Jaime Patterson | November 2015

Introducing the STEAMER Series

What is Rigor?

The use of the word rigor in education today is almost as frequent as the words Common Core.  In fact, in some instances they might even seem synonymous.  But what is rigor really?

The denotation of rigor is: (a) Harsh inflexibility in opinion, temper, or judgment: severity. (b) The quality of being unyielding or inflexible. (c) An act or instance of strictness, severity, or cruelty.  Is that what we really mean?  Harsh, inflexible, and cruel don’t exactly describe our mission in education.  But when we think of the connotation of what is rigor, then rigor means….

Exactly!  What does it really mean?

Vocabulary.com describes rigor as: students learn a lot and work really hard. What is Rigor means thoroughness and exhaustiveness––the gold standard for a good teacher.

Edutopia.org states: rigor is the result of work that challenges students’ thinking in new and interesting ways. It occurs when they are encouraged toward a sophisticated understanding of fundamental ideas and are driven by curiosity to discover what they don’t know.

Both definitions still leave me pondering: but what is it?  And better yet, what does it look like in the classroom?  If you google rigor in the classroom, there are multiple articles discussing various definitions of rigor.  Ironically, many describe higher level thinking yet lack any concrete examples of application.  As an instructional coach, if one of my teachers receive an evaluation that promotes an area of growth as “more rigor,” I want to be able to tell them exactly what to do.

When I think what is rigor, I think of higher level thinking, engagement, deep inquiry, demonstration, and most of all quality over quantity.

Higher Level Thinking

Higher level thinking is simply taking our students to the next level by pushing for more than simple recall or comprehension.


Often confused with fun, engagement is the presence of all student minds hard at work.   Ensuring that all student voices are heard and all students are a part of the learning process.

Deep Inquiry

Inquiry and curiosity, the original purpose of education, is often pushed aside for test prep through breadth not depth.  Rigor encourages curiosity, and curiosity spawns inquiry, allowing for a more in depth look at topics and content.


Actions speak louder than words in all areas of life, and education is no different.  Being able to recall and regurgitate rote information was helpful in the pre-google era, but now we need our students to show us they understand not just tell us.

Quality over Quantity

Rigor does not mean more it means better.  Students don’t need more work they need better work.  Furthermore, they need exciting work that makes them want to work.

So now…how do we do this?
Over the next few weeks we will offer concrete examples of how to infuse  Engagement through what is Rigor in STEAM!  The STEAMER series will go through all five of the above areas of rigor in conjunction with all five areas of STEAM!

Welcome to the STEAMER series!

Piquès & Pirouettès

Next Week: Part 1 of the STEAMER Series
Next week we will take a look at how to promote higher level thinking into STEAM content.

About the Author

Dr. Typhani Harris, author of Putting the Performance in Performance Task and Stop Teaching, brings over 2 decades of educational experience to The Institute. Originally a high school English Language Arts teacher, Dr. Harris transitioned into a dance educator who cultivated an award-winning collegiate style dance education program at a public school in California. Prior to joining the Institute, she was an educational leader and instructional coach specializing in preparing new teachers in secondary urban schools.  As the Chief Academics Officer, Dr. Harris maintains courses, conferences, and the accredited certification program at The Institute.