I follow teacher groups on FB and forums online and the one trend that I've noticed is the absolute vitriol many feel for "rigor". Now I know that many feel (as I do) that objectives are being pushed down to the point of being developmentally inappropriate. That is not what I refer to when I talk about rigor.
Rigor is going deeper into a topic. Rigor is exploring, creating, collaborating. Rigor is applying what you are learning in different ways. We can do that in Kindergarten and not have it be a traumatic experience!
I wanted to give you some examples of simple ways you can inject rigor into your teaching.
1) Use different kinds of media. It's hard to find clean music videos these days but very often you have to make an inference as to what is going on because no one is narrating for you. We watched part of Katy Perry's Firework last year (part because some is not appropriate for 5 year olds). But there was a shot of a child in what appeared to be a hospital room with no hair-what can we infer from this? Everyone is a Firework, what does that metaphor mean? Deep thinking with literary devices going on even with Katy Perry! :)
2) Do transition activities where they have to think to be dismissed. We all know we can't just say everyone line up for lunch. What I do is have them make a circle and I give them 3 things-a snowman, a popsicle and Alaska in the winter. Now, each one gives me an example of things that go along with that category (without naming what it is). In the beginning you will answers like a snowflake, a snowball, a snow angel, etc. but the more you do it, the more they will try to think outside the box and come with something their friends did not think of.
3) Take the application process to the next level. I saw this article the other day: http://www.edutopia.org/blog/turn-traditional-units-study-deeper-learning-experiences-suzie-boss Rigorous and something they will probably never forget. There are so many places we can do this and especially with the technology we have access to today, being able to connect with real people out there!
4) Differentiate! I read a blog post the other day about a sale on things for early finishers--if you have early finishers then they are not being properly challenged! It's ok to give different kids different work and different levels of expectation. For example, we are writing a fairy tale-they all get the same paper to write on, however I have conferred with my writers so they know my expectation of those actually writing is to write several sentences. Please don't read that as me saying give them more work-give them extra worksheets--no, I'm saying encourage them to produce at their level. If we are writing about a science experiment, I expect them to label their pics with words, my kiddos who are just emergent writers-I am fine with some words sounded out to explain their process. Unequal is not a bad thing!
5) Use technology. I saw this the other day: http://www.hitrecord.org/records/1542411 If you are not familiar-Joseph Gordon-Levitt does a tv show where he collaborates with the public and videos they shoot. This one is an example of patterns. Not only do I think it displays what patterns are beautifully, we can do something like this with our kiddos. Ipads are not just for playing games! Have them make digital stories, take pics and videos and narrate them, do claymation or lego stories. When you read It Looked Like Spilt Milk go outside and take pictures of the clouds-turn that into a project. Yes, it's time-consuming to teach them how because they will come to you not even knowing how to work a mouse-but what they can come up with is sooooo worth it!
6) Let them apply their learning in different ways. I know I am in the minority but cut-and-paste activities drive me crazy. My favorite is everyone's description of their products as being "cute". I don't look for cute, I look for creative! I want everyone's product to be different. I want them to get messy. We write skits in groups about historical figures, we create our own science experiments, we interview our grandparents for Grandparent's Day. We dress up like vocabulary words and fairy tale characters who debate. They are learning how to apply what they are learning and not just how to stay in the lines and work a glue stick.
Hope these ideas are helpful and that it makes it less scary to incorporate rigor into your lessons. If you give them the opportunities you will be so surprised at what they can come with! And the biggest thing is not to get frustrated. I've heard so many people say "well, I tried an activity with them and they just didn't get it-they can't think that way". You have to teach them how! Don't give up-the more often you do it the easier it gets, I promise! :)