We are having a grand conversation about the rigor of texts in our school, looking vertically both to the lower grades and the high school grades, to find appropriate, “rigorous” texts (as some define by high Lexile scores as the sole criteria).
As with many shifts, if I don’t do the reading and thinking on my own, I never can adapt or shift professionally. So, to the experts! Away!
Grant Wiggins defines rigor as being in the task (so therefore, not the teacher, and not the text).
So, what is rigor? Rigor is not established by the teaching. It’s not established by framing teaching against standards, therefore. Rigor is established by our expectations: how we evaluate and score student work. That means that rigor is established by the three different elements of assessment:
The level of achievement expected, as set by “anchors” or cut scores.
The blog post continues to discuss Webb’s Depth of Knowledge and rubrics for deeper thinking. This is so comfortable to me, and something I can wholly embrace. I feel that in my practice I have been doing this for years, but never had the clear light shining on the rest of the path.
And by now we are all familiar with this triangulation of text complexity:
But in the tug-of-war about rigorous texts, it is my mission to include writing. Deep, rich writing. I have been reading The Writing Thief by Ruth Culham: every so often we read an educational text that both validates and inspires. This is one of those. She masterfully balances the art of reading and writing, not an either/or.
How did I figure out that reading informs writing? Well, there’s a wealth of educational research to back up this thinking, which you’ll find in Chapter 2 . But mostly, experience has taught me that reading makes better writers. When I read poetry, I’m likely to try my hand at a poem or two. And while they may not be as memorable as those I’ve just enjoyed, writing my own provides me with a mental workout and a valuable learning experience. When I read a powerful nonfiction article, it makes me want to read more about that topic and find a way to weave that information into something I’m writing. When I see a campaign slogan, I think about how the candidate is saying a lot with a little. When I hear a song lyric that speaks to me, I find myself singing along, noticing the rhythm of the piece, and trying to replicate it in prose. I hear a powerful verb or phrase and steal it for my own writing. I’m a writing thief. It seems like every writer should be.
Culham, Ruth (2014-04-28). The Writing Thief: Using Mentor Texts to Teach the Craft of Writing (Kindle Locations 185-192). International Reading Association. Kindle Edition.
My question is, is there a triangle of complex writing tasks, and moreover, should there be? Culham blasts the standard, formulaic “five paragraph essay” model, along with other rigid modes of writing. The writing for standardized test she views as just one small mode of writing, not the end-all, be-all.
If you could create a writing model, what would yours include?
Off the top of my head, here are two charts I created that in no way do I feel are complete:
Sometimes the simplest means to have students engage in more complex ways is the minimalist approach. Don’t put numbers or word count on the task, but put voice and thinking above all. I have enjoyed adding to my collection on my writing blog Up From the Gutter (my writing blog for students/teachers) and think John Spencer and his team have done a phenomenal job with Write About.
And we need great mentor texts, and refreshing and singular voices to hear with new ears, and old friends to listen to. Here’s a list of high Lexile books I’ll be revisiting and researching. Some I’ve used for years, and others I need to take a look at:
But over-arching, consider the highest level of rigor, and that is evaluative, real-world issues:
So, how would you describe the rigorous integration of writing and reading? Ultimately, we all agree we are guiding our students to find their voices. What say you?
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