Activity Guide

Raising the Level of Instructional Rigor and Relevance

To ensure all students meet 21st century and Common Core State Standards and graduate ready for college and careers, the levels of rigor and relevance in our classrooms must be significantly increased. We must also increase the level of student engagement, a factor which researchers tell us directly impacts the level of student achievement.

This activity presents principals and teachers with opportunities to read about current research, discuss rigor and relevance in practice, and identify instructional strategies to raise the levels of rigor and relevance in their classrooms.

Readings and Videos


  • Computer, Internet connection, large screen
  • Chart paper and markers

Activity: Group Discussion

  1. Ask participants to sit in instructional or grade level teams or within content area groups. Those without a team or department may choose to sit with a team or group that has relevance to their content area.Watch the video clip of Willard Daggett discussing the relationship between rigor and relevance.
  2. Discuss in small groups:
    • What personal examples can you share about how a high degree of relevance has helped you as a learner?
    • What examples can you share from your own lessons that reflect a high degree of rigor and relevance?
    • What topics/concepts are the easiest to make relevant? Which are the most difficult?
  3. Come back together as a large group and discuss:
    • Can we raise the level of student success at our school if we focus on raising the level of rigor and relevance for our students? Why or why not?
    • What support or professional development will we need in order to increase the level of rigor and relevance of student learning? Record suggestions on chart paper for subsequent use by leadership team, site council, etc.

Extend and Apply

Give all participants a copy of Appendix 3: “Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment: Rigor and Relevance,” and the discussion guide planning tools.


  • Ask each staff member to note or mark at least three specific strategies or ideas that raise the level of rigor and relevance in instruction.
  • Ask each team leader or department chair to schedule a mutual meeting time for his or her group.

During team or department meetings, discuss:

  • The strategies/ideas each member selected.
  • The action steps that can be taken by the school to increase the level of rigor and relevance.
  • The supports or professional development needed to ensure successful implementation of these strategies.
  • As a group, complete the planning tools and return the documents to the designated team leader.

Use the data from the discussions and the completed templates and follow the planning process provided with the Process Circle and the Six Steps template to determine next steps needed to increase the level of rigor and relevance at the school.