"Rigor Redefined" by Tony Wagner, in Educational Leadership

From the October issue of Educational Leadership (which is a great one, the theme being "Expecting Excellence"):

"Rigor Redefined" by Tony Wagner, in Educational Leadership

This article is a good summary of some of the main points from the book Wagner wrote, The Global Achievement Gap. I like the article because it's concise, easy to hand out to people who are wondering about the skills we need to be teaching in the 21st century.

What do you think? A good summary? And has anyone gotten into the book?


Tags: 21st+century+skills, Rigor+Redefined, The+Global+Achievement+Gap, Wagner

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I read the book and think you will find it worth reading. A major idea in the book that I didn't see highlighted in the article was assessment. Wagner discusses how NCLB testing has resulted in instruction (including in AP classes) that emphasizes recall of decontextualized fragments of knowledge. He advocates the PISA and the use of locally developed assessments. He also discusses the importance of motivation. One interesting note is that students in India and China are more motivated academically because they don't have all the entertainment options and privileges kids have in the United States.
On my blog http://artfulinnovation.blogspot.com/, I have been writing about the book. Wagner poses questions at the end that everyone should be asking as we rethink education. I have been answering those from my viewpoint and would welcome comments there and/or be happy to continue in this discussion.
Hi Deborah,
Your blog is very interesting!
By the way, Wagner also says, "Meanwhile, in countries like India, China, Singapore are trying to transform their educational systems so as to produce more creative students."

I love his chapter 5: "Motivating Today's Students--and Tomorrow's Workers."

page 170:
"So, are today's students--and tomorrow's workers--less motivated or just motivated in ways that may be unique to their generation? Both my classroom experience and my discussions with many young people have convinced me that the 20-somethings (and younger) are differently motivated today--very differently motivated. and bringing out the best in young adults --motivating them to be productive and to aspire to excellence in school and at work and in their communities--will require both an understanding of these differences as well as new kinds of relationships between the younger generation and the adults in their lives."

Yes, a lot to think about.

This is one of the best books I've read in the last year; I highly recommend it.
My district has offered much professional development in trying to change the old school of thought (teachers are fine with what they do, but kids are different and don't want to learn) but even new teachers cannot be coaxed into teaching differently because they have been given "good teachers" as models. WE are not teaching our students to think and solve problems on the high school level. With scripted lesson plans for all, there is no time for teachers to really be creative in teaching the art of thinking.

We continue to disservice our students. Principals can only get a raise in our district if their school make AYP. Anyone not teaching the skills to passing "the test" is considered less than professional. I have seen so many lessons being taught like was highlighted in this summary.

I have no answers but it is very discouraging. We have layers and layers of district and school personel that are assigned to help teachers, but little if no progress is being made in teaching kids to think. I guess we need to keep chipping away at the big rock and maybe we'll soon see some light.
Hi Irene,
I don't agree with the statement that kids are different, don't want to learn. I do agree that tightly scripted lesson plans may result in removal of excitement and passion in learning. And yeah, we see a good deal of damage being done in this NCLB-era. It may be an era that's passing, now. Keep your fingers crossed!
You hit the nail on the head by stating the importance of "teaching kids how to think." That's the essence of it all. And we have to join them, thinking together with new tools.
Do you think it's really chipping away at a big rock? What about the complete transformation that's taken place in young people's learning outside of school? What if we move that transformation into the schools?

I believe that my statement about kids (you disagreed) was colored by being employed at an urban school. Many urban districts are suffering with unmotivated kids.
I do wholly agree with you that adults must join kids in thinking with new tools. Unfortunately, I do not see the excitement in learning to use the new tools in adults who want to see the same excitement in students. My district employs 10 Instructional Tech Specialists to work with teachers bringing technology into the classroom. That equals about 150 teachers for each of us. That is chipping away at the big rock. Between reluctance by teachers and lack of funding, I can't see it any other way.

The article does a good job of articulating what all of us already know, that teaching to the test (which is what we are all doing) is at odds with what we know to be sound educational practice, whether or not it is defined as "21st Century Skills." (I'm beginning it really dislike that phrase.)

The issue is not whether we agree that there is a disconnect, but what we can do about it. Most teachers and administrators have accepted the situation and are almost fatalistic about the "reality" of testing and the defacto curriculum that results. I found NCLB so ridiculous that I was "certain" that it would be revoked within a year or two of passage. I've never been good at prediction.

Does the book suggest any ways to change things, because if not, its just another "call to arms" for a battle we are ill-equipped to fight. Its a political issue as much as an educational one...
HI Tom,

I agree with what you've said here, but I do think there is merit in testing to determine what kids can do and what they can't. If we know, we can work on the weaknesses. When I think back on my early education years, I really do think I learned all the important stuff in 1st grade. But I also couldn't wait to go to school and learn which I think is different now especially in the urban districts.

Also, when I went to school we were leveled by test results. One really got more skills if one was in the higher levels. In the lower levels, no one really expected much of you. American education can no longer afford to think this way.

I don't dislike the term, 21st Centruy Skills. To me it indictes that we do need to rethink what and how we are teaching students to make them successful in a future world we cannot imagine. Is it really fair to any student to get a curriculum that no other teacher is teaching?? That is what happened in the past....every teacher did their own thing. I think what this book might be pointing out is that teachers need to change their practice, like it or not. Many teachers refuse. These teachers are doing a disservice to students. What should be done about that?? The old way is not always the best way. Teachers are still teaching what is nice to know rather than what is essential to know.
Hi Irene,

At this point in time testing has plenty of advocates. I'm not saying "test nothing," rather don't make it the foundation of all we do. I understand the problems that low expectations create.

On the other hand, firing qualified principals because their test scores don't improve sufficiently is an injustice.

I think its possible to teach a common curriculum, based on state and/or national standards. I'm not arguing against that, nor am I suggesting that we shouldn't improve our practice. I take issue that the "end of education" (Neil Postman's term) should not simply be to provide worker bees for business and industry. I favor the passionate, life-longer learners approach, and a healthy dose of the other skills that Wagner advocates.

I'm on board. However, two questions remain: How do we get there from here, and how can we break the stranglehold that standardized testing has on education?

I recently attended a symposium about educational practices in Finland. For a numerous reasons, the Fins repeatedly score at the highest levels in the world. Ironically, there is almost no standardized testing (national or regional) until students reach the point of making a choice about the kind of secondary and post secondary education they will pursue. Somehow they manage to teach and learn...
Yes, the book is good at presenting new models. He talks about turning students from "isolated consumers" into "interactive producers." "What is needed to tip the balance to the positive is an older generation that better understands what drives the younger generation and has learned how best to harness and focus its energies..."
"...young people hunger for a more creative and interactive relationship with the world..."
From John Seely Brown (referred to often within the book): "The older generation defined itself by what they wear and own; this generation defines itself by what it creates and co-creates with others, and others build on."
"The Net Generation needs a new kind of support transitioning from the cyber world to the real world and constructing a lasting foundation for its dreams. As Tracy Mitrano observed, 'If we want to tap into what's creative and exciting with this generation, we have to find a way of translating from entertainment into work.'"
He goes on to describe "Producers at School." The Seven Survival Skills compel us "to rethink much of our instructional methods and curricula..."
Yes, read the book, it sets up a good framework.
Thanks Connie. I believe I will (read the book.)
Thanks Connie,
you continue to provide reliable and relevant information for thoughtful discussion. Regards, Britt Gow.
Thanks, Britt!



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