Principal Rob Stephenson of Farnsley Middle School in Louisville, KY, analyzes classroom questioning as an indicator of rigor and has adapted a quick observation tool to look specifically at the rigor of the verbs teachers use in questioning and task design.

Rigor of Verbs Used in Questioning and Task Design

Date: Period: Subject: Teacher:
Talley of Questions Asked (verb used?) Students Responded

Teacher Answered

Knowledge &Comprehension
(DOK 1)
Define    Restate
List         Identify
Label      Describe
Recall     Explain

(Did students answer the questions or did the teacher give up and answer it herself?)

(Did the teacher answer their own question ordid they probe for greater depth?)
Application &Analysis
(DOK 2)

Solve     Classify
Translate    Compare
Interpret      Criticize
Apply     Categorize
Use        Distinguish
Synthesis &Evaluation
(DOK 3)

Estimate    Invent
Formulate      Create
Hypothesize  Infer
Appraise       Predict
Design      Editorialize

At the end of the observation time, a quick look at the range of verbs used indicates the degree to which the learning was pushed toward higher-order thinking. This plays out in the classroom in terms of the way student work is structured. Here is a look at how our expectations for deeper student learning could appear to an observer as the instruction moves through the levels:

  • Students receive and are expected to recall and remember facts, rules, definitions, or information. The teachers, or just a few students, do most of the talking and the thinking, and tasks involve exact replication of directly stated material. Most students typically listen, copy notes, practice basic skills, and answer questions with “single-word” answers. Students may or may not understand purpose, relevance, or connection with previous learning, their lives, or the world at large.
  • Students use acquired knowledge to solve problems, design solutions, and complete work using very methodical methods that require little elaboration. While the work and expectations require limited cognitive demand for completion, the work is interesting, compelling, and somewhat purposeful for students.
  • Students demonstrate their understanding of key concepts through quality classroom conversation; thought-provoking writing prompts; and engaging, intricate tasks. Students are required to engage with the conceptual ideas that underlie their procedures in order to successfully complete a task and develop understanding. However, there is limited connection to real-world applications.
  • Students competently think in sophisticated ways to synthesize information; evaluate context; and apply their knowledge and skills to solve real-word, perplexing, and unfamiliar problems. Instructors build a community of learners in the classroom who advance one another to construct meaning of key concepts, complex dilemmas, and compelling issues.

As can easily be seen, the higher the verb, the more rigorous the teaching and learning. Rigor, as these statements imply, is qualitative, not quantitative. Therefore, rigorous instruction should not be viewed as an add-on to teacher practice. It does not mean more. It simply means more strategic. It stems from our belief that young adolescents, when truly engaged, can and will learn at high levels. And, in the end, rigorous instruction and rigorous learning is a great deal more fun for all of us.