Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Increasing the Rigor in Kindergarten!

Happy Tuesday everyone!  It's Jennifer from Empowering Little Learners AND Simply Centers!  I want to talk today about a little 5 letter word that probably drives you mad and that's RIGOR!

Rigor is defined by the dictionary as strictness or harshness and so it is very reasonable in my eyes to want to resist those around you constantly asking you to increase the rigor of your instruction.  But what does that really mean in the early childhood classroom - to increase the rigor?  Do they want us to be ridiculously mean and tough with the kids?  Of course not! 
Rigor in the early childhood classroom simply means to focus on the objective taken directly from the standards and to move at a quick, engaging pace. 
Of course, people can take things to extreme!  One example is coloring.  Many administrators may believe that coloring is not a rigorous enough activity, after all what are they learning while they are coloring. Right? 

Well… this is where I say it is your job as a trained early childhood educator to defend what you know!  In response to this question you should say drawing is an early stage of writing!  Also, how can we expect kids to add word details if they can't first add details in a drawing.
So here are some easy ways to add rigor to your lessons that you and administrators will love:
1.       Watch the amount of time you are talking compared to the kids. 
2.       Watch how many students are engaged at a time, instead of calling on one child to answer a question, have them tell their partners.  Or have students read to partners instead of one at a time.  Partnerships help increase this number with no effort!
3.       Use "My Turn, Your Turn" at least every 10-15 minutes. 
4.       Allow students to reflect through partner sharing.  Chances are if they are talking when you are instructing, it's because they need time to reflect and get it out!
5.       Add motions to everything!  Students remember more what they do than what they hear or say.  (I have a great freebie for you listed below!)
6.       Have students move often, even if it's just a turn.  For example, we may do our letter sounds facing east, our letter names facing west, and our writing our letters at our seats.  Young learners need to move, this we all know!
7.       Worksheets are considered independent work.  If you are doing a worksheet, take that time to pull a small group instead of walking around.  They can even do that same worksheet with you as a group.  Administrators love that!
8.       Have students work with partners for a worksheet (one paper, two kids.)  Being able to talk about an activity takes it to a whole other level!
9.     DEMAND participation.  While students are speaking, you should be watching their mouths and motioning to students to participate who are not.  This is during choral responses and partner talking.  Essentially, any time you are asking them to do something, you need to hold them accountable that they are doing it.  They are not going to learn if they don’t do it!

One of my newest ways to increase rigor and thus increase the success of my students is by adding motions to our sight words.  So included in this post is a set of sight words with corresponding motions to do with them.  However, you can do whatever motions you see fit. 

One more effortless way to increase rigor:
Instead of saying the alphabet chorally, have them say it with their partners with a hand game.  Left hand to right hand – A, Right hand to left hand – B, etc.  This is super great because it will have your students crossing the mid line which brain researchers will tell you increases your ability to learn!  You can also do the same for counting. 

Another great way to increase rigor is to use Cooperative Learning!  That's right people, Cooperative Learning is alive and kicking in kindergarten (at least in my classroom!)  Using these strategies you will have 100% of you students engaged and you will be able to sit back and watch your students teach each other!  (Sounds a little like fantasy huh!)  If you are interested in Cooperative Learning in Kindergarten, here is a freebie Four Corner's Game for you to try.  Also, how about Short Vowel Blending Quiz-Quiz Trade,  Rhyming Four Corners, or Shapes Four Corners.  All come with instructions!
Hope everyone is getting some really great ideas from this site!  I know I have!  I just love it!

Again, happy Tuesday.  Please feel free to post any comment on how you met the requirement of rigor with your little learners! 



  1. Great ideas, Jennifer! As a Montessorian, I love following children's interests for spontaneous motivation and rigor. I also think your movement-oriented learning activities and freebies are great! I tweeted your post. :) Deb @ LivingMontessoriNow.com

  2. Is there a difference between 'rigor' and 'excellence'???? I think that we always need to look for excellence in our teaching & from our children -- whatever their age.

    Jennifer, of course I completely agree with your list, but especially the items you spell out about team work, movement, getting up and about -- connecting motions to your sight words.

    No wonder I like you so much!!! Brilliant!!!


    1. I believe there is a difference between excellence and rigor. For instance a student could do an excellent job of memorizing multiplication facts. I don't think anyone would judge that to be rigor. Solving multi-step word problems in which one uses that knowledge would be rigor!

  3. I teach 3 1/2 year olds, and have started sight words. The average child knows 6 so far out of the 12 I'm doing (3 new ones a month). I love love love the movement-sight word link and will start TODAY!!

    Anyone know of any blogs that directly target 3 1/2 year olds? I don't want to miss something!

    By the way, I did get teacher certification a few years ago in PK to 3rd grade, but wound up teaching in the older 3's class in a daycare center. I absolutely love my job, and I refuse to limit my work with the kids to mostly teaching good behavior. I am sneaking in all sorts of good stuff, and thanks to all these wonderful blogs by wonderful teachers such as you I am now presenting it in a great kid-friendly way. Thanks for helping me be a more effective teacher!!!!

  4. Great ideas Jennifer.... my favorite is #4.... allowing the children to share. This addresses many important issues including authentic dialogue, multiple intelligences and letting go and being more guides than control artists...bravo, bravo, bravo!!!!

  5. Thank you for this great post. I love having kids work in partners and dont do it enough. They do really need to move and express themselves when they learn. I do DEMAND participation a lot (doesn't always work for long with a few kiddos). I really like the motions with the sight words. i have never done that Thank you!

  6. Great ideas that I will share with our Kindergarten teachers. It is easy to get frustrated with administrators and their request for more rigor in K. I like how you said, "Well… this is where I say it is your job as a trained early childhood educator to defend what you know! In response to this question you should say drawing is an early stage of writing!" The question that admin asks then is, can they already do it? If yes, then move on to the next stage. If no, then drawing with details is on track.
    Differentiation is huge in our endeavor to be more rigorous. They definitely go hand in hand.
    Hang in there! Help administrators see the needs along with ways to make the classroom more rigorous. Be the experts!


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