Have we been focusing on the wrong R?

Have we been focusing on the wrong R?

I am wondering about what has been better for students as a result of the high school reform efforts that began in 2005. Many educators participated in professional learning opportunities focused on increasing rigor, relevance, and relationships (Three R’s) in classrooms. I remember participating in the High School Summits which focused on rigor and relevance led by Willard Daggett and Ray McNulty from the International Center for Leadership in Education. Daggett and McNulty provided guidance and resources to the IA Dept. of Education, AEAs, and local high schools about how to increase the three R’s.  Many educators probably remember the Rigor and Relevance Framework and worked on designing Quadrant D lessons.

Since then other initiatives have come along as well as different resources (Revised Blooms Taxonomy, Webb’s Depth of Knowledge, Authentic Intellectual Work, Project Based Learning, and Concept–Based Instruction to name a few).  All of these are intended to help educators wrap their heads around increasing rigor in instruction and assessment. As a result, are students engaged in more cognitively demanding work now than in 2005? If not, why not?

Is it possible that focusing on increasing rigor in isolation of increasing relevance has not worked? There seems to be a natural interdependence between rigor and relevance; not independence or dependence. More often than not when I coach teachers to increase rigor in instruction and assessment, the easiest and fastest way for teachers to make the leap is to start with relevance. In other words, I have the teachers think about what the students are to learn, and then I help them create an authentic role for students to play in the development of an authentic product or performance for an authentic audience.

Is it possible that by focusing on relevance that we may see more than an increase in rigor? In my experience I’ve seen teachers develop lessons and units that include students playing an authentic role, creating an authentic product or performance for an authentic audience and have heard teachers tell me that students were much more engaged and put more effort into their work because the work wasn’t being turned in just to the teacher.  What else might be impacted as a result of this change in focus?  Might meaningful technologies and authentic uses of literacy be easily incorporated in these lessons and units?  My experience tells me yes, and I actually tested it out with my technology team by giving them a Common Core standard and asking them to create a performance task at the highest level of relevance.  Their tasks were awesome!  Each group had an authentic role, authentic performance and/or product, and an authentic audience.   These performance tasks also included transformational uses of technologies and authentic literacy uses.


Example of a performance task:  You are a wind turbine technician and have been commissioned to design a windmill turbine for the owners of a windmill farm.  As part of your design presentation, you will need to utilize the simulation to demonstrate the efficiency and output of your design.  You will need to use a computer program to generate a model of your wind turbine. Using the dimensions of your turbine along with the formula for wind energy, calculate the potential power generation (in watts) of your turbine design at various altitudes and with different wind velocities. Be sure to label your model with appropriate geometrical attributes needed to construct the turbine. (e.g., angles, symmetry, parallel, perpendicular, etc.)