Every teacher wants to be able to say that he or she is increasing rigor in the classroom. How does a teacher go about doing that? The key is to understand what rigor is, but first we need to understand what it is not.

Barbara Blackburn describes the "7 Myths of Rigor in the Classsroom." They include things like increasing homework, doing "more," not making rigor for everyone, eliminating support, adding resources, including standards and making rigor "one more thing to do." If any of these phrases resonates with you as a way to increase rigor, then you are looking at the problem all wrong.

It isn't enough for a teacher to make tests longer or add a comprehensive project to the curriculum. To increase rigor in the classroom, teachers need to get to the heart of what rigor is and understand the levels of rigor that exist so that they can evaluate their own teaching practices and build a plan to increase rigor from there.

In education today, two models are often applied when analyzing rigor: Benjamin Bloom's Taxonomy and Norman Webb's Depth of Knowledge (DOK). Bloom's Taxonomy, first developed in 1956 and revised in 2001, answers the question: What type of thinking (verbs) is needed to complete a task? Bloom developed a series of action words that describe cognitive processes by which thinkers work with knowledge such as remember, understand, apply, analyze, evaluate and create.

Webb's DOK model identifies four levels that grow in complexity and provide teachers with a roadmap they can use to create more rigorous and engaging tasks and assignments. Recently, Edutopia blogger and teacher Gerald Aungst wrote about this topic in his article "Using Webb's Depth of Knowledge to Increase Rigor."

Aungst first reviewed the four levels of Webb’s Depth of Knowledge (DOK):

  • Level 1: Recall and reproduction
  • Level 2: Skills and concepts
  • Level 3: Strategic thinking
  • Level 4: Extended thinking

Aungst then outlined a process whereby a group of teachers could collaborate to make a list of the tasks they give to students in a given week, sort those tasks into the appropriate DOK level, review those groupings with colleagues, and then work to rewrite some of the Level 1 and 2 tasks to be Level 3 or 4.

This tool, the DOK wheel, can provide teachers with a good starting point to analyze at what DOK level their task is currently at and help them increase the DOK level of that task:

Karin Hess, researcher for the National Center for Assessment, brought together the structure of Bloom's Taxonomy and the work of Webb and developed a series of cognitive rigor matrix tools that teachers could use to analyze and deepen the rigor of their tasks and assessments.

For example, with the rigor matrices, an English language arts teacher can now take an "understand" task that asks students to construct meaning and raise it from a Level 1 task like constructing definitions of terms to a Level 3 task like making inferences about explicit or implicit themes.

A math teacher, for example, can take an "apply" task that asks students to carry out a procedure and increase it from a Level 1 task like applying a formula to a situation to a Level 3 task like designing an investigation for a specific purpose or research question.

Our world today requires us to be critical thinkers and problem solvers. We need to be able to analyze our situations and adapt to new ones. School must mimic real life. It is not enough anymore to simply memorize facts and figures. Our students need a more rigorous learning environment that will help prepare them to interact with our ever-changing world.