Ranked number four in The Top 30 Global Gurus in Education, Dr Barbara Blackburn has dedicated her life to raising the level of rigor and motivation for professional educators and students alike.
Dr Blackburn is a teacher, a leader, and a university professor responsible for graduate training for educators who is internationally known for her inspirational, dynamic and interactive style.
Together with the Australian Council for Educational Leaders (ACEL), Blackburn will hold three stand-alone webinars – “Rigor Define & Embrace”, “Rigorous Assessments” and “Rigor & Differentiation in the Classroom” – in March 2019.
Below, The Educator speaks to Dr Blackburn about rigor in the classroom, balancing differentiated instruction with teaching standards and communicating with parents.
TE: For many educators, “rigor” is a negative term that means “harder” or “double the work”. Is there a way for educators to implement instructional rigor without getting ‘snowed under’?
BB: There are many ways to increase rigor by simply adjusting what you are doing. For example, in a math classroom, instead of asking students to solve three division problems, give students three problems that are already solved. Ask them to determine which one is not solved correctly, explain why it is incorrect, and solve it correctly. It's a simple change, but recognizing and explaining misconceptions is a rigorous process. When students read text, we typically ask them to answer questions and possible give evidence from the text. Requiring students to also go beyond the text for real-world connections adds to the rigor of the questions.
TE: What are some of the ways in which teachers can balance differentiated instruction and teaching standards?
BB: Incorporating differentiated instruction in the classroom does not mean you are choosing to ignore standards. Effective differentiated instruction enables a teacher to match the standards, and planning and instruction should be based on standards. Differentiation is based on the notion that all students should master a particular standard. However, in a differentiated classroom, we also recognize that, in order to be successful, small groups of students may need alternative learning strategies, additional support or resources, or choices as to how they demonstrate their understanding.
TE: How should school leaders explain differentiated instruction to parents and families?
BB: I would recommend that leaders provide a clear and concise explanation of differentiation. Sometimes, as school leaders, we try to over-explain, use educational jargon, or make concepts too complicated. Differentiation is about ensuring that each of your sons/daughters can learn at high levels and demonstrate they understand the standards and concepts successfully. In order for that to happen, our teachers will adjust how they teach to provide each student the best possible learning experience. In other words, differentiation gives us the opportunity to do what we need to do for different groups of students so everyone can be successful.