Reviewed by Laura Von Staden
Barbara Blackburn, author of Rigor is NOT a Four-Letter Word, has once again given us the keys to a rigorous classroom – this time with some tools to accompany them.
In Rigor in Your Classroom: A Toolkit for Teachers she defines rigor as “creating an environment in which each student: is expected to learn at high levels, is supported so he/she can learn at high levels, and demonstrates learning at high levels” (pg. 3). The goal of this book is to equip teachers with a toolbox of resources that they can use to create a rigorous classroom.
The book includes 229 “tools,” and while some might argue that some of the tools are merely extensions of one of the other tools (is a 1” screwdriver a different tool than a ¾” screwdriver?), or are explanations of concepts about rigor, Blackburn has certainly provided us with a lot of resources and has definitely filled my toolbox with ideas and resources I’ll be putting to work.
What’s inside the book
This is the type of book that you want to read (or at least skim) through from cover to cover first to get a good overview of what’s in it and then to really home in on the pieces that you need or could implement right now. This is also one of those books that should not be read and put away on the bookshelf but kept close at hand and used regularly as a reference.
The first chapter offers an introduction to what rigor is and provides a solid foundation for those who may have heard the term used a lot, but may not be as familiar with what really constitutes rigor. In this short chapter the author breaks down her definition of rigor and addresses each of the three parts, setting the stage for the rest of the book. The second chapter centers on rigor’s role in our changing standards and how rigor and the Common Core fit together.
Chapter 3 addresses raising expectations through questioning and adult behaviors and also looks at ways to put high expectations in place. From there the author discusses key areas of instruction and provides resources on the topics of Increasing the Depth of Instruction, Giving Support, and Assessment.
Blackburn closes the book with chapters on how to Reinvigorate the Environment and Extend your Reach, which include tools for working with your administration, co-teachers and colleagues, and parents. The book also provides 13 free downloads, one of which is a PowerPoint that can be used at a parent meeting.
Barbara Blackburn has really done her homework on this one; it is well referenced, thoroughly investigated, and succinct. Additionally, she has collected tools from a number of teachers across the country who are in the classroom using these strategies, and gives credit to each for their contribution. While you may be familiar with some of the tools in this book, I am sure that you will find others that are new to you.
So put Blackburn’s new book on your wish list. You and your students will be grateful you did.
Laura Von Staden has a Ph.D. in Molecular Immunology and a Master’s in Special Education. She is a Special Education Middle School Teacher in Tampa, Florida, where she serves on numerous committees both at her school and within her district and works closely with the local university where she serves as a master mentor. Dr. Von Staden also facilitates online courses for her district.