A New Definition of Rigor

Educators across the country are discussing “Rigor” and how to incorporate it into their classroom instruction:

  • “Our lessons must be more rigorous.”
  • “We must increase the rigor of our assessments.”
  • “Does this book possess the necessary rigor for that grade level?”

Rigor is defined as:


  1. (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.
  2. A tremor caused by a chill.
  3. A condition that makes life difficult, challenging, or uncomfortable.
  4. Strict precision or exactness.

In the article “A New Definition of Rigor” Brian Sztabnik (2015) notes that, “it is this understanding that has led to the push-down and pile-on syndrome.” He goes on to say that “rigor” should meet the following components:


  • It is not defined by the text — it comes from what students do.
  • It is not standard across a curriculum — it is individual to each student’s needs.
  • It is not quantified by how much gets crammed into a school day — it is measured in depth of understanding.  

Rigor is the result of work that challenges students’ thinking in new and interesting ways. Thinking Maps provides opportunities to engage students in rigorous thinking. When multiple maps are used to support depth and complexity of thinking, rigor is increased!  
If you are interested in reading more about this topic, log into TMLC and access the NAVIGATOR, where you can find an article by Misook Kimura responding to “Addressing the Needs of the Ever-Changing Student Population,” a TED Talk by Salman Khan (2015) that reminds educators to focus on mastery, not test scores.   You’ll also find two lesson plans created by Leanna Brown that highlight the use of Thinking Maps to increase rigor in the classroom. We invite you to share the highlights of lessons that you use to increase rigor with your students using Thinking Maps by submitting your work or your students’ work to the Map Gallery.
Sztabnik, B.  (May, 2015).   A New Definition of Rigor.  Retreived from: https://www.edutopia.org/blog/a-new-definition-of-rigor-brian-sztabnik

About Leanna Brown: Leanna Brown is a Thinking Maps Consultant for Thinking Maps, Inc. in Cary, North Carolina. For more than 20 years, she worked in a large urban California school district as a classroom teacher, a Title I specialist, and a program specialist. She was instrumental in the implementation of Thinking Maps and Write From the Beginning and Beyond, training and modeling the use of Thinking Maps in classrooms. As a part of the consulting team, Leanna provides training and support with Thinking Maps, Write From the Beginning and Beyond, and Path to Proficiency throughout the United States. When she is not training, she partners with classroom teachers to practice the most current instructional strategies and to apply the latest educational research to highlight those relevant practices during her training. She shares her expertise with diverse groups that include K-12 teachers and administrators.

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