Tips for Using Rigor, Relevance and Relationships to Improve Student Achievement
Closing the achievement gap between groups of students on standardized tests has become a familiar imperative for many educators and politicians. Yet how can students meet high academic stand-ards if they don’t believe in their ability to do so? How can they learn if they aren’t academically engaged? How can they set and reach academic goals if they don’t see the relevance of learning to their lives?
These are some of the key questions addressed through a five-year research initiative involving 75 high schools in 10 states. The initiative, known as Models, Networks and Policies to Support and Sustain Rigor and Relevance for All Students, is led by the International Center for Leadership in Education, which has enlisted the expertise of the Quaglia Institute for Student Aspirations.
These questions came up once again as we observed a teacher in action with his 9th grade Algebra 1 class. He seemed oblivious to the blank stares and doodling of most students because he was so focused on the select group of students in front of him. These students were responding in quiz-show fashion to his every question. This went on for almost 90 minutes.
The teacher was knowledgeable about the subject and clearly engaged with his small group of students. As for the other students, however, it was as if they were not there, and this was a day with visitors present.
Even more troubling was that the teacher made little eye contact with most of the class. After the visit, we asked about the nonparticipants, and he responded that if the students aren’t motivated in class, he was not going to waste time on them. He didn’t even know their names. “I’ve got a number of students who come here every day ready to learn, and I will not compromise their eagerness to learn,” he said.
In another class down the hall, we observed a teacher who knew everyone by name. The students and teacher joked and chatted about current events and their favorite movies and sports teams. This, too, was an Algebra 1 class, but we saw no rigor and little relevance to algebra. Many students seemed to enjoy the class, while others seemed concerned about whether they were going to learn something about the subject they were supposed to be studying. This teacher knew how to build relationships with students but did not use this skill to elicit strong academic performances from them.
One class lacked the relationship aspect of the learning process, the other was devoid of rigor, and both classes missed the mark on relevance. Yet these elements — rigor, relevance and relationships — together provide the hallmark for education today. The three are integrally connected; if one is missing in our teaching practices, we are not doing our best to prepare students for success in school and in life.
Reprinted with the permission of the American Association of School Administrators. © AASA
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