NCTM – San Francisco

Friday 15 April 2016

What is Academic Rigor in the Primary Classrooms?

Kathy Richardson

“The subject of rigor brings up lots of questions that need to be examined.  What makes a task rigorous? Is harder always better? How do we know when struggling is productive and when it is harmful?  We will look at what we need to consider to provide rigorous, yet appropriate, tasks for young children.”


What makes a task rigorous? Does rigor imply ‘above grade level?’ Can we recognise rigor when we see it?

Four Levels of Learning by Phil Daro

  1. Learn it well enough to explain it to the others
  2. Learn it well enough to learn the next level
  3. Learn it enough to get answers
  4. Noise

Is rigor more than getting answers?

We watched a movie in a pre-K – ” I changed my mind”   “show me 2 cubes ….. I changed my mind please get 5 cubes”

IMG_0037It is not rigor when the teacher fixes the children’s mistakes.  Rather , ask another question …to fix it themselves.  When a child confirms they have right answer – show s the thinking.

Who is fixing the mistakes?

What does Rigor look like?

Chanting rhymes or tables etc – “Saying words doesn’t tell us what they know”

  • Children are doing the thinking rather than remembering the strategy,
  • students are trying to figure something out,
  • Mistakes are part of the process.

“Is the answer out of reach or is the question out of reach?”

Question out of reach- no value if right answers are always the goal towards the product with good process is legitimate.  If the kids don’t make mistakes there is no learning going on. It is not rigorous enough if it is too easy.  Teachers ask questions instead of ‘fixing it’.

It’s not rigor …..

  • when a teacher teachers a strategy to follow
  • when the child uses someone else’s strategy
  • if the teacher accepts what ever you do and doesn’t help you see how to do it better – “see if you can …”  – encourage them to try
  • if children already know the answer with little to no effort

Open ended Problem Solving  – multi steps

Any question which has more than one way to find an answer , understand that a number can be represented more than one way.

Teachers are under pressure

  • to teach the standards
  • make sure learn what they need to learn
  • set goals , define what children are going to learn
  • Help children do their work – prevent mistakes

Rigor is not a special event – we need to see rigor in problem solving and also in

  • small groups
  • number talks
  • independent work stations

Word problems – differentiate with smaller numbers

Number talks – when the child explains their thinking, what they did with the number, precision

Paper and pencil – show their mathematical thinking

Independent practice work time – have to be working at it and self correcting

examples of tasks shown by Kathy –

Different ways to show the number zero, 2 sided counters (beans) recorded all the combinations in a pocket chart 200 times – question how may 4+5 would come up and if we shook them 400 times how many would there be?


NCTM Sponsor Hall

some resources I saw

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Kristin Hilty

SDE Education Consultant

I couldn’t get to her session so I went to see Kristin at the sponsor hall.  I liked her Fluency Folder for multiplication and division.  You could use it with addition and subtraction facts also.  The folder included games, assessment, goals, tracking and dates and a colour grid to show the facts being learnt or learned.   She has a webinar on her website and is publishing a book –Time’s Up on Timed Tests: Teaching Maths Facts for Understanding.


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