likely to remember the content.


Fisher has some proposals for what you as an educator can do in your classroom tomorrow and long term, to make the change from rigor to vigor. He proposes, “tomorrow” you can do four things:

  1. Appraise your current week’s curriculum or lesson plan
    • Take a peek through your lessons for the week and see if there are any places you could liven it up. Meaning, if there are continued monotonous activities you are doing, take one, and replace it with something new and exciting. Throw in a game, visuals, manipulatives or even tech to spice up what you’re doing.
  2. Share your intentions 
    • Exactly as it says, talk with your team about how you plan on taking your lessons to the next level and try to develop engagement strategies together.
  3. Practice engagement habits
    • It’s important to ask yourself two questions when practicing these habits.
      • How often am I creating engaging opportunities for my students?
      • In what ways am I creating engaging opportunities for my students?
    • Fisher says that offering choices to students is the easiest way to answer these two questions.
    • How are you creating choice and promoting student voice in your classroom? The more choice we give students, the more ownership they have over their classroom. The more ownership they have, the more responsible they feel for their learning and take that external motivation to intrinsic motivation. This is a very nice transition into our final, “what you can do tomorrow.”
  4. Ask the students 
    • Just as I articulated above, Fisher writes, “student voice and input are essential to buy-in and real learning more than ever.”
    • Choices can come in the form of process or product. But even, seating in the classroom can be a choice. Giving students the opportunity to determine which way they learn best is one of the most important lessons you can teach them. We are truly doing a disservice to our students if we don’t help them figure out how they learn best.
    • As a fifth grade teacher, I am constantly providing choice for my students in nearly every way possible. What that choice looks like in my classroom is different in every subject.
      • Seating- we have flexible seating in my classroom and students are able to select a seat that they think they will work best at throughout the day, every day.
      • Content areas
        • Reading- students choose from a reading menu during reading workshop to select activities that they would like to complete during reading. In order to hold them accountable and also keep them on track, the follow a schedule and have selected times in their schedule when they can make those open choices. This could be a good solution for teachers who are a little bit afraid to let go of the reigns.
        • Math- students learn in a blended learning model. They are able to watch a screencast created by me and answer metacognitive questions. I am able to see all of their classwork live on my device as well so that I can monitor their work. They also have multiple choices when working on PBLs and unit projects. More on that here.
Just because we as teachers have curriculum that appears to come from a “vetted” source, doesn’t mean that it is the end all be all of learning. For a full implementation of taking rigor to vigor, you can take the steps above and amplify them a bit more.
  1. Appraise your curriculum
    • Take your year-long curriculum and see where you can “inject joy, creativity, awe, technology, PBL, STEAM, engagement, and personalization” says Fisher. The key to making this integration successful, however, is making sure that the verbs in your unit plans match the verbs in the standards so that you are still keeping validity in your teaching. Much of this appraisal reminded me of #TLAP or Teach Like a Pirate, in which author, Dave Burgess pushes teacher to dive into the water with your students instead of being a lifeguard.  This applies in this instance as well.
  2. Create a culture of shared curriculum design
    • Amplifying your units can seem like a big undertaking alone, but when you and your team put your heads together, it becomes much easier. Ask your colleagues and even your students to help you design something substantial and meaningful.
  3. Make learning fun again
    • Plain and simple, if you are bored, they are bored. Creating meaningful learning ensures that all students are capable, engaged and enjoying their learning experience, while most importantly remembering what they are learning. Fisher says it best when he writes that “vigorous learning makes acquisition and application of knowledge so memorable that teachers can simultaneously engage enduring understandings and work above the curriculum…” What an incredible concept!
  4. Introduce PBL and STEM/STEAM
    • Having problem-based learning as well as units or lessons integrated with science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics “open up multiple options for students to research and study authentic projects… and build opportunities…for deep learning.” Anything that provides an opportunity for hands-on learning will promote student learning and growth.
With change comes pushback from stakeholders. To overcome this pushback, it’s important to keep the following things in mind, according to Fisher.
  1. Regardless if you have time for fun or not in your classroom, if you care about learning and performance then you have to care about fun and engagement.
  2. If your administrator is on board with adding vigor to your classroom but also needs you to utilize your curriculum the focus here needs to be collaboration and communication to spice up your lessons.
  3. Your students not working at grade level should not be a problem here. Providing choice and interest in the content is what really matters when it comes to vigor.

Fisher sums it up best at the end of the Hack when he states that “finding ways to engage students in opportunities for deep, rich learning” is the true definition of vigor. We have to get rid of our “this is the way we’ve always done it” mantra to make way for re-invention of our lessons and our students learning. How do you plan to spice up your lessons and make room for vigor?

Continue following along in our book study and read the next installment from Grammar Mama on October 19. Also, make sure to join us tonight for the #D100chat on Twitter- with Michael Fisher himself as our co-moderator. Did we mention how much we love him?


Links to the previous D100 Blogger PD Hacks from Hacking the Common Core:

Hack 1: Reading and Owl of the Above 

Hack 2: Teaching and Learning Redefined

Hack 3: Miss K’s Classroom 

Hack 4: Ms. Frizzle IRL 

Hack 5: Responsive Literacy Responsive Literacy 

Hack 6: The Bazz Blog


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