Rigor is a fundamental piece of any learning experience. It is also among the most troublesome due to its subjectivity. What does it mean? What are its characteristics? Rigorous for whom? And more importantly, how can you use to promote understanding? Rigor matters because it imposes cognitive load on students, forcing them to confront misconceptions, reconsider positions, separate the implicit from the explicit, and other critical thinking practices that distinguish shaky familiarity from true understanding. As such, it’s different for every student. If students can’t consistently negotiate rigorous tasks, either understanding or thinking habits should be more closely examined. But if work is beyond their Zone of Proximal Development, students are only being setup for disengagement, frustration, and ultimately failure.
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