Barbara Blackburn and Bradley Witzel define 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. 7). Throughout the book they specifically address how to help students with high-incidence disabilities, who are often in regular education classes, engage in rigorous academics and meet their definition of rigor.
The authors also tell us that to build rigor, especially for students with disabilities, that we must ask thinking questions, scaffold with visuals, and model everything. They skillfully do this for us not only in anecdotes, but also by the layout of their book.
Both their explanations and examples are concise and explicit, and are often illustrated with pictures, tables or graphic organizers (scaffolding with visuals). The key points are set off, often in a box, that are easy to see, remember and return to for future reference (visuals), and each idea in the chapter is followed by a guiding question for reader reflection of their own practice (thinking questions). Finally, the end of each chapter contains a brief bulleted summary of key ideas.
Blackburn and Witzel carefully take us through chapters on: The What and Why of Rigor, Motivating Students, Setting High Expectations, Providing Support, Demonstration of Student Learning (Assessment), and finally Challenges and Opportunities.
Up-to-date and valuable
The information in the book is up-to-date (including references to its use with Common Core standards), on target and immediately applicable to the classroom. Possible roadblocks to implementation are addressed in each section, and implementation is further supported by both online and black-line masters of key visuals, as well as an appendix with ideas for how the book may be used in a book study or professional development opportunity. The conclusion of the book speaks to the overall work that teachers do, and is supportive and uplifting with reference to that work.
Rigor for Students with Special Needs is definitely a valuable resource. It specifically addresses rigor for students with special needs, but the strategies included are applicable to any students who are struggling with learning at higher levels. The material is easy to reference as the key ideas are clearly set off and illustrated with graphics. There are additional offsets to draw attention to the reflective questions, and roadblock sections, making them easy to access. I would highly recommend this book as a resource for any teacher who works with struggling students.
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 serves as a facilitator for an online teacher learning community sponsored by her local teacher organization.